Blog – Akvo Foundation https://akvo.org Tue, 16 Oct 2018 12:10:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The end of the year revolves around switching perspectives https://akvo.org/blog/the-end-of-the-year-revolves-around-switching-perspectives/ https://akvo.org/blog/the-end-of-the-year-revolves-around-switching-perspectives/#respond Thu, 11 Oct 2018 12:39:08 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=41281 Above: Revolving door by Marcel Oosterwijk on Flickr.Knowing what you know now and if you were to join the team... Read more

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Above: Revolving door by Marcel Oosterwijk on Flickr.

Knowing what you know now and if you were to join the team today, what would you choose to work on?

This is the question I recently asked my colleagues in the Marcomms team. But I wasn’t really looking for an answer. I was giving them a heads up on what’s to come: the first version of the Marcomms Revolving Door Week. In the third week of November 2018, we will focus on (and ship) the thing that we care deeply about, but was overruled by other priorities.
The inquiry to my team came as an inspiration while rereading Andy Grove’s Only The Paranoid Survive. Featured in the book is a well known story among entrepreneurs, managers and CEOs. The anecdote tells of a conversation between Intel’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), Andy Grove and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gordon Moore. Amid rapidly declining profits in memory chips – one of Intel’s main product lines at that time – Grove had a moment of brilliance that set the tone of the organisation for years to come:

“I remember a time in the middle of 1985, after this aimless wandering had been going on for almost a year. I was in my office with Intel’s chairman and CEO, Gordon Moore, and we were discussing our quandary. Our mood was downbeat. I looked out the window at the Ferris Wheel of the Great America amusement park revolving in the distance, then I turned back to Gordon and asked, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered without hesitation, ‘He would get us out of memories.’ I stared at him, numb, then said, ‘Why don’t you and I walk out the door, come back in and do it ourselves?’”


“If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?
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Changing perspective from an insider to an outsider helped Andy and Gordon see the big picture clearly. By contemplating Intel’s strategic challenges from an outsider’s perspective, shutting down the memory business was the discernible choice. This simple approach allowed them to remove emotions from the decision making process and gain clarity on what to do next. Even Intel’s customers were supportive. In fact, when they informed them of the decision, some of them reacted with the comment “it sure took you a long time!”. People who have no emotional or direct stake in a decision can see what needs to be done sooner.

What’s the point of the revolving door?

I am pretty lucky. I really am. In 2017, we created a new marketing and communications team at Akvo. Our management team have given me enough trust, mentorship and support to drive Akvo into such transformation. Eighteen months into the adventure and I am pretty happy with how things are going so far. I am also very privileged to work with three extremely intelligent and ambitious women who keep me on my toes and whom I learn from constantly. I also feel glad that we’re able to bring people on board that would help us bring our website to another dimension. Running global marketing in a non profit is challenging for several reasons, resources among the most significant. We’ve been able to co-create a shared vision which is pointing us toward promising things ahead. To make that vision tangible, we’ve introduced the OKR methodology, another of Grove’s brilliant ideas, to keep us agile, focussed and accountable. All in all, we have some extra room for a couple of surprises. As we are kicking into Q4, I believe this is the time to go the extra mile and start preparing solid foundations for the beginning of next year. We still have 25% of the year to do good work and December is usually the month that slips through your fingers like sand. We cannot afford to miss out on this great opportunity.


Knowing what you know now and if you were to join the team today, what would you choose to work on? #Akvo #RevolvingDoorWeek
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It is within this context that I decided to gift our team – myself included – the opportunity to do some work that’s not in our plan but that they feel is crucial to the organisation right now. I am talking about the valuable work that’s usually overruled by the urgency and importance of other priorities. Think of it as a free pass to ship stuff that you care about. A switch in perspective, Andy Grove style. For a full week. No questions asked.

Above: Revolving door sign on Wikimedia.

The rules of the game? Pretty simple.

  • Go out the door. Come back again. See what needs to change. Have a stab at it.
  • Work on something that YOU believe in and Akvo NEEDS.
  • Solve a problem. Face a challenge. One which you have the skills for.
  • Do something that makes you proud.
  • Make it low cost and high impact.
  • Be ok with the prospect of it failing.
  • Involve other team members but drive the results yourself.
  • Have fun. Lots of fun. Show off your feathers.
  • Start on Monday. Deliver on Thursday.
  • Make a ruckus.

If we stop changing our own perspectives, we stop learning. And if we're not willing to keep learning, we should probably stop working and do something else instead. #Akvo #RevolvingDoorWeek
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The importance of switching perspectives

If we stop changing our own perspectives, we stop learning. And if we’re not willing to keep learning, we should probably stop working and do something else instead. This will be a week for us to show up. Show that we care. Inspire other teams. And do some good stuff. I am really curious about the outcomes, which we’ll most likely share in this blog later on. For the moment, just go out the door. Get some fresh air. Come back in again. See what needs to change. Have a stab at it.

Alvaro de Salvo is Head of Global Marketing and Communications at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @aj_desalvo

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Lumen celebrates its first year https://akvo.org/blog/lumen-celebrates-its-first-year/ https://akvo.org/blog/lumen-celebrates-its-first-year/#respond Thu, 27 Sep 2018 11:49:23 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=41071 Above: Celebrating Lumen’s first birthday with cake. Photo by Jana Gombitova. This year’s World Water Week in Stockholm marked a very... Read more

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Above: Celebrating Lumen’s first birthday with cake. Photo by Jana Gombitova.

 
This year’s World Water Week in Stockholm marked a very special occasion in Akvo history. One year ago, we launched 
Akvo Lumen! And what a ride it has been. We’ve learned a lot about data in the development sector, introduced improvements and functionalities to further simplify how you go from data to decision, and most importantly, together with you, used the power of data to strengthen your impact.

This calls for a celebration!

One year in the life of Lumen

What better way to celebrate this milestone of our data product than with data. Lumen is now used in 23 countries across the globe and has reached over 420 users who have created over 2,800 maps and visualisations. This has allowed users to make sense of their data, generate knowledge, and share their insights on 360 dashboards.

One year of learning

We’ve also learned a lot about how you use Lumen to work with data. We’ve learned that you, our partners, prefer to showcase your data on maps rather than tables. We found out that the ability to layer multiple sets of information is important for you, as it enables you to show the situation in a larger context. The ability to explore your data in different visual forms also helps you to understand the data more thoroughly, so creating different charts has to be seamless. Most of all, we found out that you are not looking for complicated workflows. You want to go easily from a dataset to learning, ideally as soon as new data comes in. The direct connection between Akvo Flow and Lumen enables you to see your visualisations transform as soon as you hit update. These insights help us drive the development of our products and our data journey services.


