Last December we had the opportunity to run an Akvo FLOW training workshop in Malawi for the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF). AMREF is currently carrying out a project called ‘Staying Alive’, focused on providing people in the country with improved maternal and child health services. In this context, FLOW will be used to oversee the health facilities in the area, in order to keep track of which services they provide, and how often they run out of supplies.

Presenting a FLOW training course is the most rewarding experience I’ve had since joining Akvo half a year ago. As a software developer, I focus on developing and improving the tools our partners use. But having the chance to also get into the field and see those tools in action, particularly in a place as fascinating as Malawi, is just spectacular.

lissy demo 850
Above: Lissy van Noort of Akvo explains the Akvo FLOW dashboard at the training for AMREF staff and partners in Mangochi, Malawi in December 2013. Photo by Inigo Lopez de Heredia.
Below: course participants (click on the image to see the Flickr set with names of everyone involved). Photos by Lissy van Noort.
One of the most important areas we discuss every day while working on FLOW is the usability of the product, as we try to make the tools we develop as simple and intuitive as possible. But there’s nothing as valuable as getting immediate feedback and suggestions from the people who are going to use those tools in the field. Giving this training allowed me to see how people understand and make use of FLOW and to observe which are the aspects we should focus our efforts on improving, so we can deliver a better experience with each FLOW version we release.

Another inspiring aspect of the experience for me was seeing that the Staying Alive project is focused on monitoring the performance of health facilities over time. This capability is one of the key features we are incorporating for future Akvo FLOW releases.

One quite interesting challenge we faced was a lack of internet access for most of the duration of the course. Getting online is something we in the North tend to take for granted in our daily lives. This forced us to have everyone’s devices prepared with the software needed for the training, as well as assembling screenshots of the Akvo FLOW dashboard, in case we couldn’t connect to the live version due to connectivity problems.

trying FLOW 850
Above: workshop participants get to grips with the field survey tool. Photo by Lissy van Noort.
Below: Akvo FLOW map showing all the health facilities surveyed to date in AMREF’s Staying Alive project in Malawi.
It’s been two months since the training, and I feel very excited just looking at AMREF’s dashboard and seeing how much progress has been made in the project.

Overview of all the health facilities collected so far
The training photo album can be viewed at Flickr.

Here’s a video shot after the training by Lissy van Noort with Charles Suya of AMREF Malawi

Inigo Lopez de Heredia is a software developer at Akvo, based in Bristol.

Updated 4 March 2014 – video added by Lissy / Mark Charmer.