RWSN Discusses Water Point Mapping

RWSN is hosting two lively discussions about water point mapping (wpm), one on the RWSN LinkedIn group, and the other at the RWSN Dgroups space.   This blog provides a summary of the LinkedIn discussion.

For those of you who are completely new to water point mapping, the next section gives a basic introduction  (adapted from Mobile Phones and WPM).

Introduction to Water Point Mapping

Chadian women revert to drawing water manually, after pulley system fails. (c) Jean Claude Balcet

•     Water point mapping is essentially about creating databases, or inventories, of individual water points (standposts, handpumps, etc.)  The information can then be used for a variety of purposes: investment planning, advocacy, analysis of various sorts (e.g., most common reasons for non-functioning water points), and so forth.  The data on physical locations can be used to create maps of water points, but all kinds of additional visualization and analysis (tables, charts, statistics, etc.) are possible .

•     Technology has revolutionized water point mapping, and field surveys generally.  Gone are the days of paper questionnaires, manual data entry, and monopoly control over how and when the data are analyzed.  Instead, the data collector enters the information on a mobile phone, from which it can be uploaded into a database on the Internet, and analyzed by users located anywhere with Internet access, using software that makes it easy to analyze and present the data in a variety of ways.

•     A number of software packages can used.  Some, such as Water Point Mapper and Akvo FLOW, were developed specifically for mapping water points.  Other packages, such as PoiMapper and ODK, are designed for conducting surveys of any type of location (e.g., health clinics, electoral polling stations), and can therefore be used for water points.  Finally, packages such as EpiSurveyor are designed for any type of field survey, regardless of whether the units being surveyed are persons, places (such as water points), or things.

LinkedIn discussion: Which software at what cost?

Here are some points of near consensus that have emerged in the discussion so far:

•     In selecting software for water point mapping, focus on the data collection features.  Programs such as FLOW have developed 3 functionalities– data collection, data analysis, and data visualization–while EpiSurveyor has focused primarily on data collection.  Data collection is the critical function, in that one can always plug the collected data into any one of a number of  superb analysis and visualization packages.  Therefore, users should pay special attention to how easily a software package allows them to prepare for and implement data collection, that is, how easily the average user can download the program, adapt it, and start collecting data.  There are also other differences among the packages with respect to data collection, for instance, whether one can upload photos and videos, and what type of mobile phones (basic versus various types of smartphones) can be used.

•     EpiSurveyor makes data collection very easy and, at least on a small scale, relatively inexpensive:  Anyone with an Internet connection can access and start using a basic version of  EpiSurveyor for free.  No IT programmers or discussions with the EpiSurveyor developers are necessary.  However, large-scale water point mapping–more than 500 water points, more than 100 questions about each water point, etc.–requires other versions of EpiSurveyor that cost US$ 5,000 and $10,000 respectively.  Those prices are still competitive with, say, FLOW, which is free to use but (presently) requires an IT consultant to customize it.  The Water and Sanitation Program spent US$10,000 for programmers to adapt FLOW for a water point mapping exercise in Liberia, which is  what it would have cost to use EpiSurveyor.   The advantage of EpiSurveyor is its accessibility–quick and easy to download and learn how to use.

•     Akvo FLOW has the capacity to upload photos, and handle updated data entries, for each water point.  As part of data collection with FLOW, an enumerator can snap a photo with the same smartphone used for entering the other data on the water point.  FLOW can then create interactive maps, where clicking on the icon for a water point pops up its photo and data.

A weak point in all the software packages has been their inability to add data about the same water point at a later time, e.g., record whether the water point that was broken six months ago is now functioning.  That capacity to track data over time is essential in order to use these software packages as part of monitoring, maintenance, and repair systems.  The  Akvo developers have recently made some progress in this area.  They have devised 3 options for uniquely identifying a water point so that its record can be updated with additional information at a later date.

•     The software packages are rapidly improving.  The co-developer (Joel Selanikio) of EpiSurveyor promises that its next version will have the capacity to handle photos and videos, as well as a number of other improvements.  Akvo announced  last week,  in response to the LinkedIn discussion, FLOW’s recently added capacity to handle historical data on water points.  In fact, Akvo has a development roadmap for its plans to improve FLOW.

Join the discussion of water point mapping

Please feel free to join the discussion of water point mapping on LinkedIn.  You can make a new post on the group’s home page, or add your comments to the existing discussion.

If you are interested in water point mapping, you should definitely join the community of practice on this topic that has developed on the RWSN Dgroups space.

