• Written by Charlotte Soedjak
    31 October 2017

Above: The various phases of the partnership between Akvo and DGIS.

Since 2008, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and Akvo have been involved a public private partnership (PPP), focused on practical innovations in the international WASH sector. In particular, we have been targeting challenges around knowledge management, transparency, data sharing, monitoring and reporting. Building on pilots in earlier DGIS and Akvo partnerships (PPP1 and PPP2), which aimed to improve WASH related project reporting and mobile-based data collection, this partnership is concentrated on scaling-up efforts to support data collection and monitoring initiatives at national and regional scale. In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the many activities that were either kick-started with the support of PPP3, or resulted as a spin-off. 

Monitoring national WASH infrastructure

One of PPP3’s primary goals was to improve mapping and monitoring efforts at national scale. The partnership between Inclusive Green Growth (IGG, a department of DGIS) and Akvo demonstrated how data collection can happen at scale with Akvo Flow. Using Akvo Flow, national baseline mapping of water and sanitation services was completed in nine countries across West Africa. A step was also taken towards the ongoing monitoring of WASH infrastructure by supporting governments in conducting national water infrastructure inventories in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Mali, and Ethiopia.

Building data portals

A large effort has also been made to share this national WASH data online and make it accessible for the public. Akvo has standardised national data portals and continues to support governments in creating online national WASH portals, which include interactive maps of rural and small town areas. These portals allow governments to share data in a more attractive and useful way so that they can inform decision-making at local and national levels. Examples include the national water portals of Benin and Sierra Leone, which you can read more about in this Benin atlas blog post and this Sierra Leone atlas blog post.

In our efforts to support open data initiatives, Akvo became a founding member of the Water Point Data exchange (WPDx), which aims to increase transparency and sharing of water data amongst the wider public. Data from the water portals feed into WPDx. 

Above: Screenshot of the Sierra Leone WASH data portal.

Supporting disaster response in the Pacific

In partnership with Unicef Pacific and the governments of Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, we expanded our activities into the Pacific region. A lot of this work was focused on WASH mapping and WASH-related disaster response. In Vanuatu, we worked with the government and UNICEF Pacific to map all water points, making it the first country in the region to use mobile-based data and asset management tools as part of developing its national WASH database. When tropical cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March 2015, Akvo supported the disaster response by providing maps of available data relating to water points and sanitation systems in affected areas. This enabled people to identify the areas in most need of emergency WASH supplies. After receiving recognition for our work in supporting rapid WASH damage assessments after cyclone Winston, we engaged in a strategic partnership with the government of Fiji which was covered in an interview with the BBC.

Akvo flow map

Above: Map showing the use of Akvo Flow on national, regional and programme level.

From WASH to agriculture and food security

We expanded our activities to new sectors that have a close link to the WASH sector, such as agriculture, food security and climate change. An example of work in this sector is a project we did with SNV in using Akvo Flow to track commodities like palm oil back to the source of their production. By tracking the production of palm oil back to the farmer, SNV were able to monitor deforestation around the source of production and prevent palm oil production in unsuitable areas.

We also worked on digitising commodity certification standards in Akvo Flow. My colleague Aulia wrote about data collection efforts for cocoa certification in Indonesia. So far, these standards have been digitised in four surveys: Round table for Responsible Palm Oil (RSPO), Good Agricultural Practices (GLOBAL GAP), UTZ Code of Conduct, and Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP). These digitised surveys are available and ready to use for future data collection activities, by any organisation.

For more background on certification, tracking and tracing of commodities, and Akvo’s role around data collection in this field, check out this introduction blog and follow-up blog by Eline.

Online results monitoring and reporting

Initially a tool for increasing transparency around development projects, Akvo RSR has developed into a monitoring and evaluation reporting tool. Extensive improvements have been made to support organisations around IATI, M&E and reporting:

  1. IATI compatibility: this has made it easy for organisations to fulfil their IATI reporting requirements. Project data in RSR matches the IATI standard and can be published to the IATI Registry with one click. A tailored validation set shows which fields to complete to conform with the DGIS IATI Guidelines. 
  2. A monitoring framework: this feature was added in order to support organisations or programmes with M&E activities by enabling users to monitor and report on progress and results through indicator updates.
  3. A reporting feature: this allows organisations flexibility in creating and exporting reports in various formats, based on RSR data. As an example, the latest PPP3 progress report has been exported directly from the RSR database.

An increasing number of organisations have since made use of RSR to support their results monitoring and (IATI) reporting requirements, including Akvo (more PPP3 programme details have been published in Akvo RSR), and we continue to support these partners with IATI and M&E related questions. 

Publishing the Dutch funded water portfolio online

We worked together with DGIS IGG Water to make the Dutch WASH portfolio more visible and accessible online in order to understand which programmes are funded, what they aim to achieve, which parties are involved, where they are located, and more. Programmes directly funded by IGG Water are published online, as well as project portfolios funded by Dutch embassies. This was done as a pilot including the embassies in Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Indonesia and Mali. 

Knowledge portals Akvopedia

The online wiki-resource Akvopedia continues to grow, and now also includes non-WASH related articles. During PPP3, a number of new portals were added, including Rainwater Harvesting, Decision & Assessment Tools, Food & Nutrition Security, and Sustainable Oil Palm Farming. The content on Akvopedia derives from many different organisations, including SNV, Wageningen University, ICCO, and the SuSaNa Network, and is available in a range of languages. The Akvopedia mobile app enables access to all Akvopedia pages and is available from the Google playstore as of March 2017.

From data to decision

The work done during PPP3 has pushed for improved knowledge exchange and support from a range of donors. The partnership also allowed a range of DGIS partners to adopt new technologies and has greatly improved the availability of data across the targeted countries, particularly in the WASH sector. Furthermore, Akvo’s participatory approaches enabled the leverage of investments across many organisations globally, greatly improving access to data.

Despite these successes, there is still plenty of work to do. One of the key lessons from PPP3 is that, due to the rapid access to an increasing amount of (open) data, challenges have shifted from data collection to data transformation and interpretation for decision making. Our new partnership with DGIS IGG Water ‘From Data to Decision – Mobilising data for sustainable development’ (D2D) will focus beyond providing support for data collection, toward incorporating partner support services in survey design, data science and best practice monitoring and evaluation, as well as creating new open source systems to simplify data analysis and visualisation in order to respond to a range of challenges facing the sector.

Charlotte Soedjak is project manager at Akvo in Amsterdam. You can follow her @CharlotteSoed.