Frequently asked questions on Sigmah

1. The software and its features

What is Sigmah ?

Sigmah is information management software for international aid projects. It helps users to organise and share project information, such as:

  • Key documents (terms of reference, proposals, CVs, etc.). All the different versions of a document can be stored.
  • Important dates (launch meetings, field visits, report deadlines).
  • Monitoring of project indicators and the logical framework.

Sigmah allows you to monitor the progress being made on each project. The software’s dashboard provides an overview of the general situation of all your projects.
8 The software is built around the different phases of project management. These phases, and any other important steps that need to be followed, can be adapted to your organisation’s practices.

What can Sigmah bring to my organisation ?

-# Sigmah allows the users in your organisation to consult information about all your projects in real time, with different profiles giving different access rights.

  1. Sigmah makes it easier to share information between staff: between the headquarters, between country desks and project sites, between countries, etc.
  2. Sigmah allows you to gain access to/find important documents in a few clicks.
  3. Sigmah allows up to date monitoring of projects.
  4. By making you define the key steps involved in managing your projects, and the information that should be gathered for each of these phases, Sigmah encourages you to define and adopt good practices within your organization.

Can I use Sigmah to monitor the finances of my projects ?

Only information about global budgetary expenditure per project is available. During the needs assessment that preceded the development of Sigmah, it clearly emerged that most organisations had already developed internal procedures and had invested in reliable financial systems to help with internal and external audits and donor reporting. As a result, Sigmah focuses on the key data needed to manage your organization effectively (see Features).

What is the offline mode ?

The offline mode allows users to continue to work on Sigmah even when there is no internet connection. They can subsequently share their work with their collaborators by synchronizing the data when a connection is available again.
In offline mode, Sigmah can be used almost fully: users can consult the latest version of information that has been downloaded, modify information, attach files, etc. Only the modification of reports, the creation of reports and administrative tasks are not accessible.

What languages is Sigmah available in?

At present, Sigmah is available in three languages: French, English and Spanish. But you can contribute to translating it into another language using the online translation software, Pootle. An Arabic version of Sigmah could well be available soon if a volunteer offers to finish the translation of the software which is already well underway in this language.

What is the difference between Sigmah and other software of this kind ?

The main difference between Sigmah and other software of this kind is that it aims to make the organisations that use it more autonomous. The objective of the Sigmah project is to reinforce the information management capacity of international aid organisations.

Not only is Sigmah distributed with an open source license, it is designed so that it can be configured without any specific IT skills. Sigmah’s open source license allows organisations to be autonomous in relation to service providers. It also means that it can be used by organisations of all sizes because there are no obligatory fees.
Configuration can be carried out by anyone who is comfortable using spreadsheet programmes like LibreOffice Calc or Microsoft Excel. This involves establishing links between the concrete needs of the organization and all the different ways that the software can be configured. This direct involvement, without any intermediary, not only allows the configuration to evolve rapidly due to the feedback provided by your users, but also gives you full ownership of how information management is structured in your organization.

Lastly, Sigmah is more than just software: it is a collaborative project run by 14 international aid NGOs for the benefit of the sector as a whole. The vision behind the project is to provide a tool that can be used by all NGOs, whether they are major international NGOs, multinational organisations, small NGOs or national NGOs, with the aim of continually improving the quality of aid delivered.

Is Sigmah designed just for humanitarian actors ?

No. Though Sigmah was initially created by humanitarian NGOs, it was very quickly used in development contexts, and for environmental projects, for example.

How is the software going to evolve in the future ?

The main changes that are planned in the near future are: an integrated system for managing contacts so that, for example, lists of stakeholders can be attached to projects; and, a complete revision of the system for managing indicators.
Other features are being looked into: you can find out about these by consulting the “Features Fair”, and you can even propose one yourself!

My organisation needs a feature that is not yet available in the software. What can I do ?

You can consult the Features Fair to see if your idea has already been expressed. If it has, you can then contact us so that we can put you in touch with the other organisations that are interested in the same feature. This will help to move things forward more quickly.

If the feature you are interested in is not mentioned, contact us to explain it to us. We keep a record of all the needs that have been expressed. We can then find out whether or not your need is among the priorities of the Steering Cooperative and the road map. If this is the case, we will be able to inform you of when the feature is due to be released, and the situation regarding funding. If your need is not a current priority we can then design a functional generic solution with you and you can then decide whether to fund its development alone, or together with other organisations. It will then be available to all the other organisations. Organisations like the International Organisation of La Francophonie and CARE Nederland have already funded the development of features that were a priority for them, and that have subsequently been shared and maintained in the long term by everyone.


2. Governance (Open source software and a participatory project)

Who is behind the Sigmah project?

The Sigmah project began in 2008 at the initiative of three NGOs (Solidarités International, Première Urgence, and Aide Médicale Internationale) who approached Groupe URD to assess their needs in terms of project information management to see if a joint solution was possible.

Sigmah is now a collaborative project run by a Steering Cooperative of 14 organisations: Acting For Life, Action Against Hunger, CARE Nederland, Comité de Secours Internationaux, the French Red Cross, the Luxemburg Red Cross, Équilibres & Populations, Etc Terra, Handicap International, Doctors of the World, Première Urgence-Aide Médicale Internationale, Solidarités International, Triangle Génération Humanitaire and Groupe URD, which is the facilitator of the project. The project is funded by a number of donors (ECHO, AFD, HIF, etc.) and is developed by several technical partners: Atol C&D, Code Lutin and Netapsys.

