• Written by Marten Schoonman
    12 November 2014

“Before we go out to collect data we first talk with the districts’ Community Development Officers. They know all the communities within the district. This way you are sure that when the enumerator team goes out to the field, they will not leave any community unattended. I advise you all to do the same.”

These were the words of Mohammed Kplega who is an information technology specialist for the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in Ghana’s Western Region. They were pronounced during a workshop on data cleaning and analysis held in Koforidua, Ghana October 14-17. People from six regions of Ghana travelled to a conference centre outside Accra. The participants had been previously trained by Akvo during June 2014 at a ‘training of trainers’ workshop and they in turn have trained government staff in their districts. This meeting aimed to take stock of progress and to learn more about data cleaning and analysis and reporting on data about rural water facilities in Ghana. In the intervening time, over 17,500 data points (filled surveys) were collected by 150 survey enumerators. This is about 50% of the expected number of data points for the target six regions, and it is quite an achievement for the short period of time involved. 

Top left: six out of ten regions in Ghana are currently mapping water facilities (indicated in green) funded through SMARTerWASH. The bubbles represent the rural population per region. Right: over 17,500 data points (filled surveys on rural and community water supplies, shown here in clusters) have been collected to date across 119 districts.

Public-Private Partnership

The project enabling this data collection at scale is called SMARTerWASH. It’s funded by a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement; this means that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supporting collaboration between partners from within the public and private sectors. The four partners involved are the Community and Water Sanitation Agency in Ghana, IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, SkyFox and Akvo. Each one plays a specific role within the partnership:

  • The Community and Water Sanitation Agency is responsible for rural water functionality and management of the whole project. In this project, staff from six regions are responsible for collecting, analysing and reporting on the data.
  • IRC managed the Triple-S Project, the predecessor of SMARTerWASH. The survey-design and creation of templates for data cleaning and analysis are done by IRC Ghana in line with the CWSA’s Framework for Assessing and Monitoring Rural and Small Town Water Supply Services In Ghana, developed during the Triple-S project.
  • SkyFox is the private partner and manages reporting of water facility breakdowns, the availability of spare parts, mobile payments and repair services for rural water facilities.
  • Akvo provides the data management tool for this project including data collection for baselines and monitoring of water facilities and reporting using maps: Akvo FLOW. Akvo has trained national and regional CWSA staff, who in turn have trained staff in target districts. 

A sustainable business model

SkyFox is a start-up that has built its business model around ensuring the sustainability of water services in the project areas. As many rural water facilities are broken, mapping the broken facilities is the first logical step. Next, the private sector partner contacts community members responsible for each water facility to offer to supply the necessary spare parts and carry out repairs.

When a previously working water facility breaks down in the future, community members contact SkyFox via a text message. This triggers a series of activities to diagnose the problem, deliver the required spare part to the community, fix the broken facility and make the appropriate payment to the repair mechanic. SkyFox aims to fix each break down within 24 hours. The diagram below explains how data is collected, repairs are managed and reports and maps are created.

SMARTerWASH diagram

Looking ahead

While data is collected in six regions in Ghana, the partners are investigating opportunities to finance the collection of data in the four remaining ones. This will allow for up-to-date reporting on water facility functionality and coverage across the country and thereby inform decision-making at a national level. Ultimately, CWSA intends to compile a ‘water atlas’ with maps covering all rural and small towns areas, in order to share the data in a more attractive and useful way.

For the spare parts business to work, real-time data on the status of water facilities is key. This real-time data also helps CWSA to have access to up-to-date information to inform decision-making. The enthusiasm and eagerness to do a good job combined with the driving force of the business side of the model lays a strong foundation for a sustainable future for water data management in Ghana.

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Marten Schoonman works as a Services manager at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @mato74