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.
The African Ministers' Council on Water, an initiative of the African Union, has announced a three-year, $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to build its capacity for sanitation policy development, monitoring and evaluation coverage, and WASH-related advocacy across the continent.
Awarded through the foundation's global development program, the grant will be used to provide training and technical assistance in four countries working to develop and adopt effective sanitation and hygiene policies and plans; organize the fourth AfricaSan conference as a mechanism for tracking progress, refining targets, and enabling peer support and advocacy for implementation of the 2008 eThekwini Declaration and AfricaSan Action Plan; and help countries fulfill their obligations to report to the AU.
"We face tremendous challenges of diminishing access to clean water and safe sanitation," said AMCOW executive secretary Bai Mass Taal. "AMCOW is committed to working with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce this scourge and improve access to safe sanitation, thereby achieving our overall goal of decreasing poverty and disease in the continent."
Source: “African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) Gets US$2 Million Grant to Improve Sanitation Coverage in Africa.” African Ministers' Council on Water Press Release 12/18/12.
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. She has more than 13 years of experience in international development and has evaluated WASH and other programs in 16 developing countries. Her first career (8 years in environmental consulting) involved projects like combining databases across the 10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional offices, which is where her respect for unique identifiers was born. A version of this post originally appeared here.
What is a unique identifier?
You probably don’t think of it, but you use unique identifiers every day. In the U.S., your social security number is your unique identifier for the government (which is why if someone has it they can steal your identity). Your bank account number helps the bank track all information associated with you.
What is a physical unique identifier?
Well, your house has one — in the form of an address. Your car has one — the vehicle identification number. (The license plate might count but it is too easy to remove.) My dog has an identification chip embedded between her shoulder blades because her license tag could easily come off with her collar. A physical unique identifier needs to be permanent — long lasting in tough conditions, and not easily removable.
What does this have to do with water supply points?
The good news is that many more governments and NGOs are working to create inventories and to monitor services more rigorously. While there are occasional, limited efforts to include unique identifiers on water points, this is not a widely spread practice in the sector. Most plaques I’ve seen simply identify the donor and perhaps the date of construction. Currently most water points are named in reports and databases by the village or town in which they are located. This is not a reliable way of identifying water points uniquely. First, many villages have multiple water points, installed, rehabilitated, and/or replaced as they fail. Secondly, community names are often spelled differently in the indigenous language, and especially in English. For example, in Ethiopia English place names are often spelled phonetically (e.g., Gonder, Gondar). In Central America several villages have the same saint names. Thirdly, water systems vary from simple hand dug wells to complex spring fed gravity systems with several shared water points to pumped and piped systems with household taps. GPS capability on handheld devices is becoming more and more available, and several tools use it to help with water point mapping. However, it is not exact. According to GPS-basics.com, specifications for many GPS receivers indicate their accuracy will be within about 10 to 50 feet (3 to 15 meters), 95% of the time. This assumes the receiver has a clear view of the sky and has finished acquiring satellites. With consumer grade devices, we can usually expect to be within about 20 to 30 feet of the mark with most consumer grade receivers. The numbers can vary slightly and thus GPS-generated latitude & longitude can’t serve as unique identifiers in a database of water points. Others have suggested using photographs to uniquely identify water points. While a human might be able to match data that way, photos can’t be used by software programs to merge large amounts of data.
How will physical unique identifiers help improve sustainable services?
One of the most obvious ways is that a unique identifier on a water point would enable customers to report faults by calling or sending text messages to a mechanic or the responsible entity (M4water is trying this in Uganda; and Watertracker Ushahidi has a technical assistance system).
A rich database on water points would be a powerful and necessary tool to help governments, implementing organizations, and customers fully understand and address challenges to sustainable services. Currently, monitoring data on water points are collected by different groups, with different goals and indicators, and saved in different places. Data collected over time, even in the same area, only leads to unconnected snapshots and can’t be easily compiled into one database for analysis. Thus, water data are highly fragmented. Water quality, functionality, access, fee, and other data are collected from water points by different groups, including:
- National government inventories (e.g., Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone)
- NGO/UN organizations
- Local governments
A unique identifier physically applied to each water point would allow:
- Asset management at the national level
- More efficient monitoring
- Tracking of maintenance, repair, and replacements over time (along with associated costs)
- Community reporting (without needing GPS or even cell phones)
- Data layering for richer analysis — e.g., with health, population, income, water risk data
- Data comparison over time
How should these identifiers be generated and applied?
