• Written by Mark Charmer
    3 October 2009

I’ve worked this week with Luuk, Anke and Thomas to help our partner Earth Water Germany feature projects on its website in German. Maybe it’s useful to share some aspects of what we’ve been doing, and the issues we’ve been solving along the way.

Serving Akvo content through widgets

Earth Water Germany’s got a nice implementation of Akvo widgets on its own website as a “Projects” page – probably my favourite yet. The projects you see there are all served automatically from the Akvo system – the webmaster only needed to click “Get a widget” at the bottom of each Akvo RSR page and paste in a piece of code. It will even work in a blog – try it yourself if you like. Signed-up Akvo partners get extra widget options, including scrollable lists of just their projects, and some other neat stuff.


Widgets drastically reduce the time and skills involved in packaging projects to be featured online. Any changes made by any partner to the project description are done easily by logging into Akvo.org and get reflected automatically if you view the project through the widgets on Earth Water’s website or any other partner involved – and there are nine partners involved right now. Better still these widgets can be set to feature the latest live project updates – such as photos from the field team themselves or SMS-length updates on construction progress, all flowing in via Akvo RSR from the field and support partners. Instead of just featuring a couple of out-dated case studies, you can feature all your projects so people can dive deep and see what’s happening.

Project descriptions – to translate or not to translate?

Today Akvo is an English language system, although the interface is designed to be translated easily into other languages. Up to now we’ve done it in English, Dutch and German. As Thomas put it, “We did the interface in German quickly because they have lots of long words so if it works in German it’ll work in almost anything else”.

Today all of the project description content in the Akvo marketplace is in English, as are most project updates coming through a typical Akvo RSR page.

RSR updates – any language you like

We’re encouraging RSR project updates to flow into the system in whatever language the field team happens to use – our goal is to make project progress visible online, gathering streams of updates that can be used by everyone involved, perhaps being translated later. A lot of this is about encouraging authenticity and transparency. Spontaneous, timely, natural updates from people in the language they speak and write is the way to go – we mustn’t perpetuate a culture of reporting that says things must be filtered into a foreign language.

Serving project descriptions in a local language

There are some sticking points. First, Akvo project descriptions today aren’t viewable in multiple languages. So there isn’t an ability to view this project page, say, in English and then click “view in German” and see the same page in German. Of course you can run the English RSR page through Google translate, and you’ll get this. However, results from our German jury say it’s way off. Multiple language descriptions, perhaps with some layer of automated translation, are features the development team have on their radar but as yet we don’t have a firm sense of how or when this will be introduced.

Of course, without an automated process, translation naturally involves time and cost, and we need to work out who pays for that. So right now we approach translation of descriptions like this:

– We should be aware that certain countries are more tolerant of mixed-language online material than others. We should try hard to help funding partners meet local expectations, while encouraging each partner to work within the limitations of what’s possible in Akvo today.

– The goal will always be for a partner fundraising for the project (such as Earth Water Germany) to have a high quality summary description in the language of the country they will be marketing it in. The minimum description in the local language should be about 100 words. Ideally the full-length Akvo project description will be translated.

– For the time being this alternative language project description won’t be served directly from the Akvo database – the marketplace, Akvo RSR, or through widgets. It will be a standalone text description that the partners will paste manually into their own website or marketing material.

– This standalone, independent text will always point to the live English language descriptions and project updates in Akvo, either by featuring a widget alongside (preferable) or by having a link to the particular project page in Akvo RSR.

Akvo won’t pay for the translation of text for our partners between different languages as we don’t have the resource available (if anyone wants to sponsor that process, and surely that would be a cool thing to sponsor, please get in touch with me).

– If they can afford to, the funding partner should fund the translation of project descriptions. As the campaigning team working to raise awareness of the project in their local market, they will know that it makes it easier to raise more funds, more quickly.

– What Akvo *can* do is edit down short project descriptions in English, which we then send to the partner to translate themselves. We’re used to doing this, so it’ll save everyone time and improve quality if we do it consistently.

– If there isn’t money to pay for translations (say from English to German) of full project descriptions for all projects the partner is promoting, then the best alternative is to fully translate one project to act as a flagship project. The remaining projects could then have short summaries of 100 words drawn up in the local language that can feature as titles / intros that link to the English language Akvo content.

Any comments / suggestions, I’d love to hear, from the Akvo team, partners and anyone else who takes an interest here. This process will evolve as new partners get involved. I’ll try to link to updates to our approach as they happen.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo.