Last month, during the first Annual Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) joint sector review and the launch of the Sector Investment Plan and Capacity Development Plan, more than 200 people came together in Monrovia to present and discuss the progress made toward meeting the goals of the WASH Sector strategic plan for the next five years. Among them were representatives of the World Bank, the African Development Bank and UNICEF. This is really an achievement toward clearly defining what is needed for WASH development in Liberia.

Two weeks later, another step toward progress was taken when the Liberian Government signed a partnership with Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA), which will further the cooperation between Liberia and WSA to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the region.

At the same time, the implementation of a real monitoring system at a national level in Liberia is underway. Assistant Minister George W.K. Yarngo of the Ministry of Public Works (MPU) and the The National Water Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Committee (NWSHPC), have set up a team that will be in charge of monitoring WASH in Liberia. The committee was initially financed by UNICEF and is headed by Abdul Hafiz Koroma of the Ministry of Public Works (MPU). Akvo helped to install the monitoring system and provide training for the government and NGOs in a project financed jointly by the Ministry of Public Works and UNICEF.

Implementing a national monitoring and evaluation system

Akvo is working with a number of countries, including Liberia, to implement national monitoring and evaluation systems. The work in Liberia is being done in follow up to an initial monitoring exercise that was done in 2011 by WSP, with support from UNICEF and Water for People, to map 10,000 water points in the country using FLOW.

Setting up a national monitoring unit consists of several steps:

Step 1: Akvo installed the Liberian WASH instance that was still managed by WSP and transferred all data to the new Akvo FLOW 1.5 database at the Ministry of Public Works.

Step 2: All of the NGOs working in the WASH sector in Liberia are in the process of being registered on the Akvo RSR (Really Simple Reporting) system.

Step 3: Once registered, NGOs put the projects they are working on online and sent updates on progress from the field to the national database.

Step 4: Participating NGOs purchased android smartphones for monitoring. Official project completion forms, in this case well and latrine completion forms, were digitized and installed on the smartphones.

Step 5: Once project teams make a well or a latrine, they complete the forms, along with the longitude and latitude coordinates of the water point, pictures, video, etc. on their phones.

Step 6: The data thus collected, it is automatically sent to the WASH dashboard if an internet connection is available. If no internet is available, it can be sent through a telephone line or retrieved from the phones manually.

Step 7: All of the data that is being collected feeds into the newly established Liberia WASH portal which has just been launched. The dashboard maps can be produced and simple graphics (such as histograms and pie charts) can be made for rapid analysis.

Step 8: Data can be exported to Excel spreadsheets for more advanced analysis.

Using Akvo FLOW in this way will ensure the existing water point database in Liberia is updated with newly created water points. While using Akvo RSR will allow the ministry to track the progress that partners are making in the field of WASH. The system as a whole will also inform future planning for water supply and sanitation.

Training partners on Akvo FLOW and RSR

To get the partners up and running, we held a weeklong training on Akvo FLOW and Akvo RSR for more than 60 participants from approximately 36 national and international NGOs that are working in Liberia, as well as over 16 government participants. This proved a huge success as, in the coming months, these partners will be able to send information in one single format and, as a sector, we will be able to package these in one system and create an analysis on WASH coverage and access quite easily.

This training was also very pivotal to the WASH secretariat, as it enabled current staff (though voluntary in some instances) to build their capacity in working with the Akvo FLOW dashboard as a means of strengthening local capacity and supporting partners in different aspects of the Akvo platform.

At the back of a motorbike in Monrovia testing a sanitation survey on Akvo FLOW. Photo credit: Jeroen van der Sommen via Twitter

The Akvo FLOW training included advanced dashboard training for staff who will create surveys and transfer them to smartphones, training for enumerators on how to use FLOW to collect data using smartphones, FLOW field logistics and practical exercises. The Akvo RSR training focused on how to enter projects onto the system and provide project updates. The participants will use Akvo FLOW to keep track of the work they are doing in the field and, in the coming months, they will continue to add the projects they are working on to Akvo RSR to show progress on the WASH monitoring unit, which has never been done before on a national level. This is a big step as coordination of NGOs within the country can be challenging.

While we were in Liberia, in addition to Abdul Hafiz Koroma of MPU who is based in Monrovia, we had assistance from Raphael Sufyan Sulemani of WSA based in Ouagadougou. Through Tohouri Romain-Rolland, an expert in ICTs for development from Ivory Coast, and offices in Togo and Mali, we have formed  a network of regional Akvo practitioners that can give local support when needed. All have recently received advanced Akvo FLOW training and can independently train NGOs.

Above: Assistant Minister George W. K. Yarngo describes the outcomes of the training session in Monrovia. Video courtesy of Habakkuk W. Sackor, Minstry of Public Works Liberia

When we left Liberia, the WASH unit immediately started their own surveys with Akvo FLOW. To start with, they are conducting an ongoing partner survey of all the NGOs where partners have to submit their profile through FLOW. Another project that is already underway is a water kiosk survey to track all the water kiosks in Monrovia. At the same time, WSP and MPW have started working on a survey registering over 10,000 water meters in Monrovia, which is a huge undertaking in itself.

The road ahead

One of the challenges involved in setting up a monitoring and evaluation system on this scale is that approximately 70 NGOs need to be registered on the RSR system and the NWSHPC is putting a great deal of effort into this. Another challenge is that project teams need to get used to regularly creating updates. This may initially seem like a lot of effort but once people are using the system to provide updates, rather than having to create reports, the ministry can see the results and recognise the people working on the projects.

Later this year, a renewed national mapping will be done within the UNICEF WCAR programme (funded by DGIS), making use of a “continuous monitoring” feature that allows for making survey updates.

In the meantime, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, has been quite committed to furthering the cause of water and sanitation in Africa. As an ambassador of water and sanitation, she will visit The Hague next week to deliver a keynote at World Water Day 2013.

It will take some time before everyone gets acquainted with the systems, but Akvo will provide online support and back up support when needed. Until then, these are great strides toward progress and, if this works well in Liberia, it can serve as a great example for other countries to organise their WASH monitoring in the same way.

Jeroen van der Sommen is a co-founder of Akvo.