Country-led Monitoring of Rural Water Supplies — Is It Just a Dream?

Dr. Kerstin Danert, Skat Foundation

Editor’s Note:This guest blog was authored by Dr. Kerstin Danert, water and sanitation specialist at the Swiss-based Skat Foundation. Kerstin discusses country-led monitoring and why it’s important for developing country governments to lead the WASH monitoring process. An online community is being formed around country-led monitoring efforts. If you’d like to learn more about it, you may contact country_led_monitor@dgroups.org

In April 2013, I had the privilege of facilitating six sessions on country-led monitoring at the Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery Symposium in Addis Ababa. This blog is a reflection on the papers, presentations, and discussions from that event.

International statements such as the Paris Declaration, the Busan Partnership, and the New Deal for Fragile States call for country-led development. The statements also promote results-based development and highlight the importance of monitoring — specifically monitoring that is country-led.

Monitoring refers to an ongoing process by which stakeholders obtain regular feedback on the progress being made towards goals and objectives. Country-led means that the country, rather than external actors, leads the monitoring process. Institutional and individual capacity needs should be developed gradually, and as necessary, depending on what is needed.

I would argue that many rural water supply projects, whether large or small, whether short or longer-term undertake very little monitoring at all. Progress may be checked and expenditure may be compared with outputs. A report will be written for the funders — who are often very far from where the work is taking place. Monitoring ends there. In parallel, national statistics offices monitor poverty changes. Water ministries may or may not monitor systematically. There is often very little interaction between these.

Now is this a problem?
I think that it is a major problem. Firstly, for a country to make progress, for example towards safe drinking water for all, it needs to learn along the way. If good information — about the successes and challenges and about what works and what does not — remains fragmented in the hands of countless organizations, it is very hard for the country as a whole to learn. Secondly, if there is no reliable feedback about progress to political leaders and rural citizens, accountability is undermined. Democracy is undermined. Governance is undermined. Joint action is difficult.

Hope on the horizon
Fortunately the growing number of Joint Sector Reviews, which bring together a diverse range of stakeholders to reflect on progress, signals winds of change. And gradually governments, together with development partners, are trying to define what to monitor, by whom, and with what means. This may even be taking place in the country that you are working in.

Rural realities
The sheer cost of visiting distant and often hard to reach rural dwellers is a major barrier to understanding their needs, and reflecting on how lives can be improved as a whole. External organizations often focus on one particular group or village, reporting on what has been achieved to their funders. In parallel, local governments are generally massively under-resourced and struggle to monitor and follow up with communities once an intervention is completed.

Better understanding — stronger partnerships
Every external organization working in rural water supplies should take some time to truly understand the wider context in which they work. And they should try to engage with country institutions in a meaningful and constructive way. This means listening and talking to both local and national governments; understanding their strengths and challenges; finding ways to plan together; and being highly transparent. It may require several attempts. On the flip side, governments and other country institutions, such as religious bodies, should try to foster strong partnerships with external organizations, ensuring that all are moving in the same direction.

Often funding agencies and non-government organisations do not trust developing country governments. In addition, they report and account to their funders, bypassing country governments completely. One may consider whether this is acceptable or not, but it certainly does not enable real partnership.

Joint monitoring as a stepping stone
Finding clever ways to monitor together provides a stepping stone towards stronger partnerships. At least that is what we can learn from innovations taking place in Malawi. Here an external NGO has been explicitly working with local governments to catalyze data collection, analysis, and use of the information in planning. The collaborations have widened to join up with national government. In Uganda, the Water and Environment Sector Performance Measurement process brings diverse stakeholders together to reflect on progress for the country as a whole.

There are other interesting examples out there. If you know of any, please share them in the comments section below.