Mobilizing young researchers and citizen scientists to close water data gaps

News - 26 June 2019 - Communication

Young researchers and citizen scientists can and should be systematically mobilized with a common mobile data collection platform to help close ‘water data gaps’, says Jeffrey Davids.  He defended his PhD-thesis on this subject on Thursday June 13th at TU Delft.


‘My dissertation chronicles the lessons learned along the fledgling journey of SmartPhones4Water (S4W) and S4W-Nepal, from inception through the first few years of implementation’, says Jeffrey Davids. ‘S4W mobilizes young researchers and citizen scientists with simple field data collection methods, low-cost sensors, and a common mobile data collection platform that can be standardized and scaled. S4W’s ultimate goal is to improve lives by strengthening our understanding and management of water. If thoughtfully done, this process of filling data and knowledge gaps in data and resource scarce regions can also serve to improve the quality and applicability of young researchers’ and citizen scientists’ education. S4W’s first pilot project, S4W-Nepal, initially concentrated on the Kathmandu Valley, and is now expanding into other regions of the country. S4W-Nepal facilitates ongoing monitoring of precipitation, stream and groundwater levels and quality, freshwater biodiversity, and several short term measurement campaigns focused on monsoon precipitation, land use changes, stone spout flow and quality, streamflow, and stream-aquifer interactions.’

S4W-Nepal (English)

Water data gaps

The results of this dissertation suggest that young researchers and citizen scientists can and should be systematically mobilized with a common mobile data collection platform to help close water data gaps. Leveraging smartphones to generate appropriate metadata for each observation (e.g. photographs) and consistently using these meta data to make corrections to raw measurements are keys to ensuring high quality observations. ‘Importantly, all data generated by young researchers and citizen scientists should be openly shared.’


‘Some significant challenges include the identification of sustainable funding, ensuring sufficient data quality, and long term continuity of data records. Despite these challenges, there appears to be much potential for turning data gaps into educational opportunities. Moving these ideas from concept to reality will require broad support and collaboration from  water managers and researchers (key consumers of data) and secondly science educators and young researchers (key producers of data). Practically, this means that every science educator should consider systematically recording the data generated by young researchers as part of their academic training and coursework. Also, water managers should consider the un-leveraged potential of young researchers to generate significant amounts of water data. Cross-cutting organizations facilitating such efforts (e.g. S4W) can help to link young water-related researchers across a swath of academic institutions related to environmental science, agriculture, engineering, forestry, economics, sociology, urban planning, etc., thereby encouraging young researchers to contribute to relevant and multidisciplinary research topics.’


‘Ultimately, these young researchers can then become the champions of engaging citizen scientists in the communities  where they grew up, live, research, and work. Currently, S4W continues to develop and refine these ideas in Nepal, in addition to launching new projects in the Netherlands (S4W-NL) and California (S4W-CA) in 2019 to further evaluate and scale this approach.’