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Proving Sustainability – The International Development Monitoring Initiative with the SWEETSense™ Technology

Nearly a billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water, two billion have inadequate sanitation facilities, three billion use biomass for their daily energy needs and nearly half the world’s population live in rural isolation, lacking access to the most basic human services. Combined, these limitations are a leading cause of the perpetuating cycle of poverty and political insecurity. Meanwhile, the majority of international development agencies are responsible for self-reporting project outcomes. At best, expert spot-checks are conducted in the field occasionally. These results tend to show individual project success, while meta-surveys indicate on-going challenges in the sector.

This disconnect may be addressed through independent data monitoring technologies that provide objective data on system performance and use and can be used to demonstrate success and identify project weaknesses. By demonstrating which technologies and programs are truly successful, these successes can be targeted for scaling, through savings realized by eliminating unsuccessful approaches. This will benefit developing communities by providing proven and accountable programs.

The Sustainable Water, Energy and Environmental Technologies Laboratory, the SWEETLab™, at Portland State University is working with partners to demonstrate this concept across several applications and countries. The SWEETSense™ technology can provide objective, quantitative and continuous operational data on the usage and performance of programs across a range of sectors and communities. The data is then directly integrated into SWEETData™, an internet database presenting summary statistics on performance and usage of the monitored technologies to front-end users.

The SWEETLab™ has demonstrated this technology in water, sanitation, household energy and rural infrastructure programs with diverse partners including USAID, DFID, Mercy Corps, the Lemelson Foundation, Gates Foundation partners, and DelAgua Health, in several countries including India, Nepal, Indonesia, Kenya, Rwanda and Haiti. 

Remote monitoring systems are an innovative method to ensure the success of appropriate technology projects. Rather than infrequent engagement, remote monitoring systems ensure that community partnerships are maintained through continuous monitoring. This approach seeks to raise the quality and accountability of these projects internationally.