21st-Century Journalism on Global Freshwater Crises
Circle of Blue circleofblue.org/waternews
What is the innovation and how does it address a pressing problem?
With an intense focus on fresh water and its relationships to food, energy, climate, and health, Circle of Blue has created a breakthrough model of front-line reporting, data collection, design, and convening. It informs grassroots networks, research journals, mainstream and niche media, consultancies, risk analysis reports, ministerial meetings, and high-level scenario sessions around the world.
Circle of Blue's non-advocacy, on-the-ground reportage makes complex issues understandable and provides trusted information and data that connects local stories to global trends. Water scarcity and quality are emerging as serious threats, and the global risks and human statistics of the unfolding water crisis are sobering—more than 5 million people die each year due to a lack of safe drinking water. Water scarcity is affecting people, business, the environment, and international political stability. Circle of Blue is an integral part of the global network of innovators that is restructuring and re-organizing social systems to yield better solutions and create stronger, more resilient societies.
What existing practices inspired the innovation and how does it represent something new?
Circle of Blue brings together traditional on-the-ground reporting, data mining and collection, visualization, traditional storytelling, and convening of experts to effectively inform and accelerate decisions related to the global freshwater crisis and its systemic intersections of food, energy, climate, population and policy.
The freshwater crisis exists at the nexus of rising energy demand, population growth, climate change, persistent poverty, economic distress, and political decision-making that is fractured and slow. As such, information to better understand intersecting and colliding trends in the freshwater crisis is often similarly disparate and difficult to connect. Circle of Blue’s new operating system represents something innovative and entirely new in this field. The operating system, proven with major projects in the U.S., China and India, leverages information feedback loops and processes to nurture “group genius”—the ability of a group working iteratively and collaboratively to seek, model, and put into place informed solutions. It is one of the first of its kind to integrate multiple streams of information and issues into timely and actionable reports that aid decision makers, the media, and citizens.
Please describe the social impact to date, as well as potential impact in the future.
For over a decade, Circle of Blue has consistently proven its capacity to create trusted knowledge for informed decisions. Its work has been used in scenario sessions at the World Economic Forum and by consultancies, business, and advocates.
One example of many illustrates impact on the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Following Circle of Blue’s extensive coverage of water scarcity and pollution in the Tehuácan Valley of Mexico, residents felt empowered to challenge illegally operating businesses that were dumping toxic chemicals into streams and canals. For the first time, they uploaded cellphone pictures and began monitoring the times and places of violations, holding the government and companies accountable.
In cases such as this all over the world, Circle of Blue has proven its ability to transform how water issues are reported and acted upon, targeting one of the most critical issues of our time. In addition, Circle of Blue’s operating system represents a model for 21st century journalism, delivering measurable results in areas of seemingly intractable problems. This is a demonstration of what journalism can do while working at the intersection of science, design, and public policy.