Some smart people have been thinking about this: see Akvo FLOW on ways to update data over time and mWater on Globally-Unique, Human-Readable Identification of Water Sources. Some data collection tools can generate a unique identifier, and I’ve heard suggestions for bar codes, RFIDs, or QR codes. But I keep thinking about the customer, and the local government. Will they have smartphones with barcode readers handy? What about the local NGOs who might be working with these communities? Below I suggest a few overarching guiding principles (I will leave the technical principles to the data experts):
- Keep customers in mind
- Pilot this effort in countries where national water point inventories are already established or underway
- In other countries, work with governments/national WASH networks to establish a scheme
- Keep it simple
I recommend that physical unique identifier systems be budgeted into all future water grants. To label all existing water points, budgets should be included in all national and organizational water point mapping efforts.
A community performs water quality tests monthly on a water point, a local government agency performs water quality tests on the water point annually, and an external organization verifies the results occasionally. All of that information can be easily compiled for the same water point. This would allow us to look at whether quality is improving or eroding over time, whether certain tests are more or less accurate, and so on.
Editor’s Note: This post highlights Blue Planet Network’s technology, tools, and services, along with learning from successful pilot projects among Blue Planet Network’s global WASH members. It was authored by Silke Knebel, development director of Blue Planet Network.
SMS texting is today’s most widely used mobile data service, especially in some of the most rural and marginalized communities around the world. SMS traffic reached 7.8 trillion messages in 2011 globally. As text messaging has grown ubiquitous, so too has its potential as a simple, inexpensive way for NGOs to reach rural communities and address the global water crisis.
Professionals in the WASH sector understand that there are more mobile phones in the global South than toilets. The need for utilizing mobile technologies in designing sustainable water and sanitation systems is clear.
Blue Planet Network created its SMS-based reporting tool to scale the global efforts of its members. Operating across 27 countries, we connect NGOs, funders, academics, and community members to plan, implement, monitor, and collaborate on safe drinking water projects. We do this through our online technology platform, SMS reporting services, and peer review process. Our technology solutions empower NGOs to increase the impact, efficiency, and sustainability of their water projects.
Earlier this year, Blue Planet Network began a pilot of its simple SMS-based monitoring system in India. India’s population of 1.2 billion is made up of 929 million mobile phone users — a colossal 77% of the population. Blue Planet Network’s service enables communities, and our NGO member organizations equipped with cell phones, to monitor and report on safe drinking water and sanitation installations. If a problem arises, our network members can provide immediate assistance in the form of expert advice to remedy a challenge. Since deployment, 5 of our members: Ekoventure, Gram Vikas, Palmyra, Project Well and Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) have utilized the tool to increase the impact and sustainability of more than 13 water and sanitation projects across India.
Blue Planet Network CEO Lisa Nash explains that, “The challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector is that a great deal of attention is paid to project implementation — the new ecosan toilet, the new hand-washing station, or the new arsenic-free well. But unfortunately up to half of these projects can fail within the first five years — not because of poor implementation, but because there wasn’t enough thought about sustainability at the outset.”
Palmyra, a WASH implementer in the Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu, India, has partnered with Blue Planet Network since 2010 and uses our platform and SMS mobile texting services to improve their water program monitoring and analysis. Palmyra’s program managers send in weekly field status project reports via SMS texting. These messages are captured and uploaded onto our platform for peers, funders, and WASH implementers to view and monitor project effectiveness and impact.
Blue Planet Network has dedicated a staff person to work with each SMS pilot participant. We have learned that reinforcing communication has to be ongoing or it’s easy to see a decline in participation. We also had to ensure that our service could be viewed in English (so the entire network could learn) and in the local language (so that field staff and community members can add value and input).
