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Phase One: Fall 2016

Team Leads: Jessie Kawata (Design)

Joshua Fisher (Climate Scientist)  

Role: Intern, Research and Strategy

Phase One Co-Intern: Gina Om


Scientists are the designers, when it comes to creating hydrological indicators.  However, current indicators fall short of meeting end-user needs because they lack context with how they are being used. How can the scientific community harness tools of the design process to create more human-centered indicators?


The goal of this project is to help improve the water community’s decision-making process, by designing a new, visually compelling and user-friendly system of indicators, using data from NASA’s hydrological satellites. 


During this phase, I worked as part of a team of climate scientists and designers to research water management at various stakeholder levels, using ethnographic research, visualization and systems-thinking techniques.

A Design Led

Research Strategy

What can the scientific method learn from the design process?

Scope of Phase One

Layering the Design Process over the Scientific Method.

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Current State of Climate

Man-made changes have led to a decrease in water availability and uncertain climate variability, making it difficult to forecast available water supplies.

Decision Making

With increased demand and variability,  resource managers are finding it difficult to make allocation decisions.


Increasing CO2

Fossil fuel emissions are 

leading to changes in the earth’s climate.

Hydrological Cycle

Droughts and floods are 

becoming more frequent and severe.

Surface Drying

Much of the land’s surface is drying with decreased water availability.

Climate Variability

Increased demand and 

decreased availability. 

The Need

To predict and describe the magnitude of drought and improve water management in a changing climate.

Improved Water Management

Why weren’t we able to predict/describe the magnitude of recent mega droughts. How can we improve water management in a changing climate?


Midwest Drought of 2012

Failure to accurately forecast the magnitude of drought.

Usefulness of Indicators

Most water managers find the US Drought Monitor not useful for their applications.

Climate Action Plan

Preparing the US and leading international efforts toward addressing climate change.

UC Davis Calvin Model

Schematic illustrates the complexity of California’s water system.

California as a Case Study

Targeting Our Scope

California is broken into 10 different hydrological regions based on the bodies of water they encompass. 


We narrowed our scope to California’s Central Valley (green), which is California’s most productive agricultural region and one of the most productive in the world.  

System Challenges

California’s water system is made up of interacting layers: complex and decentralized water infrastructure, various levels of stakeholders, water rights, environmental policy, and other legislation.

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California’s water system is made up of interacting layers of various levels of stakeholders with different, sometimes opposing, concerns

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Bureau of Reclamation

Department of Interior

US Army Corps of Engineers

Environmental Protection Agency

US Department of Agriculture

Natural Resources Conservation Services

US Geological Survey


Rural and urban areas

Irrigation districts

Water districts

Water Contractors

Water Agencies


Department of Water Resources

California Farm Water Coalition

State Water Resources Control Board

State Water Contractors

Association of California Water Agencies

California Federal Bay Delta Program

California Water Commission


Farm Advisors

Farm Consultants


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When and how are decisions are made?

What the participant does in their daily life?

Primary Research

User Map

We targeted our field work and interviews strategically around the Central Valley, as stakeholders within this region experience the most pain regarding drought and resources. These users represent diverse perspectives across each level of stakeholders and were spread out geographically.


Remote Interviews

Once we identified key stakeholders, we recruited participants. We created guide questions based on knowledge goals and conducted phone interviews to give us a better understanding of their perspectives..

Field Research

We visited the San Joaquin Valley, a region within the Central Valley we identified as experiencing the most pain within the system, and met with agricultural growers and water resource managers at the local level.

Generative Toolkit

We developed generative tools based on knowledge goals, curated to each user-type, which we then used to facilitate sessions. 


Understanding the users in a convivial sense gave us insight into prototypes for potential solutions.

Knowledge Goals

What factors drive decision making?

​​What information is most important?





We used various methodologies and visualization tools to analyze our research: mapping conceptual models of local water systems, looking at analogous systems from other industries, creating affinity diagrams to reveal underlying themes and patterns.

Strategic Roadmap


​As of today, the project is in the design phase, where we are using our findings to develop prototypes of a human centered system of indicators to test with users from the water community.

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Scale the project to the national level

Use insights to design a system of user-centered indicators

Research California

as a case study

Phase Two

Phase One

Phase Three

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