Janna Rous - TAB Application - 2022-04

Janna Rous (@janna)

Humanitarian Data Solutions

What contributions have you made to ODK?

I started using ODK as a humanitarian practitioner in 2014, and have been a passionate user (of ODK Aggregate, KoBoToolbox, and ONA) ever since. While I am not a programmer, so cannot contribute code, I participate in both the ODK Community Forum and the KoBoToolbox Community Forum, both as a question-asker and as a helper to others looking for support.

My contribution to ODK has been more to the user-base of ODK and KoBoToolbox instead of to the code itself. Through Humanitarian Data Solutions, I create YouTube instructional videos (currently 3,180 subscribers/155,000 views) to support wider adoption of ODK-based mobile data collection (as well as visualising ODK data). We have a mailing list of 4,000+ social-sector workers who are practitioners and use ODK/KoBoToolbox tools on a regular basis - and are able to support this list to first of all get started with ODK-based data collection and then share regular training videos and support to continually improve.

Beyond these public contributions, we also run a structured training programme for staff who work in the humanitarian, development and social enterprise sectors, with a structured approach to learning and applying ODK/XLSForm/KoBoToolbox form design, and have supported large organisations (such as the Red Cross, CARE International, NRC, Dorcas Aid, Tearfund, etc) as well as small organisations (such as Emerging Leaders and Ocean Cycle) across Africa, Asia, Middle East, Latin/South America, Europe, North America. Our focus is especially on MEAL staff as well as sector-specialists who use ODK-based data collection for driving decision-making in social-impact programmes.

Hopefully through these contributions I've been able to have a positive global impact beyond what I can quantify in participant/subscriber/follower stats!

How do you believe your contributions have benefited ODK?

A couple examples stand out that might be helpful:

  1. Every so often, someone will drop an email to me or leave a public comment on the YouTube channel that just says "I got into data collection because of your videos." - That for me is pretty special. That someone was googling around for a solution, came across a hopefully friendly face that showed some of the ins-and-outs of using KoBo/ODK/XLSForm, and has been able to use it within their own sphere of influence, things I'll never be able to know about... So - hopefully, 'expanding the user base' in small ways.

  2. The second way I hope I've contributed globally is to improve the way ODK forms can be used/implemented in social-sector programmes. I'm pretty crazy-passionate about using data to figure out what's working (and what's not) in people-focused programmes (especially WASH, Health, Nutrition, Shelter, Cash, and Livelihoods). Sometimes, by sharing tips and how-to's, I see people able to imagine more creative ways of collecting data and using forms in their own context. For example, someone who considered themself 'not a data person' - who then created an XLSForm from scratch as part of their organisation's emergency response in the Ukraine conflict. That keeps me going.

  3. Although this last example hasn't been a huge part of my past - I think it's also important for this application. There was once a post in the Forum about the XLSForm and how it handles a 'note' question that's 'required'. This was a behaviour I have exploited a lot in the past and have taught numerous others to exploit. So jumped into github to share my users' experience (probably the only time I've been brave enough to contribute to a github discussion - I tend to stick to the forum!). Which then helped make a decision not to pursue the possible changes. I get a lot of feedback from a broad range of users on features that could be better, people asking for tutorials on different topics, etc. And I hope that moving forward, this kind of impact, where I can feed this info into a more structured discussion with ODK leadership across ONA/ODK/KoBo could be really beneficial to the entire project.

What do you believe the top priorities for ODK should be?

Hmm, how to answer this thoughtfully? As a person, I'm pretty adamant about how amazing this tool is. So what should a top priority be? Making/Keeping this the #1 data collection tool in the world? (e.g., that idea of 'what's the one thing we can be the best in the world at...'). Constantly listening to users. I've learned so much just by seeing how 'ego' has no place in the ODK ecosystem - each opinion, each voice, brings a unique perspective and is respected. It is the only real 'open source' project I follow closely (in terms of development - although I'm also a user of many other open source tools). And I'm so impressed by the respect that exists alongside healthy public debate. So yes - keeping the culture of ODK as this respectful, open, collaborative project that incorporates a truly global user-base, and constructively uses disagreement/differing perspectives to create better solutions, to create the most dynamic and exciting data collection tool in existence.

Beyond the actual data collection tool 'core' being strong and just getting better and better, from a humanitarian/development perspective - I see that there are two major topics I see again and again right now:

  1. data protection (and how this intersects with data sovereignty, data sharing, consent, biometrics, etc)
  2. tech-stack integrations (how ODK tools integrate with other technologies).

So, these are topics I'm interested in understanding more about in ODK's continued development, and how we address these thoughtfully with users.

How will you help ODK accomplish those priorities?

