Editor’s Note: This blog was authored by Susan Davis, executive director of Improve International, an organization focused on promoting and facilitating independent evaluations of WASH programs to help the sector improve. Susan discusses how a “services monitoring” approach can help improve and maintain WASH services. A version of this post originally appeared here.
Last month I went to the Sustainable WASH Forum and Donor Dialogues in D.C. A theme of the conversations was roles and responsibilities, especially the roles of governments. One interesting debate was about who should be responsible for monitoring. Some said that governments should be solely responsible. There are some governments who are leading the way on this, but others (myself included) believe that this doesn’t mean that development organizations shouldn’t also be accountable for their own work. If an organization visits water and toilet systems for years after they are built, they can learn from their successes and failures and make their future work better.
Since many organizations only do monitoring & evaluation (M&E) during development programs (see my thoughts after the Learn MandE conference), I think we need to use a new term like “services monitoring” to refer to the need for a way of confirming that water and sanitation services are still available to people.
Why is services monitoring important?
- 783 million people without access to improved source of water[i] 3 billion without access to safe water[ii] 4 billion without access to safe, permanent, in home water[iii]
- 2.5 billion people without adequate sanitation[iv] 4.1 billion lack access to improved sanitation[v]
- 35-50% water and sanitation systems that fail within a few years of construction[vi]
- Less than 5% water systems that are visited at least once after they are built
- Less than 1% water systems and toilets that are monitored regularly for the long-term after they are built
Long-term services monitoring is critical for the ongoing improvement of implementing organization practice and understanding, as well as donor policies. Beyond helping individual organizations learn from their experience, services monitoring could reveal geographical or sectoral trends. What if each year, USAID, other government aid agencies, development banks, and major foundations pooled a portion of their funds for water and sanitation projects? (In fact, USAID’s recently published Water and Development Strategy indicates that USAID “will seek investments in longer-term monitoring and evaluation of its water activities in order to assess sustainability beyond the typical USAID Program Cycle and to enable reasonable support to issues that arise subsequent to post-completion of project implementation.”) These funds could be used to ensure services monitoring for all (or a sample of) previous water and sanitation systems funded by those donors in a country or region.
With this information, they could identify region-wide problems and solutions. For example, declining amounts of water available from spring-fed systems in a geographic region could point to a need for investing in water source protection and installation of household water meters to reduce leaks and wastage.
A way forward
To remove some of the barriers to ongoing services monitoring, we recommend a way forward below.
- A percentage of funds (perhaps 3-5%) of each donor’s funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene programs is contributed to a pool for services monitoring each year.
- The funds could be used to monitor a sample of past programs funded by the donors. For example, programs that are 5, 10, and 15 years old. That way we get the learning now and can use it to change programs moving forward.
- Keep the monitoring indicators very basic and in line with government monitoring protocols, where present.
- Development organizations should be responsible for ensuring that services monitoring happens, but should not have to use their own staff. For example, where governments have a robust system of national monitoring, the organization could pull recent, relevant government data.
- Engage an independent auditor to verify a sample of results.
As more services monitoring data become available and accessible, we’ll get past the statistics to specifics, leading to learning, and more effective performance. Thus, people in developing countries will have a better chance at reaping the life-changing benefits of safe water for life.
Editor’s Note: We pose four questions to Lisa Nash, CEO of Blue Planet Network, on how collaborative partnerships can scale the impact of multi-sector programs.
Tell us about the H2O+ Uganda initiative BPN helped to launch last year.
H2O+ is a multi-sector initiative designed to eliminate the root causes of poverty. We developed the H2O+ initiative to reduce morbidity and mortality rates, and promote economic development in Uganda by integrating five related initiatives: (1) improved access to sanitation; (2) improved access to safe water; (3) improved community hygiene practices; (4) strengthened capacity at district and community health facilities; and (5) increased school enrollment of girls.
H2O+ was piloted successfully in Pallisa, a district in Southeast Uganda, in 2012. The program brings clean water solutions and improved capacity to health clinics as well as communities. Five borehole wells were constructed near health clinics providing 6,392 villagers living in these five communities with direct access to clean water. Additionally, those traveling from afar to these health clinics will have access to clean water, which we have calculated as approximately 4,000 visitors per year per health clinic. Because of the strategic placement of the wells, the program will benefit 25,600 people annually in these five communities.
How did BPN set up a private-public partnership to launch H2O+ in Uganda?
Once we formed the H2O+ concept, we identified key players at the local, regional, national, and international levels to build a unique collaborative model that could be replicated across Uganda. With a network of nearly 100 WASH members working in 27 countries, we invited one of our members, International Lifeline Fund (ILF), to take the lead on implementing the program. ILF is a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce human suffering through WASH initiatives, fuel-efficient stove programs, and micro-enterprise. They have constructed more than 200 borehole wells in Uganda serving over 150,000 people. Their demonstrated expertise in Uganda and entrepreneurial approach aligned well with the H2O+ model.
H2O+ was launched in partnership with ReachScale, a company that brings social innovators, including corporations, NGOs, and governments, together to scale initiatives that increase innovation and impact.
Management Sciences for Health played a critical role in the planning stages of H2O+. They manage healthcare clinics throughout Uganda, and around the world, and implement WASH activities through advocacy, community mobilization, and hygiene and health education.
Local governments in the district of Palissa and community leaders were involved in H2O+ planning, baseline research, and analysis and implementation. Africa AHEAD joined H2O+ and will introduce Community Health Clubs in Phase II as the best way to ensure a community-led approach to water and sanitation program development.
