Dots in the Pacific

by Aulia Rahman

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Above: Port Vila, Vanuatu, seen from the World War II memorial which overlooks the town.

I had heard of Vanuatu before. I think it was in 2006 when I was still working in my previous organisation. We had a project building government capacity for climate change negotiation in three countries – Nepal, Fiji, and Indonesia. Fiji was classified as one of 20 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) dotted around the South Pacific. Vanuatu was another, and that’s where I heard of it for the first time, though I never thought I would get the chance to step foot on it almost eight years later.

Vanuatu has only 250,000 citizens who inhabit some 65 of 83 islands – this is less than a single highly populated district in Jakarta, Indonesia. Yet, as with some other South Pacific countries, the management of water resources is a critical issue here. Right after Tropical Cyclone Lusi struck in March 2014, the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu succeeded in rapidly assessing the water resources situation. It took a month of work, and all surveys and mapping were paper-based. From March, until we held a training session on Akvo FLOW in early June for UNICEF-South Pacific and the Department of Geology, Mines, and Water Resource (DGMWR), the stacked pile of those survey papers remained untouched. Read More »

The new RSR is almost here

by Adrian Collier

For the past seven years we’ve been working with hundreds of international organisations to bring projects online with Akvo RSR in order to provide a consistent and consumable format for activities to be presented to the world.

One of the most powerful features of Akvo RSR – as it stands today – is that it brings a voice to people working in the field via RSR updates. With the introduction of RSR Up early in 2014, this was brought to Android devices. We’ve seen first hand the impact this can have for internal communication to increase visibility for projects as things happen, as well as creating an interesting narrative for everyone to be able to see and gain insights into progress and achievements.

With a focus on making things simple, we will be providing a brand new visual interface that not only makes the site look prettier than it has been for a while, but also gives users easier access to the actions they need to carry out as part of their work.

We’re also improving the IATI compatibility of the platform and making more changes under the hood that will allow us to roll out more specialised and needed functionality in the future. While we see this as a big release – after all we’ve been working on it for several months – we’re not stopping here. Read More »

Exploring the potential for a water point data standard

by Henry Jewell

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Exploring the potential for a water point data standard
Since the first instance when US NGO Water For People introduced FLOW in 2010, we’ve gained huge experience in mobile surveys of point data. Akvo FLOW has now been used to monitor or evaluate around a million data points, many of these being water points.

One of our key goals is to enable better programmatic and policy decision making in the development sector, based on high quality real-time data. In the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector (often termed “WASH”), we’ve focused on helping organizations and governments switch to digital and especially mobile data collection methods, such as through the use of Akvo FLOW. This provides accurate real time data on which to base decisions on.

So, does this mean we have already achieved our goal? The simple answer is no. Although a switch from paper based to smart phone data gathering is a huge step towards the end goal, major bottlenecks still exist. One is whether the data that is being collected is relevant and in a format that can be compared across organizations and regions. Another is whether data that is collected is used in an effective way to inform the decision-making process.

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Toilets for sale – changing sanitation mindsets in Indonesia

by Aulia Rahman

We walk through a small and hazy alley to get to the kitchen. The lady who has invited us for lunch is frying something. It smells nice. Suddenly a young girl appears from behind a curtain, which acts as the door to the toilet, based in the same room. The odour from inside mixes with the flavours in the kitchen. The little girl, the first daughter in the family, joins her mother to prepare fried banana for us. She does not wash her hands. As Indonesians and guests of the family, we cannot refuse the treat that is presented to us. It tastes good, but I can’t stop thinking about the toilet while I am in the kitchen. This happened in a small village in Lampung Province, a two to three hour ferry ride from Jakarta. 

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During the seventies and eighties, this was one of the provinces that famously supported the relocation of migrants from Java to other less densely populated areas, under the transmigration programme initiated by the government at the time. The idea was to create a more equitable distribution of population, particularly in rural districts, as Java was considered to be the most heavily populated island in Indonesia. Three decades later, the villagers tell me that their neighbourhood has totally changed in the intervening time. Their homes that used to be made of braided bamboo have now been replaced with solid bricks and concrete. Except for the bathrooms and toilets, that is. Read More »

Now’s the time to adopt IATI

by Jo Pratt

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There is little doubt that the reporting standard developed by the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is heading for the mainstream across the international development sector. Funders and donor agencies are increasingly requiring implementing organisations to report their activities via the IATI standard – no IATI, no money. Most grants from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for example, require NGOs to publish to IATI as part of their grant compliance. The Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs (DGIS) is now making the same stipulation. This means that many organisations that have not already adopted the IATI standard are now looking at doing so.

Why embrace IATI?
Funder requirements aside, there are very many good reasons to do it. 

