Database Systems for Sanitation Monitoring that are Designed for Intermittent Internet
Intermittent access is the dominant paradigm for internet use in developing countries. Databases need to be designed for this paradigm.
The use of database systems for evidence-based planning can have a huge impact on the effeciency and effectiveness of sanitation work. Many of the proposed apps focus on mobile data collection. Mobile has an extremely important role to play, but we also need to appreciate that there are many fully functional human/institutional systems in developing countries for collecting data via paper/pen. In some instances there’s no need to reinvent the “data collection” wheel just yet.
For instance, the District Government in Salima District, Malawi, routinely collects high-resolution information on sanitation activities and sanitation infrastructure for on over 2000 villages. This information has immense potential use for planning. A challenge, however, is that this data typically lives in Excel sheets – limiting the potential complexity of the data structure, making higher-level data aggregation difficult, reducing options for data validation, and making distributed data access unwieldy. This is by no means the fault of the database managers – appropriate database tools for developing country contexts simply don’t exist.
To address this, we are proposing to develop a browser-based database system specifically for contexts defined by intermittent internet access. The system should store a copy of the db on a local machine, allow data entry, analysis, and visualiation without an internet connection, and then seamlessly sync with a central db when an internet connection is available. The system should look and feel identical regardless of whether the user is connected to the internet. Think Gears-era Gmail Offline.
Engineers Without Borders Canada, my former employer, is working with governments in several countries on data management for decision making and planning. If a sufficiently robust and stable solution were developed, there would be many real-world opportunities to test it in the field. This type of system, built as a platform, would also have incredibly broad application in developing countries. Done well, there will be no shortage of interest!!!