Sensors for clean water: a participatory approach for technology innovation

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Electronics

Abstract

Access to clean water is fundamental for life.

It is estimated that more than 1.5 million children under five years old die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation. Ensuring the provision of clean water is thus a crucial challenge in low income countries. Yet access to safe drinking water continues to be a challenge globally. For example, in Vanuatu, five thousand households depend on unimproved river, lake or spring water. A consequence of this is a high rate of diarrhoea. Providing clean water across Vanuatu is particularly challenging. This is partly due to the geographical isolation of the many rural communities spread across Vanuatu's 80 islands. Vanuatu is also the most disaster prone country in the world, with a high susceptibility to natural disasters and a low coping capacity. For example, following Tropical Cyclone Pam (March 2015) half the population was without clean drinking water for one month after two thirds of water and sanitation infrastructure was destroyed.

The aim of our research is to work with poor communities in Vanuatu most affected by this problem, in order to develop water monitoring technologies that will provide assurance about the safety of their drinking water. Traditional approaches for technology development, where technologies are developed on behalf people, rather than with and by communities, tend to have limited impact. We plan to take a different approach, an approach we call Integrated Participatory Technology Development (iPTD). iPTD embeds communities at every phase of the technology innovation process, from defining the initial technology specification, through to design, testing, and optimization. By working with communities from the outset, we will ensure sensing technology that is designed precisely to meet the needs, skills and environment in which the community live.

Planned Impact

This programme will co-develop water monitoring technology to improve the health and well-being of poor and marginalised communities. There is a clear and significant correlation between health and wealth. Our proposal thus also contributes to the economic growth of ODA countries. The technologies we develop have the potential to be extended beyond water monitoring. For example, microarrays of our innovative photonic biosensors could be applied to susceptibility phenotyping of pathogens; a critical challenge in the global battle against antimicrobial resistance. Our impact strategy engages actors at different scales, including:

1) Individual community members in ODA counties and their representatives.
2) Business/ industry including: manufacturers and suppliers of medical devices and analytical instruments; diagnostics companies; research equipment manufacturers; water service providers.
3) Policymakers and decision makers within regional and national government.
4) National and international NGOs; donors and civil society bodies.
5) Representatives from the global academic community with an interest in applying science and technology in developing country contexts.

Likely stakeholder benefits include:

Communities in Vanuatu and beyond: Individuals and communities will benefit through capacity building, education, awareness raising and relationship building with key national and international stakeholders. For example, the multi-stakeholder meetings run through our iPTD process will empower communities, enabling them to build strong relationships with provincial and national government and to influence key decision makers by highlighting challenges and constraints to water access. While we focus here on communities in Vanuatu, our technologies and iPTD approach are applicable across ODA countries. Wide adoption of iPTD will thus impact marginalised communities globally.

Healthcare impact: Our co-developed sensor technologies will enable communities to better assess, preserve and manage their water supplies. This will protect the health of communities by: enabling routine, community-led assessment of water sources; providing tools to assess the cleanliness of water storage tanks and rainwater cisterns; identifying sources of contamination to empower communities to take remedial action; enabling rapid monitoring of local water quality following emergencies and natural disasters; determining the efficacy of water treatment processes. Critically, our technology will be co-developed with communities most affected by the challenges of clean water access. This not only ensures technology and associated institutions that are designed specifically to meet community needs, skills and environment, but also promotes community buy-in and long term sustainability and access.

Commercial and Economic impact: Manufacturers of diagnostic, medical and analytical technologies and Water service providers will benefit through access to prototype technology that has been co-designed, tested and validated in and by communities; the ultimate end user of the technology. Our explicit goal is to make technology accessible to vulnerable communities. We will thus establish a multi-stakeholder network, including academics, economists, community representatives, NGOs, national government, and industry to establish pathways for translation. In the longer term, the technology has the potential to be extended beyond water monitoring to address a range of healthcare challenges. For example, our innovative photonic sensors can be fabricated in array-format for multiplexed detection of disease biomarkers; a critical capability underpinning personalized/ stratified medicine. Similarly, our focus on rapid detection of bacteria could also be applied to diagnostics that inform the better use of antimicrobial therapies.
 
Description 1. Through a monthly water sampling campaign at two sites across the island of Efate, we have successfully identified the diversity of bacterial content of a range of local water sources, including the identification of potentially harmful bacteria. Sampling and genetic analysis was performed bimonthly for 1 year in order to better understand the seasonal variation in bacterial diversity. This is the first time such data has been available in Vanuatu. These findings have not only been important is the design of an appropriate water monitoring technology, but have also been instrumental in engaging community members and representatives of the Vanuatu government about bacterial contamination of unimproved drinking water.

