Editor's Note: In this post, Anh-Thi Le, Program Coordinator at Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California-Berkeley, discusses how mobile technology has been harnessed to improve water access. This post originally appeared on USAID's website, to view the original post click here.
Although nearly half of the world’s population now has water piped into their homes and there have been significant improvements to water access in recent decades, many people living in urban areas of developing countries still do not have easy access to this most basic resource. And even where pipes do reach the urban poor, water sometimes does not.
“Literally, people wait around their house until the water comes on,” said Anu Sridharan, a founder of a social enterprise called NextDrop. “We’ve met people who’ve missed weddings, funerals and meetings.”
If customers miss a water supply window, then they may have to wait two to 10 days for their next chance. Unreliable water supply is a serious impediment to health and economic development. In India, 250 million people rely on unreliable water systems.
Sridharan created the phone-based program NextDrop to notify people when water will be available. In 2010, NextDrop won the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest, allowing Sridharan — a University of California-Berkeley civil engineering graduate — and her team of fellow UC Berkeley graduates to begin acting on their vision.
The service has reached 75,000 registered users in Bangalore, India. Now, the Development Impact Lab at Berkeley, with USAID funding from the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network, is evaluating the effects of the text message-based notification system. The evaluation has reached 1,500 households so far.
This May, Big Ideas celebrates its 10 year anniversary at UC Berkeley. Since its founding in 2006, the year-long contest has provided funding, support and encouragement to interdisciplinary teams of students who have innovative solutions for addressing global challenges.
Big Ideas is an example of how a university can be a catalyst for high-impact social innovation and research in international development, helping achieve an end to extreme poverty. The story of Big Ideas winner NextDrop demonstrates how a project that began on a college campus is now building evidence to reach scale.
From Classroom Idea to Reality
The seed funding that Sridharan and her team won from the Big Ideas Contest helped them to develop their simple but innovative idea: using text messages and crowd-sourced information to alert residents one hour before water will be heading down municipal pipes and into their homes.
NextDrop’s system involves collecting water flow information from valvemen — the individuals responsible for opening and closing the valves controlling water flow into particular districts — and notifying NextDrop customers.
This allows households not only to have accurate and timely information but also enables water utilities to access real-time information about the status of their systems.
The student team partnered with an NGO in Hubli, India for a pilot study of 200 households. Preliminary results were positive and the group was able to continue and refine their technology.
With funding from the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative University, and the Knight Foundation, they began scaling their services beyond Hubli to the Indian cities of Bangalore and Mysore.
Building an Evidence Base for Scale
The evaluation of the rollout of NextDrop’s services will demonstrate whether receiving text message notifications of when water is flowing improves a family’s quality of life, so they don’t have to spend as much time waiting — time that could’ve been spent working or at school.
The research team is also using survey data from the household impact evaluation to assess the accuracy of valvemen reports to NextDrop. The end goal is to provide NextDrop and the utility with a low-cost system for verifying and adjusting data provided by the valvemen, so that the utility has more accurate information about water flows to be able to manage limited water supplies.
If NextDrop’s services are shown to be valuable in Bangalore, they will be able to scale their approach across other major cities in developing countries.
From early stage funding and support through the Big Ideas contest to evidence-based decision making and scale-up through the Development Impact Lab, projects like NextDrop have shown how the university has become a powerful space for inspiring, launching, developing and scaling big ideas.
As Phillip Denny, director of Big Ideas shares, “University-based programs like Big Ideas provide the perfect ecosystem for early-stage entrepreneurs by providing the resources, funding and ultimately the validation that allows ideas like NextDrop to thrive.”
Editor's Note: In this post, Agha Ali Akram of Evidence Action, explores why despite the availability of inexpensive and easy-to-use technologies and simple behaviors that can prevent diarrhea, social scientists have found it challenging to get high adoption rates and maintain participation amongst poor households, even when the technology is provided free. Ali Akram conducted this work independently and the following does not reflect the views/opinions of Evidence Action. This post originally appeared on DefeatDD's website, to view the original post click here.
