The first in a two part series, Amitangshu Acharya blogs about his recent trip to Nepal.

Recently, I visited Kathmandu, Nepal to train the staff of NGO Bio Gas Sector Partnership (BSP) Nepal on how to use Akvo FLOW, a trip that was the culmination of a process that kick started in February 2012.

As part of Akvo’s engagement with the Dutch WASH Alliance (DWA), we wanted to introduce to our DWA partners to new technologies. While most were well versed with Akvo Really Simple Reporting (RSR), we also wanted to bring on board Akvo FLOW. This would not only provide greater means for efficient monitoring for DWA partners but would also provide us with ideas on how to improve FLOW’s capability and utility.

Things happen when pioneers get together.

In this case, Basja Jantowski, Programme Officer, RAIN Foundation (RF), Netherlands knew about Akvo FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) and wanted to experiment with it. She discussed the possibility of using FLOW for monitoring and baseline data collection with Indira Shakya, (Advisor to BSP-Nepal) for a rainwater-harvesting project, which was being financially supported by RF and implemented by BSP. It clicked instantly. Indira too wanted to see Akvo FLOW in action.

My colleague, Mark Westra, and I worked with both Basja and Indira to get the basic framework of our collaboration in place. We discussed in detail the speed, scope and scale of how Akvo FLOW will be used by BSP. It was decided that BSP would select its staff for Akvo FLOW training and I would travel to Nepal and conduct it. Post training, the BSP staff would take forward both training of enumerators and also managing the dashboard.

When I reached Kathmandu on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the 21st of May 2012, it was a welcome relief from the brazen 40°C heat of New Delhi. I was put up at Summit Hotel in Lalitpur which, coincidentally, is run by two Dutch gentlemen.

Lalitpur, for those who do not know, is the NGO and international aid hub of Nepal. As I made my way to the BSP Nepal office in Bagdol early morning, on both sides of serpentine lanes I-NGO offices popped up endlessly.

The quaint orange brick building of BSP Nepal hosted both its Bio Gas Unit as well as its Rain Water Harvesting Unit. Five staff members had been selected for the full training. They were to be trained in both smart phone-based data entry as well as managing the dashboard.

Before training began, we had already made substantial progress. The phones had been purchased and Charushree Nakarni, had already followed the instructions from a YouTube video I had prepared and installed the Akvo FLOW app on all five new smart phones. She had also located the Wi-Fi Mac address of these phones using another video link I had prepared and emailed them to me. As a result, I was able to locate all the new Wi-Fi Mac addresses on my Akvo FLOW dashboard before I reached Kathmandu.

We began with an introductory session, and briefly discussed smart phones and their various applications that have utility in our daily lives.

An app for measuring heartbeat rate in particular became popular to the point of distraction. During the training, I could see from the corner of my eye, trainees measuring their heartbeats!

The trainees progressed to creating and managing surveys in FLOW. On the second day, they created a detailed baseline questionnaire on the dashboard and, using Wi-Fi, installed the survey onto their phones.

Next, we went out and engaged in demo data collection. During this, we realized specific errors we had made while creating the survey. In some cases, we had forgotten to allow decimal points. In other cases the questions that were automatically supposed to appear on pressing yes in the previous question (i.e. dependent questions on FLOW) appeared later. The latter was a bit anomalous, and will need a proper investigation later.

After submitting the data via Wi-Fi, its “automagical” (as Thomas Bjelkeman-Petersson often puts it) presentation on the dashboard in analysed form drew gasps of surprise.

It was an epiphany, perhaps.

I had a feeling that, up to that point, trainees had labored their way through the dashboard wondering why they were doing all this in the first place. The appearance of the data within 5 minutes of submission in the form of pie charts was their answer.

We were ready to take FLOW into the field.

In Part II of Akvo FLOW in Nepal, we head to Kavre for field-testing.

Amitangshu Acharya is a consultant, Asian programmes, for Akvo