DENVER, CO, Sept. 25, 2006 -- 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., of West Chester, PA, and GPS receivers and related software from Trimble, of Sunnyvale, CA, and ESRI, of Redlands, CA.
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," says 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."
From Idea to Reality in Two Months
The pilot study started with a casual conversation in June 2006 between Ned Breslin, Water For People's Director of International Programs, 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," says 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 were 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.
Into the Field
To collect data, Water For People used seven Trimble GeoXT™ 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. Is the system working? Is the water source protected and providing potable water in line with national government standards? Are systems in place to address technical problems as they emerge?
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 design and implementation of the pilot program was performed by Water For People staff and an all-volunteer team of supporters. Team members included:
-- Pete Virag, Weston Solutions Inc.
-- Chris Crowley, Weston Solutions Inc.
-- Jim Adams-Berger, OMNI Research and Training Inc.
-- Marci Eads, OMNI Research and Training Inc.
-- Felicia Gonzales, OMNI Research and Training Inc.
-- John Glassmire, Sargent & Lundy
-- Ari Herrera, Student
-- Steve Hubbs, Water Advice Associates
-- Jessica Kaminsky, CH2M HILL
-- Ned Breslin, Water For People
-- Wende Valentine, Water For People
-- Kate Fogelberg, Water For People
-- Diana Betancourt, Water For People -- Honduras
-- Paola San Martin, Water For People -- Honduras
Monitoring Past Work
The pilot monitoring and evaluation program is giving Water For People its first structured look at the long-term success of its prior work and will no doubt provide insight into areas for improvement. Moving forward, the program will rely heavily on volunteers, who will conduct the majority of the field work.
"This project is allowing us to track and visualize the impact of our work in the developing world," says Breslin. "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."
Doug Merrill, General Manager for Trimble's Mapping & GIS division, is supportive of Water For People and its mission. "Trimble is pleased that Water For People is using Trimble's mapping and GIS hardware and software for vital projects throughout the developing world," he says. "The rugged GeoXT handheld GPS receiver is perfect for mapping rugged terrain where water supplies have been developed."
Lori Armstrong, Water/Wastewater Industry Manager at ESRI, is also supportive of Water For People's monitoring and evaluation program. "Water For People is an amazing organization. Volunteers will now be able to take ArcPad, in conjunction with Trimble's GPS hardware, into the field to collect data and map the areas where water projects have been developed and ensure that they continue to function as planned. We hope that this will be the first step in helping Water For People track its work over the last 15 years and into the future."
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 www.waterforpeople.org. 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.
Although the hours were long and the work intense, the pilot study was a completed on schedule. "Everyone involved, from the volunteers to the Water For People staff, was committed to making the program a success," says Virag. "It has been so rewarding to work with an organization that is making a real difference in the world and helping so many people."
Volunteers made it all work and will be used to conduct future monitoring and evaluation efforts. Virag thoroughly enjoyed his involvement in the project and the opportunity to visit rural Honduras. "It's an incredibly majestic country," he says. "And the people are so warm, friendly and appreciative of the help. Here are people who are struggling to survive, yet they were always eager to prepare lunch for our team with what little they had. It was quite a reality check."
Results and Lessons Learned
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," confides Virag. "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.
Founded in 1991, Water For People (www.waterforpeople.org) is a Denver-based private, nonprofit international development organization that supports safe drinking water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Water For People partners with communities and other nongovernmental organizations to help people improve their quality of life by supporting sustainable drinking water, sanitation and health and hygiene projects. Water For People supports projects with professional development advice, financial support and volunteer technical services. Typical projects include protected spring-fed community water systems, gravity-fed systems, wells with hand pumps, latrine construction, operator training and health and hygiene education. Water For People is currently working in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2005, Water For People supported the provision of safe and sustainable drinking water resources and/or sanitation facilities benefiting more than 78,000 people in the developing world.
Weston Solutions Inc. (www.westonsolutions.com) is an employee-owned leading environment, redevelopment and construction firm, delivering comprehensive solutions to complex problems for industry and government worldwide. The company's services encompass design, construction, environmental remediation, redevelopment, and management and compliance. Its emphasis on restoring resource efficiency to its clients' operations -- including land, air, water, facilities, and staff -- ensures that clients derive maximum value from their resources.
Trimble is a leading innovator of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. In addition to providing advanced GPS components, Trimble augments GPS with other positioning technologies as well as wireless communications and software to create complete customer solutions. Trimble's worldwide presence and unique capabilities position the company for growth in emerging applications including surveying, agriculture, machine guidance, fleet and asset management, wireless platforms, and telecommunications infrastructure. Founded in 1978 and headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., Trimble has more than 2,400 employees in more than 18 countries worldwide.
Founded in 1969, ESRI (www.esri.com) is the world leader in the GIS software industry. ESRI offers innovative solutions that help users create, manage, analyze, and display information to make timely decisions and solve problems they encounter every day. ESRI's comprehensive product line ranges from desktop to mobile to enterprise GIS.