The next release of Akvo FLOW is all about improving the core experience of using the platform – creating custom surveys, sending them to mobile phones in the field for data collection, receiving and processing field data for management and reporting on the Dashboard and displaying the data on publicly-accessible maps.
What you’ll notice right away in this release, which we will start rolling out in January 2013, is a completely redesigned Akvo FLOW Dashboard. We went back to the drawing board on this one, taking all the important functionality from the FLOW 1.0 Dashboard and rearranging it into user-friendly tab icons that you’ll see across the top menu that reflect the core FLOW task areas — Surveys, Devices, Data, Reports, Maps and Users.
Inside each of these task areas, we picked apart the user experience and rebuilt it where needed to help users complete each task more intuitively and efficiently. We also added features and functionality in a few key places: a new table in the Devices tab lists all the devices connected to your Dashboard, along with their number, Device ID and Field Survey app version; the map with your FLOW data now displays inside the Dashboard (it still displays in the public URL, too) with photos and data in a sidebar menu for better viewing; we simplified user permissions into levels so that you can more easily designate who can perform more advanced tasks within your organization; and we’ve embedded help tips throughout the Dashboard to make sure users are clear on how to use each feature.
Although it was not our main focus in this upcoming release, we also made a few key changes to the FLOW Field Survey app, including improving how it communicates items like the Device ID to the Dashboard, and giving the views of saved and submitted surveys more information up front, to make it easier to manage devices in the field. We also simplified the home screen of the app and eliminated the signature conflicts that forced some users to uninstall prior versions of the app before installing new ones (although you’ll still have to do this the first time you install version 1.9.36 or higher!).
To go along with the re-imagined front-end, we’ve also been doing some things behind the scenes that users won’t see directly, but will improve the experience of using the FLOW platform. These include upgrades to the newest version of our datastore, hosted by Google App Engine, as well as changes to the way we deploy the software (ie, the way we take the software written in the Akvo FLOW codebase and make it available to users in their web browsers and on their Android devices).
Finally, since we know that the software itself is only part of the implementation puzzle, we’ve given our documentation, support and training materials a lot of attention for this release. In addition to the embedded help items we’ve added to the Dashboard user interface, we’ve also been working on a user documentation site, where we’ve written detailed articles about the core tasks on the Dashboard designed to help you get to know the ins and outs of FLOW better. We’ve also created a dedicated Akvo FLOW support site available to all users and to the public to report questions and problems. Submitting a request to our support site triggers notifications to a whole crew of Akvo support staff, and will always be the fastest and best way to reach us. We’ve also improved our collection of training materials, adding a Quick Start Guide and a Smartphone Guide for new users. If you attend an Akvo training next year, you’ll also see improved presentations and materials there. Visit help.akvo.org for more detail about our new collection of support resources.
We are excited to be getting ready to share this release with our partners so that they can keep doing their important work – collecting and sharing monitoring data from the field to improve projects and make development aid spending more transparent.