Despite the availability of inexpensive and easy-to-use technologies and simple behaviors that can prevent diarrhea, it was an unpleasant surprise for me to learn that it kills more than half a million children a year, predominantly in the developing world. More troubling still, social scientists have found it challenging to get high adoption rates and maintain participation amongst poor households, even when the technology is provided free. This got me curious: why is this the case?
What I Did: The Experiment
In a randomized controlled trial in Karachi, Pakistan, I test the hypothesis that perhaps families need tools that clearly demonstrate the impact of health interventions – in this case, chlorine tablets for water purification.
Info-Tool required weekly recording of diarrheal incidence and monthly comparison to a reference level.
I provided households with a simple visual tool (called Info-Tool) to help them assess the efficacy of using tablets. Info-Tool allowed households to record incidences of diarrhea using simple bar charts. Additionally, at the end of each month, I provided them a bar chart of the normal rates of diarrhea they could expect for that month. Diarrhea varies with season, so the norm I provided was a moving monthly reference (related to the number of children under five in the household) and Info-Tool allowed households to visually compare their bar charts to the reference level.
Form of the experiment: control group in blue and treatment in green.
The experiment had a control group and treatment group, and rolled out in three phases. In Phase 1, which lasted three months, the treatment group used Info-Tool and built up a pre-tablet record of diarrhea prevalence. Info-Tool allowed them to understand where their levels tracked in comparison to the provided reference. In Phase 2, which also lasted three months, the treatment group continued to use Info-Tool but both groups were offered the option of accepting free chlorine tablets. In Phase 3, I discontinued the treatment group’s use of Info-Tool but both groups continued to receive freely provided chlorine tablets.
What I Found: Remarkable Results
Chlorine tablet use was significantly and persistently higher in the treatment group. At 74 weeks from the start of tablet delivery (beginning of Phase 2), the treatment group was almost twice as likely as the control group to accept the tablets, with the control group acceptance rate at 26% and the treatment group at almost 60% (see Figure 3).
Two results really struck me. First, my data show that as we enter the subsequent summer season (near the 46 week mark), both groups demonstrated higher tablet acceptance. Significantly, the treatment group’s summer increase in uptake was higher than the control group. To me, this suggests an impact of Info-Tool on households’ fundamental understanding of disease seasonality i.e. households seemingly better understood the “dynamics” of diarrhea.
A more striking result to me, however, was the fact that children in treatment households tended to measure significantly better than control households on health outcomes such as weight (22% gain), height (6% gain), and mid-upper arm circumference (3.5% gain). This suggests that the use of tablets had real measurable health impacts.
Predicted probability of accepting offered chlorine tablets by treatment arm. The x-axis has time (weeks) while the y-axis shows predicted probability of uptake in a given week. The control group is shown in blue while the treatment group is shown in red. Dotted vertical lines indicate specific dates and phases of the experiment.
The results suggest that allowing households to track and reference their disease prevalence increased their ability to detect the efficacy of chlorine tablets, thus making the intervention far more successful. More specifically, I believe that households were able to better learn about the effectiveness of tablets because Info-Tool provided a more precise signal about tablet effectiveness. It is also apparent that households possess a general sense of the seasonality of the problem but with the augmented learning from the Info-Tool, treatment households show a higher likelihood to accept offered tablets as the “danger” (summer) season started.
What this Means: Policy Recommendations
I believe this study points the way forward in two important ways. First, it demonstrates a powerful new way to address a major global health challenge i.e. under-five diarrhea with its associated health costs. I found that the intervention had strong and persistent effects a year after it began, inducing people to adopt chlorine tablets when they otherwise would not have.
Second, it confirmed to me that people can and do make beneficial health decisions – we’ve just got to help them “see” that those decisions have real benefits. Giving people clearer signals on how they benefit from their use of supposedly beneficial technology sparks greater participation. Moreover, I can imagine analogues to this technique being applied to other domains where health technology adoption is critical such as adoption of anti-malarial bed-nets and drug regimens for diseases like TB and HIV.
Editor's Note: In this post, Heloise Greeff Marais, Doctoral Researcher in the Water Programme, Computational Health Informatics Lab and Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, discusses the opportunity for multidisciplinary collaboration in the WASH sector.
