Our learning journey
Gather launched in 2016. We started as a research project to investigate the obstacles to achieving universal access to urban sanitation. Now, we are about to launch the world’s first city data hub to transform how data is used to get toilets to those who need them the most. It has been quite a journey! One of our goals has always been to document and learn from our mistakes and successes. You can follow our journey below and read more about the projects that helped us reach the design of the city data hubs.
During 2016 we interviewed more than 100 sanitation organisations. We wanted to identify what was holding them back from reaching scale, becoming financially sustainable and having significant impact. We heard again and again about the impact of the 'sanitation data gap.’ Sanitation organisations just could not access the data they needed.
To bridge this data gap we decided we should collect new data. To test this hypothesis, we partnered with our friends at Spatial Collective to train young people to map toilets in the informal settlement of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya. . In 2017 we mapped shared sanitation for 180,000 people. We then sampled household sanitation in 2018
We ran into a problem: we realised that we would never be able to collect all the data that the sanitation sector needed. It would be too expensive and go out of date too quickly. This was not a sustainable solution to bridging the data gap.
2. Data platform
We decided to leverage the data that sanitation organisations were already collecting every day. We used the data we collected in Mathare to build a prototype of a platform to demonstrate how to layer together slum layouts, the location of toilet facilities and the population density all onto one easy to use, interactive map. We tested this prototype with sanitation organisations to learn what features were useful for them. As a result, several organisations started to share their data with us. This was fantastic but it led us to another problem: it was impossible to curate data from different organisations because it was collected in vastly different ways. No data set was a like - even location was recorded differently. We needed to first standardise the data if a platform was to ever be successful.
3. Data dive
To really allow us to understand the potential power of the data that is being collected in the sanitation sector - and to demonstrate the benefit of harmonising data - we hosted the world’s first data dive for urban sanitation. We brought together 20 data scientists to clean, analyse and interrogate dive one sanitation data set from Lusaka in Zambia. In just two days our data scientists demonstrated the power and potential of data for decision making. They created a multitude of maps to visualise the current state of sanitation and interactive dashboards to provide insight into risk and service expansion. Most importantly, they assessed the quality of the data. They confirmed the need for better data strategy and management across the urban sanitation sector.