Since last year, Akvo has been involved in the Rural Water Supply mapping program in Lao PDR. We constantly talk about data-collection but this is only one part of the process. Bringing back relevant data and using this to draw conclusions and support ongoing policy is critical. In November in Vientiane, SNV Laos presented the results of an impressive one-year cycle of water supply mapping via mobile tools (proof of concept), which one chief village member described as “the best data the district of Savannakhet has ever had”. Indeed, our partner SNV just posted this nice photo story on the process, too.
I never experienced that much excitement during a presentation of results before (on rural water systems), and checking out villages on interactive online maps, including providing answers via graphs on the condition of water systems, was mind-blowing and very valuable. As the maps are publicly accessible, everybody started to click through the districts of Phin and Atsaphone to learn from the more than 1000+ water systems on accessibility, reliability, quality, quantity and functionality.
For the first time ever, those involved have a comprehensive, understandable overview that can be discussed and promoted at a provincial level. As mentioned, data-collection is just the first step. Interpreting and acting on the data is, however often intended, unfortunately a less common practice.
How do you bring back information, and how do you stay connected and keep people involved? It’s all part of the Akvo journey. As hard as we might try to stay away from survey design or from drawing conclusions after data-collection, it feels like Akvo is naturally perceived as a trusted partner to be involved in this process. We could play this advisory role – and we have the people for that. Akvo is not on earth to just build and enable the use of innovative tools, we aim to make the sector smarter and more effective. It is therefore crucial to also be involved in the input and output side.
We need to work with people with a clear vision, and let mobile tools support their big thinking. During this year it has been a pleasure to work with Thea Bongertman (SNV Laos) – she is a perfect example in combining sector expertise and eagerness to learn with a clear vision about what direction to take with incoming results.
Thea Bongertman started off her presentation with the strong words that working on rural water supply in Laos with mobile tools is a journey, and the dream is to provide good quality data to the national government for improved decision making. Lao PDR lacks solid data about water system functionality and water quality. There is no national database with all water systems and a framework around it… so where to start?
As they were not convinced that rural water supply teams were ready to use mobile tools, they decided to use Akvo’s “pilot” dashboard for their first data collection. Joy Ghosh, in Akvo’s Indian team, has been involved from the beginning, and ensured the survey was set-up in Akvo FLOW so data-collection could start. We downloaded the data sets and presented the initial outcomes in clickable maps. After the successful pilot, and building an understanding of the tools and the power of maps for decision making, we conducted a one-week training period in Savannakhet for dashboard managers and data collectors.
The beauty of the process for me has been the real workflow iteration after learning from the initial results. Based on answers, improvements were made on the data-input side (questionnaires), and the ways of working changed (governance). Normally there is little access to the data after data collection has taken place, and no connections are made. We have been involved in challenging the data-input (indicator definitions), and especially in the interpretation and presentation of the results. In short, we helped to give meaning to the collected data.
SNV and its partners have taken a significant step into the development of a solid governance model for how to collect data properly, and have a good understanding on how to get most out of the tools. It is time to bring results from the district level to a national level, to present this business case for upscaling and give even more significance to current exercise. UNICEF already provided commitment to include additional schools into this rural water system monitoring program.
As mobile phones get a bigger footprint in Lao PDR, the focus is more on building capacity to collect, manage and present data. The infrastructure is in place, and in 2015 all current water systems in Savannakhet will be updated (using FLOW’s new continuous monitoring feature). And interest was raised to also start similar journeys in sanitation and renewable energy.