FLOW phone

Akvo has a global partnership with ICCO, one of the largest and oldest Dutch NGOs, to map food security across 20 countries. Akvo’s Asia Hub recently concluded FLOW training for ICCO’s partners in India. Two workshops took place in Udaipur and Jaipur and seven organisations spread across India took part to enable them to conduct HFIAS (Household Food Insecurity Access Scale) surveys to measure food insecurity in their respective states.

This blog is my attempt to capture and reiterate some of the observations and insights from the workshop that underlined for me what makes FLOW so meaningful.

Some people taking part in the workshop remarked that a lot of NGO’s are still grappling with traditional methods of data collection, compilation and analysis. It is interesting to note the segregations that prevail in the way data is handled within many organisations. Often one team collects the data, someone else compiles excel sheets and a third group then analyses and makes sense of that data. The whole activity often takes more than a month to complete. Considering the dynamic environment in which development teams operate, this delay in processing information can hamper progress.

ICCO India training practice 2
Above: field training in Jaipur.Top: learning about the FLOW 'manage translations' feature at the offices of ICCO partner CECOEDECON in Jaipur.
The participants were impressed by the way FLOW synchronises the process in which the data is collected, managed and visualised. Android phones, being multi-utility devices, integrate different elements - which is much easier than entering the field loaded with a camera, stacks of paper, a GPS device and so on and so forth. Once the data is submitted, it can be accessed in real time by anyone interested or involved and anybody who loves statistics can examine the data with a click of a button.

We are also familiar with the practice of creating silos and limited interactions or cross-learning between different organisations, perhaps even when working on similar issues. Using a centralised system allows people to think in a different way about their programme. FLOW brings a more unified approach and new ways of relating. For example, in India, seven different organisations are sharing a common platform to map their integrated efforts of addressing food insecurity in their respective states.

The particpants on the FLOW training for ICCO also shared that data collection using FLOW is quicker than doing a paper-pen survey. Survey respondents are usually busy with their work. The process of filling in lengthy questionnaires can be time consuming causing them to become disinterested and sometimes leave a survey half-way through. Using a smartphone keeps the respondent’s attention captured. Furthermore a lot of time is saved as questions on FLOW are formulated to make them swifter and easier to answer and to eliminate errors. The idea of “smart questionnaires for smartphones” is also allowing organisations to filter their key indicators to only collect information that is critical rather than amassing huge amounts of data which is stored on the basis that it will possibly be useful someday.
ICCO trainees India
Above: participants on the Akvo FLOW training workshops in Jaipur and Udaipur for partners of ICCO came from all over India.
Amidst the serious stuff, some of the participants also shared how the FLOW training was really interesting compared to other organisational workshops. Understanding the profile of trainees, we were anticipating some who may not be very tech savvy or used to using smartphones. The pace of the training was set accordingly, with regular recaps and Q&As. FLOW is fairly user-friendly and simple to handle, which was also evident in the participants' keeness and confidence in doing surveys. We also experimented on changing the training agenda by giving the trainees a more hands-on experience of using the smartphone in the first few hours of the workshop by loading a fun questionnaire. This logically moved to viewing and understanding the dashboard where they could see the collected information.
practising ICCO training India
Above and top: getting hands on practice with FLOW in Jaipur.
The workshops that I have been a part of make me more conscious of the ideas and efforts Akvo is toiling with, in developing and refining its tools to adapt to the gradually altering discourse.

Isha Parihar is a programme officer in Akvo's Asia hub.
Photos by Isha and Azhad Ali, Program Associate, ICCO