There is a lot of attention for monitoring, and rightfully so. New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have opened great possibilities to collect data, store data and visualise data on mobile phones. Maybe some of you already have used mobile phones for data collection. New ICT has brought national scale sector monitoring within reach. It has been done in Liberia, countries in Central America, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Ethiopia and many others.
Has it resulted in improved water services? Time is too short to say something meaningful about that, but from experience in the above countries you could already say something. First of all how powerful the collection of water supply data is in particular for local government staff. Going around and knowing the actual status of water supply is a great incentive for taking action.
However, taking action is not always easy; financial and human resources at local government level often are constrained to address the problems revealed by the data. However, data needs to be updated as the situation on the ground changes. In some of the above countries nothing happened for four or five years after the first national scale data collection. That is a pity because up to date data helps to better plan, to prioritise investments better and to systematically address the problems revealed by the data.
And that is what monitoring is about! Regularly collecting and analysing data and then using them to fulfill responsibilities and mandates …. and improve water service delivery.
There is still work to be done to turn one-off data collection into monitoring systems that support planning and decision making. Maybe before starting an initiative to collect national scale data one should consider whether the one-off data collection will be repeated, how and by whom, whether the data really addresses the issues that in particular local government staff needs to address, who will pay for the second round. It would also be a good habit to build such an initiative on past initiatives and the monitoring lessons learned in the country. So there is work to do to turn one-off data collection into a monitoring system. But it is crucial work because how can you improve water services if you do not know the status of the services? It all starts with knowing!
Ton Schouten, Chair