The Blue Roots Project

Problem:

How might we increase international awareness of the global freshwater crisis and additionally help American young adults understand the value of water in a society that has the highest water-use rate in the world?

Background:

The project partner Circle of Blue is a digital publication that reports on the global freshwater crisis. Based out of Traverse City, Michigan, Circle of Blue brings high-level geopolitical and scientific news and data about water and its effects on policies, culture, infrastructure, food, climate, etc.

But Circle of Blue lives in this closed loop of policy makers, scientists, activists, and journalists who are all highly active in what is known as the “water space,” or the social sphere of influencers who research and advocate for changes to fight the water crisis. As a news organization, Circle of Blue additionally aims to disseminate information to groups of people who are less knowledgeable but equally as affected by these issues.

In less than 15 years, the United Nations predicts that over half of the world’s population will live in areas of high water stress. Industrialization, consumerism, and pollution are pushing the world to a breaking point by the year 2050. Oceans, rivers, forests, climates, wildlife, ecosystems, and societies will all be irrevocably altered unless public opinion and support can affect the policies, cultures, and infrastructure of countries across the world.

In 2017, Circle of Blue partnered with water organizations, scientists, design thinkers, and policy makers to create Watershed 2017, a conference hosted by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome to create convergence among the world’s water resources to reverse some of the damage caused to the universal water supply in the last several decades. The problem is compounded by the fact that the percentage of the world that currently experiences only minor effects of these environmental issues are also the highest polluters, consumers, and wasters of water in the developed world.

But how do we connect a collection of scientific data to the personal lives of these individuals? In short, how do we make people care about this issue and the message of the conference, even if the effects of the issue seem invisible to them?

Process:

Solution:

The Blue Roots Project: a digital storytelling audience-outreach campaign to raise awareness of the freshwater crisis and the Watershed 2017 conference on World Water Day, March 22, 2017.

Through contextual inquiry, academic research, and empathy research, the Blue Roots Project sought to understand Circle of Blue’s problem space, the scope of international water issues, and the breakdowns that occurred for younger audiences when experiencing other awareness campaigns. Through this research, we found that Circle of Blue had trouble reaching a younger audience with their technical information, younger audiences often felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of environmental issues, and that water issues fall on a spectrum, depending on both geographic location and socioeconomic status.

With our audience and Circle of Blue, we brainstormed on how we might make an inclusive project that allowed users to feel empowered through their own experiences with water, but didn’t gloss over the seriousness of the water crisis. We created two social media channels and two websites: one set as an informational hub for the conference and one as the facilitator of the #MyWaterStory campaign. By partnering with established environmental organizations throughout the country, we were able to seed ourselves into the water community to earn the seal of approval from those that know the water space best and gain a larger following in a shorter amount of time.

This became known as The Blue Roots Project: a 2-year project that aims to elicit art, stories, and multimedia about people’s connection to water and experience with water issues throughout the world. The first year includes a digital media campaign that asks participants to submit their personal stories to various prompts that pushes the audience think about and explain how water affects their lives.

The second phase of the project will use all of the stories and data gathered during the campaign to create an immersive physical experience about the value of water across the globe in preparation for World Water Day 2018.

Results:

  • 500+ water stories submitted
  • Participation from 33 countries
  • Social media engagement reach of 250,000+ audience members
  • 36,000+ Facebook Live viewers for the Watershed conference
  • 48% of users were between the ages of 18-35
  • Collaboration with 48 artist and environmental organizations

Below are a few of our favorite water stories received over the 90-day campaign.