Support and training are not always the most glamorous aspects of any project and, in fact, they can even be overlooked completely in some cases. At Akvo, we think that training and support are integral components of a successful partnership. Our approach of combining software development expertise and development sector expertise to create relevant, effective tools is supported by interaction with our partners. A lot of this interaction occurs during support and training processes and allows us to better understand the needs of our partners and thus hone the tools to fit these needs, while making sure our partners optimise their use of the tools.

Above photo: Cochabamba, Bolivia, 30 October 2012. Photo credit: Henry Jewell.

However, training and support is not just a case of partner interaction – there is a lot of work that goes in upstream to make sure that when we are doing in-person support it is for more advanced issues. Otherwise our time would be overrun, which is not sustainable as Akvo FLOW expands its user base. To strike this balance, our approach to support and training can be broken down into four phases:

Intuitive User Interfaces

As part of Akvo FLOW 1.5, the web based dashboard is getting a complete user interface overhaul. Careful consideration has been paid to user work flows and to make sure that the interface is intuitive to use. Embedded help will be included to guide the user through the processes.

Initial Training

It does not matter how intuitive the user interface is, there still needs to be initial training and accompanying support materials. In our experience, initial training greatly increases the success of Akvo FLOW use within an organisation, and will diminish the need for extensive support while it is being used. The training is tailored to the needs of the organisation, and takes place on-site wherever possible, depending on the availability of our trainers. To accompany the training, and in time for the release of Akvo FLOW 1.5, there will be a quick start guide and a smartphone guide, along with basic hints and tips.

Documentation site

The documentation site contains complete documentation about Akvo FLOW. We understand that each user has different preferences in how they find solutions, so to augment the full documentation we have created a support site with additional resources.

Tender support site

This is the portal where interactive support happens, not only between us and our partners but also between partners. The first action by a user visiting the portal should be to browse existing discussions to see if other partners have experienced similar issues. If so, there might already be an available solution. Discussions are broken down into three sections: problems, questions and suggestions. This is not only a good way to troubleshoot, it is also a great way to discover who is using FLOW and what topics are currently being discussed. If this approach, or the full documentation, has not provided a solution for the problem or if you just have a point you would like to raise, then this can be done by creating a discussion. This will automatically be received by an Akvo employee, who will take a look at the issue and respond in due course.

Support is a great opportunity for interactive learning and is vital to the successful scaling of a product. FLOW is no exception, to be able to make the tool self sufficient, quality training and support is a must.

Henry Jewell is the programme manager for Akvo FLOW and is based in Washington, D.C.