Fake news and my summer internship

by Edgar Aguilar

Above: At the Open Gov Hub in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ethel Méndez Castillo.

This year has been really eye opening to me and I am sure the same holds true for many others. I started to realize that “fake news” and “alternative truths” are pervasive, particularly on the Internet, and this has made me more skeptical of what I see on my Facebook feed. But how do we find more truth in the information we consume? My unexpected summer internship just helped me to start answering that question to myself: we collect good data that we then understand and share openly.

My plans for the summer were not necessarily to work at an international organization that “creates open source, internet and mobile software and sensors” in order to make “international development and country governance more effective, transparent and collaborative.” I’d had no plans to come to Washington, D.C. and I had never heard of Akvo Foundation or the Open Gov Hub. I just knew about all the poor decisions and ineffective results achieved by governments and organizations around the world caused by the lack of access to good and real information. Honestly, I had never really thought about ways in which people could be working to improve the data used in decision-making and measuring results. However, one week changed all of this, and I had to move to DC for a summer internship at Akvo Foundation USA. It was through this internship that I found out that some people are working to integrate technology into the monitoring of development processes.
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Experimenting to improve our internal communications about products

by Alvaro de Salvo

Above: The Pallasseum by Jonas.

We at Akvo have been trying to solve a problem for a while now: how can we improve the way we communicate around product development, internally?

Akvo is currently over 90 people, spread across five different regions and time zones ranging all the way from Seattle, United States to Sydney, Australia. With product managers in Amsterdam and Stockholm, and most of the rest of the team elsewhere around the globe, keeping people updated on product development proves difficult. People consume information in different ways, and geographical dispersion, time constraints and people’s varying habits are not easily fixed with technology.

The tendency has been to deal with this by simply communicating more; more emails, more chat groups, more calls and more video meetings. Product managers then share with different groups the same thing, over and over. When we tried to reduce the frequency, people felt left out of the loop. We’ve come to point where we need to change this.

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Akvo Caddisfly: a water quality testing kit for SDG monitoring

by Arthur Heijstek

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been testing and improving the water quality tests that Akvo Caddisfly (our simple, low cost, open source, smartphone-based water quality testing system connected to an online data platform) performs, as well as adding new parameters to test for different types of contaminants. During this process, we found that moving from high fidelity prototypes towards certified and scalable hardware products is a challenge. After some deep thought we came to the conclusion that the best way to rapidly achieve our goal of a truly scalable and widely available water quality data system is to focus our efforts on connecting existing hardware to our Caddisfly app, and making the app as user friendly and effective as possible. 

Consequently we have spun off a separate organisation called Foundation for Environmental Monitoring (FFEM), which is focused on creating environmental sensors and associated hardware. Read More »

Introducing the Tripod teams

by Alvaro de Salvo


In the past few weeks, we’ve introduced a new way to improve how different people from various teams at Akvo work together. We founded Akvo ‘Tripod’ teams and they focus on the roll out, (re)positioning, and evolution of our tools and services.

Tripod teams were initially triggered by one specific necessity: the need to better coordinate the soon to be launched Akvo Lumen: our new data analysis, transformation, visualisation and publishing tool. Product launches are a perfect example of how multiple team members from across the organisation come together to make things happen in a timely manner. Different teams need to closely interact from multiple areas like product management, software development, marketing and communications, customer support, business development and sales, accounting, finance, and others as needed. It is not only coordination that make launches challenging, but the fact that usually individuals and teams have their own agenda and goals and sometimes fall into a silos working culture, in which it’s easy to loose sight of the bigger picture, thus impacting the work of other teams. Tripod teams were born to improve co-creation and collaboration, to double check everyone is on the same page, and make sure things get delivered on time for the common big objective(s). Read More »

Akvo’s eleventh: getting ready for World Water Week 2017

by Alvaro de Salvo

At the end of this month, Akvo lands in Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW). From Sunday 27 August to Friday 1 September, you can find us at stand 23 on the 2nd floor of the main exhibition hall. 

This year will be Akvo’s eleventh (#Akvo11) year at this global event. Since our start back in 2006, we’ve grown to a team of over 90 people, providing tools and services in five different regions. Along the way we saw first hand how monitoring using mobile technology – once a novelty- became a more institutionalised practice within many organisations and governments. From where we stand today, it seems to us that our next big challenge will be around building people’s data skills and coordinating interdisciplinary teams in ways to ensure that collected data is now transformed, analysed and put to use for positive change, at a local level. This brings lots of challenges, opportunities and also some big questions to answer, rather quickly. We are eager to connect with you in Stockholm. Here’s an overview of some things we’ll be showing this year, some events you might want to attend and which of us you can meet during the week.

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Launching Akvo Lumen

by Nadia Gorchakova

If you were at World Water Week in Stockholm last year, you may have caught a preview of our new data transformation, analysis and visualisation platform, Akvo Lumen. This year we will be showing the live product.

This new tool represents a big step along the road towards our vision of a world where data enables transformative decisions for a more equitable and sustainable society. Lumen has been built by international development professionals, for international development professionals, because we feel everyone in the sector should be able to trust their data and use it effectively for the common good. And we’ve seen that often, organisations struggle to move from data collection to applying that information to improve their impact and outcomes. Lumen is designed to link up that loop.
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Africa Open Data Conference 2017

by Lars Heemskerk

Above: Is open data in Africa a buffet or à la carte? The essential feature of a buffet is that you can directly view and immediately select which dishes you want where with an à la carte approach, you have to choose and order separate items.
Photo: the roundtable dinner at African Open Data Conference 2017, by Lars Heemskerk.

The phenomenon of open data is sweeping across the globe and across Africa. Throughout the continent there are many initiatives to scale up the availability of data to hold leaders to account, make more informed decisions and demand better services. This sounds very promising, but can and do these open data initiatives really help civil society, private sector and academics in Africa to launch new ventures, analyse trends and solve complex problems? Last week I attended The Africa Open Data Conference in Accra, Ghana to discover the opportunities and challenges of open data in Africa. The theme for this second edition was open data for sustainable development. Here are my main highs and lows of the conference. Read More »

Akvo spins off environmental sensor organisation – FFEM

by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson

In March 2013 I was introduced to Samuel Rajkumar by Amitangshu Acharya, who was then running Akvo’s South Asia hub. Sam and the rest of the team had come together to start an organisation, called Ternup, after they won the first prize in a hackathon in November 2011 for their water quality sensor-prototypes.

What led up to this was Sam asking several team members of the NGO Arghyam how the hackathon team could best contribute to better water quality in India. Ayan Biswas, who then worked with Arghyam and now works with Akvo, had suggested they create a low-cost device that can detect fluoride in water. Consuming too much fluoride can cause fluorosis, a dental and sometimes crippling skeletal ailment. The fluoride generally originates from ground water used for drinking water or to irrigate food crops. It is estimated that up to two hundred million people worldwide are under threat from fluorosis.

During 2013 Akvo supported Ternup with advice on how to set up and run an open source non-profit organisation. In January 2014, Akvo and the Ternup team decided to join forces to create a water quality monitoring system consisting of sensors, the Akvo software platform and our partner support services. Most of the Ternup team members joined Akvo and created the Akvo Caddisfly R&D laboratory in Bangalore. This work was supported early on by Aqua for All and later on also by SNV (PDF) and ICCO.

Achievements

Since then we have together created the Akvo Caddisfly water quality testing system. This is a combination of an Android phone and simple devices that can:
  • recognise and classify strip tests (available)
  • connect to external sensors for electric conductivity and temperature (available)
  • detect fluoride, residual chlorine and other chemicals using a colorimetric device (available, depending on region)
  • detect and analyse nutrient levels in soil samples using strip tests (in pilot testing).
If you are interested in any of the above tests, please contact your local Akvo hub office

Above: Caddisfly with strip tests, electric conductivity sensor prototype and colorimetric chemical pollution detection.

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La journée des partenaires de Akvo au Burkina Faso

by Wendemi Ilboudo

Ci-dessus: une vue d’ensemble des participants qui étaient présents à cette journée. Photo prise par Wendemi Ilboudo.
Chez Akvo, un partenaire de mise en oeuvre de programme est un trésor que nous entretenons et gardons jalousement. Nos partenaires sont au coeur de toutes nos actions et pour le leur prouver, nous leur consacrons une journée afin de leur permettre d’exprimer leurs pensées ainsi que leurs attentes. Pour l’occasion, nous associons également des potentiels partenaires qui apprennent des expériences de nos collaborateurs.

C’est dans ce sens que nous avons fusionné nos énergies pour l’organisation de cette journée dédiée à ceux pour qui nous existons. Le jour J arriva, le 31 mars 2017, nous nous retrouvâmes dans la salle de conférence de l’agence nationale de la météorologie de Ouagadougou pour participer à « La Journée des Partenaires ».

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