Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes, is nearly five and a half thousand miles away from 22 Baker Street, London. And as of this year it’s home to more than six million people and a brand new innovation project supported by Fujitsu.
When WaterAid put out an international call for smart solutions to ongoing water, sanitation and hygiene (or WASH) issues in the country, more than 40 teams across the world began preparing their entries. Among them was Scottish Water, who called on us to support a bid for the Winnovators challenge.
We kicked off in October 2017, developing a mobile application that people who WaterAid refers to as ‘hygiene promoters’ could use to help them communicate the importance of water and sanitation hygiene in their communities.
This was a pro bono venture for us, and we worked closely with the team at Scottish Water over an intensive six-week period to bring their ideas to life.
They provided early wireframes for their app (named ‘So-app’), and we helped shape the app to improve the user experience and build out its features.
The experience has been a textbook example of co-creation in action: working closely with a customer in an agile fashion, producing something that exceeds their specifications by putting our heads together and collaborating on new ideas.
And it’s a testament to this approach and the innovative thinking of our friends at Scottish Water that we were crowned winners of the contest and will see our work put into practice in Nicaragua this year.
At its core, So-app digitises an existing process of regular sanitation and hygiene check-ups. When hygiene promoters visit schools, homes or other community hubs they would usually conduct a questionnaire with paper and pen. So-app replicates this within the app.
Questions would cover basic information like the number of people living in a house, whether they were washing their hands, the occurrence of water leaks and so on.
Once completed, the app would generate a water hygiene score and offer advice on how to improve it. And regular follow-up visits would help track progress.
As well as providing a quicker and easier way of conducting these visits and recording the data in a secure and centralised manner, So-app can trigger notifications about upcoming visits and help hygiene promoters plan their visit schedule.
This allows for easier comparison between the various sites visited, making recurring issues or anomalies easier to spot and act on.
Perhaps most significantly, though, the app opens up new lines of communication and knowledge transfer between the different individuals conducting the visits.
A messaging platform built into the app means that problems and their solutions can be shared quickly and easily across a much broader group of people.
Taking it to the cloud
All of this hasn’t been without its challenges, of course.
In particular, the app needed to be designed in such a way that its effectiveness wouldn’t be hindered by a lack of connectivity.
Many of these areas are remote and don’t have reliable connection speeds, so we built the app in such a way that it could still be used offline.
Data shared or messages sent would be transferred as and when a connection became available, but the app’s core processes would still function without a hitch.
Equally, ensuring maximum battery life was important to allow users to carry out multiple visits without having to worry about finding a charging socket at every stop.
We designed the app accordingly, adopting a cloud solution and putting minimal strain on device processors to ensure battery life wasn’t swallowed up unnecessarily.
Exploring new possibilities
It’s been a fascinating project to work on and I’m feeling incredibly lucky to be boarding a plane to go see it in action in Nicaragua.
First I’ll be visiting the sites where WaterAid has been in action. Along with the team at Scottish Water, I’ll get to see a before and after scenario, spending a day in an area yet to benefit from the solutions WaterAid has built and then visiting another area that’s been making use of these solutions already.
After this it’ll be time to see the impact So-app is making. We’ll be visiting a school and meeting with a local water company to help test the app and see it working in its natural habitat.
I’ll be taking the opportunity to see what else we could do with So-app and how we could apply its design to different settings and situations around the world. There’s a lot of potential in it.
We’ll also be attending an event for World Water Day, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the broader context in which our work is taking place.
I look forward to reporting back once I’ve returned to UK soil!
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- How we’re co-creating to improve water sanitation in Nicaragua - February 15, 2018