RWSN at the UNC Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate

by Sandra Fuerst and Sean Furey (Skat Foundation)

The Water and Health Conference: Where Science Meets Policy, organized by the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina (UNC), is one of the most important conferences for WaSH professionals. This year the conference has not only explored the interactions between drinking water supply, sanitation, hygiene, water resources and public health, but put also a strong emphasis on rural water supply in developing countries. Researchers, practitioners and policy-makers had the chance to present and lively debate on following topics:

  • Measuring Progress Toward Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Targets
  • Water Scarcity
  • Rural Water Supply
  • WaSH Equity and Inclusion
  • WaSH in Emergencies

At this year’s conference, the RWSN and its partners have convened two side events, providing water professionals an interactive space for engaging on cutting-edge topics of rural water supply. These sessions translated the “virtual RWSN DGroups into real life discussion groups” as Stef Smits (IRC), the chair of the first side event, phrased it. The participating water experts shared their experiences and developed exciting ideas with their peers for challenging rural water contexts.

Universal and Sustainable Rural Water Services: Different Perspectives, Common Goals

In the first side event, participants were invited to understand two major concepts to apply them later through group discussions in a case study of an WaSH implementation organisation, HYSAWA, Bangladesh, presented by their Managing Director, Md. Nural Osman.

Md. Nurul Osman (HYSAWA)

Sara Ahrari presented the NGO perspective of how organisations, like Simavi, use monitoring and data systems to promote Social Accountability and the holding duty-bearers to account when it comes to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Miguel Vargas-Ramirez from the World Bank and Ellen Greggio from WaterAid presented then the development partner perspective on how data and monitoring can be used to raise the capacity of governments and service providers to deliver sustainable rural WaSH services, particularly rural water supply. This included on-going work to develop benchmarks for rural water service delivery, which WaterAid is testing in Myanmar.

After the break, Elisabeth Liddle from Cambridge University, and Prof. Rob Hope from Oxford University, gave the research perspective on how data and monitoring is enabling them to generate deeper insights into why rural water supply systems fail and how to develop new ways of making them more sustainable.

After the concepts have been introduced, the participants applied them in smaller groups to the HYSAWA case study in Bangladesh. This case study was presented by HYSAWA (Hygiene, Sanitation and Water Supply) to come up with suggestions and advice on how his organisation can improve the quality and sustainability of their rural WaSH interventions. The audience debated questions around:

  • Who is responsible for monitoring and data collection? Who is accountable and feels responsible for what? Those who design the system?
  • Who is responsible for the service provision of water in rural areas? And who needs to be hold accountable for that?
  • What are the drivers to feeling responsible?
  • What are the services that needs to be done?
  • How do the processes need to be managed?
Stef Smits (IRC)

Stef Smits summarised the debates during this session on three levels:

Who? The answer that communities and local governments should be accountable for the service provision of water in rural areas seemed to be too easy as in fact it is not clear at all. The role of service providers in many contexts is not very well defined, also not in legal terms. Accountability is often spread over several layers. For example, minor operation and maintenance (O&M) services can be done on community level, while major O&M services can be provided through public services. Then the levels of accountability also need to be differentiated between service provider and service authority. This first differentiation will help to define who is responsible for what and will help the service authority to hold the service provider accountable. As soon as the roles of different stakeholders are clearly defined, it can be defined more specifically who needs to collect the data. The collection of data then needs to be spread over different levels, from household, community, service provider to authority level.

What? The debate started around the functionality of rural water supply devices and has shown that there is not a simple answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to functionality. Functionality needs to be distinguished between functional devices and functional services (i.e. O&M services). This led to the question how functionality should be measured and which other indicators should be taken into account. Should we bring water quality in as an indicator? Clearly, financial indicators are necessary. As the trend to use indicators and monitoring tools is increasing among service providers and governments in rural areas, it becomes increasingly necessary to define clear indicators for universal rural water services. Based on that development, we can start to understand rural water as a systemic issue.

How? The identified need to define clear indicators on different levels, raised the question of how the process of developing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems should be managed. Even though governments were identified to lead this process, NGOs could support to trigger it. However, if a NGO has developed a working M&E systems, it cannot be simply handed over from a NGO to the government, without a well-planned transition phase. It also needs to be taken into account who “the government” is and on which level the government operates. Data and M&E systems will at the end always need a sector development approach.

Pipe Dream or Possible: Reaching the Furthest Behind First in the WASH Sector? – RWSN Side Event 2

The second side event was convened by RWSN (Simavi, Wateraid) with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and World Vision. During this session, the participants developed human-centred solutions for “Reaching the Furthest Behind First” and “Leaving No One Behind” in the WASH sector.

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The participants worked in several groups on different case studies of extremely vulnerable people (i.e. disabled pregnant child) that are exposed to extreme hazards in their environment (i.e. arsenic contamination of groundwater).

In several steps, the participants developed possible solutions based on their field of expertise: In a first step, they illustrated the social, cultural, physical, political and legal barriers that the imaginary persona faced, regarding their social inclusion. Then they created inspirational ideas of possible solutions to these barriers. The different options were heavily discussed before choosing one or more solutions. To illustrate the actions and stakeholders needed to implement these solutions, a story board was created by each group. Finally, the persona, storyboard and possible solution were presented in pitches to all participants.

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The two side events have been great examples of how the RWSN works as its best: “Taking concrete examples and bring them together with key concepts from research and practice. This is the richness that RWSN provides: Linking practical questions with conceptional frameworks (Stef Smits)”.

