WaterWatchers: So. African citizens help identify water issues

Fri, 2013-04-12 10:50 -- Liz Enbysk

IBM and its leading partner for smarter cities solutions, Element Blue, have developed a customer water management platform for a South African city – and citizens are being recruited to help provide critical information on the country's water distribution system.

The companies launched the WaterWatchers program in the city of Tshwana as a crowdsourcing project in which citizens will be able to report problems like water leaks, faulty pipes and the condition of water canals. The citizen role is to take a photo of the problem, answer a few simple questions and upload the data to a central database. After 30 days, vital data points will be analyzed and collected into a useful "leak hot spot" map and report to provide a single source of information on the problems and issues challenging the water distribution system.

The project includes a new citizen portal, a mobile phone application and SMS facility, each created by Element Blue to get citizens more involved in city issues, develop community engagement and boost municipal operating efficiency to benefit the community overall.

"The solution places water conservation tools into the hands of the citizenry, and enables each individual to do his part by reporting water issues throughout the city, allowing city workers to instantly identify non-threatening issues  and quickly dispatch the proper maintenance," said Joey Bernal, Element Blue CTO and managing partner. "Citizens will be able to receive updates and comments from their peers, as well as vote on pending service requests, simply by using the app on their smart phone."

Bernal added: "Enhancing the country's ability to leverage information across all agencies and departments will encourage minimal disruptions of anticipated problems. When resources are coordinated rapidly and proactively, the infrastructure of a city is maximized to support the economic, social and health needs of its citizenship, fully realizing the potential for citizen and business interactions."

The cross-brand solution in Tshwana was designed by IBM and Element Blue. The companies believe the platform has considerable potential for similar applications in monitoring and reporting on almost any part of the surrounding environment, including city services, wildlife, noise pollution, air quality, weather and more.