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
• 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
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.