Sep 26, 2006

Water For People Uses Positioning Technologies to Monitor International Development Efforts

Water For People recently launched a pilot monitoring and evaluation program to assess the functionality and long-term viability of its water and sanitation projects using a methodology developed by Weston Solutions, Inc. and GPS receivers and related software from Trimble and ESRI .
Like most international development organizations, Water For People has been focused on completing projects to meet the need. And like so many organizations, monitoring and evaluation of previously installed projects had been relegated to back-burner status. But one of Water For People’s primary goals is system sustainability—and that means checking back to ensure that past projects are functioning as planned.
Founded in 1991, Water For People has funded and supported the development of more than 700 water and sanitation projects worldwide. With a carefully developed research methodology using GPS hardware and mobile GIS software, the organization was recently able to launch its first structured monitoring and evaluation program to assess the success of past efforts.
“Very few organizations have any kind of monitoring program to assess past project successes. By doing so and by developing a system that will be accessible to the public at large, Water For People is showing its commitment to openness, transparency and accountability for its actions overseas,” said Ned Breslin, Water For People’s director of International Programs. “We are excited to have the support of WESTON and to be using state-of-the-art technology from Trimble and ESRI to make this monitoring program a success.”
The pilot study started with a casual conversation in June 2006 between Breslin and Patrick G. McCann, president and CEO of WESTON and a Water For People board member. Ned was trying to design a monitoring and evaluation program that would include the collection of field data, the integration of photo records, the mapping of sites, a survey component and the ability to post the data on the Internet in real-time. As the discussion progressed, it became clear to McCann that his company was perfectly suited to take on the project. It was just the kind of work that WESTON handles for its clients, and he agreed to take it on.
It was a perfect match. WESTON has an excellent track record in designing and implementing this kind of field research. “WESTON is good at collecting field data in an automated format,” said Pete Virag, technology initiatives group leader for WESTON and the lead in developing the Water For People project. “The Water For People monitoring project is no different from the work we do for our clients on a daily basis. We go into the field, collect data electronically on tablet PCs or PDAs, take digital photos, associate photos with the data and synchronize data to a central database where we manage that data and view and access the data spatially via the Web using ESRI’s ArcIMS.”
The Water For People project was second nature for Virag, who with the assistance of his team designed the survey methodology. Utilizing WESTON’s AuditFast system, they were able to have the field data tool and Web interface completed in a couple of weeks. He worked closely with Water For People staff to assess what should be measured, and how to best capture the data. They developed a series of survey questions and helped the organization acquire the software and hardware to make the project a reality.
To collect data, Water For People used seven Trimble GeoXTTM handheld rugged GPS receivers, ESRI ArcPad software for mobile GIS and field mapping applications as well as Trimble GPScorrect for ArcPad. Trimble’s GPSAnalyst is being used to help with the post-processing of the data collected. The technology is giving Water For People the ability to capture, analyze, display and report geographic and system information from anywhere on the planet.
Water For People conducted the pilot study in Honduras in late August. A team of staff and volunteers spent two weeks visiting 33 previously completed project sites supported by Water For People. The goal was to assess the functionality of each of these water systems.
Field data were collected from each site location using the rugged GPS receivers and tablet PCs and photos of each project were included as part of the record. A survey was conducted gathering information about functionality, access, and use that can be compared across communities, regions and eventually countries. And finally, the results were posted on the Internet.
Every night after collecting volumes of data from each of the sites, it was uploaded for display on the Internet. The data was later extrapolated and used to create reports relating to the viability of Water For People’s work in a number of areas, including system functionality, water quality, use of chlorination and other factors.
The results of the pilot study were encouraging. Virtually all of the water systems that had been installed with the support of Water For People over the past 10 years were still functioning. And members of each community were engaged in ensuring ongoing operations. It means that Water For People’s work is indeed sustainable and continues to serve people as it was intended. “I was a bit surprised that these systems are still functioning after 10 years,” Virag said. “It shows that a little bit of effort and engineering can go a long way.”
There were some issues uncovered as well, including some water quality concerns and inadequate treatment at some of the sites. But that was the idea. The pilot study was successful and will give Water For People the opportunity to fix problems and help the organization fine-tune its model to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water and improved sanitation for the long-term.
“This project is allowing us to track and visualize the impact of our work in the developing world,” Breslin said. “And it’s teaching us which parts of our approach are most effective, as well as those that need improvement. This new program not only helps Water For People from an operational perspective, but also enhances the quality of life of the thousands of people in the communities in which we work. Furthermore, it will allow us to improve our work, based on lessons from the past, so that future recipients of our support will benefit from our improved understanding of what works and does not work in specific contexts.”
Based on the success of the pilot program, plans are already in the works to roll out the full-scale monitoring and evaluation program in all five Water For People program countries in 2007. Each in-country coordinator will be equipped with a GeoXT unit to conduct ongoing surveys. The information collected will be made available to all via the Water For People website at Any interested party will be able to access any project online and review the system as well as get a broader look at program effectiveness for an area, region or country.