The RSS Icon

Akvo has introduced a new tool to facilitate the monitoring and reporting of projects in the water and sanitation sector. Established processes won’t scale like they need to, so we named our tool Really Simple Reporting, or RSR for short. We did so for a reason – reporting can easily become complicated even when it wasn’t meant to be. It’s an issue we wanted to keep front of mind. Over the last few months, the team’s tried hard to ensure that this process of monitoring and reporting stays really simple.

The core aspect of Akvo RSR is its transparency. Anyone can visit a project page at any time to check for project updates. No matter whether you are a project participant or simply a visitor, you can monitor for progress made. No-one has to sign up or log in to follow Akvo RSR updates. This allows for increased transparency and lets funders see exactly how their funds are translated into improvements in the water and sanitation sector.

One challenge that’s arisen in this context is how our project partners efficiently monitor the rising number of project updates. Since project updates are so publicly accessible, project participants will probably want to monitor their content. In addition, participants might want to be notified when an update is posted to be amongst the first to know how a particular project is progressing. Or they may want to follow some other projects by other partners, which interest them too. Yet while it’s an easy task to open a project page in a browser window and scroll down to the project updates section – like this – doing this for several projects can become a tedious and time-consuming task. Too tedious, in fact, for people to bother.

Why reinvent the wheel?

There ought to be a simpler and more elegant way to monitor project updates. This is why we equipped Really Simple Reporting (RSR) with Really Simple Syndication (RSS). This word-play will make the techies out there laugh and risk everyone else running a mile away. For the non-techies out there, RSS is a well established internet tool that provides a ‘feed’ of updates, usually news updates, which can be handled easily by another computer application, an RSS reader, like Google Reader or Bloglines. Millions of people today already use these, to follow multiple streams of news, for example, from various media outlets. You subscribe to various RSS feeds over time and then view all the latest news from them as a stream of summary updates, in one window on your computer.

When applied to Akvo, as part of Really Simple Reporting, RSS acts as the transmission method to provide you with a really simple way to monitor project updates for as many projects as you like. Rather than you having to check for project updates manually as I described earlier, you subscribe to the project’s RSS feed and can follow using an RSS-reader, mostly free software, which can be easily downloaded and installed onto any computer. Once subscribed to an RSS-feed of a given project, you will be notified when new project updates are posted. So RSS is doing the checking for you and will keep you up-to-date.

A Project reporting console, on your computer

Indeed, RSS provides a great way to stay on top of updates from a wide range of sources. All you have to do is find the link to the RSS-feed. These feeds are usually marked with an RSS icon (like the one above). Wherever you see this icon, you know that it will link to an RSS feed. Knowing this you could, for example, subscribe to the Akvo blog too. On the Akvo front page, you can see the RSS icon just above the latest blog entries. Once subscribed to the Akvo blog, your RSS-reader notifies you when a new blog entry was posted. You see a summary of the first bit of text and can click for a look at the full article.

RSS does the job for you. Just like your email program, your RSS-reader will check for newly posted news or updates on a regular basis. But because notifications are not based on email, this method will not clog up your mail box. Instead, you are in control. So why not give our RSS-feeds a try?

I’ve put together some instructions on the process of installing RSS-readers and subscribing to RSS feeds. Click here to read the instructions.

If you have any questions, email me at malte[at]akvo.org.

Photo credit: Mozilla Foundation