Changing the way we change the world

Resolution: guidelines for addressing problems with water systems

By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International

Here are my talking points from today’s Resolution webinar:

What is resolution?

As a reminder, resolution is the process of addressing problems identified through post-implementation monitoring and/or evaluation. Resolution reflects the concept that implementing organizations are responsible for responding when they find water systems they have built are non-functional or need major repair. There is resounding agreement in the sector that rural communities in developing countries need some sort of support after installation of water points.

The case for resolution can be summarized by the following points:

  • Water is a human right.
  • To save lives and change lives, implementing organizations need to focus on the provision of good water services forever.
  • Failed and abandoned water systems are a massive waste of investment – not only on the part of the donors, but also on the part of the community. Failed systems make poor people poorer.
  • Many problems with water services are attributed to poor implementation.

Guidelines for your consideration

The definition of guideline is a general rule, principle, or piece of advice. Each organization will have to determine the applicability of each guideline based on the specific situation. Synonyms include: recommendation, instruction, direction, suggestion, or advice.

Who are these guidelines for?

Implementing organizations, to include:

  • Volunteer groups
  • Church groups
  • Civic groups
  • International NGOs
  • Local NGOs
  • Community based organizations
  • For-profit implementers

But wait, some ask, shouldn’t governments be responsible?

treasure mapIdeally, resolution activities should be a bridge to sustained, locally-led water services. While we believe implementing organizations have a responsibility at a certain level, the goal is for governments to lead the way in ensuring water services for everyone in their countries. These guidelines, approaches, and models are intended to move implementing organizations toward that common goal.

You can think of the resolution guidelines like a treasure map. We are all trying to achieve the ultimate goal of universal sustained WASH services – the treasure – and there are different ways to get there, but these guidelines are intended to get there more efficiently.

Where did these guidelines come from?

  • Because of the wide range of interventions and inconsistent monitoring and evaluations, it is difficult to determine root causes vs. symptoms.
  • However, the repetitiveness of the problems identified through monitoring and evaluation of water points across the globe suggests that there are common ways we can respond.

Based on common failures and recommendations from interviews, the literature, and a Resolution Workshop in February 2014, we recommend the following guidelines for implementing organizations when resolving problems with water services.

Overall guidelines

  • First, do no harm. To avoid repeating mistakes, implementing organizations must take time to understand and address root causes of problems instead of just repairing or replacing infrastructure.
  • To best serve users, implementing organizations, donors and governments must change their measurements of success from the number of new beneficiaries to measurements like the organization’s contribution to the nation’s water goals, water-person-years, or percentage households in a district with access to an ongoing basic service level
  • Implementing organizations must be accountable to water users, not just to donors

Here are some examples of alternate measurements of success:

  • This is a link to a previous webinar where Lucrezia Biteete at Fontes Foundation presented on Water Person Years (WPY). service level graph
  • Service levels: This graph from IRC shows system level service levels. Some organizations prefer to look at service levels at the household level to get a better sense of equity.

Implementation guidelines

  • Organizations should shift from implementation and rehabilitation to facilitation, such as capacity building for supporting service providers
  • Implementing organizations and local stakeholders should collaboratively define and agree on roles and responsibilities in ensuring ongoing services
  • Implementing organizations should improve monitoring to rapidly and accurately identify areas for resolution
  • Donors should show increased flexibility in funding to support such efforts

Practical approaches for implementation resolution:

One of the practical approaches to implementation is to extend the implementing organization responsibility past the project. These two charts were developed at the Resolution Workshop and depict the Typical Project-Focused Approach and the Focus on Sustainability.

Typical project approach

Typical project approach

focus on sustainbility approach

Focus on sustainability approach

Other practical approaches are:

  • Increase the length of planning phase
  • Develop more useful platforms for sharing best practices and evidence of what works

Institutional guidelines

  • Engage local governments and work within national frameworks
  • Collaboratively define and agree on roles and responsibilities in ensuring ongoing services

Practical approaches for institutional resolution include:

  • Advocate to governments
  • Help strengthen local governments
  • Facilitate post-construction support of rural community water committees
  • Stimulate local private sector to deliver services or support service delivery
  • Set up agreements with communities and service providers on roles
  • Enable accountability of service providers
  • Organize isolated community water committees into networks

Environmental guideline

Implementing organizations should understand and plan water services based on users’ multiple needs and sources of water, seasonal availability of water and water resource management needs.

Practical approaches for environmental resolution include:
• Encourage watershed protection activities
• Educate users and service providers on water conservation

Financial guideline

Water services are not free – all stakeholders must understand life-cycle costs and agree on who will pay for which costs.

Practical approaches for financial resolution include:

  • Clarify water system life cycle costs
  • Help service providers / water committees set and collect appropriate fees
  • Help service providers install household water meters

Social guideline

Implementing organizations should make their exit strategy and timeline explicit while planning resolution activities with local stakeholders

Practical approaches for social resolution include:

Understand and stimulate demand for better services (see Figure below showing the virtuous cycle of water services)

The vicious cycle of water services

The virtuous cycle of water services

Technical guideline

Implementing organizations should engage local governments and work within national frameworks

Example output from the TAF process

Example output from the TAF process

Practical approaches for technical resolution include:

  • Strengthen or build spare parts supply chain
  • Carefully consider technology applicability in context (See example of Technology Applicability Framework (TAF) output in figure below; find more info on TAF here)

How is your organization addressing problems with water systems?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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