Introducing the A-teams

by Jo Pratt

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(or How to get stuff done when it’s no one’s job to do it)

In recent months a new process for making things happen has organically evolved at Akvo. It’s come about out of necessity because as we’re growing, we’re encountering things all the time that need looking at - things that are important, sometimes fundamentally so - but that we don’t yet necessarily have systems or people in place to deal with.

So instead of waiting indefinitely for someone else to resolve them, a few of us from different parts of the organisation have come together in small groups to just sort stuff out. The “stuff” is often something that has been particularly bugging us and that colleagues are fed up of hearing us rant about. Sometimes people may be encouraged to join a group because they know a lot about a particular topic, other times they get involved just because they’re enthusiastic and interested and have lots of ideas or care a lot about the issue. After it’s been sorted, or at least a plan of action has been agreed and shared so everyone knows what to do about it, the group naturally dissolves away. Read More »

Akvo Team Week 2014 – a review

by Mark Charmer

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Last week, Akvo gathered on the Dutch coast in a town called Noordwijk, for what I maintain is the most important meeting we have – the one where everyone comes together in one place. It’s hard to do – it’s expensive to do – because we are all scattered around the world. It would be easy for someone who doesn’t understand to say “well we don’t need to fly in that software developer” or “well they’re quite junior / new and we can’t afford to have them here” or “we’re not sure about that new group yet – maybe not this time”. But it’s really important that it includes everyone.

Photo: The Akvo team. Noordwijk, Netherlands. Tuesday 9 September 2014. By Loïc Sans.

As an event it was a complete success. Like anything really good, that was because of a combination of factors. First, getting everyone to a venue that wasn’t the Amsterdam office, and with everyone staying over, meant the Dutch team could really connect on an even footing with everyone visiting. The beach location was lovely. Noordwijk is a very interesting place – curiously genteel was the label myself and @ruarcc settled upon – that felt very safe and clean and historic. It wasn’t cold – in fact it was quite warm and bright. People went surfing, swimming or to beach bars in their spare time. @lindadutches even ran a morning yoga class. I had some kind of beach party late every night for four nights in a row (the Tuesday night one was a particular triumph). The hotel we stayed in – the Zonne – was a really nice size for us and very friendly. I loved the nice old dog pottering about between the steps, reception and the kitchen. The main entertaining space was a great size for the group, which was just over 50 people. The meeting spaces downstairs were functional. The cosy bar felt strangely American and was run by Geneviève, an impossibly cool Dutch rock chick. The garden out back was really nice, hosting things including the Comms Crash! Course, a barbecue and the inaugural gatherings of what will be known henceforth as the Amitangshu Acharya Whiskey Club. And beyond the garden were some tennis courts where loads of people got to play (or in my case do my Wimbledon ball-boy thing).

A structure that worked

The other key strengths came from the way the agenda was structured. As I mentioned in my pre-event blog we avoided “top-down” presentations, instead asking people to present 10-minute (en)lightning talks – 22 in total. These worked incredibly well. I really appreciated @SvHeukelum and @kasperbrandt being firm and keeping everyone to time. By the end we were so used to these ten minute slots that they actually felt quite long – not rushed at all. One really important thing is that if you attended Akvo Team Week 2014, you got to watch all the lightning talks. There is no ifs and buts on that. So right now, everyone is on the same page. This is very powerful. We also had a range of 40 minute workshops, all of which felt like a nice spacious environment to expand on key themes in. The agenda also had plenty of space for people to spend time together doing different things in small groups informally – a vital aspect of the week.

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All set for Akvo Team Week, 2014

by Mark Charmer

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Each year the whole Akvo team gathers together to meet. It’s a really important thing to do – probably our most important week of the year. We’re scattered across the world and while that works well in many ways, the time we spend together is vital to share experience, learn and develop a connection with colleagues, and evolve a shared sense of identity and direction.

Team Week 2014 kicks off on Monday, in the Netherlands. We’ll be spending the first three days at the Dutch coast in a place called Noordwijk. The organisation has been growing, as our partners are seeking our support at an ever greater scale. So there will be around 55 people attending.

This year we’ve tried to make the event really inclusive – for a start the Dutch team will be staying on site too, rather than going home each night. This puts everyone on the same footing – and was possible because we moved the event to a lower cost venue, avoiding so much expensive Amsterdam accommodation. We’ve also worked to avoid a “top down” agenda, where everyone gathers to listen to directors telling everyone how it is. Instead almost all of the agenda is comprised of two kinds of sessions, powered by pretty much everyone… Read More »

Akvo RSR and FLOW – 2 page flyers

by Mark Charmer

Although putting product info online is the way forward (in ever more mobile-friendly ways in fact), a lot of our partners still want information on our products that they can hold in their hands. So we’ve recently designed updated “2-pager” flyers for Akvo RSR and Akvo FLOW. These are available in English, French and Spanish. They can be downloaded and printed off, sent via email as attachments, etc.

