Five key lessons from Water Point Mapping in Liberia

by Geert Soet

Above: The Great wall of China Hotel, Monrovia. Photo by Geert Soet

Arriving at Liberia’s Roberts International airport with a small suitcase and my passport, the rain was pouring down on Africa’s first republic. For the people that do know the country by name, it will most likely remind them of the long-running and ruinous civil war in the 1990s or the recent ebola crisis. 

With those thoughts in the back of my mind, I was not too happy with the fact that I did not possess a visa and only brought a copy of an invitation letter with me. But once again, it was made clear to me that you have to experience countries and their people first hand. In my imagination, the immigration manager was surly. In reality, he escorted me to the taxi rank with his own umbrella. When the ATM ate my card, it was no problem at all to pay later.

All in all, it was the start of an interesting week! My task was to guide the process of data cleaning for the 2017 Water Point Mapping in Liberia, led by the Ministry of Public Works and the Liberia WaSH consortium. Below you’ll find a list of the five most important lessons we took from this experience.

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A new look and feel for Akvo RSR results framework

by Anthony Gonzalez

We’re really excited to release a new design for Akvo RSR’s results framework that is cleaner and easier to navigate. Besides the new design, we’ve also made it easier to update indicator results data and to manage the approval flow for indicator updates.

What’s new? 

  • A streamlined, more user-friendly design.
  • An approval flow for indicator updates: this flow allows field officers to access indicators that need updating quickly and easily. It also allows monitor and evaluation (M&E) staff and project managers to view indicator updates that are pending approval or have already been approved. 
  • A bulk actions filter: this allows you to swiftly lock and unlock indicator reporting periods. It also lets you filter indicator reporting periods so that you can easily find a specific period. 
  • Indicator updates can no longer be made via the project editor. 
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Unboxing Marcomms

by Linda Leunissen

Over the last week and a half the Akvo Marketing and Communications (Marcomms) team has onboarded two new team members. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in reality it means our existing team of two doubled in size. It’s a 100% increase.

Alvaro has been part of our team for three years. I myself have been with Akvo for more than five years. We both got introduced to fully function teams, who took us on board and showed us the ropes. The way Akvo does Marcomms is different than any other organisation either of us worked for, and learning from our co-workers in a well functioning team was invaluable in changing the way we approached things.

Today we find ourselves in a very different situation. Two weeks ago our team consisted of Alvaro and me but now we’ve added two new people to this micro team. We thought long and hard about how to go about the onboarding process. Of course we’re excited to have our new colleagues Georgia and Laura on board, but it does pose some questions: How do we keep the spirit in which we’ve worked the last five years going, but also leave room for this new team to create it’s own patterns? And how do we make sure we keep using our method of discoverable communications, while also creating an identity, style and way of working as a new team that we all feel ownership of? It’s important our new colleagues feel like they are part of shaping the way we work, but it’s also important to have continuity.
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Impressions of Stockholm World Water Week 2017 (Akvo’s eleventh)

by Alvaro de Salvo

Stockholm World Water Week

Above: The Akvo stand in full swing. Photo by Alvaro de Salvo

Last week, a handful of us attended one of the biggest congregations worldwide dealing with water related issues. Organised by SIWI, Stockholm World Water Week (#WWWeek) took place in Sweden’s capital between Sunday 27 August and Friday 1 September. It was Akvo’s eleventh time at this event and my second

Akvo was conceived at SWWW in 2006, and we’ve been back every year since, often with the intention to disrupt the sector into becoming more data driven. At Akvo, we believe that the sector needs to embrace digitalisation and become more open, effective, and efficient. 

As you’re probably aware, #WWWeek is the annual meeting point of many of the world’s water sector entities and experts: government bodies, NGOs, funders and investors, private utilities, corporations, consultants, scientists, engineers and observers. We’ve been actively bridging the water sector with technology, and done the best we can to continuously poke it. This year hasn’t been any different. Read More »

The Team, The Team, The Team

by Henry Jewell

After five incredible years, the time has come for me to leave Akvo. It has been a privilege to work with all the people that I have interacted with through this journey, all of whom are passionate about being a positive force for change in the world.

