Reflections from the first day of the IRC symposium on Monitoring Sustainable WASH Service Delivery

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Over 400 people from 58 countries gathered together in Addis Ababa to begin 3 days of discussions on sustainable WASH M&E.  The symposium is hosted by IRC (with support from the Government of Ethiopia, AMCOW, and various organizations) and includes WASH practitioners from government, NGOs, international organizations and academics, among other participants.  There was a large representation from African countries, with other guests stemming from Asia, North America, Australia, Europe and Latin America.  The vision of the symposium in short is to drive towards "strong national sector monitoring systems that allow for planning and sustaining WASH services".   There's a strong push towards government-led monitoring systems and continuous monitoring over time, not only of infrastructure but of the various components of WASH service delivery (e.g. the financing, the cost effectiveness, the behaviour changes). 

Due to the vast amount of topics regarding M&E to be discussed, the symposium was divided into 6 main streams:

1) Monitoring the Financing Need for Service Delivery,

2) Country-led and Country-wide monitoring of rural and small towns water supplies,

3) Project Monitoring: A vicious cycle of donor accountability or a necessary stepping stone to better national WASH sector monitoring,

4) ICT for monitoring sustainable service delivery,

5) Monitoring for Sanitation and Hygiene, and

6) Building Coherence in Global-Regional- National WASH monitoring. 

I opted to attend the sanitation and hygiene sessions for the afternoon.   The key things that stood out for me in these sessions were the need to have strong enabling environments and flexibility in M&E systems, the potential of ODF protocols as a sector mobilization tool, and the common concern over ODF sustainability. 

The Total Sanitation and Sanitation Marketing program supported by WSP in 3 countries was interesting in their focus on monitoring the enabling environment (among other indicators).  The components they considered as part of the enabling environment are: policies, strategy and direction, institutional arrangements, clear program methodology, implementation capacity, availability of sanitation products and tools, financing, cost effective implementation, and M&E.   In one of the areas where this program was implemented, many components in the enabling environment changed from low to high throughout the program implementation, and in return the rate of increase in latrine access (as measured by NSO data) increased from about 1% to 4% per year. This shows that with a strong enabling environment, it is possible to increase the rate of access per year and in turn achieve targets such as the MDGs or universal access in a shorter timeframe.  This is quite interesting and makes a strong case for working on the enabling environment to improve how we deliver sanitation services.  Another key take-away from the WSP presentation was the need to iterate on the indicators as one learns what is and isn't useful to monitor, making a call for building in flexibility and robustness in the design of M&E systems.

Another interesting presentation was on ODF Protocols that are now commonly found in many Sub-Saharan Africa countries, presented by UNICEF (Ann Thomas and Jane Bevan).  A protocol is a guideline, strategy, or any sort of commonly agreed upon mode of operation for reaching ODF.   Those countries which have protocols in place are hypothesized to do better in accelerating their CLTS implementation and increasing the number of people living in ODF communities.  From my experience in Malawi, the national ODF strategy has certainly mobilized actors towards streamlining the methodologies used for sanitation promotion, including ways of implementing CLTS (streamlining verifications, the ODF definition, use of government systems, etc.).  The strategy is also a strong tool used to stop NGOs from subsidizing and puts the power on the district governments to coordinate and manage their sanitation programs.  Districts now use the strategy to negotiate with the NGOs and encourage them to adapt their programs to contribute to ODF achievement.   If an NGO disregards the district government, the district informs the Chair of the ODF Task Force (MoH Principal Environmental Health Officer for Water and Sanitation) who in turn writes a letter to the NGO and sometimes arranges a meeting with them to formulate a plan for how they can align with the ODF strategy.  As a result of this strategy/protocol, more and more NGOs are implementing programs which contribute to the national goal, including adopting CLTS into their program design and implementation; given this strong leadership from the national government and the protocol to guide all implementers, there is high confidence that ODF achievement will be accelerated over the next few years.

Lastly, ODF sustainability was mentioned time and time again in both the sanitation sessions.  There appeared to be an overall concern over how to make ODF sustainable, especially for NGO driven programs.  Some points were raised on the introduction of sanitation marketing while others mentioned the integration of CLTS activities into government staff work, but no conclusive answers were reached; in addition, I felt that there is no clear and commonly held understanding of what ODF sustainability actually means (is it just ODF status, or will moving up the sanitation ladder be included? What is to be sustained: the ODF outcome or the process of empowering community interest in taking action on their sanitation situation?).  That being said, the time given for each session was quite short and thus it was understandably difficult to dig deeper into these issues.  This is however a huge challenge and will therefore warrant further discussion. Hopefully these discussions can be had throughout the symposium, but if not it would be useful to convene practitioners in the near future to flush out this issue and create practical ways for moving forward.

Thoughts for reflection:

  1. WSP’s work on improving the enabling environment for sanitation service delivery provides an interesting reflection for practitioners.  If service delivery is both to be accelerated and sustained, and if having a strong enabling environment is a key factor for success, how do we design our programs to address all these issues, especially when many organizations do not have the reach of WSP? Or perhaps practitioners should look towards improving coordination of efforts within a particular working area - if an organization has competencies in providing access sanitation tools and products, how do they link with those working on the institutional arrangements, or with those facilitating access to finance?  (*An interesting article on improving service delivery through increased collaboration  can be found in the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Collective Impact.
  2. It is apparent that ODF protocols are appearing in more and more countries.  What (if any) are the potential pitfalls of having such types of national protocols and strategies?

You might also like to read Andres's blog with his reflections on the first day of the symposium.

Jolly Ann Maulit


Date: 11 April 2013