Gram Vikas and Brigham Young University collaborate to harness data for water security in rural Odisha


By GV News Desk

17 January 2024

Gram Vikas’ ambitious effort to ensure water and natural resources security in rural Odisha involves gathering extensive data at the village and Gram Panchayat (GP) levels to establish a comprehensive baseline. This baseline is critical for effectively implementing the Water Secure Gram Panchayat programme (WSGP), an at-scale intervention to foster community-led water resource management and gender equity across 1000 GPs in Odisha.

Harnessing data for change

Rural communities in Odisha face severe challenges regarding water access and sanitation. The WSGP team’s data-driven efforts seek to address the widening gap between water demand and availability, increasing instances of water source failures, unpredictable seasonal patterns, and the lack of access to safe drinking water.

The team continuously leverages collaborations to harness data insights to enhance water and sanitation access in thousands of villages in Odisha. In one such partnership, four students from Brigham Young University (BYU), Utah, USA, remotely interned with Gram Vikas’ Planning and Monitoring team and the Water Resource Technology Group from September to December 2023.

The BYU students Sophia Maia, Michael Dew, Darien Campbell, Justin Lemke, and Sydney Foote developed a framework for analysing and understanding the vast quantity of data Gram Vikas collected for the WSGP. They focused on data analysis and automation, working towards delivering efficient data visualisation, analysis, and communication strategies.

The collaboration aimed to assist Gram Vikas in extracting meaningful insights from water data, improving communication with local villages, and making more effective data-driven decisions.

The student experience

Sophia Maia, an undergraduate in Epidemiology, found the project to be a remarkable opportunity to understand data in a new context. Despite challenges such as remote collaboration and the mid-term timing of the project, she reflects on the experience as invaluable, “The project was a valuable opportunity for me to grasp data points in a completely different context. It was initially challenging, especially given the remote nature of our work. However, overall, it was a fantastic experience considering the challenges we had to overcome. These challenges included the mid-term timing of the project, working remotely, and yet hoping that the data would eventually convey meaningful insights.”

Sydney Foote, a Psychology major, shared insights into the team’s work dynamics, “We organised tasks weekly on Trello and sent out text reminders for consistent updates among team members. It was a hectic period, especially during our midterms, but working with Gram Vikas was incredibly rewarding.”

Darien Campbell, studying Computer Science, expressed his aspirations to continue contributing to Gram Vikas’ efforts. He stated, “The internship with Gram Vikas was a good opportunity to learn about rural communities around the world and how nonprofits like Gram Vikas are working to serve their needs. I would highly recommend this internship experience to others.”

Jill Piacitelli, the Social Impact Projects and Partnerships Director at the Ballard Social Impact Center at BYU and a mentor for the students, praised the team’s accomplishment, “It was a wonderful experience for the students, and they wouldn’t change anything about this. The diversity in their academic backgrounds brought unique perspectives to the project. The way they overcame challenges and integrated their skills is commendable. It’s a testament to the support and mentoring provided by the teams at Gram Vikas…the patience and investment put in by the Planning and Monitoring and Water Resource Technology teams is a tremendous part of education that went on here. So, thank you.”

The project extended beyond mere data analysis. The students engaged in developing a more streamlined way for Gram Vikas to relay information about water sources to the communities in rural Odisha. This aspect was crucial for ensuring that the insights gained from the data were effectively communicated and used at the grassroots level.

Future prospects

Gram Vikas’ commitment to utilising data for effective programme implementation reflects a growing recognition of the importance of evidence-based approaches in addressing complex environmental and social challenges. The synergy between Gram Vikas and Brigham Young University is an example of how academic institutions and non-profit organisations can work together to bring about tangible, positive changes in communities across the globe.

The students of Brigham Young University.

Photograph shared by Brigham Young University


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