The right word – a branding manifest

by Linda Leunissen

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Last January I found myself in a comms meeting where we discussed the ways in which we were going to communicate about a new product we are developing. One of the issues that came up was that the current working title of the product didn’t particular excite anyone, and there was a need for a new product name. Product naming is what some call a ‘dark art’. It’s one of those things that we’re all familiar with; we all know the importance of good product name and brand, but how to do that seems a bit of a mystery. 

In the comms team we thought that, rather than come up with random names, we’d delve in to the history of Akvo product names first. We soon realised that in the past product names had been thoughtfully chosen on their own, but not necessarily in relation to each other. Richard Branson says that “Good brands reflect the histories of the time and the group of people that made them.” Akvo has grown in an organic way. So has our product portfolio, and the names not neatly matching up – like, for example, Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad – reflects the history and people who worked on those products at the time. It adds personality to the Akvo brand. 

However, as we expand our product portfolio, it’s good to look how we can move forward in a more cohesive way. By looking at our brand names from a historical point of view, we learned a lot about the strong points of Akvo’s (product) brand names, which helped us devise some guidelines for future product brands.
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What’s new in Akvo RSR

by Marten Schoonman

RSR blog
Initially created as a project publication platform for communication purposes, Akvo RSR has now developed into an online communication, reporting and monitoring hub for all your projects. Next week we will host a couple of webinars (See below) to walk through the new features in detail. In the meantime, here’s what’s new:

Akvo RSR as reporting tool

View and export project data
In the new “My Reports” section in “My RSR”, partner organisations now have the ability to create and export a wide variety of reports on their RSR projects. Because needs differ and can change, the reporting possibilities of Akvo RSR are very flexible and support various formats. There are two types of reports and exports: 

1) Fixed template: a report template is defined (e.g. country report) based on the available project data. Where needed data can be aggregated. The report template can be used on any programme, project, etc. and can be exported as a PDF, Excel or other type of file (depending on the report type). 
2) Custom design: In addition to the standard templates, Akvo can help you to define and create a custom template. We can create templates that allow you to closely monitor specific indicators to help internal learning and steer management decisions or export project references to use in project proposals or annual reports. More information on “My Reports” can be found here:

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Track and trace in agriculture part 2: digitising the paper trail in cocoa and coffee

by Eline Ditmar Jansse

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Above: picture of a coffee vine taken by Aulia Rahman.

Akvo is currently developing a set of tools and approaches to support its partners to collect better data in the agriculture sector. I previously shared an introduction to the social need for track and trace in agriculture, and you can read about some of the other work we have been doing in Lissy’s blog about the agrofood sector in South-East Asia, and Luuk’s reporting on the HortIMPACT project in Kenya.

Akvo has been supporting partners in agriculture for quite some time, particularly in SE Asia. In 2014, for example, SNV and Akvo began a partnership to support the monitoring of deforestation-free palm oil plantations. Since mid-2015, Akvo has stepped up its focus on applying its tools in agriculture and launched a range of new initiatives to build its capabilities in this sector. Initially, the emphasis has been on research and a limited set of field pilots to improve sector knowledge and gain insights into challenges facing the sector, particularly in relation to agricultural supply chains.

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Testing the waters in Mali

by Josje Spierings

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One ferry and ten hours in a car brought my colleague
Banzoumana and I from Bamako to Kayes, a region in the western part of Mali. With rain only a few months per year and an average temperature of 37 degrees you can understand the challenges around securing sufficient and safe drinking water here.

Since November 2015, the Direction Nationale de l’Hydraulique du Mali (DNH) has been using Akvo FLOW to map all the water points in Mali. The objective is to have a better understanding of the location and status of existing water infrastructure. Yet, it’s not enough to know where  water is available., you also need to know if it’s safe to drink. Worldwide, over 1.8 million people die every year of diarrhea diseases like cholera. Tens of millions of others are made seriously ill by a host of water-related ailments – many of which are easily preventable.
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Latest developments in mobile water quality testing: Akvo Caddisfly

by Josje Spierings

Check out all the latest blogs about Caddisfly on akvo.org, or take a look at this Tumblr blog from Ternup Labs.
Since 2011, numerous organisations and governments all around the globe have been mapping
water points with Akvo FLOW.

In 2012, our development team at Ternup Labs in Bangalore started working on a simple, low-cost, open source mobile screening test for fluoride, with the best tool for the job: the smartphone. Since then, we’ve been working to provide people in the field with a tool to do mobile water quality testing as well. And we’ve been focusing on developing Akvo Caddisfly, which we introduced in April 2015.

At the moment, besides fluoride, we are developing additional kinds of water quality tests for the Caddisfly app. These tests are a product of combining hardware, software and the use of the Akvo FLOW platform, which makes it really powerful.  All collected results are stored in the phone immediately and are sent to the Akvo FLOW platform, where they can be accessed remotely online.
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Why Monitoring & Evaluation?

by Ethel Mendez Castillo

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Above: Recent Akvo FLOW and M&E training workshops in Bolivia, Guatemala and Honduras. Photos by Ethel Méndez Castillo.
I joined Akvo a little over four months ago and when I tell people that I, a self-proclaimed monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialist, work for an organization that develops open source software, I usually get a blank stare. M&E is a central component of the new Akvo USA Foundation strategy so an M&E specialist joining the team is no accident, it is strategic. But, why? 

First, what is M&E?
M&E has become kind of a coined term to describe the process by which organizations generate evidence about their results. It has been around for some time but has become increasingly popular over the last decade because of the need to measure the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and thanks to a few high level international fora on aid effectiveness.  

