As 2008 kicks off, we’re lucky to have several new advisors helping us package clearly the benefits Akvo patrons and sponsors will gain from funding and engaging with our work. In particular, Frederik Claasen of AIDEnvironment is taking up some of the strain in liaising with potential sponsors and getting those who have already committed to actually work out how to structure their engagement with us. Frederik, we’re excited to have you involved.

461877473_1234f4a437.jpgWorking out partner benefits for an open source project is a bit more complicated than doing it for a conventional one, where there are lots of offers of ‘exclusive’ rights. What do we package up, how do we ensure the windows stay wide open to the outside world, yet how do we offer those who invest in us with a unique set of benefits. Thomas and I spent Friday afternoon enhancing our map of benefits for early supporters. The pressure is on right now to offer exclusivity or priority access. This is tricky, because Akvo’s purpose is to share our innovations with everyone who wishes to participate and benefit.

So a back to basic principles exercise is helpful here. Akvo creates and shares Open Source tools, methods and working practices that improve knowledge sharing, collaboration and project and cost management in the water and sanitation development sector. These help our partners take advantage of emerging technologies and organising processes to reduce dramatically the costs and ease of large scale collaboration. The purpose behind this work is to accelerate the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation. These goals state that by 2015 we must halve the number of people in the world who lack clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

Certainly the value we offer to our first partners is the chance to participate in the structural design phase, shaping the core specifications of the project and prioritising where we deliver our first projects to meet the above objectives. Akvo will certainly be applying the greatest amount of listening and interaction time to those early partners.

The process is akin to the role Pan Am had in driving the creation of the Boeing 747 in the mid 1960s. It’s easy today to forget that in the 1950s and ’60s, Pan Am absolutely dominated international air travel – founded and at the time still led by the extraordinary Juan Trippe. The aircraft was built to meet the needs that airline ambitiously set out in 1966 to have a huge airliner in service by 1970 that would harness the latest technology (massive and efficient new engines) to transform the capacity and economics of long haul air travel.

Despite Trippe being the launch customer, Boeing’s designers challenged the airline all along the journey. They built a (mainly) single deck, but extra-wide plane rather than the narrow double-decker Pan Am had expected. And Boeing also consulted with many other airlines about their needs and invited them to participate in the design process too. The result was a much better product for both the launch customer and, eventually, everyone else.

The reason Boeing had this flexibility was that there was no way on earth that Pan Am could demand an exclusive product. The development costs were too big and the wider market for the product too large to justify such an approach.

At Akvo there are lessons we can draw. So as we continue negotiating with partners, I’ll set out shortly how Akvo’s marketing adheres to open source principles. Thomas will do the same for its functional design.

Akvo is an open community which anyone can join and contribute to and a key aim is to create connections between organisations that do not currently collaborate openly. So if you want to help play a role in how we step to the next level, how we integrate with other efforts and how we start transforming the way those we support work and deliver, then drop me a line.

Posted by Mark Charmer, co-founder of Akvo. Joe Sutter’s book about designing the 747 is a great read for anyone interested in engineering or just making big projects work. Photo credit: Seb Przd under creative commons license.