It is nearly fall in Ann Arbor, Michigan (the town I call home), and that means one thing, and one thing only –  it is football season. One speech, above all others, is synonymous with the University of Michigan football team, Bo Schembechler’s 1983 “The Team, The Team, The Team” address. An excerpt of this speech that I find very emotive is:

“The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team?”
How do we define the team we work on? Is it our immediate colleagues that sit next to us? Our colleagues from different locations? Our partners?  Or even the community in which we operate? No single organization can solve the large social challenges that the international development sector is facing; collectively we can achieve a lot more. Within the sector we are good at talking about collaboration but in practice this normally occurs at a superficial level, which does not allow for a fundamental change in the way we work together.
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Fake news and my summer internship

by Edgar Aguilar

Above: At the Open Gov Hub in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ethel Méndez Castillo.

This year has been really eye opening to me and I am sure the same holds true for many others. I started to realize that “fake news” and “alternative truths” are pervasive, particularly on the Internet, and this has made me more skeptical of what I see on my Facebook feed. But how do we find more truth in the information we consume? My unexpected summer internship just helped me to start answering that question to myself: we collect good data that we then understand and share openly.

My plans for the summer were not necessarily to work at an international organization that “creates open source, internet and mobile software and sensors” in order to make “international development and country governance more effective, transparent and collaborative.” I’d had no plans to come to Washington, D.C. and I had never heard of Akvo Foundation or the Open Gov Hub. I just knew about all the poor decisions and ineffective results achieved by governments and organizations around the world caused by the lack of access to good and real information. Honestly, I had never really thought about ways in which people could be working to improve the data used in decision-making and measuring results. However, one week changed all of this, and I had to move to DC for a summer internship at Akvo Foundation USA. It was through this internship that I found out that some people are working to integrate technology into the monitoring of development processes.
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Experimenting to improve our internal communications about products

by Alvaro de Salvo

Above: The Pallasseum by Jonas.

We at Akvo have been trying to solve a problem for a while now: how can we improve the way we communicate around product development, internally?

Akvo is currently over 90 people, spread across five different regions and time zones ranging all the way from Seattle, United States to Sydney, Australia. With product managers in Amsterdam and Stockholm, and most of the rest of the team elsewhere around the globe, keeping people updated on product development proves difficult. People consume information in different ways, and geographical dispersion, time constraints and people’s varying habits are not easily fixed with technology.

The tendency has been to deal with this by simply communicating more; more emails, more chat groups, more calls and more video meetings. Product managers then share with different groups the same thing, over and over. When we tried to reduce the frequency, people felt left out of the loop. We’ve come to point where we need to change this.

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Akvo Caddisfly: a water quality testing kit for SDG monitoring

by Arthur Heijstek

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been testing and improving the water quality tests that Akvo Caddisfly (our simple, low cost, open source, smartphone-based water quality testing system connected to an online data platform) performs, as well as adding new parameters to test for different types of contaminants. During this process, we found that moving from high fidelity prototypes towards certified and scalable hardware products is a challenge. After some deep thought we came to the conclusion that the best way to rapidly achieve our goal of a truly scalable and widely available water quality data system is to focus our efforts on connecting existing hardware to our Caddisfly app, and making the app as user friendly and effective as possible. 

Consequently we have spun off a separate organisation called Foundation for Environmental Monitoring (FFEM), which is focused on creating environmental sensors and associated hardware. Read More »

Introducing the Tripod teams

by Alvaro de Salvo

In the past few weeks, we’ve introduced a new way to improve how different people from various teams at Akvo work together. We founded Akvo ‘Tripod’ teams and they focus on the roll out, (re)positioning, and evolution of our tools and services.

Tripod teams were initially triggered by one specific necessity: the need to better coordinate the soon to be launched Akvo Lumen: our new data analysis, transformation, visualisation and publishing tool. Product launches are a perfect example of how multiple team members from across the organisation come together to make things happen in a timely manner. Different teams need to closely interact from multiple areas like product management, software development, marketing and communications, customer support, business development and sales, accounting, finance, and others as needed. It is not only coordination that make launches challenging, but the fact that usually individuals and teams have their own agenda and goals and sometimes fall into a silos working culture, in which it’s easy to loose sight of the bigger picture, thus impacting the work of other teams. Tripod teams were born to improve co-creation and collaboration, to double check everyone is on the same page, and make sure things get delivered on time for the common big objective(s). Read More »