Happy birthday Lumen

It’s been an incredible year, with many ups and downs, twists and turns, and a lot of lessons learned. That is thanks to all of you who’ve made this milestone possible. To the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Cisco, who supported the development of Lumen financially. To all of our testers and early adopters, to the team behind Lumen, and to all of you who make use of Lumen and have joined us on the data journey. Without you, this celebration of data would not be possible.  

Join us in celebrating Lumen’s first birthday!


One year ago, we launched Akvo Lumen! It's now being used in 23 countries, by over 420 users, who have created 2,800 maps and visualisations. #Akvo #AkvoLumen #HappyBirthdayLumen
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Jana Gombitova is the product manager for Akvo Flow, Akvo Lumen and Akvo Caddisfly. You can follow her on Twitter @janagombitova.

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My internship experience with the Akvo Flow development team https://akvo.org/blog/my-internship-experience-with-the-akvo-flow-development-team/ https://akvo.org/blog/my-internship-experience-with-the-akvo-flow-development-team/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2018 08:24:28 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=37549 Above: A few members of the Akvo Flow development team catching up over Skype. Clockwise from top left: Charles, Stellan,... Read more

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Above: A few members of the Akvo Flow development team catching up over Skype. Clockwise from top left: Charles, Stellan, Mary, Jana, Moses, Valeria and Mulo.

Fresh out of university, you’d never imagine your first work experience to be at an international non-profit organisation building open source data tools. But that was the good fortune I had. I’d just finished the final semester of my bachelor’s degree in software engineering when I was told about the internship opportunity at Akvo. Following one face to face meeting and a skype call, the offer was made and I was thrilled to join the Akvo Flow development team.

I didn’t know what to expect seeing as I had never worked remotely or been part of such a huge organisation with so many moving parts. My journey started with warm welcomes from people across the organisation, and I felt at home right from the beginning.

Having never used any of the technologies in the Akvo Flow stack, I was grateful for the time I was given to learn and explore on my own before starting actual work on Flow. My contributions to the Flow system started with working on simple issues to improve the dashboard’s front end until I was comfortable enough to tackle more complex issues.

Throughout this experience, I noticed the mutual respect everyone has for each other on the team; every member’s opinion was sought and every opinion mattered. As an intern, I didn’t think I would be involved in any sort of decision making and yet I was asked what I thought about different approaches to solving coding challenges and invited to contribute in design conversations. This gave me the confidence to share my thoughts and opinions, even in the presence of those with much more experience than me.

From working on front-end issues, I was challenged to begin working on a migration project for the Flow dashboard. This has been my biggest learning opportunity. I was given the independence to do research for the project and contributed even more to the final decisions that were taken on how to proceed at different points of implementation. I have learnt how to prioritise tasks and, through different conversations with my team lead, received great insight into what makes for good design in software development.

I have enjoyed every bit of my journey with Akvo, the lessons have been many and great. My time here has been a launch pad for even greater things and for that I will always be grateful.

Mary Musimire Magdalene worked as an intern with the Akvo Flow team for nine months from Kampala. You can follow her on Twitter @yyare22.

 

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Five tips for effective data storytelling https://akvo.org/blog/five-tips-for-effective-data-storytelling/ https://akvo.org/blog/five-tips-for-effective-data-storytelling/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 11:26:28 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=37133 Above: An illustration with the icons from Akvo Lumen by Marten Schoonman.In the drive to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable... Read more

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data storytelling

Above: An illustration with the icons from Akvo Lumen by Marten Schoonman.

In the drive to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), high quality data is needed to increase accountability, effectiveness and efficiency. But turning data into meaningful messages can be a challenge. Where do you start? Which visualisations do you choose? How do you turn your data into a compelling story? Follow these five steps and translate your insights into stories that matter.


#1 Understand the context

The value of data comes from what people do with it. For data to be actionable, it needs to be transformed from raw numbers into other formats and shapes. But how do you go about this? A thorough understanding of context is essential. Always ask the following questions before you begin:

Who?
If you try to tell your story to too many people, you won’t be able to communicate effectively with any of them. Who needs to hear this story in order to take action? For example, if you’re looking to get funding approved for the continuation of a learning programme, you should tell your story to the budget committee.

What?
Ensure that you know and understand what the goal of your data storytelling is. The story you’re telling should always lead to your audience knowing or doing something. For example, you may want to show that the learning programme was a success so that the budget for further funding is approved.

How?
What available data will help you make your point? The data you use will be the supporting evidence of the story you build and tell. For example, you can illustrate the success of a programme by showing the results of surveys conducted before and after an intervention.

#2 Talk to your audience

Start by identifying who you’ll be sharing the data or main indicators with. What kind of organisation or community do they belong to? What is their position within the organisation or community? What are their main interests and do they have the authority to act?

Determine the best channel
Storytelling is most effective in person, whether this is in a meeting or part of a larger event such as a conference. It’s ideal if the context of the event fits the goal of the data story, as the topic will already be on your audience’s mind. With decision makers present, your data story will be more likely to effect change.

A more elaborate approach may be necessary if, for example, many stakeholders are involved. Focus on the key players and determine which channels will be most effective in reaching them, whether that’s in writing (printed or online) or through traditional media such as radio and television.

Find the right format
Once the channel is decided, you can choose your format. The form of the data story should guide the reader and ensure that they have no difficulty whatsoever in understanding the information. Don’t assume that a chart or graph is self-explanatory; bring focus and context to your chart by adding annotations to key figures or concluding with a short narrative.

Last but not least, find out whether your data storytelling effort was effective. Check the results by collecting evidence on what changed after your storytelling and learn from your findings.

#3 Choose your charts

data storytelling
Above: Bar charts by Marten Schoonman.
Sourcing the data, ensuring its quality and performing analyses will provide you with a solid ground for creating compelling visuals. There is a large variety of charts to choose from. Choosing the best fit is an interplay between the analysis possibilities the data provides, the story you want to tell, and the characteristics of the audience. If you make complicated graphics that require a lot of explanation, you risk losing your audience’s attention or confusing them with too much information.


