Last winter, the Water Hub team met with our Advisory Group* for the first time. We ate arepas and discussed our Western water landscape assessment and the theory of change we created to guide our work in service of the water movement. Our advisors counseled us to focus on a few key issues — we chose drinking water, climate change, and the cultural significance of waterways — but also reserve time for emergent needs and opportunities.
We could not have imagined, at the time, how many emergent needs would come up in 2020, with the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and LANDBACK movements bringing new urgency and attention to long-standing water challenges. But we took their advice to heart and set out to build a program that would be truly responsive to the communications needs of our network.
Earlier this week, we met with our advisors again (virtually, this time!) to reflect on our results, challenges, and areas for growth. We want to share these reflections with our community as well. While our funding comes from foundations, we feel accountable to the activists and experts championing water justice in the field every day, and we want your feedback on how we’re doing so we can do better.
First, some highlights from the year:
- We provided coaching, writing, pitching, design, and research help to 20 organizations and coalitions, on projects ranging from a COVID relief foundation launch to a water affordability legislative campaign.
- We helped place 50 news stories and 10 op-eds in outlets from The Arizona Republic to Vogue, Indian Country Today, Valley Public Radio, and ABC7.
- We hosted six skill-building workshops, attended by more than 200 people, on topics including Working with TV News, Digital Organizing and Making Memes.
- We created videos on the need to #UnDamtheKlamath and embrace green and localized infrastructure.
- We completed two rounds of media analysis to understand how the pandemic is impacting water news and opinion coverage.
- We fielded three polls to learn more about the water worries and priorities of Western voters and national support for water investments as part of federal stimulus packages.
- We piloted a $100,000 small grants program focused on building digital organizing capacity, and will soon announce seven awards.
- We launched a #ColorofWater campaign that centers experts of color and uplifts traditional ecological knowledge.
The main challenge we’ve encountered is the incredible busy-ness of groups we’d like to work with, many of whom have been in triage mode for most of the year addressing urgent community needs. As a service organization, we are only as effective as the groups that utilize our communications tools and support. We have shared this challenge with our program officers at Pisces Foundation, SD. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation. Together with the other members of the Water Table, they are working on campaign to support transformative water solutions. This includes building water communications capacity and a focus on providing support to BIPOC-led and serving organizations.
Looking ahead, we are planning a few new projects, including a Water at Work campaign to emphasize the jobs and economic benefits of water infrastructure investments, a polling report looking at bipartisan support for water solutions, and an Ethical Imagery Guide developed in partnership with Survival Media Agency.
* We are working now to grow our Advisory Group. Please let me know if you are interested in joining or have a recommendation. We can provide an honorarium.