“The power of SMS is the power to let anyone participate,” says Lisa. “We've already seen text messaging in fundraising, but now we’re seeing how it is enabling communities to take charge of the sustainability of projects and increase transparency across the sector. And this can happen anywhere in the world. Simplicity is power.”
Our SMS-based reporting tool will soon be deployed in the San Joaquin Valley of central California, where arsenic and pesticide-laden drinking water threatens the health of migrant workers.
One million people in California lack reliable access to clean water; and 1 out of every 10 people living in California's agricultural areas is at risk of exposure to harmful levels of nitrate contamination in their drinking water, according to a report released in March 2012 by the University of California, Davis.
In partnership with our member, Community Water Center, we seek to create a community-driven water solution to mitigate the threat of high levels of nitrate and arsenic groundwater contamination. The program will provide alternative water filtration solutions, sustainable support, and financing for low-income communities in San Joaquin Valley.
The San Joaquin communities receiving access to clean water through this program will utilize our SMS-based mobile texting service to ensure that their clean water system is delivered and used accurately, and is sustainable and economic to operate. When this program is implemented, over a thousand low-income San Joaquin families will be able to send in text messages about the status of their safe drinking water, a service never before provided in the region. We are thrilled to provide a simple, yet powerful service that could drastically change how communities engage in their water solution.
Blue Planet Network’s SMS-based texting service empowers communities to take charge of their water systems and allows entire organizations to learn and share efficiently. SMS reporting is scaling our efforts to impact greater numbers of communities with measurable need. We have much to learn to make this service even more valuable. In the next few years, we hope to launch our SMS texting service in all 27 countries so that all of our members can increase the long-term impact of their water programs.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Susan Davis. Susan is the executive director of Improve International, an organization focused on promoting and facilitating independent evaluations of WASH programs to help the sector improve. She has more than 13 years of experience in international development and has evaluated WASH and other programs in 15 developing countries. A version of this post originally appeared here.
A couple of months ago, we published a blog at Improve International on assembling a list of WASH organizations with independent evaluations. We are working with WASHfunders to incorporate this information into WASHfunders.org, but in the meantime, based on popular demand, we’re sharing the list of organizations with independent evaluations (out of the approximately 550 WASH organizations identified). We understand this list is not complete or comprehensive. Rather, it is a list of evaluations that we assembled using the tools that a regular donor would have — web searches and word of mouth.
Has your organization recently conducted an independent evaluation? Would you like to tell us about it or to be included in this list? Send an e-mail to email@example.com or WASHfunders@foundationcenter.org with a link to the report.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was authored by Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter who is the communication specialist for the Project WET Foundation, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, Montana, and active in more than 65 countries. Nicole discusses Project WET’s evaluation work, including its innovative use of mobile technology and collaboration with Engineers Without Borders. All of the WASH education materials referenced are available for free download on the Project WET web site, including formal reports regarding the northern Uganda evaluation process.
The Lake Victoria Primary School (LVS) in Uganda offers an object lesson for anyone curious about the importance of WASH education. As part of a water provision project, gutters and downspouts were constructed and a water tank was provided to LVS to allow the school to harvest rainwater. What wasn’t provided as part of the project was education — either about the benefits of rainwater harvesting or the way such a system would be set up. As a result, the water tank ended up unused and in storage with small, potentially contaminated containers capturing only a tiny fraction of the usable water. Meanwhile the school was shelling out US$600 per month for municipal water that was available from only one tap.
Enter Aggrey Oluka, LVS’s head science teacher. Fed up with high rates of waterborne illness and unsustainable water bills, Oluka went looking for solutions. He found the Project WET Foundation, which was launching a new program in Africa with USAID to create culturally appropriate WASH-related educator guides, children’s books, and classroom posters, and to train teachers to use them. He participated in writing workshops for the materials and enthusiastically adopted them for use at LVS. Applying the knowledge he and his students had gained, Aggrey was able to finally get the rainwater harvesting system implemented — to the benefit of the students’ health and the school’s budget. The municipal water bill dropped to just US$30 per month, and students had increased access to clean water for healthy habits such as hand-washing.