  1. Continue to be a public advocate and instructor for users to incorporate new and improved features into their typical workflows.
  2. Continue to participate with users in forums, as well as engage in deep discussions with global users of where their pain points are and what they struggle with (in terms of ODK as well as how it intersects/integrates with other tech/workflows).
  3. Continue to engage with global M&E leads, working groups, users, etc, (esp. in the humanitarian/development/social enterprise sectors) to understand organisation-wide perspectives on data collection, and primary drivers for decision-making in tech-selection.
  4. Feedback use-cases, ideas, perspectives, etc, to the TAB.

How many hours a week can you commit to participating on the TAB?


What other data collection projects, social impact projects, or open source projects are you involved with?

  • CEO and Director of Humanitarian Data Solutions (focused on ODK-based data collection training and consultancy for the humanitarian and development sectors)
  • data collection on holistic wellbeing in rural poor communities (as part of locally-led development initiatives)
  • data collection on livelihood understanding of informal waste-workers and ocean-plastic diversion through informal sector
  • data collection of impact of humanitarian and development programmes
  • impact measurement and management within livelihoods projects
  • Currently supporting Emerging Leaders, Ocean Cycle, Tearfund's Light Wheel Assessment, MAF's new global impact assessment, British Red Cross & IFRC, Medical Teams International - all to do with XLSForms and/or XLSForm/KoBo training.

Please share any links to public resources (e.g., resume, blog, Github) that help support your application.


Many people had to shift interactions and trainings online due to the challenges/risks of meeting in-person due to COVID. Realizing you were already a strong online presence before, were there any changes you made due to COVID in how you train and work with people online? Any changes you noticed in the type of people you are training or their needs?

I think the forum is generally a pretty friendly place, but are there any things we could be doing better to make sure it is a safe, welcoming, and accessible place?


Hi @danbjoseph!
Thanks for the note and good questions!
Interesting, I'd switched to completely online-working and work-from-home back in 2018, a few years before COVID hit, so reflecting on COVID - I think it became much easier, overall, to work with people online. Online meetings and virtual connection strategies became a lot less 'foreign'. All of a sudden, a lot more people knew what Zoom was, so it became easier to onboard people to Zoom coaching calls, let alone other software options :slight_smile: Prior to 2018, I'd also been deploying ODK in remote locations, so had had a number of years putting remote workflows into practice. I guess big takeaways in remote/virtual working and supporting people remotely:

  • recognize the importance of 'in-person' a lot more. When possible, actually make physical connections with people - whether that's meeting physically, or sending something in the mail/post to people to more physically connect.
  • I think video, then, as now, is a really nice way to make people feel like they know you even when they've never met. Not everyone loves to be on video...but many people love to watch a video - so it's a friendly way to reach out.
  • It's helpful to be a participant in online training and coaching programmes, which helps enlighten creators as to better ways to serve people.

I didn't see a huge shift, honestly - most of my audience are deep field practitioners, and that remains.
Humanitarian workers tended to still be doing very physical in-person work through a lot of the pandemic. I've connected a bit more with international advisors/managers over the last two years - as organisations have shifted to using tech (like ODK/Kobo) globally - instead of being siloed within some programmes - so it's become a much broader, organisation-supported endeavour.

One interesting trend I've seen, I guess, is the use by the private sector. Where we've all become a lot more aware of supply chains over the last two years...companies are really interested in supporting local communities too, and using ODK to reach directly to their supply chain stakeholders.

What could the forum be doing better? Well, I'll say it's one of the nicest forums I know. I think the biggest hindrance to participation is being a 'beginner'. You don't want to look silly by asking simple questions. So being a super welcoming place by providing maybe a beginner-only space? I don't know, maybe that exists already, ha - but sometimes even I feel a bit nervous asking questions when in the back of my mind I'm thinking 'I should know this'...

Not sure if this is helpful - would love to know from you too - what do you think might make it more welcoming and accessible? Are there examples where you think ODK hasn't done as well as it could have done in this?


I think language accessibility is a big challenge. Although it is certainly possible to copy/paste into a translation website and I certainly don't mind when people post to the ODK forum in languages other than English - the infrequency of that happening would indicate that most people are not comfortable doing so. It's also not ideal from a technical/ functional perspective when it comes to being able to search the forum for answers if the answers might be in any one of many languages. This is something we struggle with in the Red Cross Red Crescent global network, and I don't think we have any particularly promising processes or tools yet. Yaw briefly enabled a translation plugin on the forum but it ballooned the running costs and I'm not sure how useful people actually found it.


Hi @danbjoseph,
MMM, agree on this challenge wholeheartedly. I wasn't aware that Yaw had tried a translation plugin. Would that allow the entire forum to show up in other language Google/search results, if non-English speakers were searching for a problem? Or would that still require them to find the result in English, and then have it translated?
I'm kind of thinking through this challenge myself right now - here are a few brainstorm thoughts - these are really raw - there are lots of ideas that aren't on this list, and some on this list can be thrown away, however, not sure what is useful or not, so may as well put it out there:

  1. Documentation - It would be nice/beneficial/useful/necessary to have the basic documentation translated in at least 3-4 other dominant languages (do we have any user statistics on most common user languages for ODK? In humanitarian space, this could be French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese?) Is this already in place? If it is, then, moving on...

