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SYSTEMS STRENGTHENING

a systems approach goes beyond infrastructure development.

Like many other systems, WASH is a complex adaptive made up of constantly interacting people, political and financial institutions, private companies, technologies, markets, and regulations.

We recognize that strong WASH service delivery requires all of the factors (technology, financing, regulation, coordination, service provision, learning, accountability mechanisms) and actors (households, communities, public institutions, local government, national ministries, private companies, development agencies, politicians) to be in place and to work together effectively at all institutional levels.

Systems strengthening involves taking actions and supporting interventions to strengthen the factors, the capacity of actors, and their inter-relationships (i.e., improved access to information and the political economy of decision-making) that can improve the quality and sustainability of WASH services and ensure that all populations are served.

The Agenda for Change system-strengthening building blocks

Agenda for Change, a collaboration of like-minded organizations who adopt common approaches to advocate for and support national and local public and private actors in strengthening WASH systems, promotes these eight system-strengthening building blocks.

As a founding member of Agenda for Change, Water For People promotes and facilitates each of these building blocks in the implementation of the Everyone Forever model. These building blocks promote a strong WASH service delivery environment with clearly defined actors and factors.

INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS AND COORDINATION

Service provision and service authority institutions clearly defined, exist, and have sufficient capacity; mechanisms for coordinated sector action; fully functional and funded district WASH office

service delivery infrastructure

Clear frameworks, capacity, and roles throughout the project cycle (procurement, construction, development, O&M, and asset management); new or rehabilitated WASH infrastructure; sustainable management models

monitoring

Monitoring frameworks to measure and report on service quality and sustainability; data used proactively to routinely improve the quality of services and accelerate progress toward Everyone and Forever milestones

planning

Clear frameworks and capacity for the development and implementation of plans and budgets at all levels; approved and adopted District WASH Plans

financing

Clear frameworks for financing service delivery including full lifecycle costs, clearly identified sources for each component, executed co-finance agreements, and approved and adopted sustainable tariffs.

regulation and accountability

Clear regulatory framework for universal and sustainable WASH service environment, clearly defined regulatory functions and capacity, and equity and accountability mechanisms.

water resource management

Clear framework, roles, and capacity for the development and implementation of WRM plans to ensure water resource availability and safety. Comprehensive WRM plans approved and adopted.

learning and adaption

Capacity and frameworks to capture lessons, adapted and updated service delivery models and building blocks institutionalized, annual Reflection Sessions (or similar activity) with stakeholders.

Pre-conditions and First Steps

District-level intervention: Water For People works in a geographically defined region with the lowest level of formal government that is mandated to provide WASH services. For simplicity, we refer to this geographic region as a "district" regardless of what it is called within a country (such as a municipality or block). The district is the entry point for model implementation while simultaneously recognizing and supporting the broader national enabling environment.

Market-based intervention: Although the district is a key entry point for WASH services, some of the countries where we work require expansion to other strategic geographies to take advantage of opportunities in the market and also address market-based challenges in sanitation service delivery. 

Political will & government ownership: Government leadership at all levels is key to mobilize communities and resources to achieve universal access, as well as to ensure sustainability of services and advocate for national scale. Government leaders must be at the center of decision-making, with Water For People establishing trust and leading from behind.

New district assessment: When deliberating whether to enter a new Everyone Forever district, Water For People teams use an Excel-based New District Assessment tool to evaluate strategic value, as well as logistical, political, and funding considerations. The assessment helps determine the degree of need for our support, the likelihood of effective partnership with local entities, the probability of success of the Everyone Forever model, and, ultimately, the risk and suitability of working in a new district.

Shared vision for system strengthening: Water For People supports a national WASH framework that promotes a comprehensive service environment, which can (and must) be adopted at the district level. This framework creates national support for all partners working in a district to promote the creation of service environments, not just infrastructure. Water For People hosts visioning workshops with the government, private sector, and NGOs to review the Everyone Forever model and determine WASH needs, roles, and responsibilities of stakeholders. Success requires commitment by all actors to establish a strong service environment, regardless of political, socioeconomic, ethnic, or geographic differences in the district, which may have historically represented significant barriers to achieving universal and sustainable access.

Baseline assessment: Water For People facilitates baseline monitoring surveys and a needs assessment to understand existing WASH infrastructure location, condition and functionality, service levels, capacity and performance of service providers and the service authority, and water resources availability in each community in the district.

Signed agreement: Water For People signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the district government, with an agreement to reach Everyone Forever, clearly defined roles, and a commitment to co-finance, ideally for a period of 5-10 years. The MOU is often accompanied by an agreement from the relevant national Ministry to provide financial and technical support and may also include office space within the district government for Water For People team members or partners. MOUs are also signed with key partner authorities who engage in strategic geographies outside of Everyone Forever districts to address specific market challenges in sanitation service delivery.