I’m a robotics engineer from South Africa. I like technology, control theory, and data science – mostly things that don’t (and can’t) get wet! I know very little, if anything, about marine governance science, watershed management, or international water law. So why am I in a two-week intensive research course focussing on water, climate, and society?
Over the last decade, the need for multidisciplinary teams has been widely published, however, this approach remains poorly applied outside of the healthcare sector. Collaboration is too often treated like a minor add-on to a project; considered an inconvenience that only causes delays in decision points.
It can be uncomfortable to leave the familiarity of our professional scope. Sometimes rather unpleasant. Like being an adult at kindergarten. It’s scary.
Relationship building is a two-way street. More specifically, capacity building of professionals should begin at an individual level through personal development before we can expect changes at an institutional and societal level.
So, who invited the mechatronics engineer to the water event? No one. Her curiosity and compassion led her here.
To ensure universal drinking water access by 2030, we need to not only invest in capacity building of the local communities we engage, but also the professionals we rely on. Proposed integrated approaches for water interventions focus on breaking down the silos that exist between governments, donors, and local communities, yet, often overlook their own expert role.
The people (like me) who help develop the technologies, models, and infrastructure needed to achieve water security, may not always have in-depth knowledge of climate change impact factors or socio-economic dynamics related to water.
The water sector is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change. Although the impacts will be felt by developing and developed countries alike, unfortunately, it is the most marginalised who will be particularly vulnerable to the uncertainties in future weather patterns.
Recognising the pivotal role of water in climate change adaptation presents many opportunities for sustainable development. Innovative technologies and suitable implementation strategies for adaptation and mitigation are urgently needed. And with them will come the engineers, the techies, and the geeks who design them.
The Oxford Smart Handpump, which I work on, is a brilliant example of the potential impact of a social innovation emerging from successful cross-functional collaboration towards a common goal: universal drinking water security. Open communication and continuous feedback between engineers and geographers ensure a more robust technology while maximising social impact.
A two-week course on water and society by no means makes me an expert in the field of climate change or water security. But it does do something much more powerful: it begins to break down the silos that exist between different professional fields that evidently share a passion.
Social and natural scientists think, argue and view the world differently than engineers. But by entering a world in which I am considered an “outsider” and acknowledging that I lack speciality skills and insights, I make room for other people’s gifts. Making ourselves vulnerable is not easy and some may consider it a liability. But I recognise that technical expertise alone will not enable me to deliver the most impactful innovation.
In short, collaboration is not only a good investment, but also a necessity.
Water is pure. It cleans, renews, and gives life. But water is complex, water policy is messy and global water laws are murky. Impactful innovations require multi-dimensional approaches and unconventional expertise. It needs multidisciplinary teams.
So, who will invite the mechatronics engineer to the next water event? Everyone. I hope.
Editor's Note: In this post, Rob Goodier, Engineering for Change News Editor, discusses the new Solutions Library and how it can be used to increase effectiveness in the WASH sector.
Reinvention of the wheel is a common mistake in global development, and the water, sanitation and hygiene sector is not immune. There must be hundreds of prototypes languishing on closet floors and hard drives after failing to reach the market while proven, off-the-shelf filters, chlorinators and so on may be acceptable for the job.
The same goes for choosing the right product for each context. We have to start with what’s meeting (and not meeting) the users’ needs in order to avoid wasted investment. And we have to do it throughout the value chain.
That’s why Engineering for Change has built a new Solutions Library of hundreds of products that meet basic needs. The products cover nearly every aspect of global development, including dozens in the water and sanitation sector.
The Solutions Library is a due diligence resource, a living database of neutral, performance-based information. The entries help answer three important questions for global development technology:
- Which solution is appropriate for the context and constraints?
- What has scaled and what has stalled?
- Does the solution perform as expected?
We have heard from engineers and others in global development that answering those three questions has been difficult. Practitioners are starved for high-quality information. Another thing we’ve heard often from global development professionals is that new, unproven gadgets get as much, if not more, attention as proven products.