  2. Forum - I wonder if it's important to translate everything - or whether it's more important to simply provide a space for questions to be asked in a separate language - e.g., having a dedicated channel for French or Spanish or Arabic, for example. I suppose there might be problems initially with traffic - people not knowing it's there, other speakers of that language not visiting the forum often enough to respond to questions responsively enough.

  3. Staff/Freelancers - what about having a fee-for-solution or fee-for-replying type of system where non-English speakers could have an incentive to help solve forum problems? Or having staff members to support in the forum who are other-language speakers. From what I know of behavioural economics, this might negatively impact the forum, as payment changes the relationship between ODK and the responder. However - this was something I saw really shift the KoBoToolbox forum a while ago - it never seemed super responsive a few years ago, and then Kal came onboard the team and (from my perspective) completely shifted the forum's responsiveness.

  4. Duplication - it might not be quite as simple as just translating from English - it literally is building the "service" infrastructure to serve multiple languages. It's a complete duplication of everything that's available. So could/should costs double? I guess getting away from the thought of 'English first' - and then translate into other languages, and trying to think from a perspective of 'French-first' - and what support would be needed, and then 'Arabic-first' - and what support would be needed, etc. From a 'YouTube' perspective, allow me to do a quick thought-experiment - if I was to endeavour to do this (which I do) - I would most likely create an entirely new/different YouTube channel that was French-only tutorials, or Arabic-only. As my assumption is that we'd be creating a space where different questions would emerge, where different relationships would forge, etc. The channels would be linked through branding, through reputation, and so there would be momentum behind them, however would also be unique, and would also grow/respond at their own pace.

I'll stop brainstorming here for now. However, this is a really interesting topic and happy to continue this!

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Dear @janna ,

I fully agree that these 2 topics mentioned are very important.
a) Data protection: apart from the current possibility of data / projects encryption, what else would you suggest to address this topic? (maybe related to GDPR / CDPA / WPA)
b) tech stack integration: what technologies would you see needed (must have/nice to have) integrated in ODK?


That was valuable indeed, thanks!

One of the reasons that I like working on ODK openly and in public is that it leaves space for others to create targeted value-add services. You exemplify that with the work that you do!

Particularly when it comes to documentation and training, there's tension between leaving space for a broad range of content and making sure users can easily access accurate, helpful information. Do you think there is some kind of coordination between content providers and ODK that would be helpful? Do you think the TAB has a role to play there? (I see this as related to some of @mathieubossaert's ideas here)

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Hi @LN - I had a response started to @mathieubossaert's post that you reference, but I think children entered the room at that moment...so, coming back to it, let me respond here.

The below is a long and rambling and twisting conversation with my brain as I try to think about this and think about who these content creators are and how to relate to them.

Short answer: Yes, I believe coordination of content creators/providers is important/helpful. TAB has a role, but also, day-to-day coordination most likely too involved for TAB.

Long answer:

As a content creator myself, in the beginning I felt tension sometimes in creating content on different platforms, as my fear is that it would be perceived that I'm trying to draw people away from the more formal documentation and centralized knowledge of the forums. Early-on conversations with Yaw and Tino helped me understand how the content could 'fit in' without competing. Over time I've realised that all these different microcosms of knowledge-sharing and content creation help the whole ecosystem grow bigger. And no one person can create meaningful content for every type of user. Each creator brings their own perspective and personality to the table, and some people will resonate with some, and some with others.

Can we use a metaphor of the solar system? Like,

  • the sun: ODK and the team that preserves and develops the core software and the documentation - big, bright, big gravitational pull - brings light and life into lots of different worlds. Feels like the core contributors here need to be able to see the bigger picture, drive flexible solutions, advanced understanding of software development or translating the core functionality into new/different user groups.
  • the planets: different forks and content spaces/facilitators who help 'translate' the core software functionality into different spheres of use - each with their own gravitational pull on their own moons - each with their own communities. I'd probably stick the different forums in here too. Constantly need 'the sun' to be fed new functionality, to feedback on what's working or not (if I continue with my metaphor here...maybe nighttime when they need to just focus on putting into use what they've already got, sometimes a bright sunny day because they're ready for lots of sun interaction and cloudy days for those average kind of interactive days.) I would include large organisations here too, perhaps as individual planets (mini-planets) with hundreds-to-thousands of users, their own deployment of a server perhaps, and their own gravity.
  • the moons: a group of user-champions within those various worlds that reflect the brilliance of the sun in its absence, that remind the planet of what to try next, how to implement functionality, how to integrate with other software, etc. They are attracted to this planet/world/use case specifically, and dedicate their resources. They get their source material from the sun, they don't create light on their own.
  • the inhabitants: all the users within that world who aren't fully aware of all the other planets or all the functionality, apart from what the sun and moon impart to them in language they understand. (e.g., a number of people who I train on 'KoBoToolbox' don't know what 'ODK' is...)
  • the astronauts: people who travel between different planets and understand similarities and differences between different worlds, who can inform, give feedback, help innovate, because of their multi-planetary knowledge.
  • interstellar influencers: I feel like there's something else missing here, where you have other communities of users of other software who pull in links to ODK, and vice versa - maybe these are other suns/planets in a different solar system...so people who support that integration are ...interstellar?