KEY MODEL COMPONENTS

Service authorities: A strong and well-resourced service authority is the critical entry point and enabler to implement the Everyone Forever model, as it is absolutely critical for sustainability of services and Water For People’s ability to eventually exit a district. The service authority is a local government entity mandated to ensure adequate WASH services in the district; they are responsible and accountable for overall WASH services, as well as support and oversight of providers. In rural areas, the service authority is typically a District WASH Office; in small towns and cities it is often a public utility or City Council. Where service authorities already exist, Water For People helps clearly define the roles and responsibilities and provides capacity-building support. Where they do not already exist, we support local governments to formally and legally create and strengthen the service authority as part of the permanent structure of the local government. Over time, service authorities must become fully functional and independent from Water For People (or other external) resources.

Water For People trains service authorities on a variety of topics including lifecycle costing and financing (capital and recurring costs and funding sources), engineering support (infrastructure design and execution), monitoring (levels of service, quality, sustainability, and water resources), planning, budgeting, and policy expertise, which ultimately positions service authorities to fully manage, maintain, and monitor access to comprehensive WASH services throughout the district, through oversight of and support to service providers.

Water For People strengthens the capacity of service authorities to support service providers, including the creation of appropriate mechanisms for oversight, ensuring accountability, and developing efficiency incentives through tariff and contractual arrangements.  Water For People also facilitates local, regional, and national partnerships to ensure service authorities are equipped and supported to manage the entire service delivery environment.

Service providers & management models: Water service providers are legally responsible for water service delivery and managing day to day administration, operation, and maintenance of water supply systems. In most countries, service providers are defined by the national legal framework for water and sanitation. In rural areas, water service providers are often community committees, but may be small businesses contracted by district governments in some contexts. In small town and cities, water service providers can be public utilities or community committees. Sanitation service providers include public entities responsible for waste collection and treatment as well as private entrepreneurs that respond to demand within and outside of district boundaries.

In close collaboration with service authorities, Water For People helps clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the service providers, provides training on a range of topics (including rate setting, tariff collection, and basic financial management), and develops accountability mechanisms to ensure high-quality water and sanitation services.  Water For People works with government and private sector partners to determine and facilitate management models appropriate for each district’s context. We facilitate strong service provider structures and partnerships. We facilitate associations of pit emptiers and other sanitation entrepreneurs, WASH Boards with leaders from various sectors (e.g., health and education), and Hand Pump Mechanics Associations to provide day to day repair services.

Water service delivery infrastructure: Water For People aims to increase service levels and facilitates the delivery of services through local service authorities and providers, building their capacity to design, build, and operate reliable water services rather than implementing the projects directly ourselves. We make formal legal agreements with district authorities for staffing, design, construction, commissioning, and capacity-building activities. Depending on the context of each district, infrastructure projects may include construction or rehabilitation of boreholes with community handpumps or kiosks, pumped or gravity-fed piped water systems with community or household taps, or individual household solutions such as rainwater harvesting tanks. Public institutions either tap into a community water system or have separate boreholes or rainwater catchment systems. To accommodate district budgets and co-finance arrangements, infrastructure work is usually phased to begin work while mobilizing communities and partners.

Sanitation service delivery infrastructure: Our approach to sanitation services is focused on moving populations up the sanitation ladder toward safely-managed services in a sustainable way. It includes efforts within the geographic boundaries of the Everyone Forever districts, as well as market-based initiatives in additional areas (that are not defined by administrative boundaries). Sanitation infrastructure in the contexts where we work ranges from toilets with onsite disposal in dispersed rural communities, toilets with septic tanks in larger communities, toilets with pit-emptying services in more densely populated areas, and toilets with sewered networks in small towns and cities.

Sanitation market facilitation: Based on market opportunities, Water For People facilitates private sector initiatives to test sanitation solutions (from idea testing to market testing to scale) with the goal to scale nationally. Within Everyone Forever districts, we work with local government and private sector partners to adapt and offer these contextualized solutions that allow households to invest in their chosen sanitation solutions.

We support government and private sector partners to foster a market of sanitation products and services across the entire sanitation value chain, including:

  • Mobilization efforts to unlock demand and lower the barriers for household and public institution (school and health clinic) investment in sanitation facilities. Approaches include Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and increasing access to financing for households to buy toilets, such as loans through microfinance institutions and district government incentives, and developing toilet-building supply chains.
  • Fecal sludge management initiatives to facilitate government regulation, create market demand, and develop entrepreneur capacity for pit emptying, transport, centralized and decentralized treatment, and sludge reuse and sale.

Overall market facilitation to identify supply and demand of products and services to fill gaps along the sanitation value chain. Approaches include increasing access to capital and capacity-building for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and forming associations of sanitation entrepreneurs.

Hygiene & behavior change: We work with community groups, schools, and health clinics to implement health and hygiene behavior change education and communication campaigns to promote safe water, hygienic toilets, and handwashing. Water For People works with district education and health department staff to lead WASH efforts in health care facilities and handwashing with soap initiatives in schools. We support a variety of school WASH interventions, including school hygiene clubs, menstrual hygiene management supplies and training, hygiene corners and games, and parent groups. We work with district partners to develop social art initiatives for behavior change such as murals, street plays, and community theater. We also identify and engage community leaders (such as village chiefs and religious leaders) to influence behavior change.

