Two weeks ago we launched the Akvopedia Finance Portal at UN World Water Day 2013 in The Hague. Developed in collaboration with IRC, the new portal is designed to help water and sanitation infrastructure teams achieve sustainable financing through the entire project lifecycle. This is just one of the ways in which we are expanding the site. To complete our recent series on the evolution of Akvopedia, I talked to Akvo project manager Hans Merton and Akvopedia editor Winona Azure about the future of Akvopedia.
“Akvopedia needs to be simple, yet vast. Efficient to use with information that initiates, inspires, and brings people and projects together,” Winona AzureAkvopedia is one of the most comprehensive water and sanitation resources available today. Where does it fit into the overall water, sanitation and hygiene framework?
Winona: Currently Akvopedia supplies a multi-sourced collaboration of information for all stages of a so-called “WASH” project. We’ve got lists of project organisations to choose from, financing options, methods of constructing a project, and maintenance tips about how to keep a completed project functioning and stable. However, as technology advances so do the tools that enable WASH projects to succeed and that is where Akvo comes in. We don’t want to focus only on information, but rather how and in what ways that information is accessible. This makes a big difference. By providing new tools like mobile apps that monitor and report on-the-ground WASH realities, by encouraging organisations to use an “open data” approach to their organisation and projects, and by networking a best practices approach for WASH projects is how Akvopedia will go one step beyond itself as not only an information resource, but as an information implementer. If you think about information, it is pretty much passive. It’s something you go to seek out, it does not come to you automatically. But we want information that is active, which means we’ll have a role in not only providing the information, but also getting it to you effectively with minimal effort on your part. This is what Akvo is good at, this “art of technology” so to speak, and defines our niche in the WASH sector.
We’ve recently done a lot of work to further develop Akvopedia as a knowledge exchange on effective and affordable WASH solutions. What do you see as the future of Akvopedia?
Hans: My dream is that Akvopedia can become a place where you can go from anywhere in the world to find background information on a sustainability topic you are struggling with. But beyond the articles, if you are working on a project, you can also find an “electronic assistant”, a decision support tool to help you take the next step to narrow your options. You still need to make a choice, but the idea is that this could be informed based on actual lessons learned. For example, if you are working on a hand pump project in Ghana, you would also be able to find information on a region nearby where these pumps are installed and, on top of that, you can get access to the people and organisations who were involved in that project and you can get in touch with them. Sharing experiences by talking to each other is more powerful than any system. Knowledge is inside your head and not in a wiki or database.
Winona: Increasing our interconnected network is just as important as accumulating information. An example of networking would be more active maps, so users know the spatial context of their WASH project and can compare with other projects near them, and have a discussion about it if needed. We want to cover all extremes in Akvopedia. On the one hand we want a vast amount of globally applicable information, but then we also want region-specific, localised information. That will take time. At the moment, we have a lot on Africa and we want to include more of Latin America and Asia. We want to appeal to a wide range of users – from the experienced NGO with a lot of resources, to the lesser educated community member with only a mobile phone. Akvopedia needs to be simple, yet vast. Efficient to use with information that initiates, inspires, and brings people and projects together.
Technically we will develop an Akvopedia app in the future, not unlike the Wikipedia app out there now. This will greatly expand our number of users, which can only lead to a bigger and better Akvopedia.
How long will it take us to realise this vision of Akvopedia?
Hans: We expect to be able to build in the support tools in 2013. Our roadmaps will eventually link field-related data from Akvo RSR and Akvo FLOW to Akvopedia in terms of exchanging information. This will enable connecting people significantly. I think we will partly realise this by the end of 2013, and will have all of the building blocks in place in the first half of 2014.
Emily Armanetti is communications manager at Akvo, based in New York City.