Groundwater in India is depleting at a fast rate. Some places, there is not much groundwater left or it is too deep. One strategy is to engage local villagers to monitor their groundwater depth regularly, understand how it fluctuates during the year (before and after monsoon) and then this will give them some local data to manage the groundwater more effectively.

For volunteers to assist in groundwater depth monitoring (Citizen science or crowd sourcing), there needs to be something for them so that they do the job of taking measurements accurately. Paying wages is not a solution but some incentive is ok. The questions are:

  1. How do we motivate the villagers to take the depth of groundwater in their well regularly and accurately?

  2. What mechanism can we put in place so that the monitoring is self-operating and the quality control is easy and less time consuming?

  • 2
    I cannot give you a direct answer, but this is a typical commons issue. It may be worth reading up on commons 'systems' that currently operate to get ideas and inspiration from.
    – user732
    May 2, 2016 at 10:22
  • Thanks. I had done some search on that tag but did not get any potential solution.
    – Besant
    May 2, 2016 at 10:25
  • What strategy do you currently use? Have the water levels been monitored beforehand? Is this the first time you propose this to the villagers?
    – Zerotime
    May 2, 2016 at 11:38
  • I can't make a full answer out of this yet, by China began a citizen monitored water pollution, not water level, initiative. In that initiative, it sounds like the citizen "work" is done entirely via a mobile application.
    – Andy
    May 2, 2016 at 13:26
  • 2
    There's a lot of interesting potential in your question. I've seen similar types of questions regarding tracking water quality, malaria, dengue fever, and even addressing homelessness.
    – Greg Chase
    May 2, 2016 at 23:05

3 Answers 3


Crowd sourcing in rural villages is a frequently desired goal by many non profit organizers. It's a multi-faceted problem changing behaviors and cultures. The biggest complication, however, is out of area organizers not understanding the culture, motivations, and frame of reference of the people who's behavior they are trying to influence.

I found one fairly analogous example of an organization that was trying to detect water quality in villages. They found that designing the instructions and method of testing to be very simple was important for improving adoption.

You first speak about motivating the villagers. You mention that paying is not a solution, but you don't state why. Is this a funding issue, or is there some other reason why this is inappropriate? Giving one or a few local villagers a job to monitor well levels is probably the most sustainable way to achieve the regularity and accuracy you are seeking. If you are willing to accept less regularity and coverage you can work on other incentives to find those individuals who are motivated to help the greater good.

Next you are asking for self-operation and ongoing quality control. What you are really talking about is governance. And the best way to handle regional governance is regional government. Again, first you probably have a funding issue. My recommendation is to work with appropriate government officials in the national or state levels in India who might agree with cause your organization is attempting to address. They may already have access to funding and a way to create regional infrastructure for your organization to train and enable.

If the overall issue really is funding, perhaps that should be the focus of your organization, and then work on trying to recruit and create local activists to take up your cause by providing funds and training. Work on creating one or a few successes first before trying to blanket large areas of India.

  • 1
    "the must sustainable way" -> "most" ... don't have rep to edit
    – Pimgd
    Jun 10, 2016 at 13:59
  • Fixed. Thanks for catching!
    – Greg Chase
    Jun 10, 2016 at 15:17

How do we motivate the villagers to take the depth of groundwater in their well regularly and accurately?

One of the hardest question which concerns quite a lot of people everyday: How do I get this person to do something I want him to do? This question doesn't change if you ask them to do something for their own sake. People often disregard good intentions of other because of a lack of trust. The main point is how you get these people to monitor your desired objective and furthermore that they send you relevant data.

The first thing is that you have a wrong idea of how to get it done. You talk about it like it's a job: it's not. It's a duty to protect oneself and others. The problem if you assign this task as a job is that, as soon as the "incentive" isn't there (the salary), nobody will work - so you would have pretty much the same problem.

In order to help these people and to keep their bodies well hydrated, you must establish this task as a duty. You need to fulfill duties to lead a life of social acceptance. Of course there are people who don't care about this but most do. So your job is to get the task into the everyday routine of the villages. The ideal scenario is that the village checks everyday how the water levels are doing.

The next question is how to integrate the task into the everyday routine of the village. Another faulty perception you have is to engage the local villagers directly. That's wrong. I don't know too well about India but usually every town, city or village has a mayor or someone who is seen as responsible for the village. This is the first person to talk to, don't talk to the villagers first. You do this to keep things tidy and neat as you don't want the one who is seen as the leader of the village to be against you. If this happens, you can forget it for the time being because nobody will trust you if they can trust someone who has led the villages for years, someone they deeply trust and know.

So you make an appointment with the village council, the council of elders or the mayor, basically whoever is in charge there. You present them the problem: Ground water levels are depleting, cautious use of water is recommend and to make the village as autonomous as possible it's also advised to check the water levels regularly and send data to you. Bring them some shiny enlightenment about the problems they most likely don't care about.

Let's get through the bad case first: They deny your proposal because they think that you lie ("We have lived for ages here, our elders lived here, our grand elders lived here - we never have had problems so there are no problems now as well") or whatever. This is okay, this can indeed happen. You will leave some credentials of you for them if they think otherwise so that they can call you if something happens. You don't want to make them angry so be polite and say that you will be there if they need you and if not, you won't make an appearance again. As wise men said "Ignorance is bliss" and you don't want to meddle with it. You gave them the opportunity, held a shiny presentation and told them about potential risks, there's nothing more to do. Education is your utmost goal so people learn about it and can act on their own. If they deny that education, you leave them alone.

Now the good case: The council is willing to hear you out and acknowledges the problems. Congratulations, you just did the first step. It means most likely that the council will support you. So you have the backup of the leaders of the village: What's next? You will held a presentation, but this time to the local villagers. You do this to enlighten them as well. They won't do the task at their best if they are just told to do it. And you don't want to make it a job - you want to make it part of their everyday routine.