Choosing the best chart to visualise your data is an interplay between the analysis possibilities the data provides, the story you want to tell, and the characteristics of the audience. #Akvo #DataStorytelling
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When it comes to data visualisation, you are probably trying to show one of the four things with your data:

Relationship: when you are focusing on showing a connection or correlation between two or more variables. For example, you may want to show how the functionality of a waterpoint relates to its age. Best choice: Any type of bar chart. 

Comparison: when you want to distinguish between two or more variables. You want to illustrate how the two variables interact, such as the number of water points in the five biggest districts in the country. Best choice: Any type of bar chart. 

Composition: when you collect different types of information that make up a whole and display them together. For example, you may want to show the different founders of water points in the whole country. Best choice: Stacked bar chart. 

Distribution: when you want to lay out a collection of related or unrelated information simply to see how it correlates. You may want to display the number of reported water point malfunctions over a long time period and see if you can find seasonal patterns in the functionality. Best Choice: Vertical bar chart.

Warning! Watch out for creating a misleading graph. For example, a chart that tries to show a significant difference between two values by distorting the axis. The values only seem different because the axis doesn’t begin at zero. And watch out for pie charts. Using them to represent data is either impossible to read or gives a distorted view, mainly because it is up to the viewer to try to judge the size of the parts of the pie. As data scientist Karolina Sarna says: “Pies are just good for eating, not for chart making.”

data storytelling

Above: A chart created and broadcast by Fox News. Because the vertical axis does not start at zero, the first impression is a much larger gap than what is really the case. Image from Justin Wolfers on Twitter.


#4 Think like a designer

The presentation of the data needs to fit the context and audience to be effective and reach its goals. The easier it can be consumed, the better.

Eliminate clutter
Identify anything that isn’t adding informative value, or isn’t adding enough informative value to justify its presence, and remove those things. You are a designer of information, so be smart about how you use the brain power of your audience. Every element you add to a blank page or a blank screen takes up a cognitive load on the part of the audience. Any visual element that takes up space but doesn’t increase understanding is clutter.

Create a visual hierarchy
Use preattentive attributes like size, colour and position in your design. That way, you’ll create a visual hierarchy of elements to lead your audience through the information. An important number can be displayed in a large font, the most important bar in a bar chart can be coloured red and the key visual, conclusion or recommendation is shown first.

Test it!
It may be a challenge to judge what your audience finds easy to read, so check with others whether your chart is clear to them. Questions you can ask are: Where do you focus? What do you see? What observations do you make? What questions do you have?

data storytelling

Above: How to eliminate clutter from a graph by Karolina Sarna. Gif by Linda Leunissen.


#5 Tell a story


Stories bring facts to life. Your audience may 
hear facts if you present them, but they won’t remember them if they aren’t contextualised within a narrative. In fact, when people read straight data, only the language part of the brain is activated to decode the meaning. But when we read a story, any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading about becomes activated as well. This means it’s far easier for us to remember and be moved to action by stories than hard facts.

Structure your story
Are you just making a point or are you telling a story? An effective story often starts with a question, builds tension, and answers with a call to action to solve the question. Of course, the question should be something the audience cares about. Set the scene and work your way to the story’s climax. At this point, the key question is answered and the audience feel compelled to take action. 

Add emotion
People are driven by emotions. Facts alone are not enough to change behaviour or influence decision making. Is there an emotional appeal in your story? Not just something that makes the listener feel sad or angry, but something that provokes a heartfelt response and makes them think: “this is unacceptable, we need to take action.”

Do you want to turn your insights into stories that matter? Get in touch with us

Marten Schoonman is Akvo’s services manager, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @mato74. This blog was written with input from data scientist Karolina Sarna. You can find her on Twitter @karosarna.

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Spice up your salad: Akvo joins new Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) projects https://akvo.org/blog/spice-up-your-salad/ https://akvo.org/blog/spice-up-your-salad/#respond Tue, 10 Jul 2018 08:28:52 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=36617 Above: White pepper, during the SpiceUp kick-off meeting. Photo by Aulia Rahman. Denpasar, Indonesia. 8 May 2018.Earlier this year, the Netherlands... Read more

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geodata for farmers

Above: White pepper, during the SpiceUp kick-off meeting. Photo by Aulia Rahman. Denpasar, Indonesia. 8 May 2018.

Earlier this year, the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) announced six new projects in the third call for the Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW) Facility. Using satellite and mobile data, G4AW provides information to smallholder farmers to increase sustainable food production and achieve more effective use of inputs.

Akvo is already part of two G4AW projects, GreenCoffee in Vietnam and SmartSeeds in Indonesia, and has now joined SpiceUp in Indonesia and Angkor Salad in Cambodia. Both projects kicked off in May 2018. 

Akvo’s role is to help capture and understand high quality data, assist the provision of fertiliser advice using Akvo Caddisfly, support with the integration of systems for one shared data platform, and help the partners in the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the project. By translating data into relevant and timely advice for farmers, they’re able to increase and improve their food production in a sustainable way. 


SpiceUp, Indonesia


The SpiceUp project, led by the Dutch spice company Verstegen, will focus on the implementation of a financially sustainable information service. 

Over 100,000 pepper farmers in Lampung, Bangka Belitung and East and West Kalimantan will receive advice on drought and irrigation, fertiliser, Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Sustainable Tracing Systems. Sustainable Tracing Systems allow buyers to trace where the pepper comes from, leading to farmers becoming more valued by potential buyers. It also helps farmers improve the quality of their produce.

Read more about Akvo’s work in SpiceUp.


Farmers in Indonesia and Cambodia receive timely advice directly to their mobile phones, allowing them to increase and improve their food production in a sustainable way. #Akvo #G4AW
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Angkor Salad, Cambodia

Above: Vegetables on display at a market in Phnom Penh. Photo by Charlotte Soedjak. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 24 May 2018.

Angkor Salad is led by ICCO and focuses on the implementation of a geodata-based information service that supports at least 100,000 vegetable farmers in 16 provinces of Cambodia. 

Farmers will receive real-time updates and advice to their mobile phones on irrigation, fertiliser, crop planning, marketing information and Khmer Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) compliance, enabling them to increase their production, income and food security while reducing their inputs of water, fertiliser and pesticides.

Read updates about Akvo’s work in Angkor Salad. We’ll be writing in more depth about these projects, and the impact they have on farmers in the region, as they develop.

Do you want to know more about the work we’re doing in South East Asia and Pacific? Get to know us

Charlotte Soedjak is Programme Manager for Southeast Asia and Pacific region, based in Indonesia. You can follow her on Twitter @CharlotteSoed.

