The New Arizona Prize:
Water Consciousness Challenge

The Water Consciousness Challenge, the first prize offered under The New Arizona Prize banner, sought the best digital strategy for raising consciousness about our water future.

While the Arizona Community Foundation continues to award traditional grants, the organization made a commitment to host philanthropic prize competitions designed to attract new thinking and innovation. Through these open, fair and transparent competitions, ACF can deploy a portion of its philanthropic resources to generate innovative solutions to our state’s challenges.

Over the course of a year, experts representing political, policy, business, nonprofit, entrepreneurial, and academic interests were convened to help shape the first of The New Arizona Prize challenges. We asked them to identify an issue of significant importance that would trigger widespread engagement from residents and others—including some who might not typically participate. Together, we agreed that the sustainability of Arizona’s water future needed broad attention and investment.

The challenges begin

Offering a prize of $100,000, the Water Consciousness Challenge sought the best digital strategy for raising consciousness about our water future. Check out the website for The New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge and see how it laid important groundwork for the second challenge, which would inspire the development of products, services and businesses to address the issue of water scarcity and create solutions. The second challenge is described on The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge website.

The Beyond the Mirage team: Meg Hagyard, Dave Bogner, Craig Boesewetter, Cody Sheehy, Kerry Schwartz, JD Gibbs, Susanna Eden, John Booth and Sharon Megdal; along with Phil Boas, representing Republic Media and Jacky Alling, ACF Chief Philanthropy Officer.

Extensive coverage of this collaborative endeavor was featured in The Arizona Republic on Sunday, September 28, 2014, beginning with a front-page story and continuing in the Viewpoints section with an editorial by Linda Valdez, a My Turn column by Steve Seleznow, ACF's president and CEO, and an "AZ I See It" column by Michael Lacey, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Longtime water expert Grady Gammage Jr. was interviewed live by The Republic's EJ Montini.

Beyond the Mirage takes the prize

Each of five finalist teams pitched their digital media strategies to the Water Consciousness Challenge Selection Committee during the final award ceremony held in April 2015.

Beyond the Mirage, a team of water experts, videographers and social media marketers, was announced as the winner of The New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge and they used the $100,000 prize to promote water consciousness by making every Arizonan a water documentarian.

At the core of their digital media strategy is an interactive web platform and a bank of short video clips with an abundance of information about the water resources of the Southwest. Users are able to pick any of these clips and arrange them into a mini-documentary of their own creation and then share them on social media.

Visit to learn more about Beyond the Mirage and create your own story.

Representatives of the organizations responsible for the Water Consciousness Challenge were on stage during the final award ceremony to announce the winning team. They are: Jerry Hirsch, President of the Lodestar Charitable Foundation; Hal Tashman, Founder of the Tashman Fund; Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation; Thom Reilly, Director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU; and Phil Boas, Editorial Page Editor at The Arizona Republic.

The benefits of competing

All of the teams who participated in the Water Consciousness Challenge benefited from the feedback and expertise of the 30-plus evaluators and judges who represent a variety of organizations. The other four finalist teams, each of which received a $5,000 grant from the Arizona Community Foundation, presented the following strategies to engage students, businesses, city planners and community leaders in building water consciousness:

  • WATER IS LIFE proposed a plan to build a coalition to promote water consciousness through social media, surveys and educational events.
  • The Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University proposed a plan to engage middle and high school students with a water resource simulation tool to explore various change scenarios and their impact.
  • Creating Actionable Water Consciousness proposed a plan to engage city planners using an online tool that would allow them to run development scenarios as they plan for their cities’ futures.
  • The Support Our Schools AZ Collaborative proposed a “Pledge to Preserve” campaign that would provide educational materials for the classroom and gather data on how school districts’ water use changes.

Launching the Beyond the Mirage website

"This is brand new. What you're about to see has never been done before," Cody Sheehy said.

When he took the stage during an event presented by the Arizona Community Foundation in March of 2016, Cody prepared to demonstrate the innovative web platform that he and the other team members of Beyond the Mirage created to promote consciousness of Arizona's precious and increasingly scarce water resources.

Steve Seleznow and Cody Sheehy were the featured presenters during the website launch event.

With a few clicks, drags and drops within, Cody created a mini-documentary of his own creation and uploaded it to Facebook to share with his friends and followers. It took less than five minutes for him to splice together a few high-quality video clips from a bank of more than 250 and upload the final product to social media.

Sheehy explained that social media was at the core of his team's strategy to raise Arizonans' water consciousness because their key audience—millenials—gets the majority of their news from social media. They sought to create a tool that would engage this uniquely connected and environmentally conscious demographic and get them talking about the long-term future of Arizona and its water resources.

Beyond the Mirage, the winner of The New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge, launched its interactive web experience at a small gathering for Arizona leaders held at the Desert Botanical Garden. During the event, guests were able to create documentaries at kiosks, and users can now create their own documentaries from the team's website at


The team has collected interview clips from leading experts on water issues across the Southwest and has a bank of hundreds of media clips, including content from videographer Cody Sheehy's trip to Israel to see the water management strategies employed by that nation.

"Beyond the Mirage's strategy is the perfect example of what we were hoping the winner of the Water Consciousness Challenge would be able to accomplish," said Steve Seleznow, President & CEO of ACF.

"It makes information accessible in every sense of the word. It makes it available, easy to share and deliver," he said. "And it does this with a great, engaging tool that anyone would be excited to use."

During the evening event to launch the Beyond the Mirage website, guests were able to create documentaries at kiosks, and users can now create their own documentaries from the team's website at

The team and their strategy

The team's strategy is designed to maximize all channels of distribution.

By combining user-generated content with true expertise on the past, present and future of Arizona's water resources, Beyond the Mirage hopes to make education on this complex topic accessible to Arizonans of all ages. Clips will be available to teachers through PBS Learning Media.

The team's documentary on Arizona's water resources has aired in Tucson on PBS6, in Phoenix on KAET8, and on PBS stations in nearly 40 states.