2. We have further developed our methods for engaging poor and rural communities in the process of technology co-development. Many of these methods have now been trialled in four different communities across Vanuatu. This has led to a precise technological and social specification of a water monitoring technology appropriate for use in and by the community. A prototype technology has now been constructed and is currently being tested in laboratories in York. Critically, the co-development methods we have now developed are generic and applicable to a range of technologies and development challenges. It is our expectation to produce a report on these methods for circulation to other scientists/ engineers and development practitioners.
Exploitation Route 1. In order to create a water monitoring technology that is specific and selective for faecal coliform bacteria, it is critical that the assay is not sensitive to the latent, non-pathogenic bacteria found commonly in Vanuatu waters. The understanding of bacterial diversity in Vanuatu will thus be critical to inform the design of our sensor technology.

2. We expect that our generic approach to technology co-design could be implemented by other researchers engaged in development activities.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Healthcare

 
Description Oxfam in Vanuatu staff have supported two communities on the island of Efate with sampling water. We have encouraged community members to engage in this sampling process. Oxfam staff report increasing levels of engagement, particularly among women, children and young adults, and with it a better understanding of the importance and health risks associated with water. For example, in an interview with a young man (Morton) from the Epau community, he said "it is good you explained to us what you are doing, in order we understand, and we are looking forward to hear the result on March and also eager to learn more'. The results of this water sampling activity have also been provided to the Department of Mines and Natural Resources - the National government department responsible for water resources. This has prompted the Department to become increasingly interested in bacterial contamination in Vanuatu waters and we have performed additional water sampling on their behalf to assess water quality in the Port Vila harbour.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Water monitoring technology developed through Integrated participatory technology development (iPTD) 
Description We have developed a new approach to technology co-development called Integrated Participatory Technology Development (iPTD). This approach engages representatives from poor and marginalised communities in all phases of technology co-development. We have developed a number of participatory methods that support this engagement, enabling equitable partnerships to develop between communities and scientists/ engineers. Informed by this process, we have developed a technology for the detection of faecal coliform bacteria. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Using the iPTD process, we have established the specification (both technological and social) and prototype for a water monitoring technology. This process has been trialled in 4 communities that differ in terms of population, geographical location and water access. Critically, by employing iPTD to co-design this technology, we have reached a design that is markedly different to the 'established' view of an appropriate water monitoring technology and is equitable and appropriate for the communities. We intend to publish the iPTD approach to make it widely accessible to other academics involved in development research. 
 