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Akvo West Africa Team Week 2018 https://akvo.org/blog/west-africa-team-week-2018/ https://akvo.org/blog/west-africa-team-week-2018/#respond Fri, 22 Jun 2018 14:14:34 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=34659 Photo de famille du staff de Akvo au bord du fleuve Niger. Photo prise par Bintou Koné.Bamako (Mali), 02 avril... Read more

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Photo de famille du staff de Akvo au bord du fleuve Niger. Photo prise par Bintou Koné.

Bamako (Mali), 02 avril 2018 à 10h:05mn, l’équipe du Hub de Ouagadougou (Burkina) atterrissait á l’aéroport international Modibo Keita de Bamako pour la troisième édition du Team Week de Akvo en Afrique de l’Ouest. J’étais enthousiaste mais je me demandais au même moment comment allait se passer cette rencontre car nous sommes maintenant deux Hubs séparés qui interviennent dans la même région Ouest-Africaine.Vraiment particulier ce Team Week, nous avons eu droit à une journée de prise de contact, deux journées d’échanges sur l’avenir des 2 hubs car travailler ensemble pour un avenir radieux de Akvo dans la sous-région est capital. Une quatrième journée a été consacrée à l’écriture de projets. Caroline Figuères, consultante chez Akvo, venue des Pays-Bas était chargée de faciliter nos journées et de nous dispenser la formation sur la rédaction de projets.

Quatre jours de partage

Au jour de notre arrivée, nous avons eu droit à une bonne ballade sur le fleuve Niger, moment de détente et de communion. Nous avons ensuite eu droit à un bon diner pendant lequel notre collègue Lars Heemskerk a organié son traditionnel Quiz pop. C’était un jeu entre trois groupes. Le groupe qui totalisait le maximum de Le groupe qui a le plus de points remporte la compétition. Chaque groupe avait cette ardeur et une telle volonté de gagner. N’était-ce pas un simple jeu ? Si si, c’était un jeu. Cependant, chez Akvo, chacun veut donner le meilleur de lui-même et c’est ce qui fait notre force.

Ci-dessus: une photo des membres de l’équipe pendant la ballade sur le fleuve Niger. Photo prise par Wendemi Ilboudo.

Les 3 et 4 avril, dans la salle intitulée « Université » du Zoo de Bamako, nous avions eu l’occasion de discuter de la vraie raison de notre rencontre : le futur de Akvo en Afrique de l’Ouest. Pour les responsables de nos deux hubs, une bonne collaboration entre les deux équipes est primordiale. Pour y parvenir, faire un bilan était nécessaire. C’est dans cette optique que nous avons d’abord assisté à des présentations de Dagmar (Manager sortant du hub de Bamako), Emeline (Manager du hub de Ouagadougou), Abdoulaye (Hub Manager entrant du hub de Bamako). Leurs communications portaient essentiellement sur les résultats de la rencontre des Hubs Managers qui a eu lieu en janvier 2018 à Akvo Amsterdam (le siège), les perspectives pour 2018, le concept de solutions et celui de la théorie du changement (ToC) mis en place par Akvo. Leurs partages m’ont permise de comprendre les difficultés auxquelles Akvo fait face et les portes de sorties possibles pour y remédier. Ensuite, nous avons pu travailler par petit groupe de 4/5 sur les challenges et opportunités, la division des tâches, la planification efficiente et la communication entre les deux équipes.

En fin de compte, pendant deux jours seulement, nous avons mis sur la table des suggestions pertinentes qui aideront sans aucun doute aideront à consolider la collaboration entre les deux bureaux en l’Afrique de l’Ouest.

Ci-dessus (De gauche à droite): Nana Danté, Emeline Béréziat et Lars Heemskerk en session de discussion. Photo prise par Wendemi Ilboudo.

La quatrième journée, celle du 5 avril a été consacrée à la formation sur la rédaction de projets. Grâce à sa méthode participative, Caroline a su tirer profit (des idées) de chaque personne présente. Cette formation était la bienvenue. Elle a été une source de rappel pour certains et un cadre d’apprentissage pour d’autres.Bien que je ne sois pas du domaine technique, je trouve que ce genre de session pourrait aider de nombreux membres de notre équipe à fournir de meilleurs services à nos partenaires locaux. Dès notre retour, j’ai vu qu’Emeline avait déjà mis en pratique le tableau de Canvas lorsqu’elle voulait répondre à un appel d’offre d’une institution gouvernementale du Burkina. Nous avons beaucoup appris et la capitalisation se jugeait nécessaire.

Ci-dessus (de gauche à droite: Bintou, Rabdo et Claire): photo d’une mise en scène lors de l’exercice de rencontre d’un partenaire local. Photo prise par Wendemi Ilboudo.

Les actions à venir


Malgré la courte durée, comparativement aux autres Team Week auxquels j’avais déjà participés, ces trois journées nous ont permis de prendre conscience de l’importance d’avoir un seul objectif, une vision commune quel que soit le hub d’appartenance.
Ainsi, d’un commun accord, nous avons voulu mettre en place certaines procédures qui faciliteront cette collaboration entre nos deux hubs:
  • La mise en pratique du concept de «One Akvo »,
  • L’élaboration d’un guide de communication interpersonnelle,
  • Un document officiel relatif à la procédure à suivre pour la mise à disposition du personnel d’un hub pour prêter main forte à l’autre,
  • L’élaboration d’un livret de poche relatif à la rédaction de projets.


Enrichissant, je peux dire que cette troisième de notre Team Week l’a été et j’espère que toutes les actions seront mises en oeuvre avant la prochaine édition. Pour savoir ce qu’il en sera, restez connecté-e à notre site web. Mais avant cela, vous pouvez revivre ces trois jours de partage à travers la collection photo publiée sur Flickr et la vidéo de deux minutes ci-dessus, également disponible sur Akvo.TV.

Ilboudo Wendemi est Chargée de communication pour Akvo Burkina en Afrique de l’Ouest. Vous pouvez la suivre sur twitter @IWendemi.

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The evolution of Akvo https://akvo.org/blog/the-evolution-of-akvo/ https://akvo.org/blog/the-evolution-of-akvo/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 15:13:06 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=36511 Above: The evolution of Akvo. Photo by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson.This year, Akvo will turn ten. Looking back, we started with an... Read more

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Above: The evolution of Akvo. Photo by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson.

