FIDO CEO Victoria Edwards will be discussing the potential of gamification in the water sector at Stockholm World Water Week on September 1.

It’s the start of Stockholm World Water Week and things are not looking great.

Our planet is literally on fire and water utilities are on the rack for profits, environmental destruction and leakage.

Something in the tone of this year’s media coverage suggests the penny is finally dropping about Day Zero (the day the water runs out).

It will be a Herculean task to avoid Day Zero now. Almost enough to make you want to stick your fingers in your ears and go back to playing Candy Crush Climate Meltdown.

But … that may not be such a terrible idea. Could we game our way out of Armageddon?

It is a serious point and I’ll come back to it in a minute, but first let’s have a look at how we got here.

Let’s get serious about water

Many developed societies don’t take their most precious commodity seriously enough. Water utilities are far too good at being boringly reliable. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security that things will always be OK.

They won’t. Water availability is a critical global issue. Within three years around half of the world’s population could be living in areas of water scarcity.

Public criticism of the water sector is both fair and unfair. Fair, because more could and should be done to manage our most precious resource. Unfair, because we are all responsible for letting the cost of delivering water outweigh its critical value.

Some now question if water is too important to be left in the hands of the private sector.

In truth, both state and private ownership models have challenges. State-owned water utilities can struggle to compete for tax receipts against politically sexier projects like health and education. The private sector on the other hand attracts that much-needed investment but needs returns which can leave it open to allegations of profiteering.

Whatever the model you use, it’s probably out of date given the challenges we now face. We all share the responsibility for sorting it out.

Take the brakes off technology adoption

The water sector is on the front line of climate change but it did not cause it. So instead of tying its hands through governmental short-termism or blunt regulatory tools, we need to think differently and incentivise change.

This includes addressing the sector’s famously slow rate of adopting new technology. It is hampering critical adaptation, deterring talent and stifling our ability to have positive conversations with users about their role in the challenges ahead.

How do you take the moral high ground with business and agriculture when you’re leaking a water at an unsustainable rate yourself?

Clumsy regulation is a brake on adoption. We need a carrot rather than stick approach; incorporating tax incentives, room for constructive failure, good benchmarking and the right environment to attract the transformational talent the industry needs.

Technology can reach help us do things and reach people that were previously impossible.

Harness the power of crowds

Gamification is a perfect example. Millions of people play games every day. We know it works. It appeals directly to people’s emotions while also allowing them an opportunity to compete with one another for rewards (and bragging rights).

Could we harness the power of gamification to increase knowledge, drive community agency and change behaviours – possibly even extending to direct action.

Public organisations have already started thinking in these terms. Think of the UK Environment Agency’s collaboration with Microsoft, the makers of Minecraft, on a serious game about building flood defences.

What if you could take this concept further and people to interact with their local water sources and feel a shared responsibility for them?

Many utilities have smart meters which allow customers to check their usage in real time via an app. In Australia, South East Water is going further by exploring tools that reward customers for using less water at home.

Deliver personal, community and societal benefits

How about combining fun and education with personal and community benefits? FIDO has teamed up with serial disruptor Will Sarni of Water Foundry and global education charity Project WET to do just this.

We are developing a gamified version of our leak detection app which rewards people for collecting leakage data on their phone when they are out and about. This is a game-changing idea for empowering communities and democratising water.

There is so much potential in this, especially for people who might otherwise not engage with the news cycle or activism. It could even help transform the water sector into an exciting career proposition for a new generation of tech developers and engineers.

It is worth exploring because we are approaching the end game. We’ll only have won when a child without thirst answers the question ‘‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ with ‘save the world’s water’.