Repeated mistakes can slow global development efforts. It has been hard to find information about so-called “prior art,” the wheels that have already been invented. That leads to undeveloped prototypes or, worse, the rusted-out bones of dead projects that were delivered and then failed.
The reasons for failure can be technical, cultural, financial or a combination thereof, but the end result is the same: wasted investment. Our answer is normalized, objective data that is rigorously harvested and reviewed by experts. Practitioners can reduce the risk of failure and spend their money wisely with our side-by-side comparisons of the products that can meet their goals.
That’s why we did this. We believe the Solutions Library is the first stop in the decision for which technology will be the best fit in any given context. It is a work in a constant state of flux, with periodic updates that incorporate suggestions from our network of development engineers and other professionals. As you explore the resource, please share your ideas and tips based on your experience. We hope to include the advice of the WASH community in our improvements.
Please visit the Solutions Library, share it with colleagues and collaborators and contribute. Real working solutions start here: solutions.engineeringforchange.org.
Editor’s Note: This post is authored by Sanjay Banka, Director at Banka BioLoo, an Indian company that manufactures and promotes biodigester toilets for use in parts of the country where the lack of infrastructure prevents the use of more conventional sanitation facilities. In the piece, Sanjay discusses the development of the biotechnology used in the toilets and describes the successes and challenges that the company has experienced while working to improve sanitation in India.
Sanitation facilities in India are alarmingly poor with over 600 million people (half of India's population) having no access to toilets. This lack of access, coupled with other inadequacies in waste disposal, such as the Indian Railways’s open-chute toilet system wherein human waste drops on the rail tracks, poses health hazards, raises environmental concerns, and leads to water contamination.
To address India’s sanitation problems, the government, NGOs, non-profit organizations, donor agencies, development bodies, and the private sector have been working in their own way, often with very little concerted effort. The partnership between India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Banka BioLoo, however, provides one example of how cross-sector collaboration can work to provide sanitation solutions. Using technology developed and licensed by the DRDO, the R&D arm of the Indian Ministry of Defence, Banka BioLoo is working to meet the need for basic, easy-to-install and hygienic human waste disposal mechanisms in areas without sewerage and other sanitation infrastructure.
The DRDO had been grappling with the challenge of managing and treating the fecal matter of its defence personnel. After several years of research, the Organization developed a set of bacteria that “eat away” at human waste. Having successfully used these bacteria to treat the night soil of soldiers guarding the Indian borders, in 2010, the DRDO decided to extend the benefits of the technology to the civilian population by licensing the bio-technology to commercial firms. A host of businesses, including Banka BioLoo, signed the transfer of technology. Since then, Banka BioLoo has developed the necessary infrastructure to inoculate the bacteria and has built a business model that positions bio-toilets as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly sanitation solution.
Bio-digester technology treats human waste at the source. A collection of anaerobic bacteria that has been adapted to work at temperatures as low as -5°C and as high as 50°C act as inocula (seed material) to the bio-digesters and convert the organic human waste into water, methane, and carbon-dioxide. The anaerobic process inactivates the pathogens responsible for water-borne diseases and treats the fecal matter without the use of an external energy source.
The only by-products of the waste treatment process are pathogen-free water, which is good for gardening, and biogas, which can be used for cooking. Bio-toilets do not require sewage connectivity and because the process is self-contained, bio-toilets are also maintenance-free. While we explain the functioning of the system to users, no specific training is required.
Banka BioLoo employs a for-profit model in distributing its bio-toilets. This approach is consistent with the thinking that came up in discussion recently at the 2014 WASH Sustainability Forum in Amsterdam, where it was recognized that many households are able and willing to pay for good quality sanitation services. Unfortunately, many are being offered cheap and possibly sub-standard systems. As solution providers, we need to be wary of poor quality “solutions” and instead appeal to the aesthetic and aspirational needs of society. While affordability is certainly an issue, it should not come at the cost of developing a sub-par product.
While we strongly believe in the for-profit model to help ensure sustainability, we are also looking for alternate financing options for households that are unable to pay for the toilet outright. We are in discussion with government agencies and microfinance institutions to develop programs that would provide subsidies or microloans to consumers.