This year, Akvo will turn ten. Looking back, we started with an idea and seven people. Now, we are over a hundred, having worked with over 200 organisations and 20 governments. Working together, we have helped these organisations and governments capture and understand reliable data which they can act upon; data that’s being used to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

The last few years have seen rapid growth. Our team has doubled in size since 2015, our portfolio of tools and services has grown, and we’ve expanded into new sectors and regions. Like any organisation that’s growing at this pace, we’ve also faced challenges. How can we ensure that we’re helping organisations become more effective, accountable and collaborative so that they can reach lasting and inclusive impact?

Above: Akvo’s management team and supervisory board on a field visit. Photo by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson.

Looking back, looking forward

Last year, we took a step back to look at the work we’ve been doing and crafted a Theory of Change (ToC) for Akvo. By looking back over the past ten years, and looking forward to the future, the ToC gave us clarity on what it is we do best, and how we can focus on achieving the biggest possible positive impact.

We believe in equal access to public services, reliable infrastructure and a safer environment for everyone. We are convinced that this will happen faster if governments and non-governmental organisations become more effective, accountable and collaborative.

We help people in governments and organisations achieve this through solutions based on digital tools, knowledge and processes. We have recently formalised our approach, which we call: Design, Capture, Understand and Act. Our skills, experience, and tools and services lend themselves to a holistic and comprehensive approach to data and development.

We often see organisations and governments operating in isolation with different approaches and different systems for using data. Data gathering and storage is largely scattered and rarely coordinated, and a systematic approach to data is lacking. As we reviewed our work and our impact last year, as well as the crucial need for the effective use of data, we decided to concentrate our efforts where we know we can make the biggest difference.

Achieving lasting and inclusive impact

In order to ensure sustainable service delivery, we’ve decided to focus on large scale, national programmes, primarily in the water and sanitation sector and agriculture. By working with large partners, from UNICEF to the World Bank, we can ensure reliable working relationships with national governments and the resources to really make a change. Going forward, we will be concentrating on offering integrated solutions, such as national water monitoring. We also see a significant opportunity to make an impact in small-hold farmer certification processes and other areas related to agriculture data. We’ll continue to work in other areas, particularly where they touch on our core focus, like disaster response.

With our renewed focus, we will help you evolve a coherent and sustainable approach to data at national scale.

Above: Akvo’s Amsterdam team’s Monday morning call. Photo by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson.

Changes to our team

To align our work and teams with the Akvo Theory of Change, our new formalised approach, and to take advantage of our new scale and geographic reach, we have updated the structure and management of some of our teams.

We have created a solutions team, which incorporates our central professional services teams (trainers, consultants, technical support) and also our software development team. This is so we can better implement coherent solutions that require method, process and technology.

The solutions team is lead by Peter van der Linde, one of the Akvo co-founders who has a very broad set of experiences both within and outside of Akvo. Most recently, he set up and was leading our South East Asia Pacific hub in Denpasar, Indonesia. We are also taking the Flow, Lumen and Caddisfly product teams and putting them under the leadership of one product manager, Jana Gombitova, who was previously the product manager for Flow. The work on the Akvo approach has shown that we need to streamline the development to make for a better user experience with the Akvo data platform and a more effective software development team.

We’ve also created an international operations team, which is lead by Hans Merton. Hans has twenty years of experience as a manager and director of programmes and divisions in the field of environmental and water management consultancy, and will be coordinating and overseeing the implementation of programmes and projects by our hub managers.

— 

We’re confident that these changes will only strengthen the work we do with our partners and allow us to have a larger positive impact on the world. We’ve come a long way in ten years, and are optimistic about the years to come.

If you have any questions about these changes, feel free to reach out to your usual contact person at Akvo. We look forward to working with you for another ten years!

Thomas Bjelkeman is the co-founder and co-director of Akvo, based in Stockholm. You can follow him on Twitter @bjelkeman.

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Marketing Akvo Part 2 – Rethinking the way we present ourselves https://akvo.org/blog/marketing-akvo-part-2-rethinking-the-way-we-present-ourselves/ https://akvo.org/blog/marketing-akvo-part-2-rethinking-the-way-we-present-ourselves/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 13:28:49 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=36473 Above: Adjusting the sails of the Malbec, my first sailing boat. Photo by Alvaro de Salvo.You can’t change the direction of... Read more

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Above: Adjusting the sails of the Malbec, my first sailing boat. Photo by Alvaro de Salvo.

You can’t change the direction of the wind, but you can always adjust your sails to reach the port you want. And that is exactly what we’ve been doing at Akvo over the last year.

For some time, many of us at Akvo have felt that the way we talk about ourselves wasn’t reflecting the reality, depth or scope of the work we’ve been doing around the world. Since 2015, we’ve been growing at a fast pace in a very challenging sector, and in regions that demand fast and sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most urgent problems.

During this time, Akvo’s marketing has always been profoundly influenced (and constrained) by the fast-moving nature of our work. Our business is at the crossroads of technology and people, our presence is spread across five continents, and our partners address a wide number of issues using 
our approach.

There is a reason why I’ve only worked for non-profits. Nearly half of the world’s population — more than three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. There is a big gap between the poorest and the richest people in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, 2.1 billion people lack safe drinking water at home, more than twice as many lack safe sanitation. There is literally no time to waste in what we do. That’s why we needed to update our story so that people could understand how it is we can help them.


You can't change the direction of the wind, but you can always adjust your sails to reach the port you want. And that is exactly what we’ve been doing at Akvo over the last year. #Akvo
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In April 2017, we created the new Marketing and Communications department, and together with the team, we’ve been working nonstop to revitalise the core aspects of our story, to bring clarity to our partners on the ways we can help them, and to give focus to our future.

We started by asking ourselves some important questions and reflecting on how to best tell the answers:

  • What change do we want to make?
  • Who are we trying to support, and how?
  • What can we promise our partners?
  • Where do we work and how do we tell those stories?

What change do we want to make?

At Akvo, we believe in equal access to public services, reliable infrastructure and a safer environment for everyone. We are convinced that this will happen faster if governments and non-governmental organisations become more effective, accountable and collaborative. With our combination of tools, services, local expertise and sector knowledge, our partners improve the management of water, sanitation and agriculture, with a strong commitment to accelerating the progress of the sustainable development goals. We’ve put together a new About Us page, a two minute video to help you see the whole picture and we’ve also made the latest version of our Theory of Change open and explicit.

