ndlink2-1 copyIn the spring of 2014 we started working with NDLink (Niger Delta Link) to help publish their project portfolio online using Akvo RSR. NDLink is an initiative of PIND Foundation and aims to encourage partnerships in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Through its online platform, NDLink aims to unite stakeholders in the region, trying to close the existing communication gap and improve information sharing. Around 1,000 projects will be published on the NDLink website using the Akvo RSR platform. 

We’ve been working since June to collect all project data in the required RSR format and get the technical implementation process in place. This is a big effort and we’re proud to be able to now show the first of the NDLink projects online.

Above: data gathering with Global Women Sustainable Development representative in Warri, Delta State, with Chima Jeff, NDLink Intern. 
Below: Ese Emerhi, NDLink project manager at PIND. Source: NDLink. 
Bottom: the NDLink team.
Source: NDLink.
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I asked Ese Emerhi, the NDLink project manager at PIND, about her experiences of working on this project. 

Charlotte Soedjak: Why did you decide to use Akvo RSR?
Ese Emerhi:
I was first introduced to Akvo by a colleague of mine who works in our field office in Warri, Delta state, Nigeria, in late spring this year. At that time, NDLink, the project I manage, was just a few months old and I had this wealth of data and projects on donor activities in the Niger Delta that no one was paying attention to; in fact, over 1,000 donor-sponsored projects. Meanwhile, our members were telling us that that section of our website was quite intimidating, the information was not intuitive enough, and often due to the slow and unsteady Internet access in this part of the world, downloading the heavy data was out of the question. I wanted a better way to be able to showcase these projects to help my growing community make better decisions around grants and development projects in their local communities – an attempt to remove the cobwebs and confusion around the activity of donors about who is doing what, for how much, and where. 

Then in a brainstorming meeting with a colleague, she referenced Akvo and the work they did on a water and sanitation initiative in Liberia, and how she was curious about how they could assist in her ‘appropriate technology enabled development’ (ATED) related work with the UN. There was the slim possibility then that Akvo could be the answer to my big data question of how to showcase donor activity in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, but it was all a big question mark. After reviewing Akvo’s site and seeing how they work, I was hopeful that they might be the answer. What I got excited about initially was the way Akvo RSR allows its users to keep their branded look but still use their product – I was very concerned about maintaining the same branding and look that had been created for NDLink, especially since it was still new.

CS: What do you hope to achieve using Akvo RSR?
EE: Under-taking this project has been both challenging and rewarding in so many ways. It has been challenging because the world of civil society organisations (CSO) in Nigeria is very suspicious of any data collection work done by foreign agencies all in the name of “development.” They have, quite naturally, built a resistance to enquiries like ours on how their project is going and what their successes (and failures) around the project have been, especially when they see no return. This was the biggest challenge we had to overcome first before even getting to the data aspect of the project – how to build trust with organizations, especially when NDLink itself was a relative new-comer to the field. We are hoping for a sea-change in perspectives around open data, transparency, and ultimately, accountability for work donor agencies do in the region. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among peer organizations is not yet the norm, so there can be duplication of efforts and wasted money. If NDLink can somehow influence the thinking around sharing knowledge, especially around what works and what doesn’t, through using the tools from Akvo, we would have done our job.

CS: How is the implementation work going so far?
EE: In the beginning, Akvo did a fine job of cautioning us around expectations when undergoing initiatives like these. The challenges I mentioned earlier have added to the push-back of our timetable, but overall, the more we are out there and the more people hear about what we are trying to do, the easier it has been to get the kind of data we are after. We make every attempt to showcase that PIND, and in turn, NDLink, is not like the other donors or organizations that have come in the past asking for data around projects happening in local communities. We have been lucky that we have been able to leverage the good reputation that the PIND Foundation had already established in the region – this opened a lot of doors for us and let us begin the conversation around what good data is and how to go about documenting it.

CS: What challenges have you encountered so far and how did you overcome them?
EE: Other than the trust issue mentioned earlier, proper documentation of data was another challenge. Even when we did encounter organizations willing to spend half a day with us pouring over data, we noticed a trend that many organizations were simply not documenting their activities properly. Knowing what type of data to collect is critical, but in the absence of that, knowing how to ask the right questions to get the results you need was a sharp skill my team had to develop on the go.

CS: What would you recommend to other organisations in your sector that are considering opening up?
EE: We have been fortunate that NDLink has been positioned to be more on the cutting edge of sharing development information, leveraging the power of the internet to do so, and unhindered by donor limitations or expectations. Not many organizations can be so bold as some fear that if others know how much they receive in grants, their next grant may not be guaranteed as some donors may give them less. This could have consequences for the sustainability of projects they implement in their local communities. This fear seems unrealistic to us but it is nonetheless a real fear for some.

We try to highlight success stories, no matter how small, and show the impact this can have on the collective efforts all of us have around development for the Niger Delta. For others considering opening up, we encourage them to begin small to end big. We believe once people begin to see the impact around data gathering and knowledge sharing, many of the issues we currently face in implementing some of the donor projects in the region, might be eased. It just takes one organization to show willingness to be an example for others to follow.

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In order to help overcome some of the resistance to sharing project and data and information that Ese describes above, we created a flyer at her request outlining the benefits of transparency for the organisations opening themselves up to scrutiny.

View all NDLink projects in RSR. 

With many thanks to Ese Emerhi, NDLink Project Manager, for sharing her experiences in this blog.
Charlotte Soedjak is a project manager at Akvo.