Organizations focused on strengthening their M&E activities, but soon realized that monitoring and evaluation activities cannot be separated from project planning. Monitoring is conducted based on indicators set out in planning documents and therefore if the project plan is wrong, it is likely that we will measure the wrong things. Among the most common mistakes in planning is that organizations don’t take the time to understand the problem well enough before they design a solution, or they focus on output-based indicators instead of outcomes or impacts. That is, they focus on ticking the boxes for activities they are responsible for doing, like delivering things. But they may not measure what people do with the things they receive, or the effects the things have on their lives, which are usually the outcomes we would like to measure.
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End-user feedback: who do you call?

by Marten Schoonman


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Above: the Niger River in Mali. Photo by Marten Schoonman 

Setting the scene

End-user is a synonym of customer or client; a user of a product or service. Take water for example. Imagine water stops flowing from the tap in your shower. Your immediate response will be to call the water company. They are, after all, responsible for this service, and you pay for it. The outcome of this phone call, email or whatsapp message should be clear; it must be fixed asap.

Now imagine you walked for 25 minutes with two yellow jerrycans to fetch water for the day. You arrive at the community waterpump. There was water yesterday, but today you find out it does not provide water any more. Whether the well has dried out or the pump is broken, is not clear. You have no choice but to carry the two yellow jerrycans to the handpump in the next village, another 35 minutes away. You have no information as to when this situation will be solved.

Breakdown of water facilities and ineffective repair processes is a serious situation worldwide. This blog is about the question: who do you call? Read More »

Akvo RSR: what’s coming soon

by Laura Roverts

blogLaura

Check out the new pages about RSR on akvo.org. (Photo of Sa Pa, Vietnam, by Siamak Djamei via Unsplash.com)

We’re aware that effectively managing projects and partnerships, monitoring progress and performance and using data for decision-making are major challenges for many organisations. And we’re doing our best to help.

Real-time results monitoring

We’ve been road-testing a new ‘results framework’ area of Akvo RSR. This will give you an overview of all results, indicators, indicator periods and data associated with a particular project. Project officers and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) managers can use this framework to report on and keep track of progress against specific indicators, within specified periods of time. 

This new monitoring functionality will let you define your results parameters (indicators) at an overall programme level (parent project level) and import relevant results and indicators to related projects (child level). A data-entry and approval section in MyRSR lets you add actual values and comments. After data has been submitted, the M&E manager will receive a notification and s/he can then return, edit or approve the data. This makes it possible to update project results and indicators in real-time, and keep track of any data that is missing. 
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Dutch farmers test water quality in North Holland

by Hans Merton

A nickname for the Netherlands is ‘the Lowlands’. With approximately 26% of the surface of the Dutch Delta below sea level, the name is well chosen. As a consequence of this, we are fighting an everlasting battle to keep (sea) water out. Not only to prevent us from simply drowning, but also trying to avoid both our surface and groundwater bodies become too saline. Especially in the western and northern parts of the country this is a serious issue. Just east of Rotterdam, close to the North Sea, lies our national ‘sink’ – approximately 6.7 metres below sea level.

Fighting this battle is the task of the Netherlands Water Boards: they are responsible for managing surface water quality as well as our dikes and dunes in order to keep our feet dry. Management of water quality requires data and that’s where Akvo’s cooperation with Acacia Water comes in.

Pilot tests
Acacia is specialised in both surface and groundwater management issues and is well aware of the challenges the Water Boards face. One such Board is the Hoogheemraadschap Hollands Noorderkwartier (HHNK), responsible for managing surface water quality in the Province of North Holland, including the island of Texel, located at the very northern tip of the Netherlands. Together with Acacia, we’ve been working with HHNK on combining sensors with smart phones for mobile data collection on water quality. (You can read more about that project, winner of the Dutch Water Innovation Award, in this blog.) Read More »

Akvo Foundation USA: Strategy Overview

by Emily Armanetti

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It’s been nearly three years since we officially set up Akvo Foundation USA. Since then we’ve achieved quite a bit, including securing core funding for the organization, expanding our partner base in the region, as well as working with these partners to build monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacity to promote the value of common standards, innovative ICT interventions, open data and how to use this data effectively. But as always, there’s more work to be done.

Looking ahead, I caught up with the executive director of our US foundation, Henry Jewell, to get an understanding of what we are working to achieve in 2016 and beyond:

What are some of the key issues in development aid that we’re seeing now and how has this influenced our strategy for 2016?

The creation and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) pushed the sector to generate more evidence about international development results, with Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) being the common approach to developing such evidence. It was no longer acceptable to substitute good results with good intentions. Organizations were pushed by donors to generate M&E plans to show their programs were effective, with those with the relevant capacity creating best practice while others managed to just ‘get by.’ However, there was too much focus on collecting data to report back to donors and not enough focus on using that data for better decision-making at the local or national level upon which the program was focused. To confound this, the data was usually of poor quality and not accessible and, unfortunately, in many situations this is still the case. Now, there is a feeling of data fatigue within the sector: is collecting all this data worth the effort and is it leading to better outcomes? To rectify this, data must be useful and it needs to be demonstrated at the local level where it can have the most impact.

The MDGs are being replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With lessons learned from the MDGs, the creation of the SDGs was an inclusive process to make sure that the voices of the member countries were heard and that these goals were a reflection of the priorities of the governments. However, this process has led to an extremely complex set of goals – nothing is left out in the 17 goals and 169 targets – that now need to be implemented if they are going to be widely adopted.

We want to help partners collect good, quality data, but we also want them to actually be able to use that data to make better decisions about their programs and policies. Read More »