Water4Otter

How can elementary students positively influence adults water use?

Texas is no stranger to droughts.

After a severe 2014 drought, The North Texas Municipal District (NTMWD) needed a new method to communicate water conservation to its rapidly growing customer base. Using a youth-centered theory of change model, I determined youth could spark water conversations among adults at home.

Otis the Otter throwing out the first pitch

Otis the Otter throwing out the first pitch


Timeline

2014 - Present

Summary

Water4Otter is a free, 45-minute performance that inspires Kindergarten - 5th grade youth to be "water savers.” The program content is localized for the 1.6 million customers of NTMWD, emphasizing knowledge of local water source and local treatment processes.

My Roles

  • Designed and implemented a model of behavior change for K - 5 youth

  • Prototyped visual design animations for visual designers and developers

  • Wrote the script, including the closing rap song

  • Directed the production, hired performers, and managed logistics for all performances

  • Persuaded teachers, principals, and superintendents to be advocates for the program

  • Managed client expectations for NTMWD’s administration and its 13 member cities


Research & Synthesis

A combination of quantitative data and in-home contextual inquiry resulted in a big insight: people are more likely to conserve water if they know their water source. I used this key piece of research and synthesized it for a wide elementary school audience.

Water delivery systems aren’t simple.

They include multiple water sources, treatment plants, wastewater management- most of which are new concepts to elementary students.

Simplifying complexity

This early concept map on a whiteboard helped me transition the extensive research into something tangible and intriguing to a third-grade audience.

Every Story Needs a Hero

The client wanted youth and entire families to know their water source, Lake Lavon. But the journey to tell a compelling water story begins with a compelling character. Otis the Otter is the hero of the Water4Otter. I formed Otis’ journey based around storytelling best practices; an inciting event, rising actions, and a climax.

UtilizinG Storytelling

The story arc, championed by Aristotle and middle school English teachers alike, is an indispensable tool to create tension and develop a memorable story.

An early sketch of how to communicate the human water cycle

Water4Otter’s goal is to get Texas children to talk to their parents about water.

Youth become advocates for Otis, as they learn that they share the same water with North American river otters who live near Lake Lavon. The performance builds upon the research by adding an empathic element- a connection between youth and the animals that use the same water.

Program Evolution

Water4Otter began in 2014 with a cast of four people, including Otis as the only mascot character. As the program proved to be a hit with youth, teachers, administrators and NTMWD, two additional characters were added, (for a total crew of six) each with its unique focus. First came Farah the Fox, whose focus is “wastewater,” and a year later, Bob the Bobcat, which introduces the concept of “watershed.”

The final version of the human water cycle above

Within the program’s first two years, I helped develop “clings” which every student would take home. Featuring character icons and water facts, youth are encouraged to place clings around their home to start the water-saving conversation.

Lastly, Otis became something of a local celebrity, with his appearances in the community and the local Frisco RoughRiders AAA baseball team.

Insights

If youth have an emotional connection to animals in their local water source habitat, they are more likely to remember their water source


Residents who know their water source are more likely to conserve water


Parents and adults are more likely to conserve if their children deliver a conservation message 

Water4.jpeg

Results

  • Winner of the 2017 “Watermark Award” for communications excellence from Texas American Water Works Association

  • As of June 2018, performed 161 performances in 13 cities

  • 85% of youth (n=575) correctly reported their water source (Lavon Lake) in an open-ended survey question 

  • View most recent Water4Otter report for a detailed metrics