Banka BioLoo has also worked with charities and other development organizations to provide bio-toilets in underserved areas. In March 2013, some members of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), studying in Gitam University, decided to undertake a project to help provide sanitation facilities in Rudraram village, at the outskirts of Hyderabad in southern India. Using a combination of student efforts, input from family members, sponsored funds, and contributions from user families, Banka BioLoo, in partnership with EWB, installed five bio-toilets. In 2014, the project provided bio-toilets to 20 additional families. The student community is keen to develop a 10-kilometer radius around the university as an open defecation free area.
One remaining challenge in promoting the use of the toilets involves the perception among some Indians that sanitation is not worth paying for. Many are comfortable with defecating in the open. In promoting the bio-toilets, we explain the negative effects on the health and well-being of society -- particularly women and children -- that are associated with open defecation. As this understanding continues to develop in India, the demand for sanitation products, such as the bio-toilets, will grow. We are actively working in this direction, trying to provide economical and eco-friendly sanitation systems for all -- from the most marginalized populations to large institutions and corporations across various states in India -- while building up the good reputation of the latrine.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Libby Plumb, Senior Communications Advisor for WaterAid America, who has recently returned from visiting WaterAid’s water, sanitation and hygiene programs in the slums of Kampala, Uganda.
Mariam is the only child of 22-year-old single mom Rehema. On the way to and from the local spring, near the Rubaga slum in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, she toddles behind her mother. It’s a journey they make four times a day to bring home enough water for drinking, cooking and washing.
Even little Mariam carries a jerry can of water: while Mom struggles under the weight of two 22 pound (10-liter) yellow jerry cans, Mariam follows behind carrying a bright red 11 pound (five-liter) jerry can – quite a feat for such a young child.
Rehema knows the quality of the spring water is questionable and could be risky for her daughter’s health. Kampala’s poorly constructed pit latrines and a high water table are a lethal combination as feces can easily contaminate the water supply. It’s not just water quality that is an issue. Accessibility is also a major challenge. With hundreds of people relying on the spring for water, crowds build up, with long waits common in the morning and evening when the heat of the sun is not so fierce.
Rehema commented: “It’s very difficult to collect water from there. At 8 or 9 p.m. it is so crowded that it can take more than 30 minutes.”
Tensions often flare at the spring. Alongside women and children collecting water for their own domestic use are water vendors, usually men, who come to the spring to fill four or more jerry cans with water that they attach to bicycles and take to customers who pay for delivery service. Women and children are often pushed out of the way by vendors forcing their way to the front of the line.
The need for safe, affordable, accessible water services in Rubaga is clear, but there are challenges inherent in extending piped water services into low-income neighborhoods.
In other areas of the city where the National Water and Sewerage Company (NWSC) has granted water connections, it is common for landlords to sell water to their tenants for four to eight times the official rate. Poor families who are unable to afford the inflated rate continue to use polluted springs, even where there’s a tap right next to their home.
A pilot program of pre-paid water meters being rolled out by NWSC and donors aims to tackle this problem. The meters are operated by an electronic key, known as a token, that is pre-loaded with credit. Anyone, landlord or tenant, can buy a key and refill it with credit. As water is dispensed, the meter deducts credit from the token at the official rate. In this way, consumers deal directly with NWSC and there is no scope for middlemen to inflate the price. Consumers benefit from safe, affordable water, while NWSC benefits from knowing that by paying upfront, consumers are unable to default on payment of water bills.
The system is not perfect. Vandalism has been known to damage meters, causing them to malfunction. Another concern is whether all tenants, particularly newcomers to the area, are in the know about how to buy and use tokens. But it’s a system that shows promise and offers hope to areas like Rubaga that are still unserved with water.
Farahilh Masane is a resident of the Kawempe Division, where prepaid meters have been installed by Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), with support and funding from the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and WaterAid. She told us: “I walk across the road to the prepaid meter because it is cheaper there: 100 Shillings [4 US cents] for four jerry cans. There is a private tap right here but it is too expensive for me: 200 Shillings [8 US cents] per jerry can. Before the meter was installed I collected water from a spring, but so many people near it have pit latrines, the water was contaminated.”