What was BPN’s approach to integrating the 5 related initiatives (water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and education) and identifying metrics?
The H2O+ initiative recognizes that health, water, sanitation, hygiene, and education are inextricably linked at the local level, as shown in the diagram below. H2O+ partners have experience leveraging their work to solve multiple community issues. BPN asked its partners: “How can we impact multiple aspects of community poverty?” rather than “How can we increase clean water, or how can we decrease visits to the health clinic?” The answers led to H2O+, an integrated approach to poverty alleviation. BPN worked with its partners to agree upon the project model, planning, implementation, and monitoring components. H2O+ partners agreed upon a common set of metrics that will be reported and analyzed on BPN’s platform.
What were the challenges, lessons learned, and positive outcomes of coordinating the different stakeholders and getting everyone on board?
Agreeing on how to operate together was the largest challenge of H2O+, given the multi-level commitment of each partner.
H2O+ planning was launched with several virtual planning meetings, and followed up with a site visit in Kampala, Uganda with representatives of several H2O+ partners. The program structure, metrics, and roles were discussed virtually, while the in-country visit was essential for building trust amongst district officials and H2O+ partners. As Dan Wolf, ILF’s founder and executive director explains, “The lesson always is to lay the groundwork well in advance of beginning operations.” Dan and his team realized that building collaborative relationships with local government officials was difficult without a foundation of understanding. “The problem was a lack of familiarity and trust with a new organization. We learned that we can always do a better job of explaining and leveraging our experience to show the District Water Offices the benefits of our partnership.”
H2O+ partners are now looking at economic development opportunities for women. Empowering women to make and sell clean cook stoves is a unique addition to a traditional water or health program. Carbon accreditation will generate a revenue stream that pays for equipment maintenance and community education. This multi-sector model has attracted funders because they see the opportunity to leverage partner integration for greater program outcomes.
The takeaways are:
- Detail planning and role delineation up front is key.
- Combine the virtual with the physical. Being virtual encourages creative solutions. Getting together in person builds trust that strengthens partnerships.
- Be honest about evaluating progress and results. Always be open to refining the process for greater impact and stronger partnership. Measure, measure, measure.
- Celebrate successes together, no matter how small. Partnerships are hard work, so it’s important to remind people every time you make progress toward your common goal.
Editor’s Note: This guest post chronicles one organization’s commitment to transparency and accountability through the development of an exciting new platform. Eric Stowe, founder and executive director of a child’s right, shares the story of Proving It and the lessons learned along the way.
In recent years a voice has become increasingly audible within the WASH sector — a voice calling for honesty about failure, transparency in reporting, and sustainability of solutions. It didn't emerge because failure swiftly became popular, but because failure appropriately became relevant.
When water interventions fail, they fail people. While we can and do discuss failure rates, we’re really not talking about “rates” at all; we’re talking about children and adults whom we have failed, collectively.
In the work of A Child’s Right — cleaning contaminated water to make it safe for drinking, for kids — we take failure as seriously as we take success. Our gold standard is this: we will not serve a glass of water to any child that we wouldn’t serve to our own children. If it isn’t water we would like to drink, then it isn’t water we should be serving to others. For this reason, we simply must have the technical tools — and the organizational culture — to support identification of failure and effective responses.
We therefore aspire to vigilance in monitoring, maintenance, and success. To these ends, we set about devising a means to monitor progress at every site where we work. We envisioned a day when every project we undertook could be tracked online — starting with a GPS point on a map, continuing with recurring verification that safe water is flowing, and culminating in the display of all monitoring and maintenance activity, as well as of updated photos and field notes. In short, we came to view “the big day” when water first flowed clean as the beginning of our work — not the end of it.
We realized our vision in October 2011, when we rolled out the first iteration of this new online platform called Proving It. (To learn more about Proving It, read the overview here.) It allows donors, and the public, to see systematically updated water quality test results, service records, comments from beneficiary communities, and more. In one place, interested parties can now track well over five hundred sites, a number that is growing steadily. With operations projected in sixteen countries, on two continents, within eight years, such tracking is both an urgent priority and a distinct challenge. We are proud of where Proving It stands, currently, but it is only a start. We are actively ideating on 2.0, and beyond.
Proving It was first developed for internal management purposes — to allow us to monitor, evaluate, and measure our own performance. Midstream in development, we asked ourselves: “What would happen if we made our internal database fully viewable to the public?” which then led us to consider: “What if donors learned of problems or failures at the same time we did?”
These questions stayed with us, and forged our commitment to rigorous honesty. If a project fails, the donor now learns at the same time we do. And if a water system goes down, it stops issuing water that a “beneficiary” could unknowingly drink. We have found this to fundamentally reframe conversations with donors — and even our shared view of philanthropy itself. Now that donors can track their gift over time (i.e., minimum ten years) and learn of the challenges we face in real time, they can participate in the act of insisting that water solutions are only solutions if they continue to work over time.
It is our vision that Proving It will be created in open source, and ultimately be white-labeled for use by anyone in the sector who shares a rigorous commitment to transparency. We are currently working on plans to make it so. Ultimately, we see Proving It as bearing promise for both the WASH sector and for many charitable aims.
It sounds a little funny, but we don’t want to fail at failure. We’d like to get failure right. To us this means being open to learning, as well as being rigorous in our honesty, transparency, and mutual accountability. To that effect, we welcome feedback, as well as long-range partners who would like to have conversations about Proving It and its potential for the sector.