We find people want to see examples from their part of the world, so we have distinctive African, Asian and Latin American looks, each featuring a relevant “Akvo heroes” photograph from that region and made available in the appropriate mix of English, French and Spanish. Aside from the variations in photography, all the other content is the same on each. Click on the relevant links for a PDF download.

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Akvo at World Water Week 2014

by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson

stockholm Akvo has a long relationship with World Water Week, hosted late each summer in Stockholm. This year we’re back once again, at the Stockholmsmässan congress centre, from Monday 1st to Friday 5th September 2014.

Demos of Akvo tools in action
The Akvo team has never had a bigger, better story to share than we do today. More than €1 billion of water sector development programmes now use Akvo tools to bring project activity online, make it easy to update and to undertake monitoring and evaluation, using the internet and smart phones. 
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The state of Akvo FLOW, August 2014

by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson

In March 2012 Water for People and Akvo penned an agreement where we at Akvo took over the development and operation of FLOW and also supporting partner organisations using the product. Since then we have made great strides on both the development and usage of FLOW.

FLOW timeline
A timeline of Akvo FLOW development 2012-2014

Guided by great feedback from our partners, we have been really busy working to further develop and improve Akvo FLOW. With this in mind, we thought it was a good time to give an update on progress.

Product improvements

The FLOW development team has gotten in to a steady rhythm of releases to make sure that improvements and new functionalities are reaching partners as soon as possible.

Monitoring features – One of the most exciting and most requested new features has been what we call ‘monitoring features’. This new functionality allows you to revisit something — e.g. a water pump, a school, farmer, — that was surveyed before, and add new survey data, so you can monitor it over time. This is critical because it moves monitoring beyond baseline and endline collections and makes it easier to gather information during a project; which can be used for decision making to steer projects during their implementation. Documentation is currently being developed for this in preparation for a full rollout in the next couple of weeks.

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Akvo FLOW server-side map clustering and FLOW app with monitoring (history tab)
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Akvo and the SSH4A training marathon

by Luuk Diphoorn

In April 2014, SNV and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) officially launched the multi-country Sustainable Sanitation & Hygiene for All (SSH4A) Results Programme, which will be conducted across nine countries in Africa and Asia from 2014 to 2018. DFID awarded SNV with a €28 million service contract to fund the SSH4A Results Programme in nine countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It aims to improve the lives of around 2 million people with better sanitation. SNV approached Akvo to support it in the SSH4A programme, through various country training exercises and technical support in the use of Akvo FLOW, first during the “baseline” – setting the initial bar against which progress would be measured – and then the first mid-term monitoring household survey data collection exercises.

Akvo has just finished conducting training exercises in nine countries, within a timespan of two weeks. Here I explain what we did and some of the challenges each country team faced, and what the results are so far in terms of the various data collection efforts.

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Caption: Screenshot of map within SSH4A Akvo FLOW Dashboard showing data collected in the nine countries.
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Open Development – trends, concerns and opportunities

by Josje Spierings

Photo blog
Last month, I attended the open knowledge festival (OKFest14) in Berlin. A two day conference about all kinds of ‘open’ – open knowledge, open science, open culture, open data and more. The ‘open’ that sparks my interest is Open Development.

Above: networking at OKFest14. Photo by Josje Spierings. Berlin, July 2014.

There are several definitions of Open Development, some short and brief and others more in detail (such as this, by Tim Davies, World Bank). But I would like to give my view on how I see one part of Open Development, namely the open development data focused on development cooperation.

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Michael Jackson gloves (How to deal with RSI)

by Linda Leunissen

Michael-Jackson-gloves As a graphic designer I spend a lot of time working on my computer. On an average day I start with catching up on Skype chats and reading through my emails and answering them. Then I usually set my keyboard aside and start working on designs for leaflets, the website or other exciting things I get to design. I use a few keyboard shortcuts, but most of the time I’m click click clicking away with my mouse. This is my routine, three days a week. Until recently.
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Looking at the world through Singaporean glasses

by Frodo van Oostveen

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Today I’m working from my flexible office – Jewel Coffee Bar in the Singapore Business District Area. I’ve just finished a conversation about potentially registering Akvo Singapore which took place around the corner in the Hong Leong building, on the 33rd floor. Singapore is a city of cultural and architectural extremes. Although I’ve been working from home and coffee bars for four months (100 days) now – and still enjoying it – I’m still not used to it.

Reflections
Lets have a doppio espresso and reflect on my first 100 days in this new role. There are many items on the check-list, including getting a multi-dimensional view of the business, identifying our biggest challenges, building a team and not forgetting work-life balance. 

Akvo is in the process of growing through regional hubs where local staff can build our partners’ capacity for reporting and monitoring through training and support to use our tools. But our partners don’t have any projects on the ground in Singapore, so I’m focusing on building partnerships (from Singapore) with organisations with a regional focus. A new trend is gaining momentum here known as impact investing. Last month I attended Impact Asia Forum, at the end of August I will participate in Bottom of the Pyramid World in Singapore.
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