Get ready to scale with a simpler and more stable Akvo Flow

by Jana Gombitova

We started this year with one goal in mind: to make Flow so stable and reliable that it lets you scale your data collection limitlessly. We defined a number of technical, functional and design improvements to tackle and got started.

Our work in the first two months of 2017 focused on technical improvements. We scoped out what we call the Flow refactor – a project to restructure the way Flow handles data, without changing any of the tool’s behaviour. Secondly, we started breaking down the code into smaller chunks to build tests around these functionalities. This means we are ensuring that every release works as expected, more rapidly. Above all, we have been focusing on fixing the code to improve its stability, loading times and performance.
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New Akvopedia app launches

by Jo Pratt

A new Akvopedia app for Android mobiles and tablets is now available in Google Play.

Akvopedia is Akvo’s free online resource for finding and sharing knowledge about all stages of water, sanitation and hygiene projects, as well as food and nutrition security. It’s filled with information on smart and affordable technologies and approaches in rural or urban settings and is also widely used by project teams to learn more about financing, constructing and maintaining a project to keep it functioning and stable for the long term.

Anyone can edit and contribute knowledge to Akvopedia via the akvopedia.org website. It currently contains around 2,000 articles primarily in English, as well as some pages in eight other languages, mostly within the water and sanitation portals: French, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Swahili, Tamil and Malayalam.

The initial release of the Akvopedia app lets you access all the information from Akvopedia.org on your Android device. You can search and browse articles, and save content in order to access it while you’re offline. You can also adjust the font size for easier to read text. Video is currently disabled in the app, but will be working in a future release

Jo Pratt is a communications consultant based in the UK. You can follow her on Twitter @jo108.

Moving on

by Jo Pratt

After around seven years at Akvo I’m stepping out of the organisation over the coming five months. I officially leave at the end of February but I’ll still be around in the background as a member of Akvo’s “extended team” until the end of July.

They say that life goes in seven year cycles, so a big change at this point feels kind of aligned with the order of things. But I will miss so many of my colleagues. Akvo has grown a great deal from the team of twelve I stepped in to in 2010 to the “tiny multinational” of 90+ people it is today. It’s no longer a young start up but an established entity moving towards maturity. So many talented, intelligent, knowledgeable, passionate people have joined or passed through the organisation in different parts of the world, bringing in new perspectives and innovations and taking us in fresh directions. I’ve made some lifelong friends here and had the privilege to collaborate with and learn from some people I greatly admire. I feel very lucky.

Working in an organisation with a worthwhile mission is another privilege (and it is a privilege) that I value extremely highly; it’s my biggest motivator – no doubt in common with many of my colleagues. I kind of fell in love with Akvo when I first started working here. I’d never been part of an open source organisation before and it was incredibly exciting and energising. In many ways it was almost the opposite of all my previous working experiences. It took me some time to switch off the competitive, corporate mindset that had been deeply inculcated in me since my days as a graduate trainee in a technology PR agency, and then reinforced in all my subsequent commercial and even non-profit sector roles. I had to learn to tune in to a more collaborative, creative, open and transparent frequency. At first, I struggled. But I loved it. I was so enthused. I had never enjoyed a job so much.

Above: “Akvo is, Akvo is not” by Gino Lee.
Top: Akvo communications team gathering in Amsterdam, June 2016. Photo by Greta Osinskaite.

Part of what was so exciting was Akvo’s communications culture, which has always been so much a part of the organisation’s DNA, and which was fundamentally different from any other I had experienced in my career in communications until then. It was largely the creation of Mark Charmer, who would also undoubtedly acknowledge the inspiration and creative input of Gino Lee.

What was so different about Akvo’s approach to communications? It was open, transparent and generous. It was more about enabling success than achieving it and more about facilitating storytelling than voicing other people’s stories. It was human (as opposed to corporate) in ideology, scale, focus and practical implementation. It was distributed and empowering rather than centralised and controlling. It was playful, energetic and experimental but with a clear, accurate and sustained focus on Akvo’s values and objectives. I feel truly grateful to have had the opportunity to play a part in nurturing and propagating this culture, during the time when it was most relevant to the organisation. Grateful because it has changed my perspective in lasting ways, so it’s a gift I take with me.

There are a bunch of things I’ve been involved with at Akvo that I’m particularly proud of. They include among other things our work on product branding and messaging, the instigation of the combi programme and the partner hero photography series, and being part of our small, part time communications team with a big international footprint has been something quite special too. Despite the challenges of collaborating across far-flung time-zones, we’re a tight and well-functioning unit bound together by mutual trust and respect for each others’ skills and talents (there are some extremely talented people in this team), as well as judicious use of Skype and Asana. This makes our collaboration not only highly enjoyable but also productive and effective with a surprisingly large output for a team of this size.

I hope that Akvo builds on the groundwork we did in 2016 to enhance our communications capacity around our regional offices through our programme of training and support for combies. All international organisations have to somehow resolve this conundrum of centralised versus regionalised communications functions, and this feels like the optimum, ‘best-of-both-worlds’ answer. It allows for a joined-up approach as well as inter-regional cross-fertilisation, while empowering each region to do what works best for them, with support as needed from HQ and other regions. But it needs resourcing – combies need allocated time to carry out the comms part of their combination roles.

