As the second decade of the 21st century starts to really take shape, communications technology is improving at such a pace that it is making most organisations realise how little they know of their own work and its impact.
Nowhere is this more true than the field of international development. We cannot manage development investments unless we can monitor and evaluate them from end-to-end. But historically this hasn’t worked well. Most investments to reduce poverty and improve basic infrastructure get lost in a haze. Organisations lack both the tools and will to map the detail and use it to build out the big picture. Money is wasted, lessons aren’t learnt and people lose a grip on the difference between success and failure. The end result is millions trapped in poverty.
Water For People and Akvo have committed to address the monitoring gap through a partnership to develop Akvo FLOW, a tool with the potential to transform the development sector by offering organisations an integrated way to collect, analyse and report monitoring data. As phone networks and internet connections now penetrate affordably into most of the poorest regions of the world, even $80 phone handsets can capture geographically tagged information including photos and video. Transparency from end-to-end suddenly looks like the development opportunity of the decade.
What is Akvo FLOW?
FLOW stands for Field Level Operations Watch. It’s a system to collect, manage, analyse and display geographically-referenced monitoring and evaluation data. It has been under development for several years with significant field implementations already under its belt. To date Akvo FLOW has been used mainly to track the condition of water points such as wells and pumps. But it could be used to monitor any kind of local infrastructure.
Akvo FLOW brings together three elements:
- Handheld data collection – the Akvo FLOW Field Survey application runs on Android phones and devices with integrated GPS, camera, and custom adaptive surveys.
- A web-based dashboard where users manage and analyse Akvo FLOW surveys and data.
- Visual map-based reporting tools displayed in Google Maps and Google Earth.
Akvo FLOW was used by the Liberian government to create a baseline survey of thousands of waterpoints, assisted by the Water and Sanitation Project, World Bank. The video was created by the team working on the project.
Why was Akvo FLOW built?
The research and development of Akvo FLOW was kick-started in 2010 by Water For People. Working in the field, it saw that paper-based monitoring surveys were cumbersome, compilation of data was manual and slow, there was a high error rate, results took a long time to reach audiences and were not visible or easily accessible.
Water For People partnered with Gallatin Systems to build a professional system that would provide accountability and transparency to donors and to the public through fast data collection, survey flexibility, analytical tools for data-driven decision making and visual reporting of results.
Starting in 2012, Water for People has partnered with the Akvo, where we will take the lead role in further developing and supporting the platform. This includes taking over the technical team which created FLOW, which will work directly with or for Akvo going forward.
Where has Akvo FLOW been used?
Since first deploying in 2010, FLOW has been used around the world in 17 countries for monitoring. A leader in mainstreaming monitoring in their organisation, Water For People uses Akvo FLOW for ongoing monitoring across its country programmes. Another prominent activity has been the mapping of 10,000 water points in Liberia in 2011 by WSP, the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank. The primary applications of Akvo FLOW so far have been in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, but smaller projects outside the sector have demonstrated its flexibility and potential for diverse applications.
Countries where FLOW has been used:
Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda
Asia: Nepal, India
Central and South America: Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru
Water for People’s Akvo FLOW instance, showing water points in Blantyre, Malawi
What’s next for Akvo FLOW?
Akvo FLOW is about to get a significant overhaul, to expand its features and make the service available to a wider group of users. These are our targets:
- Make the platform self-service, user-friendly, well-documented, supported and affordable, so it can be embraced by the development community with ease.
- Add advanced capabilities such as statistical and geospatial analysis, rich map display with aerial data summaries, performance over time, scoring and ranking, and custom dashboards.
- Develop a user platform where datasets on core indicators and surveys can be shared, creating a rich publicly available data resource for each geographic area.
- Make the code open source and the data accessible through an application programming interface (API), so software developers can contribute and reuse the Akvo FLOW code, and create their own data visualisation and analysis applications.
What is needed to make this happen?
Akvo needs strong partners with the capability to support, execute, and fund the further development of Akvo FLOW. It has a solid user base, with partners such as the World Bank, Water for People, A Child’s Right, and the International Water and Sanitation Center IRC. These organisations lead in suggesting and testing the features of Akvo FLOW, so what’s built is of immediate use to the practice of monitoring development work.
Make no mistake though, it is a big job to take the very promising beginning, which is Akvo FLOW 1.0, and make it usable by thousands of organisations. We and Water for People have seen a tremendous interest in using Akvo FLOW and we are working hard to make the product truly webscale. Part of this effort is open sourcing the software and supporting materials, so that anyone can chip in and make this the product all that it needs to be. It will take time and we are working hard to make sure this happens as quickly and as smoothly as possible. We appreciate your input, help and patience in making this work.
For more information about Akvo and Water for People agreement around Akvo FLOW, please read: Akvo and Water For People sign FLOW agreement.
This blog post is part of a series, (not all written yet), which describes what we at Akvo are doing, how we are doing it and why:
Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson and Mark Charmer, both co-founders at Akvo Foundation.