• Written by Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson
    6 March 2012

I’m really pleased to be able to tell everyone that Water For People and Akvo have just signed an agreement related to the future development of FLOW.

– Akvo has assumed responsibility for the development and support of the FLOW product

– It will be marketed as Akvo FLOW

– Water For People remains the largest user and will play an important role in the refinement of the system in field deployment situations

– Akvo FLOW will be run by Akvo as a service for development organisations and also made available under an open source license

– Akvo and Water For People will collaborate to ensure the ongoing development of the product is resourced and financed in a sustained way

Together, we aim to build a product that, by 2015, can become the most widely-used monitoring tool for the water and sanitation sector worldwide, in use across governments, NGOs, the private sector and knowledge institutes. Like Akvo’s first product, Akvo Really Simple Reporting (RSR), it’s likely over time that it will be used beyond that, too, in other areas such as health, education and economic development.

What is FLOW?

First, a bit of background. FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch) is an IT system. It is used today in some of the poorest locations in the world by teams of people working to monitor the status of water points such as wells and pumps.

Using mobile “smartphones” based on the Android operating system, staff can complete surveys directly into their phone and share this information online. People can manage sets of surveys online and send these to the phone and analyse the data that comes back from the phones. It also brings the information to life by displaying it in Google Maps that people can navigate and explore.

The R&D for FLOW was kick-started in 2010 by Water For People. Working in the field it saw that paper-based monitoring surveys were cumbersome, compilation of data was manual and slow, there was a high error rate, results took a long time to reach audiences, nor where they visible or easy to access online. It partnered with Gallatin Systems to build a professional system that would provide accountability and transparency to donors and to the public through fast data collection, survey flexibility, analytical tools for data-driven decision making and map-based reporting of results.

Our two organizations began talking in the first part of last year. Water For People knew it had the beginnings of something big, and real strength in the application of this new kind of monitoring and evaluation to run successful water and sanitation programmes. But it wanted a partner that could take the product to the next level and build out and support a large network of partners that could use FLOW. It also wanted FLOW to become open source. Akvo had intended to go beyond its core product, Akvo Really Simple Reporting, to develop a mobile phone-based monitoring and evaluation tool for its growing network of partners. So the match made sense.

The agreement includes the following commitments:

– Akvo will take the lead on product development, and Water For People will take the lead in product field-testing and monitoring functionality.

– The existing product is now called Akvo FLOW, and development will begin on a new version of FLOW called Akvo FLOW 2.0.

– The software code that makes up Akvo FLOW will be published over the coming months under an open source AGPL3 license.

– Akvo will also take over the ongoing support of all instances of Akvo FLOW and will work closely with Water For People to make sure this goes smoothly. This includes taking over the technical team which created FLOW, which will work directly with or for Akvo going forward.

The partnership’s been carefully designed so we can each bring forward our unique capabilities. Water For People is a leader in program-level monitoring and evaluation and has been doing lots of innovative work with mobile field surveys in countries in West and East Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Akvo strengths are in technological development, building partnerships and providing technology to those partners as a paid-for service.

Our development goals for Akvo FLOW 2.0

Akvo FLOW is going to get a significant overhaul, to expand its features and make the service available to a wider group of users. These are the areas we’re looking to address:

1. Make the platform self-service, user-friendly, well-documented, supported and affordable, so it can be embraced by the development community with ease.

2. Add advanced capabilities such as statistical and geospatial analysis, rich map displays with aerial data summaries, performance over time, scoring and ranking, and custom dashboards.

3. Develop a user platform where datasets on core indicators and surveys can be shared, creating a rich publicly available data resource for each geographic area.

4. Make the code open source and the data accessible through a program interface (API), so software developers can contribute and reuse the Akvo FLOW code and create their own data vizualizations and analysis applications.

Keeping you informed

As Akvo FLOW is now an open source project we’ll work hard to share our plans and progress as openly as possibly. I think this is a great deal for everyone involved and I’m grateful to everyone at Water For People who has helped make this happen and for the support and patience of the team at Akvo as talks have progressed.

We have a lot of work to do, and we shouldn’t underestimate the task ahead. But I think we’re going to create a really great system that will make a lot of people’s work easier, help improve a lot of people’s living conditions and really set the standard for end-to-end transparency for those who are working on the next generation of international development investments.

Thomas Bjelkeman is a co-founder and co-director of Akvo