Above: Photo of Pinocchio from Pexels.
The Akvo engineering team has bought into the idea of an immutable data log as the backbone of our architecture, which we hope will make it easier to integrate Akvo systems and build new functionalities. More importantly, it will treat data as a first-class citizen; as the valuable thing that it really is. Read More »
Above: Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash.
Empathy has a special place in our product development processes at Akvo. We love doing user research to listen to our partners needs first hand, and often ask a lot of questions to get into our partners’ shoes. We are interested in everything, but especially in how our partners interact with our products and what their biggest challenges are.
Our conviction is that building empathy with our partners through user research, field visits and other activities helps us contribute to the success of our partners. We continuously work with partners to figure out how our tools and services can help them achieve their desired impact. Akvo Lumen is just one piece in the puzzle of our design – capture – understand – share – act process, but it’s an indispensable one. Without the analysis and visualisation of collected data, it would be difficult to take action, learn and report on past experiences.
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Every morning for breakfast I used to have a slice of gluten-free toasted bread. I’d squash an avocado on it, add a splash of lime juice and lots of salt and pepper. It was my favourite breakfast. I loved it. I would look forward to having it every day. Sometimes I also had it for lunch. It made me happy. And then one day I was suddenly done with it. That last avocado lay in my fridge for weeks until I threw it out. I couldn’t even bear to think of it. I wasn’t sure why, but it just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
Something similar happened to me at Akvo. Over the last year, I fell out of love with the Akvo brand we had so carefully created. It used to be exciting, have an edge, always moving forward and changing, but it wasn’t working for us anymore. We tried to work out what the problem was. Imagery was one, but our experiments weren’t taking us anywhere interesting. Also, the hexagons were starting to feel limiting, and our website felt out of date. Everything was getting a bit stale.
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Above: The road by Thomas Baron.
2018 is here, and the Akvo Flow team are looking forward to another year filled with improvements, so that you can continue scaling your data collection projects in a simple way. Before I share a peek into the ideas we have for this new year, here is a little summary of what happened in 2017.
Scaling your data collection
Our number one goal in 2017 was allowing you to scale your data collection with Flow. We improved Flow’s technical architecture to make it a faster and more reliable tool so that you don’t have limitations when capturing data. Besides fixing bugs you shared with us, we also improved the overall performance of Flow. Have you created a large survey form with more than 100 questions in Flow? Now it will show up within two seconds, rather than the everlasting 15 seconds it took before. Read More »
Above: Akvo’s open source badge, designed by Thomas Bjelkeman-Petterson and Anke van Lenteren.
At Akvo, we believe that open source software provides substantial benefits for organisations in the international development sector. Nowadays, we expect a high quality and rich feature set from any software that we use. Thanks to open source software, relatively small organisations and development teams are able to build sophisticated and feature-rich applications by virtue of gluing together pre-existing open source software components in unique or specific ways. To be able to reuse all those pieces is awesome, as it is a lot less complex to assemble existing components than it is to create them from scratch. Read More »
Above: Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash
At Akvo, we help organisations in the international development sector capture, understand and share data in order to improve decision making. In a bid to become more effective and evidence-driven, governments and the international development sector often collect more data on people than is actually required to solve a problem.
In the excitement of trying to do good through big data, it can often be forgotten that we are still dealing with real people. Not numbers or strings or objects – natural persons. Their data can be emailed around, left on laptop harddisks, copied to phones or USB sticks, or retained indefinitely in unsecured backups. A data breach in the international development sector can have dire consequences for the organisation involved and could also be detrimental to the individuals identified by the breach.
GDPR – the General Data Protection Regulation – is a term that’s been on the minds of many in the sector in recent months. This new EU law will replace the current Data Protection Act, and introduces new requirements for how organisations deal with personal data.
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Above: Elephant wall mural photographed by Ben Kerckx.
I was three weeks into my Akvo life when my colleague Emmanuel turned to me and asked: “Jana, how do you eat an elephant?” At the time, I didn’t think much of it beyond the general saying, but it turned out to be one of the guiding principles behind how we improve Akvo Flow. We’ve also used it as an approach to tackling one big opportunity this year: improving how data captured in Flow is exported.
So, how do you eat an elephant?
Understand your elephant
First, you need to understand the elephant you are dealing with: its size, shape and what it is made of. From our research and user feedback, we knew that improving exports could not be done with one small fix. This is a full grown elephant we are dealing with. Improving exports involves multiple questions, problems, and opportunities. Here are a few pieces of this elephant, just to paint the picture:
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In 2014, Global Water Challenge, a coalition of corporations and NGOs working to solve the world’s water challenges, established a working group of experts in the water sector to advance water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sustainability by improving water data point sharing.
At the time, The Water Institute at UNC estimated that 1.8 billion people lacked access to safe water. Although teams of people work around the world to improve water and sanitation services and to collect data on water point functionality, existing water points don’t always function properly and old ways of doing things meant that water point data was often used only once, then locked away in file cabinets or on servers and proprietary systems. The working group set out to change this by establishing a framework for sharing data, ultimately improving WASH sustainability.
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Above: Connection at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Photograph by Ruud van der Werf, 2014.
You capture data. Actually, you capture a lot of data. This month we celebrated a great milestone in Akvo Flow: over 5 million forms have been submitted with our tool. But what happens after you hit the submit button? How can you get the data out, understand it and make value of it? Besides Flow’s frequently used view data and data exports functionality, or the newly introduced direct link between Flow and Lumen
, you can use Flow’s API.
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Above: The various phases of the partnership between Akvo and DGIS.
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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.