It’s an interesting time for Akvo in terms of communications and marketing. The approach that has brought us this far may not be what the organisation wants or needs to move it forward into it’s next decade. The new paradigm has yet to be defined in detail and it will be fascinating to see how it takes shape.

Moving forward, I’m going to be working on other freelance communications and marketing projects alongside my Akvo work; initially including a hospice gardens project and the launch of a new human values-based design brand. You can keep in touch with me on Twitter, Instagram, and via my blog

Jo Pratt was Communications team lead at Akvo and is based in the UK.

When in doubt, zoom out

by Alvaro de Salvo

Above: The first draft of Akvo’s Theory of Change. Akvo Amsterdam office. 21 February 2017. Photo by Alvaro de Salvo.
What’s Akvo’s impact in the world? How can we better support our partners in achieving their missions? Will our strategies contribute to the change we want to create?

During the end of January and beginning of February, my colleagues Abdoulaye, Annabelle, Anita, Ethel and Henry held a Planning Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (PMEL) week in our Amsterdam office. Their objective was to engage in a process that would help us find better answers to the questions above. For five full days, they connected with multiple people across the organisation in order to:
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Opening Sierra Leone’s WASH data portal

by Lars Heemskerk


On the heels of being named one of the first “open governments” in West Africa by the Open Government Partnership, this week Sierra Leone has launched an interactive Water and Sanitation (WASH) data portal. This portal is a joint initiative led by the Ministry of Water Resources and has been set up using Akvo Sites. It displays data analysis features, interactive data tables, maps and raw data from the 28,000 water points mapped in 2016. Read More »

Lancement du portail sur les données WASH de la Sierra Léone

by Lars Heemskerk


Après avoir été désigné l’un des premiers «gouvernements open» en Afrique de l’Ouest par le Open Government Partnership, la Sierra Leone a lancé cette semaine un portail de données interactives sur l’eau et l’assainissement (WASH). Ce portail est une initiative conjointe du ministère des ressources en eau et Akvo. L’initiative est pilotée par le ministère des ressources en eau et a été mise en place grâce à Akvo Sites. Le portail affiche les caractéristiques d’analyse de données, les tableaux de données interactives, les cartes ainsi que les données brutes de 28 000 points d’eau collectés en 2016.

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Growing spaces for Pacific disaster management: mobile and smartphone based responses

by Jo Pratt

Blog by Mitiana Arbon.

Spread across a third of the world’s surface, many Pacific island countries (PICs) and their remote and isolated populations face acute development challenges and coordination issues. Mobile phones have helped to ease the challenges of some nations that sprawl across many island groups and connect communities in the face of extreme geographies.

While PICs face projected increases in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, governments and NGOs have only recently begun to incorporate mobile phones into disaster management plans. However, the rise of more sophisticated smartphone-based technology has opened up encouraging new avenues for policymakers working on disaster management.

Basic mobile-based responses

Across the Pacific, existing mobile-enabled responses to natural disasters focus on community preparedness and information dissemination. Through bulk-SMS message updates, network providers and national disaster coordinators provide users with critical information before, during, and after such events. Ranging from emergency tsunami warnings to condensed weather forecast updates, before and even during cyclones, these services are pre-arranged by agreements between network providers and local governments.

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A view of Kenya’s water sector, from Kenya Water Week

by Tabitha Gerrets

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From aid to trade
was the title of the first ever Kenya Water Week, held in Nairobi from 21-25 November. Those familiar with Dutch development policy will not be surprised that there was a considerable Dutch delegation, as the slogan is embraced by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Panellists and presenters included members of, amongst others, the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), Vitens Evides International (VEI), Aqua for All and Akvo. The big (orange) Netherlands Pavillion was shared with other Dutch players such as SNV, Simavi, Wetlands International, Future Pump and Upande. For a little while, it felt like being in the Netherlands again.

Liliane Ploumen has been advocating for the move from aid to trade since she became the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in 2012. Kenya fits within that policy shift, at least on paper. In 2015 it acquired the status of lower middle-income county, with an annual income per capita of $1,046 to $4,125. The Dutch government responded by declaring it will phase out development cooperation and move towards more economically driven collaboration. During Water Week, visitors got a glimpse of what that could look like. Read More »

Ten misconceptions about mobile data collection

by Lars Heemskerk

ceci-nest-pas-une-pipe1

Above: This is not a pipe. The difference between reality and conception is sometimes hard to tell. Painting above: The Treachery of Images by René Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967)

The number of smartphone users worldwide surpassed 2 billion this year. This rapid growth has given endless opportunities in the development of smartphone applications. It also brings many new possibilities to the field of data collection. Although mobile data collection is increasingly being used, I’ve noticed that some people still feel skeptical about it. Whether it has to do with the confidence that people have in the old means of collecting data (pen and paper) or the unfamiliarity of new techniques, most of the judgements I hear around me are based on false assumptions. In this blog I will refute the ten most commonly heard misconceptions about mobile data collection. Read More »