Photo credit: HSBC/Jay Ortiz


The World Water Week conference, which was attended by over 3,100 people from 135 countries, provides an annual opportunity for experts, business leaders and decision makers to share the latest knowledge on the threats facing freshwater ecosystems, as well as discussing new and innovative measures to manage those threats.  

On Sunday, Earthwatch hosted a special event on the role of Citizen Observatories in water and waste management, featuring speakers from the Akvo Foundation, Gavagai, Stockholm University and the UNESCO Institute for Water Education as well as Earthwatch itself.

We caught up with Earthwatch’s Professor Steven Loiselle who chaired the event, to find out more about what citizen observatories are, and how they are being used to tackle the global freshwater challenge.

What are citizen observatories?
"Citizen observatories are community-based environmental monitoring and engagement systems to inform science and policy. They allow individuals to become stewards of their local environment, helping agencies and scientists to improve the management and monitoring efforts using mobile phones and sensors. These data are merged with other information sources, such as remote sensing data and measurements from automated sensors to provide a much higher-resolution overview of the state of the environment at a local, regional or national scale. Through the EU Horizon 2020 programme, Groundtruth 2.0. Earthwatch, together with colleagues from major institutions throughout Europe are developing new tools to collect explicitly and implicitly-sensed citizen data. The project is demonstrating how citizens can take on a new, crucial role in environmental monitoring, decision making and cooperative planning."

How are they being used to address the global freshwater challenge?
"Citizen observatories are making major contributions to improving the  management of our environment, by creating new and participative approaches for local communities. In recent years, web and mobile technologies have enabled people to contribute key environmental data that strengthen research on ecological dynamics and improved management of environmental conditions. Through an increased engagement in environmental management, members of the public have shown an increased awareness of the importance of research and monitoring. A central aspiration of citizen science is to create an informed community that supports sustainable environmental management."

What new research will you be sharing at the World Water Week event?
"Over the past 5 years, Earthwatch has supported a number of Citizen Observatories across the world, all looking at key aspects of the management of freshwater ecosystems. During this interactive event at World Water Week, and together with colleagues from a European Horizon 2020 project, Earthwatch scientists will share the success and challenges of these important citizen observatories. Together with participants and colleagues, the session will  identify new opportunities for the participation of citizen scientists in water resources management and share challenges related to maintaining community engagement with the project, and ensuring the data collected is accurate.  

"Our colleagues at Gavagai will demonstrate innovative tools for using social media analytics to track public opinion and attitude towards key water and waste issues; IHE-Delft will showcase new socio-technical approaches for developing sustainable citizens observatories in Europe and Africa; Akvo Foundation will provide examples of the use of novel ITC and analytical technologies to inform citizens and decision makers and Stockholm University will show new approaches that allow citizen observatories to better support policy development."

Earthwatch also be contributed to an event showcasing the impacts of the first five years of the HSBC Water Programme in India. ‘The HSBC water programme: Transforming lives in the Ganga’ will feature the work of Earthwatch, WWF and WaterAid through empowering European retailers that use leather to support work on the ground to improve tannery practices, working with local communities to improve their quality of life through access to water and carrying out research through citizen scientists to reduce biodiversity loss in key Indian freshwater ecosystems.

Follow Earthwatch on Twitter @earthwatch_eur and follow the hashtag #WWWeek for updates live from the conference.


A central aspiration of citizen science is to create an informed community that supports sustainable environmental management.
Prof. Steven Loiselle

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