Thanks to experiences like this one, the value of WASH education is finally being recognized. The WASH Sustainability Charter gives WASH education top billing, with the preamble singling out “the lasting provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education” as a “leading development priority of our time.” (For more information on the Charter, read this WASHfunders guest post.)
Given the growing influence of WASH education, finding ways to measure and evaluate educational programs and projects is also increasingly important and challenging. While it stands to reason that a populace educated in the basics of water, sanitation, and hygiene will be better able and more likely to actively participate in sustaining water provision projects, the evidence surrounding WASH education’s impact on behavior remains in early stages.
As a longtime proponent and provider of WASH education, the Project WET Foundation is exploring new and innovative ways to evaluate the results of its WASH education materials implementation. Targeting youth through school and community educators, Project WET materials, including educator guides and lesson plans, colorful children’s activity booklets, and durable classroom posters, teach children, parents, teachers, administrators, and government officials about WASH using games, songs, role-plays, whole-body learning, subject integration, and other interactive pedagogical methods. Educators learn to use the materials through a train-the-trainer process, and students share the lessons they learn at home and in the community. Materials have been translated and localized on three continents, reaching millions of children.
So what happens after the intervention? Getting to that answer is critical for all WASH education actors, but it is not easy. Partnerships and novel approaches can help.
Following implementation in rural northern Uganda in 2009, Project WET used traditional site visit and survey techniques to evaluate results in 2010. However, recognizing the limitations of those techniques — particularly the lack of reliable internet connectivity for e-mail follow-up, the prevalence of teacher transfer, and the time constraints for staff — Project WET teamed up with Adam Lerer, a PhD candidate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lerer’s thesis work focused on using the Open Data Kit voice system, a web-based interactive voice response technology that allows the user to design and record survey calls to be received on any kind of mobile phone.
The innovative combination of mobile phone technology plus traditional techniques, allowed successful follow-up with 92 of the 500 schools where educational materials were implemented at a cost of US$5.90 per teacher and US$.06 per student. The mobile phone surveys allowed teachers and schools to respond quickly and easily, boosting return rates. The data collected showed that of the schools who responded to the follow-up, 90 percent were still using WASH education materials with their students a year after implementation, and 92 percent reported positive changes in student behavior related to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Increased hand-washing behavior and facilities were most often reported, as well as healthy behaviors relating to water storage, cleaning of the latrine, and water sources. At least 25 percent of users reported that the materials had also been shared with the wider community, supporting the notion of schools as gardens where ideas can grow and be shared.
While mobile phone surveys provide a promising, low-cost evaluation technique, extended on-the-ground monitoring is likely to remain the gold standard for independent assessment. However, many nonprofit organizations cannot afford to carry out such programs on their own. By partnering with the Montana State University chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Project WET has been able to both wrap education around water provision projects EWB has underway in Kenya and tap EWB student leaders to carry out year-by-year site evaluations in areas where Project WET materials have been implemented. The results of this three-year study — due out in 2015 — should shed light on the effects of WASH education on water provision projects and communities.
By partnering inside and outside the WASH sector, experimenting with innovative techniques, and — most importantly — sharing lessons learned, WASH education practitioners can improve the work being done and secure education’s place at the center of WASH sustainability.
Last month, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) publicly released new country-level data on the proportion of the population using an improved drinking-water source and the proportion of the population using an improved sanitation facility.
We’re pleased to report that WASHfunders has added the 2010 JMP data as a new overlay to its funding map, giving site users the most up-to-date contextual information about water and sanitation needs. Indicators at the country level, as well as urban and rural breakdowns, are provided. Simply go to the “Indicators” tab on the WASHfunders funding map and click on the desired indicator.
For an in-depth analysis of trends related to water and sanitation, take a look at JMP’s recently released report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2012 Update.
On a separate, but related note, last week more than 20 leading WASH organizations and thought leaders participated in a twitter chat on monitoring and evaluation, organized by WASHfunders and hosted by Ned Breslin of Water for People and Susan Davis of Improve International. Participants exchanged ideas and resources on M&E issues specific to the WASH sector. In case you missed it, the full transcript can be found here. You can also follow us on twitter via @WASHfunders.
