Improving access to water and sanitation through better data collection

Akvo is working with UNICEF and the Ethiopian government in all woredas (districts) of the Somali Region of the country to support the development of the national WASH inventory (NWI). The inventory provides data on water supply schemes in urban and rural areas, sanitation and hygiene practices of households, and the status of water supply and sanitation facilities at health institutions and schools.

Solving the problems of paper-based data collection

The Ethiopian government began work on the NWI in 2008. Over a four year period, data was collected across all parts of the country apart from the Somali Region.

Initially, data gathering for the NWI was paper-based, but this proved problematic. As well as leading to lengthy data entry and cleaning procedures, the data was of poor quality and lots of important information was incorrect or missing, such as GPS data, functionality status, number of households within 1.5km from water sources and type of latrine or water supply.

To overcome these challenges, UNICEF Ethiopia advised switching to smart phone technology and partnered with Akvo. During 2014, data was collected using Akvo FLOW across the whole Somali Region. This data is instantly available through an online, secure interface which allows any problems with data collection to be identified in real time and corrected straight away. Akvo has been providing technical support and direct oversight of data collection and transfer of data to the Government of Ethiopia’s management information system (MIS). The result is a robust, reliable data set for the region that can be used for policy planning and infrastructure management.

Collecting data at scale in ‘difficult’ places

The Somali Region is a vast desert area to the east of Ethiopia that is sparsely populated and prone to violent political conflicts. When planning the data collection operation, the security of survey enumerators was a concern. UNICEF reached out to all the NGOs working in the WASH sector in the region to ask for help. Everyone who could help did, providing transport, safe accommodation and car batteries or solar powered electricity points for phone-charging. The general approach was to take no chances with people’s safety. If progress was slow, so be it. At one point data collection stopped altogether for around three weeks until the situation was safe again.

The scale of the operation was impressive with a total of 5,696 surveys completed in three months (including the three-week hiatus). 220 Samsung smart phones were configured with the Akvo FLOW software. A field test run was carried out to see how long the phone batteries would last so that an itinerary could be drawn up around that.

Initially 45 government and UNICEF employees were trained on the use of Akvo FLOW at a master class designed to enable them to then train their colleagues. As well as a detailed explanation of the FLOW system, the master class covered: proper GPS calibration to increase the accuracy of the GPS coordinates; data collection in completely offline settings including manual uploading to computers and getting the data off the SD cards in the devices; and tips and tricks on how to conserve battery power as much as possible. Read more

Jo Pratt is communications manager at Akvo, based in the UK.

Source: UNICEF Ethiopia

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