What is the Steering Cooperative ?

The Steering Cooperative is a group of organisations that use Sigmah or support it operationally. It is made up of two committees: a decision-making committee and an adoption supervisors’ committee. The decision-making committee meets at least 4 times a year, and is responsible for defining the priorities and strategy of the project. The adoption supervisors’ committee meets twice a year on average, its role being to encourage the sharing of experiences in relation to adopting the software and to validate the design of generic features for shared needs.

Why join the Steering Cooperative ?

Sigmah is more than just software: it is a collaborative project run by 14 international aid NGOs for the sector as a whole. The vision behind the project is to provide a tool that can be used by all NGOs, whether they are major international NGOs, multinational organisations, small NGOs or national NGOs, with the aim of continually improving the quality of aid delivered.

By joining the Steering Cooperative, you will be supporting this vision, and you will be helping to realise it. You can support the project financially to help it move forward. As a member, your organization will be able to take part in making decisions and establishing priorities with regard to subsequent developments of the software.

I like the project but I am not directly concerned in terms of using the software. How can I contribute ?

-* By spreading the word about Sigmah, for example, by sharing this one-minute video on social networks here: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + ;

  • By making a donation;
  • By providing services as a volunteer:
    • Translator: Sigmah exists in Engliah, Spanish and French but we would like it to be available in other languages. It contains around 5000 words and it has already been partially translated into certain languages. It is also possible to contribute to the translation of the User’s Guide.
    • Software developer: you can join our community of developers and begin developing one of the future features of Sigmah.
    • Beta-tester of new versions of the software.


3. Institutional adoption/ Cost

How much does Sigmah cost? Is it free ?

As Sigmah is open source software, users do not need to pay, or have a license, to use it.
The software itself is free of charge. Only optional services are paying: this can be an in-depth needs assessment, a training course, support for configuration or hosting, technical support, maintenance, etc. For more information, see the different service package options.
No matter what options are decided, using and adopting Sigmah will always require a major investment in terms of time, and therefore represents an unavoidable additional cost, especially during the launch phase. For a successful, long-term adoption, a certain level of investment is necessary in terms of human resources.

How long does it take to start using Sigmah ?

This depends on multiple factors, the most important of which is the size of the organisation and whether you choose to adopt Sigmah alone or with external support, with one or more support services (managing organizational change, needs assessment, specific developments, training, recuperation of existing data, help with the configuration, hosting, technical support, maintenance, development of advanced dashboards, etc.).
At the same time, it is possible to adopt Sigmah without any external assistance in only a few weeks.

What has been the experience of other organisations in adopting Sigmah ?

Each adoption of Sigmah is different. For example, in addition to structuring its project information and making it available to all its teams, Care Nederland wanted to make its reporting to one of its donors automatic. Handicap International, on the other hand, uses Sigmah internally to support the implementation of its monitoring and evaluation policy. Other organisations, like PADEM, have chosen Sigmah to structure its institutional memory, and compensate for frequent changes in staff and the fact that information is dispersed.
Though each adoption project is different, the experiences of organisations who have adopted Sigmah have been compiled in a document of good practices. You can read the document here.

Is there a minimum size for an organisation to adopt Sigmah ?

Organisations of all sizes have already adopted Sigmah (from teams of 2 to 3 people to a staff of more than 100 people). The common denominator between these different organisations is the difficulty that they faced in structuring information from their projects and their desire to centralise information in order to make it accessible to all their staff no matter where they were located (headquarters, at home, regional offices, project sites, etc.).

Sigmah would have limited added value for a small team managing every aspect of a single project (other information sharing tools could be used). However, for teams that manage several projects in different sites, Sigmah definitely has advantages, no matter what size they are.


4. Technical specifications

What do I need to start using Sigmah ?

The only thing you need is a hosting platform.
There are two hosting options:

  • install and host Sigmah on your organisation’s own server;
  • subscribe to a service package and the shared hosting of Sigmah Central (see hosting packages).

Is Sigmah installed on my computer ?

Sigmah is a web application. It therefore does not need to be installed on each computer that is going to use it.
The preferred web browser for Sigmah is Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla Firefox was chosen because it is fast, it is widely used, it is available for free on Windows, Linux and Macintosh, and it is open source like Sigmah.


5. Security / Confidentiality

Is open source software really secure ?

More than half of all the websites in the world use the open source web server, Apache. Open source software is at least as secure as proprietary software.
Sigmah has several levels of security and responsibility:

  • On the server: the shared server Sigmah Central if fully secured, both against the loss of data (automatic backups) and the risk of intrusion. If the software is installed on an organisation’s own server, it is their responsibility to take the necessary security measures.
  • Between the server and the user’s computer: the shared server, Sigmah Central, uses the secure HTTPS internet communication protocol. This is the same protocol that is used to safely log on to your bank account, for example. It is easy for organisations that install Sigmah on their own server to set up the HTTPS protocol.
  • The responsibility of the user: the majority of security breaches happen at the user level. Using passwords that are too weak, sharing passwords with a third party, etc. are reasons why an intruder can gain access to an organisation’s Sigmah. The software includes a button, “Destroy offline bases”, which allows users to remove any trace of Sigmah data from their computer.


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