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Yes, Akvo offers a monitoring feature with the FLOW data-collecting tool to monitor progress over time. And yes, this feature allows our partners to monitor indicators as a backbone towards the Sustainable Development Goals. But how does monitoring with Akvo FLOW really work in practice? I had the chance to find out during the training to pilot continuous monitoring of water facilities with Akvo FLOW for the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in Ghana. 

Above: A participant of the training workshop on continious monitoring of water facilities in Ghana is testing an Akvo FLOW monitoring survey. Photo by Jana Gombitova.
Together with the CWSA, Akvo is helping to build ICT architecture for nationwide, long term monitoring of WASH services in rural Ghana. Baseline data was collected in 2014 across 119 districts in six regions. This five-day training (8 – 12 February 2016) held in Tamale was part of the preparation to pilot the monitoring functionality before the nationwide scale up. Two days of field-testing in the East Gonja region were included and a total of 38 participants were trained on using the Akvo FLOW monitoring feature.

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Above: Participants of the training workshop for the continuous monitoring pilot in Tamale. 
The first two (theoretical) days of the training we demonstrated how you can synchronise collected data to the app and how to filter the data points by name, distance and date. We showed how you could find those data points on the integrated map in the FLOW application, and how to treat the data once it has entered the dashboard.

During the two days of (practical) field-testing, we noticed some important things that are essential for reliable ‘monitoring’ results. With some pride I can say that the technique part of monitoring is working quite smoothly. It is easy to filter the data points (names) and (if the map is visible) to locate them. What could improve on the app side is to allow downloadable maps in the application, which could help enumerators to find data points without an internet connection, and to download and store the photo question on the phone. But my main observation on the success of using the monitoring feature with Akvo FLOW has to do with preparation and processes. 
Above: Video impression of the CWSA East Gonja field trip to monitor water facilities with Akvo FLOW. Video by Lars Heemskerk.
Before you start monitoring WASH facilities, here’s my ‘must-do’ list:

Register the right geo-location
Make sure when collecting baseline data that you capture the right geo-location. It is extremely important to take the right GPS coordinates when collecting the baseline data. Otherwise more data points could be mixed up and it will become more challenging to be sure you are monitoring the right facility.

Calibrate GPS on the spot
With the GPS status application you can get GPS coordinates with an accuracy of five meters. When you have calibrated your GPS with this app, you can search for the data points on the map or in a filtered list by distance, with the nearest data point shown first.

Know where you go
Make sure that you have cached your map in the FLOW application before you leave to monitor. If you have not done this you won’t be able to use the map to search for data points.

Peruse the data point(s)
Consult the synced baseline data responses to be sure you are monitoring the right spot. It is advisable to look closely in advance at what points you are going to monitor so that you know.

Use the synced baseline data
During the field trip I noticed it was hard to track the right facility. At one point there were three water pumps very close to each other and not well positioned on the map. You can find the right point to monitor by looking at the response information from the baseline data.
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Above: screenshot of the FLOW support article on how to search for an existing data point on the map.
My overall advice to all our partners using (or planning to use) the monitoring feature is to prepare the monitoring phase well. Ideally this starts before setting up the baseline surveys. A must read on this topic is the five pointer in the blog of Amitangshu Acharya, which describes the challenges of data collecting in the development sector. Secondly, it is important to instruct the enumerators well so that they know what they can expect when collecting monitoring data. Thirdly, it is advisable to field-test the work you have created behind your computer and explained in training rooms. Field visits are an almost indispensable stage to understand what monitoring beholds. And, last but definitely not least, is to be 100% sure that when you are using the monitoring feature in the field, you select the right data point(s) to monitor. When you monitor the wrong baseline data it will provide inconsistent and unreliable data, which is absolutely opposite of what we want to achieve with this fine Akvo FLOW functionality.

Lars Heemskerk is project officer in Akvo’s Mali office. You can follow him on Twitter @larsheemskerk.