Who are we trying to support, and how?

If you are talking to everyone, then you are not talking to anyone. Akvo has a wide diversity of partners, ranging from small, midsize and big NGOs to private companies and national governments. These partners are involved in multiple sectors, from water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to agriculture, and from disaster relief response to education and health. We’ve reached a stage in which our network expands across many sectors and involves multiple actors. We needed to decide which conversations to have and with whom if we really want to deepen our impact and build on the work done over the last ten years. At Akvo, we’ve always understood marketing in general as my friend Mark Charmer put it. However, understanding the differences between business to business marketing (B2B), business to consumer marketing (B2C) and business to government marketing (B2G) has become crucial for us. I like to believe we’ll always market Akvo human to human (H2H), but for the coming years, we’ll be focusing on understanding how to reach out and relate to the people in governments and organisations that can truly achieve lasting and sustainable impact with our help.

In the context of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law that has been in full force since 25 May 2018, Akvo has focused on ensuring compliance and a lot of work has been done on the high risk areas within products, departments, processes and policies. This means our marketing is also changing, and we’ll only be having conversations with those explicitly wanting to have them with us.

What can we promise our partners?

Akvo started as a tool provider, first with Akvopedia, then with RSR, and then Flow, after it Sites, then Caddisfly, and Lumen. True. Yet, this is only a partial (however crucial) element of the value we add. As my friend Amitangshu Acharya once pointed out, tools don’t produce data, processes do: “We have great tools, but they don’t guarantee use by default. Unless tools are institutionalised, they come with an expiry date. Institutionalising tools goes beyond training sessions.” I would add that the same process, if done correctly, is what leads you to the right information and knowledge for decision making.

Although Akvo has been also been providing services next to our tools for a long time, it was not with the clarity of purpose or the level of detail that is now necessary for us to explain. Akvo’s Theory of Change made these necessities explicit, and inspired us to develop specific services to support our partners in designing their projects so that they can capture and understand reliable data which they can act upon. We are not interested in helping our partners collect the wrong data faster. Making sure our partners succeed at every step of their data journey is something we’ve learnt along the way and are committed to.

Back in 2015, we started to simplify our narrative. As our portfolio grew, it became increasingly difficult to explain our tools and services separately, not to mention the efforts in bringing these to market. Back then, we rolled out the  “Capture, Understand, Share” triad to overarch all of our work. In 2017 and 2018, we revised it once again and tied it together in what we call 
our approach, an updated overview of where we stand now, freshly shared this week.

Above: Our approach to your data journey.

We are not interested in helping our partners collect the wrong data faster. Making sure our partners succeed at every part of their data journey is something we’ve learnt along the way and we are committed to. #Akvo
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We also launched a 
self assessment tool, which you can find on our homepage, that will help potential partners gain clarity on their needs, and quickly walk them through how Akvo can assist with any problems they come across in their data journey. The intention is to focus on understanding their challenges first, rather than presenting our set of tools and services to people that may not have the depth of knowledge to understand what it is they need and why. By doing the self assessment, potential partners will know straight away whether we can be of help, and how.

Above: Our new self assessment tool, on our homepage.

Global presence with regional knowledge, bottom up.

A deep understanding of local context is key in providing partners with the best possible support. That’s why we have regional hubs in five continents. The rest of our team work remotely from places like Sweden, Bangladesh, Colombia, Spain, Australia, the United Kingdom, Nepal and Uganda. Since our beginnings in Europe, Akvo has built regional presence since 2012, when we set up our first regional Hub in East Africa. Later came South Asia, then West Africa, Americas and Southeast Asia and Pacific.



Although it has always been a differentiator, we’ve previously struggled to put our regional hubs in the limelight. As someone coming from Latin America, I understand the importance of dealing with people that know your context, and can relate in your own language. Our hubs are unique, mainly because of the (often interdisciplinary, proactive and polyglot) teams that work in them. Running global Marketing and Communications is always challenging, as finding the resources, time and skills to tell stories in multiple contexts and languages isn’t easy. We’ve recently released regional pages to highlight the different languages that are spoken in each hub, the diversity of professions composing each team, and the local projects and partners each hub works with. Keep an eye on these as they’ll become even more dynamic and active in the coming months. We’ve also come up with a new-cost replicable pattern to tell our partners’ stories and grasp our involvement in them. I invite you to have a look at some of them, like this one, this onethis one, this one or this one, just to name a few. They are truly inspiring. 


At Akvo, we believe in equal access to public services, reliable infrastructure and a safer environment for everyone. We are convinced that this will happen faster if governments and non-governmental organisations become more…
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What’s next?

We’ve trimmed our sails and also got wind on our stern. Our story better reflects where we are now. In the coming months, we are going to expand on the importance of having a methodical approach that proves to be successful in sustainable development work. And we’ll be also sharing more regional stories of positive change that inspire all of us to move faster and forward towards equal access to public services, reliable infrastructure and a safer environment for everyone.

Alvaro de Salvo is Head of Global Marketing and Communications at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter: @aj_desalvo

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Creating Akvo’s Theory of Change https://akvo.org/blog/akvo-theory-of-change/ https://akvo.org/blog/akvo-theory-of-change/#respond Wed, 13 Jun 2018 15:00:31 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=34661 Above: When in doubt, zoom out. Photo by Anita van der Laan.This time, change happened from the bottom up: three... Read more

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Akvo theory of change

Above: When in doubt, zoom out. Photo by Anita van der Laan.

This time, change happened from the bottom up: three young Akvonauts – Annabelle, Christien and Geert – went to a planning, monitoring and evaluation (PME) course and came back with the realisation that something needed to change. The course made it clear to them that Akvo monitored key performance indicators at output level [1], but not for outcomes [2] nor for the impact [3] we want to contribute to. As a consequence, we were unable to demonstrate how we support our partners in becoming more effective, accountable and collaborative so that they can achieve lasting and inclusive impact.

The three chartered me, one of Akvo’s planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning (PMEL) specialists, to help them to figure this out using a systemic Theory of Change (ToC) approach. As a result, we have renewed clarity on what Akvo wants to achieve, what we need to do to make that happen, and how we can monitor progress at outcome level.

