Changing the way we change the world

Services support for sustainability

By Susan Davis, Improve International

I'm here to support your services (photo credit: Susan Davis 2012)

I’m here to support your services (photo credit: Susan Davis 2012)

If something goes wrong with your toilet or your sink, who do you call?  Unless you are pretty handy, you call a plumber, and you pay the plumber.  Similarly, the concept of services support, also known post construction support (PCS) recognizes that a rural community water committee might not be able to deal with all possible situations that affect its water point/system or toilets no matter how well trained they are.

Community management has been built into many water programs since the 1990s, but in the 2000s concerns arose about the ability of rural communities to manage systems without support like follow-up training or expert advice. Combine this with the fact that up until recently, there was very little broad scale information on how much it cost to operate and maintain rural water systems around the world.

What types of post-construction support are typically provided?  In a study of water systems in Bolivia, Peru, and Ghana the following activities were provided.

Percent of villages that received …after completion of project construction




Visits from external organization(s) to assist with maintenance or repairs




Visits from external organization(s) to assist with accounting, tariffs, etc.




Technical training for the system operator




Free repairs




Written manuals or other materials




Help with finding or receiving spare parts




Grants from outside sources for repairs, new construction, system rehabilitation, capacity expansion, or other assistance




Interestingly, this same study found: no association between a village receiving a technical PCS visit (to help with repairs or maintenance) and having a working water system. However, post-construction technical training of system operators or caretakers was positively associated with system performance in both Ghana and Bolivia (Whittington et al 2008).

Stef Smits of IRC shared results of the Triple-S initiative in a blog a few months ago, saying “community-based management is dead,” maybe. Perhaps it could work for piped water systems, but not for single water points, but we need to question the underlying assumptions and acknowledge the evidence on actual demand for water. In another blog, Smits points out that it doesn’t make much sense to develop monitoring systems if the responsibility for post-construction support is not clearly defined, because there is little incentive for service providers to provide data and no capacity to use the data.

A new brief from Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) suggests we stop distinguishing between community management and private sector management and think of hybrid models to get the best of both worlds (WSUP 2013). Their recommendations to program managers include:

  • Influence the sector to support innovative approaches
  • Address financial viability as a core priority
  • Foster significant stakeholder involvement early in the discussion
  • Set appropriate incentives for all role players
  • Use words that are appropriate and understood in the local context – guardian, manager, social entrepreneur

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