Back in Rubaga, Rehema is hopeful that she will be able to benefit from piped water soon too. “It would change my life to have clean water and live in a better environment.”
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by André Olschewski, water, sanitation and environmental management specialist at the Skat Foundation, a non-profit based in Switzerland. The post builds from a piece that André wrote for WASHfunders.org in June that described the EU-funded WASHTech project and its Technology Applicability Framework (TAF), a decision-making tool that helps users determine if a particular WASH technology will be sustainable in a given context. Here, André introduces the counterpart to the TAF, the Technology Introduction Process (TIP), that guides practitioners in introducing a technology once a determination of sustainability has been made.
The Technology Applicability Framework (TAF) is a tool to assess the applicability of a WASH technology in a particular context and its potential to be adopted on a large scale. Under the WASHTech project, the TAF has been tested in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda on 13 different WASH technologies including the ventilated improved pit latrine, urine diverting dry toilet, rope pump, India Mark 2 Handpump, and solar powered pumps for small piped schemes or sand dams. Since then, it has been successfully applied outside the WASHTech project in Tanzania and in Nicaragua, even without any direct training. Potential users have also expressed an interest to adapt and apply the TAF to other technologies such as water point mapping tools.
WASHTech has produced a short video explaining what the TAF is and how it works. Using the example of a solar powered pump in Ghana, the animated video summarizes how the TAF captures the issues around sustainable service provision. It also features interviews with users of the TAF (such as local government officials) who offer perspectives on the added value that the framework provides.
But what are the next steps if a technology has passed the TAF testing and if you want to introduce the WASH technology for services on a larger scale? To support actors in the WASH sector in planning and management of the introduction of a WASH technology, the WASHTech project has developed a generic guide for technology introduction, the Technology Introduction Process (TIP). The TIP -- as with the TAF -- follows the spirit of the African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
For too long, efforts to introduce WASH technologies have been led by a few actors, mostly national governments and development partners, or a few isolated innovators. This often happened without proper involvement of other actors, such as the users, local political leaders, or the private sector. Increasingly, approaches such as Self Supply or Community-Led Total Sanitation are being promoted. These put more focus on user investments and the capacity of the local private sector to supply products and provide services. However, due to the limited financial capacities of households, some WASH technologies and services will still be subsidized.
The TIP guide supports the WASH sector in developing a specific process to introduce a WASH technology. At the core of the TIP, the tasks of key actors involved are defined for three phases of the introduction process:
- the invention phase, which includes the development and testing of the technology and the preparation for the launch;
- the tipping point phase; and
- the uptake and use phase.
For each of the phases, the TIP provides a generic set of tasks that should be carried out by specific actors. During the testing, the TAF can be used to develop the introduction process further and to monitor the technology and its performance.
In all three WASHTech pilot countries, government institutions have used the TIP to develop country specific guidelines for technology introduction. To aid this process, we’ve provided the generic TIP matrix, as well as examples of specific matrices that have been developed for two different cost models -- the market based approach (e.g. for Self Supply) and for a model where capital investments are subsidized. All relevant actors have been involved in developing the specific guidelines. The guidelines reflect the country specific policies on WASH service provision, subsidies, and decentralisation.
Our online resource base provides access to all documents on TAF, TIP and reports on results such as technology briefs. All documents are in the public domain. TAF and TIP users are invited to upload their case studies and to share their experiences on the user interface. For more information please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TAF and TIP were developed under the WASHTech project. The WASHTech consortium comprises: Skat Foundation – Switzerland; IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre – Netherlands; WaterAid - UK, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Uganda; Cranfield University – UK; Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) – Burkina Faso; Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) – Uganda; Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND) – Ghana; Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) – Ghana.
Editor's Note: This guest blog was authored by Khanh Russo, public benefit investment manager of the Critical Human Needs portfolio at Cisco. Khanh discusses the importance of using data to inform decision-making and increase impact by offering insights into how a smartphone-based system was brought to scale and why Cisco has supported its development.
