Being part of an academic community, when I have a question about water management or want to better understand something I’ve seen in the news media about water, I have endless library resources and a list of experts who just might answer my email or phone call. I can search multiple databases for answers and find information from journals or other academic references buried in library stacks.
However, not everyone has access to these resources, and it takes a lot of time to assemble an understanding of a complex water problem. A water management problem is not just an issue of allocation, but also includes values, economics, politics, history, and even elements of future uncertainty. Even when a resolution is found to a water conflict, the groups involved in the process may have different perspectives on the outcomes from the process and perceptions of their relative success. It is difficult to find ways to synthesize and share this knowledge with everyone who might benefit from it.
There are many organizations and scholars that have looked at water management conflicts, negotiations, and agreements. These findings are in databases, journals, books and buried in unpublished theses. Some of these sources are easy for anyone with basic internet skills to find, but some are not easily accessible to the general public. There are many more opportunities to look at these conflicts, negotiations, and agreements from different perspectives, update case studies with new information, and find ways to apply what we’ve seen in the past to what we hope to accomplish in the future.
This is where the AquaPedia project started. Someone asked: “how can I get reliable information about water management problems quickly?” At the same time, someone else wanted to to know: “how can we start to find, assemble, and share generalizable knowledge for solving water management problems?”
A few years ago, some students and researchers at Tufts University tried to build a database that would start to address these questions, but it didn’t quite get off the ground. When I joined Tufts and Water Diplomacy at the beginning of 2012, AquaPedia became a priority once more, and we were able to take some time to think more about the purpose and functionality of such a site.
We decided to take a wiki approach. We wanted to allow everyone to contribute, to allow cases to be updated through time and also to ensure transparency, as wikis record all changes and additions to an article. We also realized that we would need some human oversight: people reading the contributions to make sure sources were properly referenced and missing information was noted.
We wanted to support a way to build information collaboratively, and embed tools that could automatically connect related topics to each other, to help anyone reading an article dig deeper into a topic and find connections and similarities between different articles. We wanted to build a resource that would complement and connect the information that is already out there — but could introduce a different audience to these resources and help individuals find reliable primary and secondary sources to build their own knowledge base. There are a number of resources for learning about water issues and water management conflicts. One of the goals of AquaPedia is to link the relevant databases, books, journals, and websites to individual cases — explorations of water conflicts or challenging complex water problems somewhere in the world. These existing resources (and we have growing list of them, here) can benefit from new connections and additional analysis or insight, and we need people to curate such synergistic growth.
We’ve been working on building this site and populating it with tools to collect, contribute, and organize both explicit and tacit information about water conflicts. Right now, we’re working with some Tufts students to develop in depth cases that can demonstrate the potential of this system. While we haven’t opened up the site to external accounts yet, anyone can view the evolving AquaPedia site.
What makes AquaPedia Different?
The key distinguishing characteristics of the AquaPedia Case Study Database are that we’re using semantic tools to automatically link cases and aspects of cases to related content and providing user tools to connect a case to the existing related resources — other websites, news items, databases, and traditional books or journal articles. We’re also using a flexible wiki format in which most sections of cases can be collaboratively produced by all users, but smaller subsections can be contributed and maintained by a single user who is credited for those contributions. Also, cases have two different review functions built in. One is a editorial review process where users with “editor” status can evaluate the accuracy, completeness, and readability of a case or article. The review status of an article is visible to the reader at all times, and a reader can access non-reviewed versions. The other is a collaborative review. Any user can add “flags” to an article/case that inform other readers that the document is incomplete, or otherwise deficient. A discussion board for each case/article allows users to discuss what improvements are needed to make the case better.
1) Semantic Tools and Forms Simplify Case Entry. Format uses semantic tools and interactive, modular, tabbed forms to help users edit the wiki without learning complicated wikitext or needing to have a completed case ready. System automatically creates semantic links between cases based upon shared geography, stakeholder characteristics, or major issues in a case.
2) Flexible Wiki Allows for Collaboration and Individual Contributions. Flexible wiki-format has spaces that are fully collaborative and individually authored sections within a case. This allows for sharing information that can be cited and agreed upon by multiple users, but also protect individual contributions that may represent a limited viewpoint or original research.
3) Case Review Process is Transparent and Available to All Users. Editors can evaluate the accuracy, completeness, and readability of a case and broadcast this to readers, but not prevent others from viewing older versions of a page. All users with accounts can use case review flagging tools to indicate the quality and completeness of a case or article.
How AquaPedia Cases Connect and Organization Information about a Water Case Study
If you think you might be interested in helping with or contributing to the AquaPedia project, please take a look at this document that explains a little bit more about how AquaPedia works, and consider filling out an application for a user account. While, as of writing this, we have not opened up the system to outside users, we will slowly begin to do this over the next few months until the system is fully open to anyone seeking an account. We’ll have more updates about the project and some of the initial cases in the next few months.
Any questions about AquaPedia can be directed to Amanda Repella (amanda.repella at tufts.edu)