Being open is something that is central to our philosophy as an organisation. Now that the design and development of Akvo DASH has begun, it is about time for an update on how it is going so far.  Akvo DASH will be an open-source, easy to use data mashup, analysis and publishing platform to enable improved programmatic and policy decisions across the international development sector.

It will initially be piloted by, and marketed to, those involved in improving global water and sanitation services and infrastructure.
 The core development team are Stellan Lagerström and Gabriel von Heijne, with product management led by Mark Tiele Westra, infrastructure by Iván Perdomo, project management by Lynn Greenwood, with a steer from Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson and support from the Communications and Partnerships teams. This blog will be the first in a series, giving a running commentary on how things are progressing and how you can potentially be a part of the process – we want this to be open and inclusive.

The Process
The priority so far has been to define requirements to make sure DASH is a valuable tool for partners in the sector to use data to improve results. To do this we developed some background documents and then built robust use cases, in consultation with numerous external partners. This information is going to be critical to inform how the product is designed and subsequently built. We need to make sure that this promotes user-defined requirements based on core functionality, not fringe cases.

From these use cases we built out the draft functional design for DASH around the following four main components: Connect to Data, Transform Data, Visualise Data, and Publish Data. We’ll be sharing the documentation on GitHub, including background, as well as more information on the use cases and functional design.

We are now working to identify where existing open source components can be used within this framework and which components we need to build ourselves. Good progress has been made to this point, including:

Unified Log – which is the underlying data interchange system between Akvo’s other tools and Akvo DASH. The code for this has been released and refined for the backend of Akvo FLOW over the last few releases and has been in limited Beta testing, which we will now extend to a dozen or so instances.

Data transformation – Open Refine will be the tool incorporated for data cleaning.

Mapping – an updated and improved mapping system, CartoDB (an existing open source tool) is just about to go to Beta test, with integration via the Unified Log.

Reporting  – ReportServer has been selected as the component for Akvo DASH to produce static report output, such as PDF files or CSV files.

Graphs and visualisations – We are researching a limited set of component options for the generation of charts and visualisations, the most likely is Vega which we can further develop to suit the requirements.

Dashboard – This has not been decided as yet but two of the most likely options are Almsaeed – adminLTE and Sencha ExtJs.

Serving data – Elasticsearch has been selected as the datastore component and will deliver data that the dashboards need.

Involving partners who are leaders in their field in this process is not only critical to achieving user-centric design but also to bring sector expertise to ensure that the tool is not being developed in a silo. One such partnership is with the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. While our expertise is implementing innovative Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions for data acquisition, analytics and reporting, The Water Institute brings expertise in research, knowledge and information management and teaching and learning within the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector. We have also been working closely with many other partners to get their feedback and expertise; if you would like to discuss DASH in more detail, please contact me and I will be very happy to have a conversation.

It is important to remember that any tool does not exist in a vacuum and a healthy ecosystem needs to exist for it to flourish. This is why we have been involved in the Water Point Data Exchange (WPDx) initiative to promote the use of a common standard for collecting waterpoint data. The initiative will not only help the process of harmonising the data being collected across the sector but will also provide easy access to existing water point data, providing a living record of information.

In addition to this we have been working on promoting best practice for the use of ICT in the WASH sector. This topic has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, although the use of ICT in the WASH sector still lags behind other sectors, such as health. To capitalise on this momentum and drive the discussion, we collaborated with Unicef, DGIS, GWC and WSP (World Bank) to co-convene a conference based around this topic earlier this year, which was the beginning of a great conversation that we look to continue.

I look forward to many more discussions as we continue down the path of developing and rolling out Akvo DASH.

Henry Jewell is manager, Akvo USA hub and executive director, Akvo Foundation USA. You can follow him on Twitter @hejewell.