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Building a next wave development organisation gives you the chance to break a few rules of engagement. So perhaps it’s about time I got everyone up to date on how we’re bringing Akvo to market.

Next week is our first moment in the sun. The whole team is attending World Water Week in Stockholm and we are working hard to get the first iteration of the system ready.

Our goal is to walk away from Stockholm with a set of options on the table from funding partners that wish to help us move forward. Along the way, we want to have engaged many supporters and to have gathered lots of constructive feedback on how the project can be integrated with the work of others.

At the conference, we’ll be involved in the following:

– Peter van der Linde of Netherlands Water Partnership, and one of the Akvo team will be showing Akvo briefly as part of a session on knowledge management and communication at 11:15am on Sunday 12 August at the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance event (SuSanA) at Stockholm Environment Institute, Kräftriket 2B, Stockholm.

– We’re hosting a panel debate to be held at lunchtime on Tuesday 14 August – more here. We’ll ask whether a ‘wikipedia of water’ can transform the pace of water development. Thomas Bjelkeman will speak and the panel will be moderated by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent at the Financial Times.

– That same evening (Tuesday 14th) we’re hosting informal evening drinks where interested parties can come and chat to us. This will be held from 18:00 until 21:00 at Duvel Cafe, Vasagatan 50.

– We have an ongoing schedule of meetings with potential partners, funders, fans, etc.

So this week is filled with emailing those we’d love to talk to while in Stockholm, as well as using tools like the blog to explain the background context so our discussions at the conference take things forward more quickly.

We’ll be doing some conventional marketing too – a poster campaign designed by the Dutch artist Vincent Wijers will adorn the conference centre toilets. I’m buying up every shocking pink laptop skin I can find in PC World to provide to team members who will be demoing the system around the show. I’m going to write a press release later this week which we’ll publish on the blog and distribute via the show’s media team.

Partners

What’s already become apparent is the significant amount of goodwill and interest we are experiencing through our development partner network. Of course it helps that the Netherlands Water Partnership, IRC and UNESCO-IHE have a great inside track on the priorities of the water development sector. In particular, links with the networks that fund on-the-ground water and sanitation projects are keen to help, either at a major fund level or via microcredit programmes. One of the things we have learnt quickly is that the better knowledge we bring to those who are specifying projects on the ground, the more able we are to reduce risk for those providing the credit. And the more we can do to speed up the process of project specification, funding authorisation and feedback.

Functional Design and Research

First, the system itself. Thomas and Gabriel in Sweden have been working closely with the Silicon Valley team to create a functional prototype that incorporates the key elements we believe will matter to users. www.akvo.org is up and running and illustrates the core processes we are evaluating for the final system, either in a fully working manner or at a demonstration level, depending on their complexity. In particular, Akvopedia is fully operational, and winning the support of those who will help us populate this with knowledge is now a big priority because getting know-how into the system will act as fuel for demonstrating its broader capabilities.

Peter van der Linde will be expanding separately on the functional design research we’ve been undertaking with advisors at UNESCO-IHE. It’s an area we’re keen to get right and is something that we want to ensure has input from the best minds in interaction design.

This is a long process. World Water Week will probably give us great input on what development partners want to see but the true test will be adapting the system and creating new interactive tools that appeal to the needs of end user communities. Of course, the pressure here isn’t all on us. We’ve conceived Akvo as something that would gather, organise and syndicate knowledge into other online (and offline) development communities. We must listen and adapt our tools to meet the needs of the project and community sites that are springing up everywhere to bring to life, connect and help finance, local community projects. If you think you can help us adapt our system and its usability to meet such needs, please drop Peter a line. Whether you’re in India or Illinois, if you’ve got skills to add, we want to know.

Branding

In 2007 you’d have to be really out of tune to set up a development-oriented organisation that wasn’t open source. So while explaining what open source means for the process we’re supporting is a big priority right now, it’s something I eventually hope we can downplay moving forward. Quite simply, we’re the modern approach to water and sanitation development.

Something Vincent and I are working on is trying to move Akvo’s visual identity beyond the development mainstream. One of the things I’ve learned quickly is that if you start up a development project within minutes everyone’s putting up impersonal images of people in plight all over the place. Check out www.akvo.org for living proof. I turn around for ten minutes and we have pictures of poor people looking down a hole. We can do better.

So we’re trying to get under the skin of aspirational imagery, but with humour that engages global audiences. It’s a tough brief, but not impossible. Our launch images draw on Bollywood imagery to communicate that this is about transforming people’s situations through knowledge, networks and finance. We’re developing a similar style for Africa.

Finally, we’ll work hard to publish openly as much input as we can from Stockholm, either on the blog or in relevant forums on Akvo.org.

I hope that gives you a sense of where we are. Please spread the word about our work, come to our debate at World Water Week or just drop me a line with your thoughts. We look forward to working with you.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo. He leads its marketing and helps make sure it stays in tune with our time.