Akvopedia is an online resource supporting knowledge sharing on water and sanitation. Anyone can use it as well as contribute information to it. In 2012, the site garnered over 1.1m page views – an average of around 3,000 page visits per day. This week I spoke with Akvo project manager Hans Merton and Winona Azure, Akvopedia editor, on the upcoming expansion of the site.
It is about connecting people to experience gained…and thus to each other’s knowledge. (Hans Merton) Photo: Mark Charmer
In the coming months, the Finance Portal on Akvopedia will be extended? What was the catalyst?
Hans: Two things really came together to kick off the expansion of the Finance Portal. When I was coming on-board at Akvo, I had done some research on Akvopedia and, while no wiki is ever complete, there were some obvious gaps in the content that was covered. The Finance Portal was one example.
The portal is being expanded in co-operation with IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and is partially funded by Akvo, IRC and the Partners for Water programme. In 2012, we signed an MOU with IRC to cooperate in certain areas and Akvopedia was one of those areas. We began the work in early November 2012 and we expect the content and new structure to be in place by mid-March 2013.
Can you talk more about the new Emergency and Sustainability portals that are currently in development?
Hans: Why emergency? The field is very vast. There are a number of organisations providing assistance in various stages of emergency, such as The Red Cross and UNICEF. Every organisation is publishing its own information on this individually, but the information is scattered. There is currently no central overview of assessment tools and best practices. I’ve discussed it with partners and they agreed this would be a good thing to embed in Akvopedia.
Winona: Akvo intends to take a role not only in the “how to” information (as seen throughout Akvopedia), covering the many stages of a disaster, but also in mobile phone app technologies. A mobile phone is nearer to you in a crisis than physical aid that might not reach you before 72 hours.
Hans: A catalyst for the Sustainability Portal was FIETS, an approach developed by the Dutch WASH Alliance which takes into account five key areas of sustainability – financial, institutional, environmental, technical and social. This sustainability check is important both on a project and programme level. If you want to submit a proposal to funders, you need to show that your project contributes to sustainable change. The FIETS approach is a very important decision making tool for funders to decide between “project A” and “project B”. How do we prove that something will continue to operate once funding has been used?
Beyond the funding aspect, it forces you to really think twice about your project: in the end it’s about making a real difference and not just burning your funders’ money. The Sustainability Portal within Akvopedia will provide a very simple overview on the FIETS principle for anybody involved in WASH programmes [Water and Sanitation and Hygiene] to prove to themselves and to prospective funders that what is being proposed is sustainable.
Winona: There has been a fair share of project failures in the past. For example, functioning pumps breaking down and, as the result of many issues, being abandoned. Many funders now require sustainability as a criterion for project financing approval, so there is a real need for it. It is becoming standard and greater accountability is coming from many angles.
Akvopedia is currently a water and sanitation resource. Is it headed in the same direction as Akvo FLOW, which has its roots in WASH but has evolved to become a sector agnostic tool? Will the content on Akvopedia at some stage extend to other sustainability issues?
Hans: This is under discussion. Longer term, we probably need to say yes. But in the short term, there is still a lot of work to be done on WASH related issues. In the near term, the focus is on expanding the functionality of Akvopedia as a platform for knowledge and connecting people together. Akvopedia has a lot of traffic and we are really good at that. But the strategy is to take what you are really good at and make it even better to help your visitors to answer questions. It is not just about reading articles. It is about connecting people to experience gained in implemented projects and thus to each other’s knowledge. If we are able to do this, then we are really making a difference.
Winona: We have had requests from Akvo’s project partners to expand Akvopedia to cover sectors, such as education and health. But the aim is to get a really good, solid model for WASH in place and then duplicate that.
Emily Armanetti is communications manager at Akvo, based in New York City.