The Akvo ToC has come a long way in the organisation since those three Akvonauts attended that PME course. It has provided focus and continues to demonstrate how each team plays a key and complementary role in making the outcomes happen. Importantly, the ToC has been instrumental in highlighting that if we want to contribute to our partners’ increased effectiveness, tools are important, but they are not enough. Although Akvo has been providing services next to our tools for a long time, it was not with the clarity of purpose or the level of detail that is now necessary. The ToC made these necessities explicit and inspired us to develop specific services to support our partners in designing their projects so that they can capture and understand reliable data which they can act upon. It has been instrumental in shaping our approach to development and our direction as a rapidly evolving organisation.

In this blog, we’ll explain what a ToC is, describe how our ToC journey took shape, and introduce the Akvo ToC.

What is a Theory of Change?

A Theory of Change consists of two main components: a diagram and a narrative. The diagram visualises how strategies (what we do) connect to expected outcomes (what our partners will do better) and expected impact (improvements at the level of the communities our partners are serving). The narrative explains the causal assumptions: why we believe that “if X happens, then Y happens.” The process of developing a ToC is participatory, so that different perspectives are taken on board, a common understanding of context is gained and co-ownership of the strategies, expected outcomes and impact-focus is generated. With monitoring findings, ToCs are regularly reflected upon and adjusted where necessary.
Akvo Theory of Change

Above: A diagram showing the Theory of Change development process.

The ToC approach has been around for over ten years [4] and is based on systems thinking. In short, systems thinking can be explained with three key elements:

  1. Everything is interconnected: every action has an effect; change causes a chain of changes, whether we are aware of them or not.
  2. Perspective: different people have different perspectives, and all are valuable to understanding the bigger picture.
  3. Boundary setting/zooming in and out: a piece of reality is intentionally and explicitly chosen to concentrate on, to zoom into. That is the part of reality a project will focus on. But because everything is connected, zooming out to the bigger picture is needed to discover causes of project issues, and effects of project actions, often outside the boundary of the project.

With the development of a Theory of Change, relevant stakeholders zoom out together to look at the bigger picture before zooming into the scope of a programme. With alignment on the expected results, the strategies can be worked out into what concretely needs to be done (activities) to make the expected outcomes happen, and who is best placed to do what. With a ToC which is co-owned by all involved, it is a small step towards deciding which expected results should be monitored, and how.

How did we create Akvo’s Theory of Change?

Before deciding what impact we want to contribute to, and which changes are needed for that to happen, we zoomed out to look at the bigger picture. Which actors do we work with, which problems and opportunities do we see? Once we had mapped out the context, we could define the intended impact: we want our partners to achieve inclusive and sustainable impact.

Then came the more complicated part: making explicit the interconnected outcomes needed to contribute to impact. For us, it’s the improved capacities and performance of our partners. How does what we do help our partners to collect the data they need to monitor progress; to analyse findings so they can make informed management decisions; to share their achievements with a wider audience; and to find actors who are working in the same sector or area?

With the expected outcomes figured out in cause-effect relationships, we could describe the strategies. What does our organisation need to do to make those outcomes happen?

With the very first draft Akvo Theory of Change constructed, we took it to the next phase by including three colleagues from other Akvo offices. In January 2017, we locked ourselves in the Akvo attic to further improve the Theory of Change diagram and formulate the narrative of causal assumptions.


Theory of change

Above: The first draft of Akvo’s Theory of Change. Akvo Amsterdam office. 21 February 2017. Photo by Anita van der Laan.

This second version was shared with several colleagues all over the world for feedback: is it logical, is it complete, do you recognise your team in it? Such feedback rounds are very important to get other peoples’ perspectives and to create shared ownership. All feedback was integrated into the final version, which was presented to and approved by the management team in November 2017.

The Akvo Theory of Change

akvo theory of change

Above: Akvo’s Theory of Change.

In short, the Akvo ToC shows that our partners are expected to become more effective for two reasons:

First, because they collect and analyse data to generate insights about the present situation, which they use for decision making.

Partners will have the insights needed to make decisions if they collect, clean, analyse and reflect upon quality data. But they need to know how to collect and analyse data and generate insights, and have the tools to do it efficiently. Before that, they need to know which data they need to collect to make their decisions. If they want to track their programme’s progress, they need to know which results they aim to achieve, which indicators they will monitor, and how they will do that.

Akvo supports partners in the design of their programmes and monitoring frameworks so that when they collect data, they collect the right data. Akvo develops partners’ capacities in collecting, cleaning, analysing and visualising data, and in discovering insights.

The second reason our partners are expected to become more effective is that they communicate their project results and collaborate with other stakeholders.

To be collaborative, optimise resources, and build on the insights of others, organisations need to find new partners and learn from each other’s insights. To do this they need to share their disaggregated data, their project (results) information and their insights, transparently. Akvo supports partners, with tools and services, in sharing data to increase transparency, accountability and collaboration, and to find data of others.

Organisations and governments need well-performing (user-friendly, reliable, scalable, supported, cost-effective, user-driven, future-ready) ICT tools for data collection and analysis, and for sharing. Akvo continuously improves its suite of interconnected tools for data collection, analysis, and sharing.

Where will our Theory of Change take us next?


In the meantime, two of the three original ToC instigators have moved out of the Amsterdam office to East and West Africa, respectively. Both have already started infecting their new teams with their ToC enthusiasm, for example by using the ToC to review and improve the activity overview of a large multi-country programme.

Akvo is a learning organisation, in software development and services. We are therefore preparing to monitor a small selection of expected outcomes so that we can learn about what works, what doesn’t, and why. The Akvo ToC will also be used to facilitate an annual qualitative outcome assessment together with our partners so that we can continue to improve the support we offer to our partners in becoming more effective, collaborative and accountable. Because it is through connecting with our partners that we can contribute to a more inclusive and lasting impact. 

Do you want to know more about the Akvo Theory of Change or how to design one for your organisation or programme? Get in touch with us.

Anita van der Laan is Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Specialist at Akvo. She has more than ten years of experience in facilitating the development and review of Theories of Change with organisations and partnerships in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. You can find her on Twitter @ASvdL.

Footnotes

[1] An output is the result of our activities, outputs are in our sphere of control.
[2] An outcome is defined as a change in the behaviour, relationships, actions, activities, policies, or practices of an individual, group, community, organisation, or institution. The formulation describes which specific local stakeholder is doing what differently. Outcomes are in our sphere of influence.
[3] An impact is a change at the level of end-users, communities, constituents. Impact is in our sphere of interest, but we can only contribute to it.
[4] Earlier ToCs were called Results Chains. They are also referred to as Intervention Logics. The ToC approach is often compared to the more classic Logical Framework approach. There are three main differences between ToCs and Logical Frameworks, or Logic Models: ToCs zoom into the outcome level to make explicit how we believe change happens; ToCs are meant for programmes where change is not predictable (complex situations), they are flexible and are adjusted regularly; ToCs show and explain cause-effect relations, which are not linear.