Data isn’t sexy. It doesn’t have the emotional appeal of water flowing from a hand pump for the first time into a child’s waiting hands. Nor does it have the “going viral” potential of Matt Damon refusing to use the toilet for a year.
But data is a valuable commodity for the organizations working to deliver clean water and sanitation to people who lack those basic resources. Having the right data can drive smarter decision-making and make water and sanitation projects more efficient, more effective, and more appealing to funders.
But in parts of the world where clean water is the scarcest, data is often the hardest to gather. Internet connections can be limited or nonexistent in remote parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This makes it difficult to gather data that can be analyzed and shared in a timely way. By the time you’ve gone home, entered your notes into a spreadsheet, compared it to other reports, and shared your findings with colleagues, the situation in the Malawian village you visited might have changed significantly.
Enter tools like Field Level Operations Watch (FLOW), a smartphone-based system designed to collect, manage, analyze, and display geographically-referenced data. FLOW users create surveys that can include text, photos, video, and GPS coordinates. They can use smartphones to store hundreds of surveys and collect data even where there is no cellular connection. The data automatically gets transmitted once the user has a mobile connection.
Water For People has collected nearly 40,000 surveys in 10 countries through the tool since 2010. FLOW supports data-driven decision-making and visual reporting, which in turn creates transparency and fosters confidence among funders. And more funding ultimately means more people will have access to clean water.
Leveraging funding from Cisco, Water For People began developing FLOW in 2010 to revolutionize its monitoring efforts. In 2012, Water For People partnered with Akvo Foundation to develop FLOW into an open source tool that could be adapted for other uses by other WASH organizations. It has already been used by 26 organizations in 20 countries.
A couple of things were key for taking FLOW to scale. First, Akvo focused on stabilizing the system and improving its usability, which allowed organizations to more quickly use the data to help improve their approach. Second, Akvo created regional hubs for support and training, which allowed them to improve customer service and response times at a lower cost.
Akvo had to overcome a major challenge to scale: There was a huge demand for the platform, but it was not yet robust enough to serve so many organizations with diverse needs. The Akvo team had to invest a lot of time in reframing expectations while also hiring staff to quickly improve the platform’s usability.
But despite the challenges, Akvo has a clear vision for FLOW that Cisco is proud to support: Giving governments and organizations an open, easy-to-use, affordable way to collect and understand data.
Keri Kugler of Water For People described how FLOW has significantly changed the way her organization monitors water projects and tracks progress in the Huffington Post.
“Using the survey tools, we speak with community members, find out if water service is reliable, whether someone can fix problems, and better understand ongoing issues,” Kugler wrote. “This kind of monitoring is a cornerstone to sustainable water solutions across the developing world.”
Other data-driven tools that Cisco supports include the Blue Planet Network technology platform and its SMS-based reporting tool. Read more about Cisco’s funding strategy for Critical Human Needs, and let us know how you’ve used WASH data to inform your work in the comments below.
The J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit genomic research organization in La Jolla, California, has announced a $5 million grant from the Roddenberry Foundation for the development of wastewater treatment technologies.
The grant will be used to fund the development of JCVI scientist Orianna Bretschger's BioElectrochemical Sanitation Technology (BEST), which uses microbial fuel cells (MFC) to treat wastewater and improve sanitation and water accessibility in the developing world. As the microbes in MFCs break down the organic matter in sewage and other types of wastewater, they produce electrons. The rapid movement of electrons across a fuel cell circuit generates electricity while accelerating the breakdown of the organic matter, resulting in fewer treatment byproducts such as sludge. The efforts of Bretschger's team already have led to the successful treatment of municipal wastewater and sewage sludge at a 100-gallon per-day scale, the amount of wastewater produced by a small household on a daily basis.
"Dr. Bretschger's MFC sustainable wastewater treatment project is exactly the type of innovative, field-changing research that fits our mission," said Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, president of the Roddenberry Foundation and son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. "Her use of microbes to convert human waste into clean water and electricity is another step toward making disease a thing of the past. Her work also moves us closer to a future where all humankind's most basics needs are not just met but abundantly supplied. In the world of Star Trek, technology offers a catalyst to the natural world in making amazing things possible."