Description Industrial collaboration: Aptamer solutions 
Organisation Aptamer Group
Department Aptamer Solutions
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Facilities funded through this Equipment grant have supported new collaborative activity with Aptamer solutions on the development on DNA-aptamer diagnostics for the detection of antibiotics. Specifically, we have employe the 3D printing facilities to construct a bespoke fluid cell for housing DNA-funcitonalised electronic devices and employed PM-IRRAS to characterise the immobilised DNA aptamer. This collaboration was supported by an EPSRC IAA award.
Collaborator Contribution Aptamer solutions have provided: 1. DNA aptamers selected against our chosen antibiotic (identity withheld due to commercial sensitivity) 2. Advice and technical support 3. Selection of a new aptamer against a bacterial protein (identity withheld due to commercial sensitivity)
Impact We have demonstrated proof-of-concept technology based on DNA aptamer for the detection of antibiotics. Through this award we have also identified the potential of DNA aptamers for the detection of bacterial proteins and have extended our collaboration to include selection of a new aptamer against a target protein. Such technology has the potential for wide application, including the development of a diagnostic for detecting bacterial contamination of water.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Wold wide distribution of pharmaceuticals in river waters across 
Organisation University of York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A research team led Prof. Alistair Boxall (Environment Department) is undertaking a study to map the distribution, concentration and fate of 40 human pharmaceuticals in freshwater rivers across the world. We are providing support by sampling multiple sites along the Tagabe river, Efate, Vanuatu.
Collaborator Contribution The team of Prof. Boxall are providing training in water sampling, sampling kits and mass spectrometry (MS) analysis of water. They will also provide time and expertise in MS to analyse our samples for contaminants other than pharmaceuticals which are of relevance to Vanuatu.
Impact Water samples scheduled for collection April 2018.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Community visits (Efate) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact UoY academics accompanied by staff from local NGOs (Oxfam in Vanuatu and Wan Smolbag) visited two communities on Efate; Epau and the Willie Roma community in Blacksands. The discussion had three primary goals: i) Presentation of results from a recent water survey of bacterial contamination. ii) Partnership building with workshop members and wider community. iii) Specification of water monitoring technology. Critical outcomes include i) a better understanding at community level of bacterial contamination of local water sources. This understanding has changed activity within the Blacksands community (no longer accessing faecally contaminated river for drinking water). ii) Detailed technical and social specification of an appropriate water monitoring technology. This specification has now been implemented in the design of a prototype technology that is currently undergoing testing within laboratories in York.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Community visits (Efate) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact UoY staff accompanies by staff from local NGOs (Oxfam in Vanuatu and Wan Smolbag) visited two communities on Efate; Epau and the Willie Roma community in Blacksands. Discussion focussed on explaining the aims of the project, with a particular emphasis on managing community expectations. Critical outcome was permission from both communities to conduct bi-monthly sampling of their water supplies for a year. Results of this sampling will be reported back to the community during the course of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Community visits (Epi) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact UoY academics accompanied by staff from local NGOs (Oxfam in Vanuatu and Wan Smolbag) visited two communities on Efate; Epau and the Willie Roma community in Blacksands. The discussion had two primary goals: i) Partnership building with workshop members and wider community. ii) Specification of water monitoring technology. Critical outcomes include i) a better understanding at community level of bacterial contamination of local water sources. Critically, through a science demonstration, communities were able to better understand the sources of faecal contamination and thus the importance of good sanitation. ii) Detailed technical and social specification of an appropriate water monitoring technology. This specification has now been implemented in the design of a prototype technology that is currently undergoing testing within laboratories in York.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Department of Health 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Department of Health is a department within the Vanuatu Government with responsibility for monitoring and protecting citizens health. Meeting with Department staff sparked significant discussion about the healthcare challenges associated with limited access to clean water. Plans have been made to engage further with the Department is made aware ion all key findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Government of Vanuatu Department of Geology, Mines and Natural Resources 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Department of Geology, Mines and Natural Resources is the principle department within the Vanuatu Government with responsibility for monitoring and ensuring access to safe water. Meeting with technical staff sparked significant discussion about the potential for water monitoring technology for ensuring safe access to clean water in rural communities. Plans have been made to engage further with the Department to 1) results of water profiling are provided to Department 2) ensure technology aligns with the Department's water quality standards 3) to assist in technology trials as the project progresses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Government of Vanuatu Department of Geology, Mines and Natural Resources 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A meeting was held with the chief, government scientist responsible for water quality. The aim of the meeting was to present results from a recent year long survey into bacterial contamination in two local rivers. This was the first time such a profile had been performed in Vanuatu. Experimental data has been given to the Department for future use. We have also agreed to conduct further analysis of the lagoon which is believed to be highly contaminated with faecal coliform bacteria.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited seminar, Lancaster University, UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Prof. James Moir, Thinking about communities in order to deal with bacterial pathogens: Lancaster University, October 2017. Invited seminar that introduced academics at all stages of their research career to the challenges and opportunities of engaging stakeholders in research co-development. Significant enthusiasm, particularly from early career researchers who expressed an interest in developing and applying these approaches to their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited seminar, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Prof. James Moir, Sensors for clean water: making science and technology work for the poor: University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, December 2017. Invited seminar that introduced academics at all stages of their research career to the challenges and opportunities of engaging stakeholders in research co-development. Significant enthusiasm, particularly from early career researchers who expressed an interest in developing and applying these approaches to their own research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Project inception workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Inception workshop between UoY academics, Oxfam in Vanuatu (OiV) and Wan Smolbag (WSB). Presentations by UoY sparked significant discussion regarding the expectations, aims and objective of the research programme. Significant agreement was reached between all parties as to the expectations of each party and the theory of change the project aims to achieve. Additional meetings between OiV and WSB planned to document these and to develop an appropriate workplan. Discussions also highlighted the potential to exploit the creative skills of WSB to 1) document the project 2) develop resources for use in community engagement 3) develop resources for use by the wider academic community regarding the iPTD process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public outreach presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Steven Johnson, Bio-molecular electronics, medical diagnostics and south pacific islander, 10/01/2018. TED style presentation aimed at engaging general public. Talk focussed on engaging poor and marginalised communities in technology co-development. Presentation concluded with panel discussion chaired by Professor Sir Malcolm Grant (Chair of NHS England) which sparked significant discussion around the role of technology in society.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2018/research/university-of-york-research-in-the-spotlig...
 
Description School visit: Manor CE Academy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The PI presented a talk to 20 pupils all with special educational needs on global challenges associated with accessing clean water. This presentation was aligned with lesson plans being delivered as part of their science curriculum. The school and pupils reported high levels of interest and engagement and additional follow up events have been planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Shefa provincial council 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Shefa provincial council is a local government body responsible for the Shefa province in Vanuatu where the project will be based. Discussion focussed on the importance of communities in the co-development of technology and how well this aligned with the expectations of the Shefa provincial council. Plans were made to further engage with the council and contact details of key actors in delivery of water and health to local communities in the province were exchanged.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017