A bit silly, but also, does this help us understand who and how to influence others? How do we coordinate with content providers?

  • TAB - keep a strong core - primary objective - make the sun shine bright.
  • understand 'who/what' are all the 'planets' - what software forks, what large organisations, what user forums/communities
  • find out who the 'moons' are - who are those champion users in lots of different user-communities who are the teachers/facilitators creating the content - pull them into community that makes it easier to hear their perspectives and to share specific content for them to reflect back into their worlds. - TAB/Core Team - I think this is our key group to engage with.
  • astronauts and interstellar influencers will probably be a bit harder to pin down and bring into regular community - so bring them in for in-depth visionary sessions for higher-level understanding.

Does the TAB have a role to play?

  • because this is bigger-picture, where we might want to systematically engage with many different content creators and perhaps even organise links to resources, etc - that is inter-planetary - it might make sense for this to be tackled from a sun/TAB level, yes.
  • you know how some software have like 'trusted/certified' designations - and these folks then go and make content about the software as a form of influence-marketing? I wonder if we have some sort of designation of sorts that's a bit public? That helps create trust? That shows others 'they're part of our circle of content creators'.
  • create a space for these people to interact directly with the core team and with one another? Share ideas, share workflows, etc? How could this be dynamic and engaging?
  • I feel like this is almost like using influencers, in social-media language - what's the 'perk' to the influencer? They're already in love with the software, they're already sharing it - what more could they want? And what is ODK 'paying' for by having influencers - what do they bring us?

How, is the question?

  • Through the forum?
  • Is extra resource needed?
  • Is there a gifted 'community coordinator' who might want to tackle this? Who might want to facilitate?
  • Because it does feel a bit more like 'coordination', it probably needs resource. Is there any entity in the ecosystem who might want to support this, sees it as important, and could sustain it?
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ooooh....I think these are important, but I don't know the answers!!


a) Data protection - okay, the biggest thing that plagues my mind as a data collector - what is 'best practice'? What do I need to think through when it comes to GDPR/etc (especially local laws in countries where data collection is happening on the ground)? Like, really simple guidance - what am I 'allowed' to do? what 'must/should' I put into place? Outside of data encryption - data processor agreements - the debate between when to self-host and when to use public servers - what must be in place if collecting biometrics - data sharing/data anonymisation/column-specific data privacy.

I literally don't know the answers here - it's something I'd love to be in many more deep discussions about. Here's the challenge: I hear a LOT about this topic in the public sphere - but so much of it is 'theory' - what I get excited about is how to put that theory into practice - so how, practically - does one go about using ODK which ticks all the boxes of data protection?

Any ideas on this yourself?

b) tech integration - I'm really interested to know how others actually set up ODK to work within their 'information management cycle'. E.g., what technologies do they use, how do they get them talking together? Because I'm not from an IT background, I keep to fairly user-friendly/on-the-edge-of-simple-programming tools (ODK/KoBo, Power BI/Qlik, QGIS, python, [R], Excel). However - the challenge I always have is - how do I make everything talk together?? What's the best way?

So...maybe this isn't for ODK tool itself - perhaps this is more in developing some of the user-showcasing?

Not sure...what about you?

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I personally think that GDPR shouldn’t be a problem on data collectors side. It is a topic too complex to be sorted out at that level. Of course the data collector needs a training on how to conduct an interview, how and when asking sensitive questions.
But data protection should be more on server side, a problem for the PI, the institution that run the project.
What I have in mind is more granular permission on server side (who can access certain data and what that person can see inside a project.
Apart from this maybe the possibility to define at form level a field that contains info on data that should not be in the downloaded file, the possibility to download anonymised data (identification field not downloaded), and give access to those fields to authorised users maybe?

Tech integration: more examples on how to use the api could be useful. I added in the past a couple of examples

Maybe more video like yours (great job!!!), on the usage of PowerBI or other tools and how to practically integrate them with ODK?

Export directly to stata, SAS, SPSS or… :slight_smile:

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Agreed on all points above!