Source: “Roddenberry Foundation Gives $5 Million to J. Craig Venter Institute for Sustainable Wastewater Treatment Technology Development.” J. Craig Venter Institute Press Release 7/10/13.
For additional WASH-related philanthropy news, see the news feed on WASHfunders.org.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Andre Olschewski, water, environmental management and spatial planning specialist at the Skat Foundation. Andre discusses the work of WASHTech, a two-year project to strengthen the WASH sector’s capacity to effectively invest in new technologies. WASHTech was funded by the European Commission FP7. The WASHTech consortium comprises: Skat Foundation — Switzerland; IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre — Netherlands; WaterAid — UK, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Uganda; Cranfield University — UK; Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) — Burkina Faso; Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) — Uganda; Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND) — Ghana; and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) — Ghana. A version of this blog post also appeared here.
Why bother with WASH technologies? Current WASH discourse focuses on sustainable service delivery, monitoring, and governance. Many WASH technologies, such as the India Mark II handpump and the VIP latrine, were successfully adopted and have improved the lives of millions. However, not all promising WASH technologies invented or introduced have led to sustainable services. And most technology does not function all of the time. These are lost opportunities...
Many governments, development partners, international organisations, and increasingly the private sector in developing countries promote specific WASH technologies to improve WASH services. However, a challenge is to find an efficient and robust way to assess if the technology really has the potential to be scaled up and to realise the intended benefits. This challenge has been addressed in the EU-Funded action research project WASHTech.
One of the key outputs of the project is the Technology Applicability Framework (TAF). The TAF is a decision-support tool that helps to assess if a specific WASH technology is applicable in a certain context. For example, the Rope Pump has been successful in Nicaragua; would it work as well in Togo or Tajikistan? Using 18 indicators, the TAF provides a comprehensive assessment of the likelihood for a successful scaling up of a technology. The indicators consider different aspects of sustainability and the perspectives of different stakeholders, including:
- the users of the technology,
- the producers of the technology, and
- the regulator, facilitator, or funder of the technology introduction process.
The TAF is a stepwise process to screen and assess technologies. Data is collected in the field and then verified and interpreted at a multi-stakeholder workshop. All relevant actors including users, producers, and regulators participate and bring their views and perceptions to this workshop.
Based on the results of the workshop, a graphical profile is developed, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the technology, as well as gaps in knowledge. This profile helps to uncover specific interventions or design changes that could improve the technology or the uptake process. For example it may point towards subsidies or capacity development of the producer.
The special feature of the TAF is its transparent and participatory process. It is not a magic box piece of computer software that spits out the ‘right’ answer. It brings very different stakeholders together and enables them to listen to each other and learn. The easy-to-understand graphical presentation allows all actors to recognise the key issues and identify who is responsible.
The TAF has been rigorously tested in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda. This process comprised of three rounds of testing on 13 different WASH technologies. Testing included established technologies, such as the India Mark II handpump, and emerging technologies, such as solar-powered systems. In all three countries government institutions have been intensively involved in the testing of the TAF. They confirmed that it fills a gap and will be very useful when external agents come to their countries to introduce a new WASH technology. Governments have all appointed an institution to host the TAF so that it can be readily used.
The second major output of WASHTech is the Technology Introduction Process (TIP), still under development. This is a guidance document that will help organisations improve the way they introduce technologies in a particular country context. The TAF and draft TIP have been presented at various conferences and symposia, where they have garnered a lot of interest. Some organisations already plan to use the TAF to test specific technologies.
By the end of 2013, when the WASHTech project concludes, all of the tools will be available free of charge. So far there is no follow-on project foreseen, but project partners are seeking opportunities for follow-up, and to support other countries. A web-based resource, hosted by the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), is being built. It will provide the TAF and TIP manuals, and enable some Q&A support. It will also be linked to a community of practise of TAF users.
Anyone who is interested in the TAF and TIP and its further development is invited to contact me for more information. You can also find out more about WASHTech here. Questions or feedback? Leave a comment in the comments section below.