The Akvopedia is a cornerstone of the Akvo platform. I’ve written previously about why we need an Akvopedia, with the main point being this:
When looking at the issues we face in the water and sanitation sector, a shortage of knowledge is not the problem. The problem is having enough people with access to this knowledge, who are able to interpret it, use it in a local context and improve the knowledge.Which is where the Akvopedia comes in.
The Akvopedia will collect and refine the water and sanitation knowledge which is available, particularly for sustainable, affordable, local, easy to use solutions. The water and sanitation sector calls this ‘appropriate technology’.
The reason for this particular focus is two-fold. First, Akvo is about accelerating implementation of water and sanitation solutions for those that have none. Choosing appropriate technology is crucial if maintenance costs are not to spiral, or for the system to fall into poor condition, with the resulting health risks. Second, there are many other information sources out there with a focus on water, but people keep telling us that the area of appropriate technology for water and sanitation is under-served – and is where we can have the biggest impact.
Of course, there is room too on the Akvopedia for objective descriptions of high tech solutions, such as the Nedap Naiade or the WaterHealth UV Waterworks. Technologies like these, if well implemented, can play an important role in helping implement the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation
In the medium term, looking forward a couple of years, I want to have a much broader base of information on the Akvopedia. Sustainability goes beyond the local solution and involves the drainage basin, the region and beyond.
Practical implementation of the Akvopedia
We have chosen to use MediaWiki to be the platform for Akvopedia. MediaWiki is the engine that powers Wikipedia. There are a number reasons why MediaWiki is a good platform choice for the Akvopedia:
- It’s well maintained software and will be around for the foreseeable future
- It’s a popular choice when building wikis, which means that both administrators and users are familiar with how it works and it has a large user base and active community
- It’s guaranteed to scale up and be able to handle the type of traffic which we will get on the site, and Wikipedia has proven that
We have been asked specifically why we have chosen a wiki solution which doesn’t allow for uploading of documents – Akvopedia won’t feature PDF or Word file uploads. This is deliberate. The information on the Akvopedia needs to be a refined version of the best information available. It needs to be written specifically for the Akvopedia, so that we don’t get into disputes about whether the content is under copyright or not. The content needs to be editable and easily accessible. You should not need any software beyond a web browser to read, edit or contribute to the Akvopedia.
We are putting together a first set of formal policies for the wiki. The policies answer questions such as: What content should exist in the wiki? What are the rules with regards to editing, deleting and adding content? What happens when we find copyright infringing material in the wiki? And should I use a personal login to work on the Akvopedia?
Why would we restrict what is added to the Akvopedia? Beyond the obvious, that we will delete inappropriate content in the Wiki, the whole point about the Akvopedia is to collect the best knowledge about water and sanitation in one place. But the subject area is very large, so we will get better content by keeping our focus on what is important for us, which is appropriate technology for water and sanitation. Eventually the Akvopedia may grow outside of this initial focus, but for now we are better off staying narrow.
Population of the Akvopedia
For the Akvopedia to be successful we need it to be “owned” by the water and sanitation community. It will only be marginally successful if the Akvo team alone enters articles and populates it with content. There is a lot of knowledge out there. You have this knowledge and we want you to share it with us. The Akvo team will be providing guidance and support in the beginning, to get us started.
We are also working closely with IRC – International Centre for Water and Sanitation, where Jaap Pels and Nick Dickinson will help us steer the Akvopedia project. Ben Lamoree, director of IRC, said at the Rotterdam Unicef World Water Day fundraising event that “distributing information via Akvo is part of IRC’s core business”. And they have shown this by committing a substantial contribution in kind to the Akvo project. We are also getting an editor for the Akvopedia, in the shape of Merel Hoogmoed, from Acacia Institute, who has been helping us before on the Akvopedia. Merel will be working with us during the spring and summer in this role.
Though we have been keeping a low profile with the Akvopedia to date, people such as TypeHigh have contributed content such as Storage tanks for rooftop harvesting . I look forward to seeing more content added now when we have the capacity to start putting energy into this effort.
Thomas Bjelkeman is the founder of Akvo. Thanks to Mark Charmer and Peter for helping with drafts of this post.
Disclosure: Nedap is an Akvo sponsor and WaterHealth International was part of the Akvo side event at World Water Week 2007.