There are increasingly improved data, information and knowledge resources available for our work on water and sanitation. Examples include the open WPDx repository, Wikipedia and Wikidata, country WASH portals and data collection and dashboarding tools such as Akvo and mWater and cross-sector tools. WASHNote is committed to accelerating this movement and ensuring we have the required data and knowledge infrastructure to achieve universal basic and safely-managed WASH services.

I have been fascinated by information sources available through the internet and computers since the 80s. Amusingly this was originally in the form of the video games I played which were recorded on audio tapes and would mix game text, digital images, and analog audio. The amazing thing is that audio tape could load a game onto my Tandy TRS-80 machine and also play audio during crucial moments. Indeed, a simple machine that could only produce beeps, when connected to a tape machine was still able to trigger a multi-media experience. This led to my interest in connecting devices and coding my own games and experiences, starting with BASIC on the TRS-80.

Radioshack TRS80-IMG 7206.jpg
A TRS-80 Model 1. Source:

In the late 80s and 90s, information and decision support systems on personal computers came into their own and became easier to produce (software applications, browsers, Mathematica, Hypercard etc.). In the mid-90s I helped fill a medical expert database with phrases that were searchable. With the advent of the web and the late 90s, I produced the first website for a local client in the St. Paul, MN.

In the early 2000s, the usability and standardization of browsers started to render more reliable online experiences, the advent of Facebook and large-scale social networks led to even more standardization. This is when I developed custom content management systems for small business and interactive media installations with video and web components in learning spaces and art exhibitions. I loved to add additional clicking and dragging effects to manage web content and that seemed impossibly cool at the time.

Ultimately, as I started my research on water in the Nile River Basin and started in WASH in earnest in 2007, I wanted to apply these skills to water resources and WASH. In those days, we talked about data mashups, interactive maps, and commenting systems. With twitter, google maps and the growth of an API ecosystem, the potential for this has been largely achieved.

I have worked with Akvo since 2008, the Water Point Mapper since 2010, with mWater more recently. I helped to develop WPDx with the working group partners and I worked with GSMA on water, sanitation and energy grantmaking for business and I’m happy to see the evolution of mobile technology channels for monitoring, service delivery, and digital payments. I also worked on a number of aborted and failed initiatives, including the WASHCost Share tool (it is still online). It has been great fun and they have all contributed immeasurably to my work.

However, I have remained disappointed with the progress in our sector on the front of interactive information systems that really serve to make a difference. I feel that we’ve been trying to serve the research, NGO and donor community in WASH and development instead of end users and service providers.

In 2004, I observed how Global Water Intelligence would hire master’s students from Oxford University to call up Utilities around the world and gather information for the sector publications. This still remains admirable products and I’m sure the helped the urban and industrial water markets. However, there has been very little similar development in rural and peri-urban WASH.

WASHNote would like to work with partners to turn this around and revolutionize the way we work with data. We are working with IRC and Wattopia and with many others to do this bit by bit. We will continue to support and work with innovators in the sector to develop new markets and establish the enabling environment for sustainable WASH services.

For now, WASHNote aims to continue working on new information standards for WASH service areas so we can provide services to both users and service providers. Some steps will seem obvious and beg the question of why we didn’t do it sooner and there are many challenges that will be discovered and tackled along the way.

Ultimately, we hope to contribute to a backbone for advanced WASH sector data services, some open source and some private.

Want to know more? Want to support our work? Get in touch.

Product (re-)development at WASHNote

In the course of 2018, we aim to make some information resources available:

1. An English, French and Spanish thesaurus of WASH sector technical terms derived from the InterWater Thesaurus that was maintained by IRC until around 2010. WASHNote will be using the thesaurus and updating it periodically to support WASH sector research and to link different data sources. The original data from IRC, which is currently only available in a PDF, will be published on GitHub initially and an interactive web version will be offered.

2. A database of currencies and countries that can be used to take better advantage of World Bank datasets and IATI.

3. An experimental registry of WASH organizations linked to public data sources.

This is a modest start but we hope this will start to be part of the backbone for more interesting applications in the future.