6 thoughts on “RWSN Discusses Water Point Mapping”

  1. Susan, I’m sure people would be very interested in this report. I actually looked for something like that to include as a link in the blog, but the only think I found was not publicly available. May I suggest that you post this on the RWSN LInkedIn Group, which gets a lot more traffic than this blog (so far). I could do it for you, but it’s so much better if people see who to connect with for further information.

  2. Thank you VERY much for including EpiSurveyor in this discussion. We at DataDyne (developers of EpiSurveyor) are very excited that our software is now being using to collect water point information (in addition to information about health, conservation, agriculture, supply chain, and other areas).

    One small correction: you write that ” large-scale water point mapping–more than 500 water points, more than 100 questions about each water point, etc.–requires other versions of EpiSurveyor that cost US$ 5,000 and $10,000 respectively. ” This is incorrect. The free version of EpiSurveyor allows one to collect and upload up to five THOUSAND individual records (e.g. of water points) to the system each year (not five hundred).

    In fact, users are also able to simply collect data on their phones and transfer it directly (via Bluetooth or cable or memory card) to their computers, bypassing DataDyne’s servers — in which case data collection is unlimited.

    It is also worth noting that EpiSurveyor has a data collection app for Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Symbian (the operating system of many simple “feature phones”) — and even allows basic data collection using SMS from ANY phone. FLOW is limited to data collection on Android phones only.

    Finally, EpiSurveyor does allow for updating previously collected records, with the caveat that the update must be sent from the same phone as the original record (a limitation, to be sure, and we are working to eliminate it). So a worker in one region could record and update information on water points for which he or she had previously uploaded information.

    In any case, many thanks again for including us in this important discussion.

    Joel Selanikio, MD

  3. Thanks for moderating this discussion and for sharing the summary.

    A few points of correction/clarification about Akvo FLOW.

    Akvo FLOW is not only about water point mapping, although water point mapping was one of the places we started. It’s a domain agnostic tool that’s a simple as bundling a survey, a photo, and a GPS point, and can be used in any sector. Our partners have already used Akvo FLOW outside the water sector, for instance to monitor illegal trawling off the coast of Liberia, and we are developing partnerships to use Akvo FLOW in other areas, such as health and food security.

    Akvo FLOW was also not developed to be a mapping tool, but to be a monitoring tool, which includes mapping but has a broader purpose of being a tool for organizations that want to collect and share project data to make their work more transparent, but also to learn about project performance.

    As you point out, the ability to update points is critical to graduating from baseline mapping tools to continuous monitoring tools. We have built a number of the pieces needed to do this, and Akvo is working on bringing them all together in future releases of Akvo FLOW. But the pieces that we already have, and that are accessible to users now, include the ability to update a point via a web-based survey and the ability to cache existing points on the device and recall that list from inside a FLOW survey in order to choose a point to collect a new record for.

    We outline the full set of features in a recent blog entry about updating points — — including what we still need to do to bring these together into a good user-friendly interface.

    Akvo Foundation

  4. Joel, thank you very much for that correction about 500 records. On the free version of EpiSurveyor, one can store records on 500 water points on your servers for free, but one can collect data (i.e., fill out questionnaires) on 5,000 water points and store that data on one’s own hard drive, server, what ever.

    Now it’s much clearer to me why the majority of your users just use the free version. As long as one is doing water point mapping in, say, one or a few districts or communes, EpiSurveyor could be used for free. It’s only when one gets into big regional or national exercises that one would need to use the paid versions.

    Other readers–The full discussion provides a LOT more detail than this blog, e.g., on what improvements are coming in EpiSurveyor and Akvo FLOW. If you still have questions, post them here or on the RWSN-LinkedIn group. You can see that we have a lot of experienced and knowledgeable people who are willing to share their expertise.

  5. Hi Elizabeth, that’s right: one can do quite large activities with EpiSurveyor’s Free account. And when one is doing a large regional or national level activity, especially one that continues over time, one is going to have program costs for personnel, equipment and software — regardless of what software one uses. We have priced the paid versions of EpiSurveyor — which include support and require no on-the-ground technicians or programmers — to make these large and/or long-term activities MUCH less expensive than using other methods.

    Usually even hiring one single person for on-the-ground support of a multi-year activity (the kind of support that EpiSurveyor renders unnecessary) costs much more than the yearly subscription cost for EpiSurveyor.

    If there is one thing EpiSurveyor users (all 9000+ of them) agree on, it’s that it is very simple to use, very reliable, and very inexpensive (typically free).

    Joel Selanikio

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