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A chance meeting with Valentin Post, senior advisor at WASTE, in Kathmandu in June 2013 set in motion our talks over the WASTE-FINISH programme in India. This was followed by a definitive collaboration discussion at a global level about using Akvo FLOW for a mid-term evaluation of the FINISH programme. 

FINISH stands for Financial INclusion Improves Sanitation and Health, a programme supported since 2009 by an Indo-Dutch consortium comprising of NGOs, banks, insurance companies and academic and government institutions. The FINISH programme will also be implemented in Kenya (FINISH INK) with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sustainable Water Fund.

The FINISH Society aims to facilitate the construction of 500,000 safe sanitation systems for low-income communities in rural India by mobilising funds from end-user households. It uses a combination of micro-credit and financial schemes with life & health micro-insurance packages to incentivise  households to channel their planned investment towards toilets.

Top: village surrounded by carrot fields in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, where the Akvo FLOW workshop for the FINISH Society took place in May 2014. Photo by Akvo technical officer Joy Ghosh.
Below: Joy explains an aspect of FLOW to workshop participants. Photo by Isha Parihar.

To date, the FINISH programme has managed to achieve 50% of its target with 250,000 safe sanitation systems constructed and approximately three million people informed and educated about the health awareness initiatives of the programme.

In Asia, Akvo and WASTE have been working together closely for some time within the Dutch WASH Alliance as the alliance partners have been using Akvo FLOW and Really Simple Reporting (RSR) since 2011. Following the impressive achievement of the FINISH programme’s half-way point, WASTE initiated a mid-term evaluation of the programme using the smartphone-based data collection system, Akvo FLOW.

The Akvo India team organised a series of three training workshops in May 2014 for FINISH partners in Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

The experience of running every training course also enriches our own learning and skills. This is as true for the basic organising activities (essential requisites for training workshops) as it is for the critical elements of the training itself, such as the purpose, aptitude and experience of the participants, the format of the workshop and the post-training communication. This blog shares our experience of the FINISH FLOW training workshop, and some of our key observations. 

Planning and preparation are key for successful workshops
Firstly, organising and assuring essentials for training courses across different regions is a big logistics exercise. This was handled and planned very well by the FINISH team who were supportive and effective at trouble-shooting during the entire run of the three workshops.

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The importance of good survey design
At Akvo we try to extend beyond the training sessions to explore programmatic partnerships with organisations taking part. This involves facilitating and guiding partners on things like survey design and data sampling. In the case of the FINISH training workshops, the evaluation was extensive and required substantial time for finalising during the training. Our prior experience has shown us that survey formats need to be simple, focussing on the critical aspects of the information for a project. It’s also a good idea to finalise the survey formats before the training as it saves a lot of training time and allows complete focus on the content. My colleague Amitangshu has also discussed in a previous blog the need for smart questionnaires for smart devices which give us good and reliable data.

It is important to note that there is a significant mental shift made by most enumerators (the people who conduct surveys in the field) when they switch from paper-based surveys to digital data collection. Often, they are very experienced at their jobs and have been working with paper surveys for more than a decade. It’s therefore a good idea to make the learning process as easy and enjoyable as possible. This transition is also a good opportunity to unlearn and re-learn the practices around collecting and managing data and developing more smarter & focussed survey formats that are relevant for a program.

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Above: collecting information using Akvo FLOW during the training workshop for the FINISH Society. Photo by Joy.
Bottom: participants of all three workshops. Pictures by Joy and Isha.

Managing Multiple Languages
The Manage Translations feature of FLOW turned out to be very useful in this instance where enumerators were most comfortable conducting surveys in their regional languages. Most of the participants across the three training workshops were not very conversant with English. This meant it took much longer to conduct surveys as the questions needed to be explained and verbally translated before the survey could be conducted. This relates to my earlier point about the need to get the survey formats ready before the training. The ideal is if we can input the translations to a finalised survey into the Akvo FLOW dashboard a while before the training. This lets the participants test surveys in their local languages and gives them the time to become familiar with the process of actual data collection. 

Inter and intra- organisation Communication

Communications in these collaborations often happen at two levels, i.e., the global and the local. Ensuring that key discussions at a global level get shared with the local teams, helps to avoid confusion. It was an important observation to note for our training workshops in future. We seem to have managed this well in some cases and in some, we could have done better. 

Equipping our partners to manage our tools themselves
Akvo has developed a substantial range of FLOW support materials, guides, manuals and videos to help users engage with FLOW comfortably. It is also important to align the expectations of partners with the nature and level of Akvo’s involvement in their post-training work. FLOW training courses therefore also focus on enabling partners to manage FLOW independently with clarity and confidence when they use it at scale in the course of their work. 

The FINISH training workshops were a good learning experience for everyone involved. Among other things, they reiterated that the scope of our role within these kinds of networks and alliances will continue to evolve. Akvo does not merely provide technology tools, we play a major part in ensuring our partners understand the need and the methods to use them effectively. 

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Isha Parihar is programme officer in Akvo’s Asia hub.