OpenDataCamp Delhi – 22 November 2015

by Guneet Narula

The open data movement in India is vibrant and has been growing steadily in the past few years.

Akvo Foundation has been involved with an eminent community in this movement called DataMeet, and this year is partnering with other organisations to help DataMeet hold an Open Data Camp in New Delhi.

This is the second camp in the city and Akvo has played a central role in organising both.

The camp is based on an open ‘unconference model’ and will be held on Sunday 22 November 2015. It will provide a space to open up and work with government and non-government data in India.

This year’s Camp will focus on advancing these conversations towards discussing and articulating how the open data agenda should be integrated into the Digital India initiative, the flagship programme of the Government of India.

It has the aim to harness the possibilities of information technologies for accountable governance, effective citizenship, and a productive and job-creating digital economy.

As part of the program, we’ll examine recent international processes towards better global availability of interoperable and comparable data, such as the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development initiative of UN, and the International Open Data Charter – introduced by the Open Data Working Group of Open Government Partnership – will provide the wider context for our discussions. 

The Akvo South Asia team has been instrumental in organising this event and supporting the DataMeet’s Delhi chapter.

At the camp, we will be showcasing Akvo Caddisfly, to illustrate how mobile tools can feed into the open data revolution for better infrastructure and services development.

Guneet Narula supports technical partnerships and training in Akvo’s Asia hub. He’s based in New Delhi and you can follow him on Twitter @guneetnarula

Investigating Akvo FLOW support

by Geert Soet


Photo above: Sherlock Holmes thinking about data. Photo by Justin Ennis

‘Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay,’ voiced the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, in the Adventure of Copper Beaches. Arthur Conan Doyle, its creator, was referring to the tendency to jump to the impossible, to make bricks without their proper material. 

The insight has guided me as we’ve worked to create a new framework for Akvo FLOW user support. We would avoid jumping to a theory, a conclusion, until it was based on real material – there’d be no bricks without clay. So for the last three months, we’ve invested time analysing current workflows, incoming questions from partners, talking to partners, looking at ideas for new product features, and re-structuring support requests from trainers. We’ve collected multiple experiences from people all around the globe, either in the different Akvo hubs or in the field, using our tools. I’m happy we’re today rolling out a new process, which we are confident will make things easier, for everyone.

Tools don’t support people, elegant processes and a devoted team do
In this journey, we’ve learned about the different challenges partners, staff and trainers face. Ranging from low internet connectivity, timezone differences, late response rates, lost emails, limited accessibility to a computer, needs of highly technical support “for yesterday” etc. This lead us to understand that in order to improve the way we do support, we really need a focused and structured approach, with the aim to lower solution response rates to the minimum possible and improve the way we communicate with everyone, in the future.

If you think about it, when the average response time in a request is two days and it takes around five responses (you’ve experienced e-mail pingpong right?) from both sides before a solution is found, it already takes two week to get things sorted. That’s far from what we want to achieve.

Instant solutions, instant happiness
While looking down at our current self-help articles like knowledge bases, manuals, tutorials, and quick guides I asked myself the questions “what is the difference and the goal of all of them”, and if they are so important, why can’t I find them all at one centralised place?
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My Akvo Caddisfly internship – chemistry, water quality and smartphone technology

by Alvaro de Salvo

lab 850
Everything happened really fast. Two emails, one phone call and one Skype meeting and I was hired to perform a three-month internship at Akvo.

My name is Léa Bontemps. I am an environmental engineer with a chemistry background. I am convinced that chemistry is essential to understanding, quantifying and dealing with environmental issues. This is why Akvo needs it to develop its water quality testing kit, Akvo Caddisfly.

Above: Lea testing the Caddisfly kit on Fluoride at the UNESCO IHE lab in Delft, the Netherlands. Picture by Hans Merton.
My job was to validate the water quality measurements in a laboratory and say, with the help of the Caddisfly team, whether the smartphone application was reliable or not at this stage of the product development. But where to find a laboratory close to Amsterdam?

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Water & Health Conference 2015

by Henry Jewell

Our partnerships with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina are critical to the work we do to innovate and implement ICT solutions for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector. This week, we will participate in the 2015 Water and Health Conference, which takes place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is organized by the Water Institute at UNC.

At the conference, we will be meeting with partners and attending sessions, as well as presenting on Akvo tools during a WaSH monitoring, evaluation and learning side event, which takes place on Thursday:

What: MEL – Collecting, Understanding and Sharing: Technology and Data for Improvement

When: 08:30 – 10:00 on Thursday, 29th October

Where: The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, Room: Dogwood

Details: Convened by Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and The Water Institute at UNC

Developed by a working group in consultation with leading development organizations, the Principles for Digital Development ( are best practices to guide practitioners in international development in how to integrate information and communication technologies (ICTs) into their programs. This side event will introduce the Principles for Digital Development as part of a discussion about the current tools and practices being used to collect, understand and share data in the WaSH sector. During the break, participants will be able to interact with live demonstrations of a selection of WaSH-oriented ICT products. The digital principles will then be used as a frame for an interactive design exercise, ultimately producing both a “wish list” to guide ICT developers moving forward, and a set of community insights on how the principles can be applied to and adapted for WaSH monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL).

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Connecting the dots in Ghana

by Annabelle Poelert

group 850

When I was asked to organise my first Akvo training course abroad for the WASH Alliance International, I could not believe my luck. Since I started working for Akvo I’ve been working with updates and collected data that were sent to me directly from the field. Although I’ve seen a thousand different pictures of rusty water wells and pale pink sanitation blocks appear on my computer screen, I never experienced first hand how Akvo tools are used. Now I had to prepare enumerators for the Outcome Measurement 2015 project in Ghana, one of the eight countries that the WASH Alliance International is active in, to measure the impact of the past five years of work.

