This March, WaterCube will profile the people and issues being tackled at the UN’s World Water Day 2011 events.

Spanning several days around 22 March, UN Habitat is organising a series of activities centred on Cape Town in South Africa. These will bring into focus the people working to tackle the global water crisis, with the emphasis on “Water for Cities”.

We’re working with UN Habitat, SIWI and IRC to put a third version of WaterCube into the heart of the Cape Town event. We’ll also create a kit that makes it easier for other World Water Day event organisers to run mini-WaterCubes (or even bigger ones) in other places. And I’m hoping to help the communication team at UN Water syndicate WaterCube content around the UN websites and media networks.


What is WaterCube?

As Jason Fried says in his great new book “REWORK”, everyone needs a by-product. Ours is WaterCube.

For up to a week we assemble a pop-up video studio where something interesting is happening related to water, sanitation and development, we invite curious people to work as reporters, make sure it has a great web connection and we all bring our laptops. Then we create and upload stacks of short video interviews on the fly, using cheap and simple Flip camcorders.


The initial WaterCube design is a Swedish flat-pack, engineered by Mikael Frid. We’re working with SIWI and UN Habitat to publish the design and find someone in Cape Town who can build one locally, to a similar or improved spec.

We always do WaterCube with others. The first two iterations have been at Stockholm World Water Week, in summer 2009 and 2010. SIWI in Stockholm has paid for the space and connectivity, built and furnished previous Cubes and introduced young reporters. IRC has introduced a range of reporters with really diverse knowledge from around the world. Everyone has put time, support and creativity into making things happen – and they’ve helped us keep the concept really simple.

A big thing is the process – and its emphasis on simplicity. WaterCube reporters aren’t regular reporters – they’re people who normally do something else. We aim to keep the quality low – yes you heard me right. Each reporter edits their own videos and the goal is brief interviews, simply edited, pushed quickly online. Everything is licensed as Creative Commons and can be shared and reused by others. The system we use also makes it easy to embed video in other websites, blogs or in social media networks.

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UN Water is putting a lot of effort into using social media this Spring, and I’m hoping I can help its communication team really make the most of our WaterCube content feed. We have to bring things to life.

While it would be easiest to say “we’re doing this on YouTube”, the online video system we use is Blip.tv. Blip bills itself as “The next generation television network” and has a paid-for “Pro” version that we’ve tested in anger over previous events, with many reporters uploading videos simultaneously. Blip does nice work behind the scenes to syndicate material around the web, meaning that if you Google an interviewees name and organisation, you’ll probably find the video amongst the first search results. This Spring I plan to test more of the cross-posting features, too, automatically posting videos to social media services like Facebook and pushing updates to Twitter.


WaterCube interviews are edited right alongside the Cube itself, using simple techniques. They’re then put online right away, through the Blip.tv network.

Why is Akvo involved? Well it fits so well with what Akvo Really Simple Reporting (RSR) is about – simplified reporting that gets to the heart of what’s going on, showing who’s who and what they’re about. It also puts the emphasis on other people – not us. And it’s focused further down the hierarchy – it’s about the people who don’t normally do interviews. The world is so big, and so much amazing work is going on, yet so much of it is locked away. Why not find the real heroes and get them to talk about their work?

Further reading:

https://watercube.tv is the place to see what we’ve done to date.

“WaterCube 2 – The Sequel” includes a brief summary of how it works.

National Geographic blog review of WaterCube 2010.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo.