Ona This Month January 2017 Newsletter



What’s new?


Binning and heatmap visualizations on maps

Last month we mentioned we’d be adding binning (including 3D!) and heatmap visualizations. They are now live. In a recent blog post, we look at a relatively simple dataset from Roy, an Ona engineer and avid cyclist, to learn more about how these visualizations can help you analyze data on your next project. Read the blog post.

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Binning and Heatmap Visualizations on Maps



To help you visualize large datasets on a map, we added binning (including 3d!) and heatmap visualizations. Displaying points works well for small datasets, but a large number of submissions can cause overlapping points, which misrepresent the data and make it difficult to see geospatial trends. Hexbins and heatmaps solve that problem through binning — combining points into groups — and showing density with the resulting geospatial shapes.

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Tech at Ona: What We Built in 2016


It’s been a big year for the Ona tech team! In this post, we look at what we built in 2016.

Ona platform tech in 2016

In 2016 we added more new features to the Ona platform than in the previous two years combined. Here’s a run-down of select features we added to Ona in 2016:

  • CSV uploads – Upload any CSV into Ona and we’ll automatically build an XLSForm from the CSV’s columns with data types guessed based on the data. E.g. if a column has only dates we’ll assume it should be formatted as a date type, but give you option to adjust that.
  • Photo gallery – View only the images from your dataset in a grid-based gallery or full-screen slideshow.
  • Dynamic form linking – Use the data in one form to populate questions in another. For example, you could use a school registration form to collect the list of all the schools in your district, and then in a school performance form you could have a drop-down menu where users choose one of the schools from the registration form and then add additional performance data about that school.
  • RapidPro integration – Forward incoming data from Ona to RapidPro and trigger flows based on that data. E.g. send out a text message to a number submitted in an Ona form with a message based on that submission’s data.
  • Google Sheets integration – Connect your dataset to Google Sheets and as you submit new data, or edit existing data, Ona will update your spreadsheet. You can use this to create lightweight dashboards with realtime data collected using Ona.
  • HXL support – Tag your dataset columns with HXL codes for easy integration into the Humanitarian Data Exchange and other existing datasets or repositories.
  • Save charts to a dashboard and chart group by – Create charts with one column grouped by another column and save any charts you create to a dashboard.

In addition to the new features above, we improved performance to handle the 4.5 million new submission we received. This was a jump from an average about 6,500 submission a day in 2015 to 12,500 per day in 2016. Next year we’ll be putting even more focus on performance and fix anything that might be slowing you down.

OpenSRP tech in 2016

We’ve made significant improvements in the OpenSRP platform. As the technical lead on OpenSRP our biggest task this year was transitioning the server and client to use an Event/Client data model. This helped us support more efficient client-server data synchronization.

We’ll continue to be busy with OpenSRP next year. We’re about to roll out a number of new implementations, including a generic vaccination register. And we’re also very excited that the UNICEF Innovation Fund invested in OpenSRP as one of their inaugural five technology investments.

Free Open Source Software at Ona in 2016

We’re still improving the documentation and doing clean up, but in late-2016 we published an updated version of our core data collection application, onadata (Github). This fixes some serious issues encountered when running at scale, introduces a more robust permissions model based around projects, and stores all data in PostgreSQL + PostGIS database. All new development will take place in this repository on the master branch with stable releases (Github) tagged.

We’ve continuously updated milia (Github), our Clojure/Script Ona Client API library. We’ve added libraries to interact with more API endpoints and improved overall stability. Also in the Clojure world, we’ve been incrementally adding functionality to our Clojure/Script utilities library chimera (Github) and our data viewer library hatti (Github).

This year we released an Ona to R integration. This lets you load realtime datasets directly into your R scripts. Forest Carbon used Ona.R to write an R Shiny web application that automated analysis and feedback. The source code for ona.R (Github) is freely available, we’re looking forward to your patches and extensions!.

Finally, we’ve released a public version of the STEPS app developed for the World Health Organization’s STEPwise approach to noncommunicable disease risk factor surveillance. If you’re interested check out the the code for the Android steps-app (Github).

We’re excitedly looking forward to an even bigger year in 2017. Happy new year from the Ona technology team!

How we secure your data


Our clients use Ona to collect, analyze, and disseminate mission critical data. We have worked on both the data collection side as well as the platform side and understand the importance of knowing your data is stored safely and securely. Here we’ll talk about the specific technologies we use to secure our users’ data.


Specifically relating to data security, the highlights of the standards we incorporate are:

  • Encrypted server-client connections using TLS/HTTPS
  • A+ certified server-client TLS configuration
  • Encrypted at-rest database and encrypted database backups using AES-256
  • ISO 27001 security management certification via AWS data centers


To make sure that your data stays secure during events that we cannot anticipate, such as a hardware failure with our hosting provider, we create nightly replicas of our entire database. This way, should the worst happen, we will be able to recover quickly and get back up and running with minimal data loss.


The privacy protections afforded your data are described in our Privacy Policy. One of the most important parts:

We take the privacy, confidentiality, and security of any data you submit or upload to Ona very seriously, because it is your data. You retain ownership of the data. We will never share or access your data, unless granted permission by you, in order to provide you with technical assistance.

Please read Ona’s full Privacy Policy along with our Terms of Service for more details.

Steps you can take

Security is only effective when users follow best practices; e.g. do not share passwords, do not write down passwords, and do not use public computers (but if unavoidable always log out of the site when finished using Ona on public computers). If your project requires a higher level of privacy, Ona also allows you to encrypt your forms with decryption only possible using ODK Briefcase and encryption keys.

Thank you and happy holidays 2016!



With 2016 coming to an end, the whole Ona team wanted to send a “Thank You” to all of the customers, users, friends, and family of Ona. To show how happy we are to have your support, we created the Thank you / happy holidays survey.

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