Being able to lead this training session in Ghana was a great opportunity for me. For the last five years, the African continent has puzzled and amazed me. I have spent a great deal of time studying the complex political situations in different African regions, but I’m ashamed to say that until last week I’ve never actually set foot in Africa. It frustrated me that I was trying to understand the highly complex dynamics at play, without any frame of reference.

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Accra until the moment of take-off to return to Amsterdam, I tried to soak up as many impressions of Ghana as I could. The elegant ladies in beautiful dresses carrying heavy loads on their heads, toddlers tied to their mother’s back with colourful cloths, men seeking shelter from the scorching sun under umbrella trees, and the stories of my colleague Barnabas Apom (freelance consultant and founder of Researchlime)  – what could I learn from them? Read More »

Simple is not easy. The new Akvo FLOW app.

by Jana Gombitova


With Akvo FLOW we aim to improve the cumbersome process of manual data collection by giving our users a tool that not only improves data accuracy, but also simplifies the way data is collected. But making things simple is not easy.

One of the challenges many engineering teams face is keeping their product simple. You want to build a tool that is easy to use, but also does complex things the user needs.  Many end up with an over-complicated system. On the other hand, keeping things simple does not necessarily imply building a tool with minimum functionality. The KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid – principle is a design rule which says that complicated systems perform the best when having a simple design.  

So the question then is, how to achieve simplicity? In his book, The Laws of Simplicity, designer John Maeda shares 10 laws on how to balance simplicity and complexity. One of these rules states: The way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction [1]. Removing what is extra and does not provide value while keeping what is vital is a way to get one step closer to a good and simple product.

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Akvo Team Week 2015 – my wrap

by Alvaro de Salvo


It takes a bus, two cars, and a ferry to get things moving forward. (And of course, a group of folks passionate enough to get involved with our organisational destiny.)

The bus is full to capacity. Over 60 of my colleagues sit together, making more noise than a summer beehive. Everyone is excited, talking and gesticulating while catching up despite the early morning start, grabbing their breakfast on board. Some I haven’t seen for over a year, others I’m meeting for the first time, on the spot. Each one I’ve saluted with the joy you feel when you see an old friend, after a long trip away from home. Two cars shadow our way on the highway, carrying the rest of the colleagues who couldn’t fit in the bus. The meeting point is the port of Den Helder at 9:00 am where we will catch the ferry that will take us to the Island of Texel, in the North of the Netherlands. There we’ll spend three days together before returning to our Amsterdam headquarters for a day or two. This is the start of our annual Akvo Team Week – or #AkvoTW15, as we brand it.
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PIND Foundation, Nigeria – improves development co-operation

by Jo Pratt

Team NDlink 1 850
PIND is the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta. It aims to achieve peace and prosperity among local communities by bringing together people concerned with sustainable development in the region, sharing information and insights, and encouraging innovative partnerships to support equitable economic growth. PIND’s activities are focussed in four programme areas: economic development; capacity building; peace building; and analysis & advocacy. 

Below: members of the NDLink team outside PIND’s office in Port Harcourt. From left to right: Ese Emerhi (project manager), Daro Ibitoye, Ogo Emenike and Chima Jeff Magwei.
Top: the team on the campus of the University of Port Harcourt. Photos by Aisha Augie Kuta, Port Harcourt 2 September 2015
NDlink office
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Finding a new way to start the Akvo week

by Mark Charmer


For the past five years or so, Akvo has had a Monday morning Skype call at 10am Central European Time. This has become the regular weekly gathering of colleagues, both in Amsterdam (where it is hosted from our big meeting room), and around the world (with people joining in via Skype with updates from their region). 

If my grandfather was still alive, he would marvel at our Monday morning Skype meeting. He worked as a communications officer in the British army in India in World War 2, which involved riding a Norton motorcycle on his own, carrying letters, plans, packages. Whereas we can sit in rooms around the world and talk together – and often see each other on video, for almost negligible communications cost (thanks to Skype, Broadband Internet and the really good computers we now have). We can gather upwards of 20 people together from around the world, all sharing what they do together in a convivial atmosphere. I think it’s important not to deride what is already there. It’s a little bit magic. It’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. And each week, I type the minutes myself, either from London or Amsterdam and mail them to everyone that morning, and archive them on our intranet. People can instantly read them wherever they are, be it boarding a plane, sitting on a bus or train, lying in bed or perhaps sitting in the bath, whether they’re in Seattle, Edinburgh, Ethiopia or Canberra. Isn’t the internet amazing?

Despite the marvellousness of all this, we need to change the format. Because the Akvo Monday meeting is not quite a global meeting, not quite an Amsterdam meeting, and not quite a forum to discuss things. And it’s too big now to be a place where everyone sets out their week. It just doesn’t work for 70 staff stretching from Australia around to California, via plenty of places on the way.
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Amitangshu Acharya: the final take

by Amitangshu Acharya

From the window at my desk I have a patchwork view of the school next to our Delhi office. Surrounded by trees, view of the campus is fractured by a dense network of leafy branches. And through that I witness animated innocence at work on merry go-rounds, seesaws and jungle gyms. In their white shirts and purple shorts, these children are an inspiration for anyone wanting to make a change in the imperfect world we live in. Having merely inherited this planet, what we leave behind is the question we will all end up asking ourselves one day. 


Photo: The view from my window at my desk. Delhi, India.
It is this very question that lies in the heart of all work that stems from our hub in the region. What are we leaving behind with our tools and our partnerships and our programmes? What change did we bring? What difference did we make? 

There are no easy answers. The journey from improved data collection, to open data to data based decision making that improves governance is a complex labyrinth. I needed an incredibly talented team by my side to navigate it. And I was lucky. I just didn’t get a great team; I had a team of greats.
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