Before IATI, a tremendous amount of information about development aid organisations and activities was filed away in reports that were not accessible, comparable or manipulable, meaning their value to inform decisions was limited or lost. The IATI XML standard lets computers understand and exchange this data. This increases the availability and usefulness of the information exponentially, greatly benefitting not only the publisher, but everyone else too. It means that your work is published in ways that allow it to be studied, transferred, assimilated, used and built-on in new forms of visualisations. 

This has the potential to shift development activities to a whole new level. It means NGOs can show people the work they’re doing and be accountable to their donors; organisations can plan and collaborate around each other’s work and learn from each other; governments can know which organisations are doing what in their own countries; and citizens can hold governments to account. All of which has the net effect of increasing the speed and effectiveness of development interventions. 
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The ambassador of the oceans has a message for us

by Aulia Rahman

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It’s 2.00am and dark. The moon is undergoing an eclipse and although the stars are bright, it’s not enough to dispel the darkness. There is the sound of the breeze stroking the palm trees mixed with the sound of waves hitting land, but apart from that, all is very quiet. A giant Chelonia mydas emerges silently from the sea and makes her way through some debris, crawling across the sand. For the green sea turtle, and most other sea turtle species, dry land is not a friendly place to go if you’re a creature with flippers. But this part of the lifecycle is a must, otherwise generations will be lost. Finally, after a quarter of an hour looking for a nesting spot, the 100kg creature is digging a hole 40-60cm deep and 30cm round in which to lay her eggs.

When I was first asked to witness the sea turtle nesting activity, I thought it would be like watching a hen laying eggs, but I was completely wrong. Sea turtles are extremely sensitive to light, but luckily for me, I was told that their hearing is quite poor, so whispering while watching them is still allowed. Many conservationists, especially those who work in this type of reptile conservation, can be hard to reach during the day. They’re awake mostly from dusk to dawn, especially during the peak nesting season which lasts two to four months a year. The work for them is a speedy race against egg poachers, and now it is worsened by coastal abrasion due to rising sea levels.

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Creating the first Akvo timeline

by Alvaro de Salvo

Three months ago, when I began working for Akvo, one of the first things I was asked to do was to create an organisational timeline. The objective was to build out a stream of the most relevant events of the organisation’s history. It would be an online place to have a visual story for us to reflect upon our past and how we got to where we are. It would also give team members, colleagues and partners a sense of the chronological DNA of our development.

Above: montage of images from the Akvo blog illustrating important events in Akvo’s history.

With a curious spirit and a methodical approach, I read over five hundred Akvo blogs and six annual reports and talked to several of my new colleagues. As an induction process for a newcomer, this was a privileged opportunity to rapidly understand the culture of the new organisation I recently dove into. It was also a lot of material to process! 

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On the road to open data: glimpses of the discourse in India

by Isha Parihar

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Recently I attended an India Open Data Community meeting organised by the World Bank in New Delhi that brought together government officials, academics, corporates, developers and a few development sector professionals to discuss social and economic open data opportunities in India and the emerging partnerships forming around them. 

Organised at the highly regarded Indian Institute of Technology, the meeting was focused on three key areas; experiences of institutions using open data around the world, how organisations need to prepare to tap into the growing potential of open data, and how to build and strengthen the community of data users and providers. The aim was to help assess the challenges and opportunities for extracting and using open government data in India, and to then communicate these at a subsequent National Conference on Open Data and Open API. 
India – open data opportunity
One of the key speakers at the meeting was Professor Jeanne Holm, a senior open data consultant at the World Bank and former evangelist for in the USA. In a brief presentation, she summarised the key reasons for governments’ willingness to open their data. These include improved internal efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, innovation, economic growth and better communication with citizens and other stakeholders. She highlighted some key observations about the opportunities for open data in India: the availability of a vast resource of data; a stable, open source platform for open government data; rich technological expertise and knowledge; and opportunities to design specific data sciences programmes in educational institutions. A rapidly growing community of open data enthusiasts in India, DataMeet, is also shaping the discourse on data and its civic uses and exploring engagement opportunities with a wide spectrum of open data users.
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Shining excitement during rainy days in Vietnam

by Anna-Marthe Sessink

During December 2014, ICCO invited us to give a training workshop to some of its local partners in Vietnam. Frodo and I travelled to Da Nang, the commercial and educational centre of Central Vietnam, where Le Hien, ICCO’s programme officer for Vietnam, arranged the training venue. The aim of the course was to introduce Akvo tools (Akvo RSR and Akvo FLOW) to the participants, and identify opportunities to help them introduce them into their own projects and work methods.

Beating Murphy’s law
Our trip got off to a shaky start when we arrived at Singapore airport to find our flight appeared to be cancelled. After asking around, we found it was only cancelled on the sign, and not in reality. We encountered our next challenge at the check-in counter, when I attempted to arrange the visa I should have already fixed before. Failing WiFi connections, cancelled payments, and delayed processing due to Vietnamese lunch breaks all took their toll. Finally, we got the proof printed, and we were just in time to take the flight.

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