In March 2012 Water for People and Akvo penned an agreement where we at Akvo took over the development and operation of FLOW and also supporting partner organisations using the product. Since then we have made great strides on both the development and usage of FLOW.

FLOW timeline
A timeline of Akvo FLOW development 2012-2014

Guided by great feedback from our partners, we have been really busy working to further develop and improve Akvo FLOW. With this in mind, we thought it was a good time to give an update on progress.

Product improvements

The FLOW development team has gotten in to a steady rhythm of releases to make sure that improvements and new functionalities are reaching partners as soon as possible.

Monitoring features – One of the most exciting and most requested new features has been what we call ‘monitoring features’. This new functionality allows you to revisit something — e.g. a water pump, a school, farmer, — that was surveyed before, and add new survey data, so you can monitor it over time. This is critical because it moves monitoring beyond baseline and endline collections and makes it easier to gather information during a project; which can be used for decision making to steer projects during their implementation. Documentation is currently being developed for this in preparation for a full rollout in the next couple of weeks.

FLOW-aug-2014
Akvo FLOW server-side map clustering and FLOW app with monitoring (history tab)

Improved FLOW app – To compliment monitoring features, the FLOW phone app has been updated with a much improved user interface. It combines a modern design with a more consistent user interface interaction. Additionally we have made the self-correcting data upload mechanism much stronger. This is important as the FLOW app is often used in situations with weak internet connectivity.

FLOW-aug-2014-app-v3
Akvo FLOW 2.0 app, with improved user interface and more robust uploading capabilities.

Map clustering – To improve the visualization of the data being collected we implemented a map-clustering feature on the FLOW dashboard in April 2014. Maps support the process of data collection and the spatial spread of data, so it is important to be able to quickly and easily visualize the data. In some cases the FLOW system has to display data from hundreds of thousands of points simultaneously, which can have a severe performance impact if done naively. FLOW now uses something called server-side data clustering, which pre-computes what you will see at different zoom levels on the map. This is important to do, as we don’t want to send data for hundreds of thousands of points to the web browser and then do the cluster calculation locally. Having pre-computed clusters allows FLOW to send only a little data at the time to the browser, which means that maps display quickly, without using too much bandwidth, whilst still showing all the data.

Akvo FLOW API – An important upcoming release is the creation of an Application Programming Interface (API), which will make it much easier for your data in FLOW to talk automatically to other systems. This will make it possible to use this new stream of data that FLOW provides in the more effective ways. The first iteration of the new API will be a read API. For current and future FLOW developments, keep an eye on the roadmap.

Partners using Akvo FLOW

We are currently operating about 50 instances of FLOW for partners with a further 5-10 about to be deployed in the next month or two. Nearly half a million surveys have been done in the field, with some additional 50,000 being added every month. Organizations using FLOW are spread across governments, companies and NGOs and more than 120 organizations are collaborating using FLOW. More stats can be found on the Akvo See it happen page.

flow-data-aug-2014
Number of submitted survey data forms in all Akvo FLOW instances

Just the other month we received significant funding to further roll out FLOW across multiple country programs over a three-year period, in South Asia, East Africa and several West African countries. This is part of a bigger package from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs worth about €2.8 million over three years.

Impact and feedback

To demonstrate how our partners are using FLOW and other Akvo tools to improve the way they work we started the Akvo Partners Hero Project. We really wanted to showcase the great work our partners are doing and understand how our tools are impacting the way they work and thus in turn the impact on the ground.

To get more structured feedback, we have set up the FLOW Advisory Committee, containing partners (Water for People, World Bank WSP, IRC and ICCO) who have a lot of experience using FLOW in diverse settings. The goals is to discuss how we can improve Akvo FLOW to make sure it is fulfilling the needs of organizations and helping them to improve the way they work. In addition to this we will continue to listen to feedback from all our partners and will undertake a user experience survey.

The continued development of FLOW is assisted by all the organisations using Akvo FLOW as well as receiving important support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cisco Inc., The Kenneth L Harder Foundation, Water for People and Conrad N Hilton Foundation.

Thanks to Mark TW, Mark C and Iñigo for helping with the content of this blog.

Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson is CTO and co-director of Akvo