In one of the coldest weeks of the year, we gathered in Wageningen, a beautiful historic university town about one-hour south of Amsterdam. About 25 of us had come together for the first-ever RHOMIS users workshop, held in the smart WICC hotel near the city centre. Wrapped up warm, we arrived in fits and starts over the course of Monday, with participants travelling from as far afield as Cape Town, Quito, Bristol, Nairobi, and Vancouver.
Our group was made up of data scientists, researchers, NGO workers, and the RHoMIS staff team of survey developers and analysts. Most of us had not met before, at least not in person. There was real energy and connection as suddenly the plethora of digital relationships and co-authorships were physically together for the first time.
Since April this year I have been building the RHoMIS surveys and supporting the user experience. You could call it the ‘front end’. The first day in the Netherlands opened my eyes to the ‘back end’ of RHoMIS, hearing about how others are using the data to observe patterns and trends across the 20,000 households surveyed. It was inspiring to hear how RHoMIS, a tool birthed only three years’ ago, has contributed to such an expansive and diverse number of papers and analyses.
Our facilitator did a superb job to guide us with energy and clarity. Of particular note was the use of Mentimeter, a live interactive workshop tool. As we discussed ‘What is RHoMIS?’, we used this website to post anonymous answers, which automatically appeared for all to see on the digital projection. I’ll definitely be using that tool again next time I run a workshop.
It was essential for me to start the second day with quiet serenity, as the workshop became another high-tempo flow of brainstorming and creativity. Having looked backwards on day one, our task on day two was to turn our attention to the future. It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm and engagement from the participants, as we dreamt about how RHoMIS could be used more effectively and efficiently.
It was particularly valuable to have a number of representatives from NGOs at the workshop. Having formed and grown in a community of scientists and data analysts, the presence of NGO staff helped to ground the theory and understand how RHoMIS has been working (or not working) in practice. It is essential for the growing community of practice to include all stakeholders to ensure the tool continues to be an accessible and accurate vehicle for monitoring, evaluation, learning and research.
The third day wrapped up all of our discussions before participants headed on to their next destinations after lunch. New working groups were established to share responsibilities and focus our expertise. And we introduced a new online platform for collaboration and communication amongst the nascent community of practice.
In the taxi from the hotel back to Schipol Airport, I was struck with the degree of ownership for RHoMIS shared amongst those of us gathered in Wageningen. It was the most energetic and productive workshop I have ever been to – generating more than enough heat to keep us warm in the winter temperatures. I was left feeling inspired by the breadth of practical applications under discussion and filled with hope for the future of this open-source technology and its ability to contribute to poverty alleviation and rural development across the globe.