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Per user rate limiting with OpenID connect and Istio in Kubernetes https://akvo.org/blog/per-user-rate-limiting-with-openid-connect-and-istio-in-kubernetes/ https://akvo.org/blog/per-user-rate-limiting-with-openid-connect-and-istio-in-kubernetes/#respond Thu, 31 May 2018 11:30:37 +0000 https://akvo.org/?p=35552 Above: The Queues by Mark Walley on Flickr.To make sure that each of our partners is able to use Akvo’s API, we... Read more

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server queue

Above: The Queues by Mark Walley on Flickr.

To make sure that each of our partners is able to use Akvo’s API, we need to ensure that nobody is able to abuse it. We want to ensure that each partner has access to a fair share of the servers’ resources.

In the case of HTTP APIs, this usually means limiting the rate at which partners can make requests. A system that performs rate limiting needs to:

  1. Identify who is making the HTTP request.
  2. Count how many requests each user has made.
  3. Reject any user request once that user has depleted their allotment.

There are plenty of open source products and libraries out there that you can choose from, but we decided to give Istio a try.

For such a task, Istio is a little bit heavy-handed. However, since Istio is a service mesh, it also provides routing, load balancing, blue/green deployment, canary releases, traffic forking, circuit breakers, timeouts, network fault injection and telemetry. What’s more, it also offers internal TLS encryption and Role-Based access control, which is very important for us given our commitment to the upcoming GDPR legislation.

Identifying the user

Akvo’s API already uses the OpenID connect standard and Istio comes with a handy JWT-auth filter, so we just need to configure the filter to point to our OpenID provider:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: EndUserAuthenticationPolicySpec
metadata:
  name: flow-api-auth-policy
  namespace: default
spec:
  jwts:
    - issuer: https://kc.akvotest.org/auth/realms/akvo
      jwks_uri: https://kc.akvotest.org/auth/realms/akvo/protocol/openid-connect/certs

And then we need to tell Istio to apply the authentication spec to our backend service:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: EndUserAuthenticationPolicySpecBinding
metadata:
  name: flow-api-auth-policy-binding
  namespace: default
spec:
  policies:
    - name: flow-api-auth-policy
      namespace: default
  services:
    - name: flow-api
      namespace: default

With this, if there is a JWT access token present in the request, Istio will validate it and will add the principal to the request, but if there is no token, the requests will still go through.

Enforcing a user


Given that any access to the API must be done with an access token, we can add a policy rule to enforce it. 
To configure a policy we will need:

A handler, which in this particular case is a Denier adapter that will return a 401:

apiVersion: "config.istio.io/v1alpha2"
kind: denier
metadata:
  name: flow-api-handler
  namespace: default
spec:
  status:
    code: 16
    message: You are not authorized to access the service
An instance, which in this case is a Check Nothing template as the handler requires no data:

apiVersion: "config.istio.io/v1alpha2"
kind: checknothing
metadata:
  name: flow-api-denyrequest
  namespace: default
spec:
A rule, which tells Istio when to run the action (which is the handler plus the instance). In our case, if the request is for the API and the request has no principal:

apiVersion: "config.istio.io/v1alpha2"
kind: rule
metadata:
  name: flow-api-deny
  namespace: default
spec:
  match: destination.labels["run"] == "flow-api" && (request.auth.principal|"unauthorized") == "unauthorized"
  actions:
  - handler: flow-api-handler.denier.default
    instances: [flow-api-denyrequest.checknothing.default]

See the Istio documentation if you are not familiar with the handler, instance or rule concepts.

Counting usage

First, we need to define what we want to count:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: quota
metadata:
  name: requestcount
  namespace: istio-system
spec:
  dimensions:
    destination: destination.labels["run"] | destination.service | "unknown"
    user: request.auth.principal|"unauthorized"

We are using two dimensions, the user and the destination service so that we can have different limits for different backend services.

To do the actual counting:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: QuotaSpec
metadata:
  name: flow-api-quota
  namespace: default
spec:
  rules:
    - quotas:
        - quota: requestcount.quota.istio-system
          charge: 1

Istio rate limiting gives you the flexibility to “charge” more for requests that could be more expensive to execute, but in our case, we’ve decided to treat all the requests the same.

And last, we need to wire the counting with the backend service:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: QuotaSpecBinding
metadata:
  name: flow-api-quota-binding
  namespace: default
spec:
  quotaSpecs:
    - name: flow-api-quota
      namespace: default
  services:
    - name: flow-api
      namespace: default

Enforcing usage quotas

Now that we know who you are and how to count, we need to define what is a reasonable usage. We do this through a Memory Quota adapter:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: memquota
metadata:
  name: handler
  namespace: istio-system
spec:
  quotas:
  - name: requestcount.quota.istio-system
    maxAmount: 60
    validDuration: 10s
    overrides:
    - dimensions:
        destination: flow-api
      maxAmount: 20
      validDuration: 10s

So we allow up to ten requests per second for each user, except if the requests go to the Flow API, in which case we allow up to two requests per second.

Note that in production you will want to use a Redis Quota instead of a Memory Quota, as the Memory Quota is ephemeral and local to the Mixer instance.

Finally, we create a policy rule to wire up the quota with the counters:

apiVersion: config.istio.io/v1alpha2
kind: rule
metadata:
  name: quota
  namespace: istio-system
spec:
  actions:
  - handler: handler.memquota
    instances:
    - requestcount.quota

Testing

Now, we can check that everything is working as expected and that no user is able to abuse the system. For the testing, we changed the quota to one request every three seconds. Here is the result:

You can find a version of the test script here and all the code above here

Are we done?

Istio allows us to ensure that all of our partners get a fair share of the resources, with a little bit of configuration and without having to modify or change any of our existing code, which is a big plus.

But rate limiting is just one part of making Akvo’s platforms more stable. Istio also comes with a lot more goodies to add to that stability, and to make it more secure, which for sure we will investigate in the near future.

Dan Lebrero is a developer at Akvo. You can follow him on Twitter @danlebrero.
Want to join the team as a developer at Akvo? Have a look at our vacancies.

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