Of course, there will be people complaining about it: ignore them. The ones who stay are the ones you have won for your cause. The ones who are ready to do something to protect themselves and their families are the ones you seek. In the end, if their local well isn't deep anymore, nobody is well hydrated anymore. And this means death, diseases, low hygiene and a possible breakdown of the village. If there's noone who stays beside the council, you still won as they could theoretically do it. If they aren't willing, you will just leave your phone number and other contact information.

What mechanism can we put in place so that the monitoring is self-operating and the quality control is easy and less time consuming?

As you have, unfortunately, not answered my comment, I can just guess what your opportunities are so I will just list different solutions for different standards.

After your presentations, everybody should know what the deal is. Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper, check the water levels and document them. If you can't analyse them yourself, send them to us and we will assist you to make you independent and autonomous in checking water levels.

Now for the possible solutions, ranging from solutions for rural villages (no electricity, no internet) to modern villages (internet).

  • In case of a very rural village: It makes things hard. You can't communicate with them immediately, you must rely on letters or a courier. The solution to your problem is a preformatted sheet of paper: a table for the data you need. Do not let them do this on their own, you don't want to deal with different formats! This is highly time consuming and inefficient. I'm pretty sure that there are several villages on your agenda and if you need to rely on paper, you don't want everyone to invent their own so highly well executed way of writing it down. You give them a preformatted table which needs to be filled out like you want it. (Another presentation for correctly filling out your documents is most likely needed.)
  • In case of a rural village with a good infrastructure but no internet: It's more easy. You give them one of your tables and instruct them to send it to you at the end of every week. Because of their good infrastructure (connected to a street which can be actually used by cars), you know that you will get your information.
  • In case of a village with internet: That's cool. In case someone of them has a clue how to use a smartphone or a PC, you have won. Provide them a fillable PDF where they just need to fill in the relevant data. Then they shall send it to you via email.

It's hard to convince people that you want to do things for their own sake, especially if they don't know you. Don't get caught up by it. There are always people who don't want your help and it's their right to decline it. You are a good player and leave them your contact information. If they aren't willing to cooperate with you, everything is harder and extremely costly in terms of service and reliability. These are wasted resources you could put into another village.

My whole answer is about gathering information and sending it to you but as you asked about a self-operational task, I will give you my thoughts to this as well.

It's difficult to establish a reliable operation in a village where nobody cared about this problem for decades. It could even be impossible. If I may say so, I wouldn't be surprised if the people living in these villages are uneducated and may be illiterate. So to tackle this, you have to make the task extremely easy and still operational.

I thought about a kind of a ruler to stick it into a well (if that's how it works - actually I have no clue how to check water levels in remote villages) and to mark where it's wet. Then these marks are documented by either just keeping the ruler and putting it into a storage with a corresponding date or, in case someone can write and read, write it down.

Another way is to throw rocks into the water and to record the time it takes to make a "sploosh". To do this, you give someone a stopwatch and tell him to start it if someone throws and to stop it if he hears something. This is repeated several times and the time that occurs the most often is written down. The times then can be checked with other times.

Yet another way would be to measure the times it takes to fill a bucket with another bucket. As soon as it takes more than one bucket, meaning that the bucket isn't as full as it was previously, you have a sign of a decreased water level.

I don't know if my thoughts are hands-on because I'm not working in this area but they share something: They are extremely easy and take just a few minutes. It mustn't be a burden to perform this task as nobody will do a time consuming task. It should be something that they can perform every morning or evening, for example if they go out to bring in some water from their local well or river.

It's a game of stakes and it could happen that you have to use different ways of solving the problem in different villages.

Of course, you would still need to control their activities from time to time. You could makes visits in the beginning more frequently and after seeing that they can handle it, you just come more irregulary until there's no need for you checking it anymore.

Get away from "one fits all". This case involves a lot of different people. So quality can vary greatly among the records. Then, your job is to level up their engagement and their end quality by instructing them more clearly.

Your question is very localized, I still hope to have helped you a little bit.


I'd suggest two basic strategies: First, make it easy for the people drawing water to measure (or at least estimate) the water depth and record it in some fashion. This might not take much additional at all, or could be done with technology.

How visible is the water level from the surface? Is the water drawn via a pulley? In that case, it should be pretty easy to count pulley revolutions (either on the way up, or down) to estimate the depth. If rachet is used (to keep the filled bucket from falling back down prematurely) each ratchet click would give a bit more resolution. If cellphones are available, dated photographs taken of the water down the well might yield enough info. Or audio recording of the pulley/rachet assembly might suffice, given some clever signal processing.

Are those high-quality measurements? Sorry but no. Are they better than no data at all? I'd posit yes, but defer the the folks in India. If some other, less visible mechanism is used to raise the water (a hand or pedal operated pump), then some sort of pressure sensor or gauge might be needed. But a passive (mechanical) pressure gauge, indicating on a visible dial, might do the trick, without any electricity at all.

A technology based solution would be ballpark $100 US, probably less in quantity: a few solar cells, a sensor or two (there are some nice sonar modules suitable for detecting a water surface), a modest microprocessor (pretty much any Arduino or clone/work-alike would be fine), some nonvolatile memory (think thumb drive or microSD card.) A deluxe version would probably report automatically via radio/cellphone network, but that's icing on the cake.

Second, find some way to encourage well users to report their recorded measurements; If the data are valuable to somebody, and are not mandated by law, then money works as motivation. But if micro-payments are infeasible, perhaps people who make enough reports can be given priority in line, or are permitted to draw more water per wait in the line.

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