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In August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established an “Independent Expert Advisory Group” to provide advice on a “data revolution for sustainable development”, as part of the post-2015 development agenda process.

Post-2015 is United Nations-speak for “What comes after the Millennium Development Goals?” aka the MDGs; this set of 15-year global targets related to poverty reduction and international development. They run out in 2015, so what comes next occupies much debate around the UN and the organisations that work to influence it.

The MDGs played a massive role in framing Akvo. We were in effect a response to MDG No.7, focused on water and sanitation. Most funding in our early years, and much of our partners’ programme work today, is influenced by their priorities. 

The first seven years of the Millennium brought all sorts of new internet and computing technologies, and then the gigantic leap of touch-screen smartphones, first in 2007 with the Apple iPhone and followed soon by Android and other devices. Web plus mobile means 2015 is a completely different place in terms of data tools, from 1999. So can you begin to imagine what 2030 will be like compared to 2014? We use the term “see it happen” in our work. But in this case “you ain’t seen nothing yet” is probably more apt.

Working out what is coming next, but being okay that it won’t have all the answers any time soon, is what this Independent Export Advisory Group has the task of doing.

Last week we provided a submission to the Advisory Group as part of their public consultation round. 

It’s happening now

The language used to describe the data revolution suggests that it is an objective for the future rather than a process that is happening right now. At Akvo, we’ve been working with our partners for up to eight years to improve the quality and availability of data for sustainable development.

We are part of an ecosystem of organisations and individuals that are already living the data revolution and the lessons that are being learnt today provide valuable insights upon which future progress can be built. Our submission focused on this point, in the hope the Group will begin to take an interest in what we know and what we can contribute. We’ll keep you posted if we hear back.

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October 15, 2014

Dear Independent Expert Advisory Group Secretariat

The Akvo Foundation (Akvo) would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to the Expert Advisory Group’s consultation on the Post-2015 Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

Akvo is a practitioner and supporter of the “data revolution” currently taking place in the sustainable development sector. We are a not-for-profit foundation that develops and runs open source web and mobile services that are designed to bring greater transparency and efficiency to international development work.

Akvo works with over one thousand organisations around the world (including the World Bank, UNICEF, UNDP, UN-Habitat as well as a range of government agencies), supporting the sustainable integration of modern technology into existing processes to improve the collection, use and sharing of data. We call this process “end-to-end transparency” and have written about it extensively on our blog (https://akvo.org/blog/end-to-end-transparency-with-iati-as-the-backbone/).

Akvo was formed in 2007 and has spent the last 8 years working to change the data landscape of the development sector. Our initial focus was on water, sanitation and hygiene, for which we created Akvo Really Simple Reporting (RSR), an IATI compatible online project database designed to reveal and share project-level information, status updates and results from the field; and the Akvopedia, an online resource for sharing smart and affordable technologies in water and sanitation. Since then, we have expanded our focus to areas such as health, education, economic development and environmental sustainability. We have also taken over Akvo FLOW, an initiative started by Water for People, which is a cloud-based field survey system that can be used to undertake mobile-based data collection and manage, monitor, analyse and display geographically-referenced data through a simple dashboard; and, with our partner Zimmerman & Zimmerman, created Akvo Openaid to enable governments and multilateral organisations to present aid data online in engaging and easy to navigate ways.

Akvo’s partners are using its tools to do incredible things with data. In Africa, for example, our partners are creating countrywide inventories of water and sanitation infrastructure that are being used to manage and monitor ongoing program interventions across the region. In Asia, mobile phones are being used to monitor shark bycatch and turtle nesting for greater biodiversity management and our systems are supporting baseline data collection for new output-based aid programs. Major donors such as the Dutch Government and UN-Habitat are using visual tools to make the sharing of whole aid portfolios easily accessible to the public. Similarly, our partners are using “paperless reporting” techniques to give a voice to aid workers on the front line of program interventions and share information about aid networks and outcomes.

In the 8 years that we have been working in this field we have seen significant changes in the use of data across the development sector. We have also gained insights about empowering people to adopt and engage with modern technology and many of the other issues that go hand-in-hand with the data revolution. Many of these lessons are shared on our blog (https://akvo.org/blog/), which acts as a historical account of our journey. However, if we can be of any assistance or if you have specific questions, or would like specific case studies of the ways our tools are being used, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We wish you all the best and look forward to engaging further with the post-2015 data revolution.

Stefan Kraus is a programme manager for Akvo, based in Canberra, Australia. Intro by Mark Charmer.