Linking the Flow of Data to the Flow of Water – Better Information Yields Better Outcomes

Hydrology Corner Blog: Data Asset Management ebook

Inattention and imperfect information costs individuals, organizations and society in immeasurable ways. The relatively new field of information economics (infonomics) is revealing that great efficiencies can be gained by managing information as a strategic asset. All business decisions are made with the information available at the time. Yet, this availability is often a result of desperate scraping of whatever data happens to be readily accessible in real-time resulting in sub-optimal business outcomes.

The new insight emerging from the study of infonomics is that decisions can be materially improved by anticipating needs and nurturing the information required to meet those needs.

Getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decisions should not be an afterthought. Planning is required to ensure that the right data is acquired about the right things, at the right places, at the right time and in the right way. Processing ensures that the data and its metadata are transformed into useful information using relevant and appropriate tools for analysis and interpretation. Implementation ensures that the information is available and consumable when it is needed and by whom it is needed. Readily consumable, i.e. salient, information is presented in meaningful context and filtered to reveal what is important while concealing distractions.

A recent paper by Tiefenback et al. “Overcoming Salience Bias: How Real-Time Feedback Fosters Resource Conservation” investigated what happens when people are given real-time data about their water consumption while they are in the shower. The 22% reduction in use that they report is a result of making the implications of one’s behavior salient in real-time. Salience bias is a heuristic that ensures that we actively respond to the most prominent information.

Quantifying the decision-influencing power of information when applied within the controlled environment of a shower is one thing. However, at a watershed scale there can be many fragments (i.e. investments in some discrete component of information) and partial systems (i.e. investments in a system serving a narrowly defined information objective). At every junction where systems meet there is opportunity for actors to shed responsibility, resulting in critical gaps in information management. Cumulative neglect of the information required to manage water as a shared common pool resource inevitably results in progressive watershed degradation.

James Price and I had a look at the opportunity that exists to manage information as a strategic asset to prevent water over-use, misuse and abuse in our eBook “Improving Outcomes for Freshwater Availability, Security and Sustainability: Water Data Asset Management as a Strategic Investment”. Powerful social instruments are available for improving outcomes at a watershed scale but these instruments are ineffective as agents of change in the absence of useful information. Critical information deficits are growing even as data investments are increasing. The problem, once explained, is clearly evident. Creating a better water future will require investments in information management. Now is the time to adopt the principles and best practices for managing water information as a strategic investment.

Reference: Verena Tiefenbeck, Lorenz Goette, Kathrin Degen, Vojkan Tasic, Elgar Fleisch, Rafael Lalive, Thorsten Staake (2016) Overcoming Salience Bias: How Real-Time Feedback Fosters Resource Conservation. Management Science http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2016.2646


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Free eBook: Improving Freshwater Availability, Security & Sustainability

Poorly documented, poorly communicated water data are a source of frustration for many organizations that result in harmful delays or unfavorable outcomes. It’s time for change! Ensuring the right information gets to the right people at the right time to make the right decisions is a choice now available for all water monitoring organizations. Read eBook here.

One response to “Linking the Flow of Data to the Flow of Water – Better Information Yields Better Outcomes”

  1. A view that could help do better with the water resource. Probably should be outside of the 400 agencies managing water information. Social networks? Something like wikipedia? I woul love to translate the relevant information into visuals and a basin approach. We all have smartphones with gps. If we all could have access to the info we need better EIS, better construction projects, permits, etc. A friendly information is more than data.

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