Why Bother with Technologies?

Editors Note: This guest post was authored by Andre Olschewski, water, environmental management and spatial planning specialist at the Skat Foundation. Andre discusses the work of WASHTech, a two-year project to strengthen the WASH sector’s capacity to effectively invest in new technologies. WASHTech was funded by the European Commission FP7. The WASHTech consortium comprises: Skat Foundation — Switzerland; IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre — Netherlands; WaterAid — UK, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Uganda; Cranfield University — UK; Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) — Burkina Faso; Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) — Uganda; Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND) — Ghana; and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) — Ghana. A version of this blog post also appeared here.

Participants at the scoring workshop on U2 pump in Mukono, Uganda, November 2012. Credit: Andre Olschewski

Participants at the scoring workshop on U2 pump in Mukono, Uganda, November 2012. Credit: Andre Olschewski

Why bother with WASH technologies? Current WASH discourse focuses on sustainable service delivery, monitoring, and governance. Many WASH technologies, such as the India Mark II handpump and the VIP latrine, were successfully adopted and have improved the lives of millions. However, not all promising WASH technologies invented or introduced have led to sustainable services. And most technology does not function all of the time. These are lost opportunities…

Many governments, development partners, international organisations, and increasingly the private sector in developing countries promote specific WASH technologies to improve WASH services. However, a challenge is to find an efficient and robust way to assess if the technology really has the potential to be scaled up and to realise the intended benefits. This challenge has been addressed in the EU-Funded action research project WASHTech.

One of the key outputs of the project is the Technology Applicability Framework (TAF). The TAF is a decision-support tool that helps to assess if a specific WASH technology is applicable in a certain context. For example, the Rope Pump has been successful in Nicaragua; would it work as well in Togo or Tajikistan? Using 18 indicators, the TAF provides a comprehensive assessment of the likelihood for a successful scaling up of a technology. The indicators consider different aspects of sustainability and the perspectives of different stakeholders, including:

  • the users of the technology,
  • the producers of the technology, and
  • the regulator, facilitator, or funder of the technology introduction process.

The TAF is a stepwise process to screen and assess technologies. Data is collected in the field and then verified and interpreted at a multi-stakeholder workshop. All relevant actors including users, producers, and regulators participate and bring their views and perceptions to this workshop.

Based on the results of the workshop, a graphical profile is developed, showing the strengths and weaknesses of the technology, as well as gaps in knowledge. This profile helps to uncover specific interventions or design changes that could improve the technology or the uptake process. For example it may point towards subsidies or capacity development of the producer.

Hypothetical example of a TAF profile. Credit: Andre Olschewski

Hypothetical example of a TAF profile. Credit: Andre Olschewski

The special feature of the TAF is its transparent and participatory process. It is not a magic box piece of computer software that spits out the ‘right’ answer. It brings very different stakeholders together and enables them to listen to each other and learn. The easy-to-understand graphical presentation allows all actors to recognise the key issues and identify who is responsible.

The TAF has been rigorously tested in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Uganda. This process comprised of three rounds of testing on 13 different WASH technologies. Testing included established technologies, such as the India Mark II handpump, and emerging technologies, such as solar-powered systems. In all three countries government institutions have been intensively involved in the testing of the TAF. They confirmed that it fills a gap and will be very useful when external agents come to their countries to introduce a new WASH technology. Governments have all appointed an institution to host the TAF so that it can be readily used.

The second major output of WASHTech is the Technology Introduction Process (TIP), still under development. This is a guidance document that will help organisations improve the way they introduce technologies in a particular country context. The TAF and draft TIP have been presented at various conferences and symposia, where they have garnered a lot of interest. Some organisations already plan to use the TAF to test specific technologies.

By the end of 2013, when the WASHTech project concludes, all of the tools will be available free of charge. So far there is no follow-on project foreseen, but project partners are seeking opportunities for follow-up, and to support other countries. A web-based resource, hosted by the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN), is being built. It will provide the TAF and TIP manuals, and enable some Q&A support. It will also be linked to a community of practise of TAF users.

Anyone who is interested in the TAF and TIP and its further development is invited to contact me for more information. You can also find out more about WASHTech here. Questions or feedback? Leave a comment in the comments section below.