Ajeesh Nellikunnel, student of Water Technology (M. Eng.), reports on the conference Democratia-Aqua-Technica funded by the DAAD from funds of the Federal Foreign Office. The SRH University Heidelberg, the University of Novi Sad along with universities from Russia, Hungary and Turkey have planned three project based events. The iniative is a contribution to strengthen the civil society, to develop democracy and to reduce ethnic conflicts.

The Democratia-Aqua-Technica initiative was forced to divert from its previous plan of transnational workshops and research weeks and instead choose a path that was less known until this year. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic caused many of us to pause and reflect on how things would have to change. It left us no choice but to hold a virtual workshop to share ideas and work together on solutions to the challenges of water management. Nevertheless, we responded to the new situation by embracing it and adopting new technologies such as video conferencing and live online workshops instead of the traditional methods. The whole project was then divided into different digital components, such as a web-based network portal (www.democratia-aqua.org), a digital game application called the Explorer App, a hackathon with different challenges that took place on 1/2 September, and a digital conference that was held on 24/25 September. Dividing the project into these components was a success that we are proud of.

The main concept of the Democratia-Aqua-Technica project was to find innovative technical solutions to make water resource management more sustainable. This would promote the reduction of regional and local distribution conflicts. Starting from this core concept, we then developed several different challenges to resolve in various groups: the rollout of a YouTube channel; further development of the Explorer App for use in other cities outside Heidelberg; development projects from the Neckar Now Summer School related to the topic of water in public spaces; and methods of preventing and resolving water conflicts.

As planned, the 24-hour hackathon started on 1 September with the intention of finding solutions to these challenges in different groups. During this quick session, participants were able to formulate solutions to and draw conclusions about the above-mentioned challenges. Furthermore, the group activities also enabled members to form new partnerships and find solutions to problems unanimously in an intercultural and less familiar environment. After the success of the first-ever hackathon for Democratia-Aqua-Technica, a digital conference was scheduled on 24/25 September to discuss the results of the hackathon and also to gain greater insight into the different technologies and research being conducted by renowned scientists and experts.

The digital conference began with a welcome speech by the President of SRH University Heidelberg, Professor Dr. Carsten Diener. This was followed by various sessions led by prominent speakers from Serbia (University of Novi Sad), Russia (Moscow State University of Civil Engineering), Hungary (Szent István University), Turkey (Middle East Technical University) and Germany (SRH University Heidelberg). The range of presenters ran the gamut from students to seasoned professional scientists, which helped all participants to get a blend of real-life research and related work as well as expert feedback and comments for presenters and other attendees.  At the end of the first day, the participants were taken on a digital tour around Heidelberg, highlighting elements of the city’s water and architecture in a fun way. On the second day, there was another round of informative sessions held by experts and students. In addition to technical contributions from the partner universities, the topic of water conflicts was also presented and discussed by several experts, including the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK). To get an overview of the individual research projects and details about the challenges, an online poster session took place, enabling the groups to present the results of their work, followed by an interactive question-and-answer session.

One of the main advantages of the digital concept of the 2020 Democratia-Aqua-Technica Initiative was that not only partners from the Western Balkans, but from all over the world were able to participate in the hackathon and the conference.

Even though the odds were against us in conducting a programme by exploring all available possibilities, our confinement in the virtual world did not stop us from delivering our best. Convinced by the overwhelming success of the first Democratia-Aqua-Technica project, the DAAD approved a continuation in 2021 as well. It is with great pride and gratitude that we were able to submit our project’s progress report to the DAAD.  This report describes our success in achieving all four of the goals we set in the first phase. Moreover, the project as a whole has helped students and researchers from all over the world to gain insights into studying in Germany and various services offered by universities in association with the DAAD. With fingers crossed for a COVID-free 2021, we expect to continue the success of Democratia-Aqua-Technica in the coming years with transnational workshops and projects.

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