Sharing experiences of data flows in water and sanitation – some reflections from AGUASAN Workshop 2018

A perspective on the 2018 AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland

AGUASAN Workshop: “Leveraging the data revolution Informed decision-making for better water and sanitation management” June 25th to 29th 2018, Spiez, Switzerland 

Update 24/08/2018: Read the AGUASAN event report

AGUASAN is the Swiss Community of Practice for water and sanitation that has been running since 1984 and comprises regular meetings through the year and an annual week-long workshop focused on a specific topic, which this year was around role of data in decision-making in water and sanitation services. Around 40 participants attended at a really great training facility in Spiez, in central Switzerland. They came, not just from Swiss organisations, but from a wide range of partners (many who are active RWSN members). There were participants from Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mozambique, Peru, Thailand, Mali, Pakistan, Benin, Egypt, Mongolia, the UK, South Africa, US and many more.

The structure of the event mixed up presentations with “Clinical Cases” group work focused on real-world case studies and challenges where participants could advise representatives from those organisations:

Different aspects issues around data use in water and sanitation were introduced through a good range of engaging presentations:

AGUASAN workshops aim to come out with useful output and what was proposed was a practical guideline that pulled together they key points from the presentations and discussions, around a common framework, which was beautifully illustrated on the wall of the plenary room at the end:

 

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Preliminary result of the AGUASAN workshop: the “Navigator manual” (click/tap to expand) designed by Filippo Buzzini (Sketchy Solutions)

 

I was not completely convinced by the linear conceptual framework that was proposed because what I have observed previously, and came out in the discussion and presentations, is that WASH systems are generally messy, non-linear processes. However, what was clear is that good quality monitoring, mapping and data is a critical “fuel” for driving positive feedback loops for short-term operational decision-making and longer term learning and adaptation cycles.

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A not-so-pretty graphical summary by your correspondent (click/tap to expand).

Despite Skat’s long association with the AGUASAN workshop this was my first workshop and I enjoyed it, and found it useful to have the opportunity to have a few days away from the distractions of emails, to focus on one topic with knowledgeable colleagues from all over the world and all over the WASH sector. The field trips also took us to explore some of Switzerland fascinating water history and modern challenges.

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Your correspondent giving a lighthearted recap of key learning points (and Swiss World Cup win against Serbia) from Day 1 (Photo. J. HeeB)

Tandi Erlmann, Johannes Heeb and the Cewas team did a great job with the facilitation and event design and also thanks to SDC for their continued financial and thematic support to the event. As well as good for networking – it was also a good international crowd to be around with the World Cup going on!

The final report will be published on www.aguasan.ch where you can find outputs from previous workshops. Most of the presentations and background documents can be on the SDC ResEau website.  Photos from the event can be found here on Flickr.

Below are my sketch-notes of some of the presentations (click/tap to enlarge):

“Monitoring & Data for Rural Water Supplies” (click/tap to open PDF version)

 

Photos: Johannes Heeb (Cewas) – Main Image: group shot of workshop participants

You cannot manage what you do not measure; but should you measure what you cannot manage?

Countries have committed to reach SDG 6, providing universal access to their population with safely managed water supply services, with country specific targets. This is a process that governments, as duty bearers, need to manage. Therefore they also need to measure progress in that.
Continue reading “You cannot manage what you do not measure; but should you measure what you cannot manage?”

#RWSN @ #WWW : the presentations

RWSN co-convened two sessions at last week’s SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm and presentations are available to download:

WASHoholic Anonymous – Confessions of Failure and how to Reform

All presentations: http://programme.worldwaterweek.org/sites/default/files/panzerbeiter_lt_1400.pdf

Build and Run to Last: Advances in Rural Water Services

Continue reading “#RWSN @ #WWW : the presentations”

Sharing water point data is easier than ever using the new Water Point Data Exchange #WPDx platform

guest blog by Brian Banks, GWC

Over the past decade, a dramatic shift has taken place in the water sector that fundamentally changes the way that work is done. During this time, water point mapping around the world has accelerated at unprecedented rates. Dropping costs of technology and innovative software has enabled national governments, as well as funders, NGOs, academics, and others to inventory, share, and even monitor the work they have contributed to.

Continue reading “Sharing water point data is easier than ever using the new Water Point Data Exchange #WPDx platform”

Word from the Chair: The Challenge of Change

The world in which we work is changing.  Some changes may be sudden and catastrophic, for example the outbreak of armed conflict, or the impacts of flooding.  The wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia have resulted in destruction of much water infrastructure.  The Pakistan floods of recent years have had similar disastrous results.  But many of the changes which are occurring are continuous, for example growth of population, economic growth, or climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.  Some of these changes are quite fast while others are much slower.  In my own working lifetime I have seen populations grow by a factor of about 3 in many of the countries where I have worked.  Gradual and continuous change, but by now having massive impacts on the state of the environment and natural resources, and on demands for water.

Continue reading “Word from the Chair: The Challenge of Change”

Reflections from the Colorado WASH Symposium

by Jonathan Annis, WASHplus

I recently attended the Colorado Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Symposium, hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder. The two-day regional gathering, intended primarily for students, faculty and local WASH professionals within greater Denver WASH community, attracted 130 attendees. A closely knit and cross-disciplinary group of graduate students did a fantastic job planning and hosting the event.

For those who aren’t aware – this included me before arriving on campus – the Colorado WASH community is thriving. The Denver area is home to a blend of international NGO’s like Water for People and iDE as well as local non-profit groups with a regional or country focus like El Porvenir. Add to the mix the energy created by a dynamic group of graduate students and academics engaged in the international WASH sector and the stage was set for an engaging discussion.

I had two main takeaways from the event:
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