Are there other economic, health, or social indicators that inform your work on water, sanitation, and hygiene? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can continue to make site enhancements that meet your information needs.
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.
Does your organization have a monitoring and evaluation strategy in place? Want to know more about the M&E practices of others in the WASH sector? Eager to share the M&E challenges you’ve faced and lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Building on the energy of World Water Day activities, WASHfunders.org (@WASHfunders) and Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact (TRASI), both projects of the Foundation Center, invite you to join us for a Twitter chat to talk M&E.
Twitter Chat Details
Date/Time: Tuesday, March 27th (12 – 1PM EDT)
Confirmed participants: a child’s right (@achildsright); CARE (@brookskeene; @CARE); charity: water (@charitywater); WASH Advocates (@WASH4life); Water and Sanitation Program at the World Bank (@WSPWorldBank); and others
Questions will include the following:
- What’s the #1 most important indicator to track? Why?
- Do you involve beneficiaries in M&E? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Has your organization changed its practices based on M&E findings? How?
- It’s not always realistic to find impacts upon completing a program. How does that fit into your M&E strategy?
- Name your favorite WASH rockstars/resources that are creating sustainable solutions
To participate, you'll need a Twitter account. You may also opt to participate using TweetChat, a handy application specifically designed for twitter chats. It feels like an actual chat room and you don’t have to enter the hashtag every time you send a tweet. To sign in, use your twitter login, and then enter WASHeval (without #) into the search field.
If you have any questions, please contact email@example.com. Hope to see you in the Twittersphere!
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of briefing notes from the WASH Monitoring Exchange, a collective effort by funders, academics, and NGOs to lay out a common basic framework for monitoring and evaluation. This briefing note describes the genesis of the WASH Monitoring Exchange and its initial work. It is authored by Susan Davis, founder of Improve International, and Rachel Cardone, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Views expressed are their own). In the coming months, WASHfunders.org will provide ongoing updates on the efforts of the WASH Monitoring Exchange.
The iconic photograph of an African woman or child carrying a bucket of water on her head, fetching water from the river, has helped raise millions of dollars for water and sanitation projects over the years. Yet, as more and more data (see Figure 1) illustrate the high failure rates of water points and systems built by these projects and programs, a growing number of donors, NGOs, and governments are questioning the value for money of different approaches.
In the past few years, there has been a shift in thinking about water and sanitation as an infrastructure sector, whose success is measured by outputs, to thinking about water and sanitation as a service delivery sector, whose success is measured by outcomes. Determining success means being able to reliably answer questions over time such as: are consumers happy with their service? Is it reliable and affordable? Is it environmentally and financially sustainable? Is it providing water and sanitation services for everyone, forever?
How will we know?
If we accept that water and sanitation services require continuous attention to meet consumer needs, then the current framework for measuring success — which considers access to infrastructure as the end point — needs to evolve.
In a services framework, access to infrastructure can be considered instead as a useful and necessary input indicator. But it’s a few steps away from the desired outcome of sustainable services for everyone, forever.
Last year, a group of NGOs, funders, and academics started to ask hard questions about the sustainability of their own programs and others in the sector, and came to a few realizations:
- For local and national governments, including public service providers, the cost of generating data on a per capita basis often exceeds the total water and sanitation budget on a per capita basis. In a financially constrained environment, funds will get channeled to new infrastructure and services, not to monitoring.
- For funders and intermediaries, it’s hard to measure value for money in programming when there are few standard definitions or common denominators against which programs can be measured.
- For academics, the limited availability of comparable data sets coupled with the cost of data collection hampers the ability to do cost-effective, rigorous social science that is replicable.
Then the group decided to take action, and the WASH Monitoring Exchange (WASHME) was born.
WASHME is taking an action-oriented approach to monitoring. Currently, the group is running an experiment to answer the following three questions:
- What is the lowest number of common indicators necessary to determine sustainability of WASH services over time?
- What are the least costly/most reliable sources of data?
- What governance models are most cost-effective for monitoring WASH services over time?
Along the way, the group seeks to learn something about whether diverse organizations can adopt a similar set of indicators to measure the sustainability of their work.
Learn more about our experiment here.