Mission Possible

Aug. 31, 2018

Q&A with J. Carl Ganter of Circle Blue regarding Mission.4 data initiative 

About the author:

Amy McIntosh is managing editor of WQP. McIntosh can be reached at [email protected].


As a global news organization, Circle of Blue works to report on the world’s freshwater crises through daily coverage, as well as in-depth features and series. The organization’s latest initiative, Mission.4, harnesses technology and data to enhance reporting of global water issues. WQP Managing Editor Amy McIntosh asked J. Carl Ganter, managing director and co-founder of Circle of Blue, about Mission.4 and its objectives.

Amy McIntosh: What is Mission.4? 

J. Carl Ganter: We have entered an era of unprecedented challenges—especially as the competition between water, food and energy accelerates worldwide—yet we also have grand technology-driven opportunities presented by the fast-emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. Mission.4 is a recognition that even with this profound technological revolution, including [artificial intelligence (AI)], Internet of Things, big data [and] satellite sensing, more than ever we need connective, contextualized narratives that answer, “Why?” and, “How?” At Circle of Blue, we are combining these into a powerful, collaborative network for understanding the world’s most vexing problems about water, and for informing the responses with trust, integrity and relevancy.

McIntosh: How do Mission.4 and Circle of Blue as a whole work to accelerate solutions to the water crisis? 

Ganter: The World Economic Forum has ranked water crises, plural, as the greatest combined risk to nations, people, economies and the environment—threatening mass refugee migration, famine, environmental contamination, economic disruption and conflict. Mission.4 is our core operating system that combines journalism, science, data, communications design and convening into a feedback process that accelerates research and understanding of dynamic situations that could trigger disastrous events. We are making an end-run around these disruptions—taking the lead at a rare moment in history with a strategy of deep knowledge, big data, human ingenuity, and emerging technologies.

McIntosh: How are data and technology used in the reporting process?

Ganter: For years, we’ve worked with universities and data companies to find new ways to inform critical narratives about the world’s water challenges. Now, we’re using semantic analysis, satellite data, groundwater and river measurements, and social indicators to spot trends early. But perhaps most important when dealing with technology, is location context. We call it IWT, or “I was there.” We triangulate the remote data points with on-the-ground reporting. 

For example, our journalists have lived with Inner Mongolian shepherds to understand the impact of coal mines on water supplies, camped with Merasi farmers in India near the Pakistan border whose wells are precariously low, and explored the sewers of Sao Paulo where water supplies and sanitation will define the city’s future. Data opens up so many new opportunities, but the world still is not a click away—data needs context.

McIntosh: What is the Perception Reality Engine and how is it used in Mission.4?

Ganter: When decisions today are expected more quickly and can ripple for years across communities and borders, we face a tenuous balance between opinion and trusted science, yet people often act on opinion and perception. To help us, our networks, and our partners, we’ve partnered with Vector Center, a spin-off from nonprofit Circle of Blue, plus AI and data visualization technology innovators, to develop the Perception Reality Engine. The goal is to generate realtime comparisons between perception (sentiment and opinion), reality (trusted data and research sources) and on-the-ground context (who is doing what why). This patent-pending process uniquely combines tools of sentiment analysis, data, and gumshoe reporting to produce faster situational awareness (present position) and chart an informed course (direction or vector).

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