I’ve recently spent some time delving into Akvo’s data repositories to find performance data to display on Akvo.org. Now don’t tell anyone but I seriously found the process of transforming numbers into graphs to be a lot of fun (I realise I might be the only one who considers this kind of thing fun!). Surprisingly, the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true for graphs as well – the right data displayed in the right way can tell a compelling and valuable story.

Photo: Stefan Kraus talks through Akvo performance indicators, via Skype video from the Hague. Akvo strategy meeting. Stockholm, 19 August 2011.

Most importantly, the graphs have started to give us an idea of the kinds of performance data we might like to continue measuring and how we might display and share this with the rest of the world. Peter van der Linde and I presented some of these diagrams at the recent Akvo strategy meeting and it created plenty of lively discussion.

The difficulty is in deciding which data and which graphs to use. Measuring and displaying performance in a clear and valuable way requires picking a very specific set of indicators and analysing them in a meaningful manner.

Narrowing the scope to a few specific performance indicators has been much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve been wrestling with questions like: what kinds of things are most important to Akvo as an organisation? What are our goals and objectives? What does success look like? And, which indicators should we use to measure success? To help the process, I’ve decided to share what I’ve found so far, what it means and some of our ideas about where to go next.

Time to go mining…

My first step in this exploratory exercise was to develop some guiding principles for what I was looking for, mostly to avoid getting lost in the masses of data available for analysis. As a starting point, I settled on the following broad categories:

  • Growth (is Akvo is growing at a healthy rate?);
  • Visibility (How many people are seeing and using Akvo around the world?);
  • Quality (Are Akvo’s products valued by users and are they making a difference?);
  • Uptake of solutions (how are Akvo’s products and solutions being used and implemented?); and
  • Impact (is Akvo is achieving its goals?)

Next, I put on my hard hat, figuratively speaking, and started doing some good ol’ fashioned mining… for data. I hit a few snags along the way, realising that I couldn’t find data on absolutely everything I’d hoped to. I also had to spend time manually entering and cleaning some data in excel before I could use it.

Finally, with the data equivalent of gold nuggets at my fingertips, I started playing with some different ways of showing the data. Here are a few examples:

What it all means…

The great thing about this kind of data is that it tells a story. These graphs and diagrams give us a good understanding of where we are performing well and where we need to work harder, as well as showing us some of the direct impacts of our work. And I’m continuing to refine this data, to make it more accurate (there are some “bots” in here right now, which we need to strip back).

Above, we can see that the total number of partners and projects in the Akvo system is growing fairly smoothly.

Next, the graph entitled total project budgets raised indicates how the difference between funded and unfunded components of projects on Akvo has changed through time and the total updates per month graph shows how many project updates are posted on our system each month.

The next set of diagrams, of the most popular search terms (click the image for the full set), shows what those visitors who end up on the Akvo website through selected search engines write as search terms to get there. Aside from showing that the ever-popular soak pit is visited regularly on Akvopedia, it indicates that our recent work translating parts of the Akvopedia into Spanish are having an impact in terms of reaching a new audience.

On the Akvopedia side of things, the final diagram in the list shows the countries with the top 20 visitors on Akvopedia for the month of May, 2011, compared with both a one year period (June 2010 – June 2011) and since Akvo.org went live back in 2008. I left the USA out because its visitor numbers were so high (more than 10 times the highest ranking countries for each time period) that it made it hard to compare between other countries. I really like this one because it shows how the country rankings have changed (and sometimes not changed) across different periods. Countries like Guatemala, Chile and Greece, for example, have made it into the top 20 visitor countries for May, 2011, but have never made it in before. Is this the beginning of a new trend?

Where to next…

From here, I’m going to spend some more time searching for valuable information and working to display it in interesting ways. I’d like to try to gather more country-specific data on things like partners, updates and web page views. I’ll also try to combine some data, like the number of updates per project on Akvo (over time).

After we’ve selected the indicators we want to measure, our next goal is to start displaying real-time data on the Akvo homepage. Here’s an example of a “dashboard” widget that we are thinking of using (of course, the current dials are just an example):

It’s all a work in progress but watch this space and we’ll keep you posted…

Stefan Kraus is a project assistant at Akvo, based in the Netherlands.