Community engagement: Water For People works with District WASH Offices to facilitate sensitization meetings with communities to overview the model, gather input, and identify Everyone Forever champions. Together with government partners, we engage with communities to encourage active voice and ownership of the program. Some teams have developed community scorecards and user feedback tools to enable community members to voice concerns. These platforms can be developed over time to provide early warning of service failure and enhance service provider and authority accountability. Water For People teams conduct ongoing mapping and identification of stakeholders to address and respond to different challenges.

Co-finance: Commitment by government partners to long-term, joint funding throughout a program’s lifecycle is critical from the onset. This includes formal agreements between Water For People, the district government, and communities to co-invest funds for capital expenditure investment in infrastructure. Water For People’s percentage share varies from country to country based on need and context, but ideally is as low as possible and decreases over time. Typically, households pay for household water connections and sanitation facilities, and may also make in-kind contributions via construction materials and labor. Governments and communities then make arrangements to cover full lifecycle costs, including O&M, capital maintenance expenditure, and direct support (government appropriation of staff and costs to perform required functions) For example, users pay water tariffs (that cover the true cost of water service delivery, repairs, and a portion of eventual system replacement) and the service authority budgets for the gap in capital replacement and expansion costs.

Full lifecycle costing: Water For People has developed a suite of tools to calculate the full lifecycle costs for high-quality and sustainable water services. An Excel-based tool called AtWhatCost calculates costs to sufficiently operate, maintain, and eventually replace or expand a water system. This tool is used in conjunction with the Asset Analysis to inventory water infrastructure assets and assess the location, age, and condition to plan, prioritize, and budget for future rehabilitations and replacements; the Direct Support Costs tool to budget for district staff and time; the Historical Investment tool; District Financial Sustainability Scorecard; and any other district-specific costing tools to help district governments plan and budget for all costs required to maintain an adequate service delivery environment.

The AtWhatCost tool also helps determine appropriate water tariffs. Tariffs are often approved in community meetings and via council resolutions passed by politicians, and this tool provides a realistic foundation for these conversations. Water For People also promotes installation of micro-meters to promote pay-for-use and adequate tariff collection.

While these tools are currently focused on water services, we are working to adapt them for sanitation services. We also help develop business plans for private service providers, which are common within sanitation service delivery.

District WASH planning: Water For People works with the local government service authority to develop a District WASH Plan that ideally includes district-level targets, financial and operational plans to help determine the cost of reaching Everyone in a district by a target date, budget allocations required to maintain a District WASH Office and dedicated staff and manage the service delivery environment, water resources mapping and management plans, opportunities for using business approaches to improve sanitation services, and District Investment Plans for covering full lifecycle costs of sustaining water and sanitation systems. Districts often start with plans focused on designs and capital expense to reach full coverage and evolve over time to more holistic plans that consider full lifecycle costing and the other system-strengthening building blocks.

This plan allows for resource mobilization to implement elements of the plan annually and helps balance service delivery with strengthening service provider and authority capacity.

Water Resources Management: Water For People works with district governments to improve the quality and quantity of drinking water through source protection, treatment, and demand control, along with establishment of monitoring and planning tools that allow WRM priorities to be incorporated in WASH decision-making. Key WRM planning tools that are implemented in Everyone Forever districts include WRM inventories, flow monitoring systems, water quality testing, and district WRM plans that identify key priorities and conservations measures. In addition to protecting drinking water sources upstream, WRM planning also requires attention on downstream impacts from sanitation services. Depending on the district’s context, priorities may include source catchment demarcation, reforestation, erosion control, wetland rehabilitation, groundwater recharge, development of water safety plans, establishment of district-level water quality labs, promotion of affordable water quality testing and treatment, and water metering.

Annual district-wide monitoring: Water For People works with district partners to collect a consistent set of district-wide data annually. These data that go beyond evaluating infrastructure functionality to assessing levels of service, the capacity of institutions, and service sustainability (see our Monitoring Framework). We use a mobile data collection platform to conduct surveys and measure levels of service at community (water point), public institution, and household levels, as well as progress toward our Everyone milestones for water. Our Sustainable Services Checklist measures sustainability indicators within service authority structure, finance, and management; service provider structure, finance, and O&M; and water resources management, as well as progress toward our Forever milestone for water. We also monitor indicators and progress toward Everyone and Forever milestones for sanitation.

Enumerators are selected, hired, and trained by government partners with Water For People’s support to collect survey data. Household and community level data is aggregated and consolidated to review progress at district level. Reaching and celebrating the Everyone and Forever milestones becomes a tipping point for a given district, spurring increased motivation and investment from district and national governments.

Water For People is tool-agnostic and promotes government-led monitoring. We use monitoring results to advocate for the development of a national WASH Management Information System to capture coverage, levels of service, and sustainability data to promote transparency and accountability nationwide. We work with district, regional, and national governments to support existing monitoring systems and timelines, identify opportunities for new systems or metrics, and build capacity for governments to lead all monitoring efforts for WASH level of service and sustainability.

Reflection & adaptive management: Following the annual monitoring process, data is disseminated at various levels for decision making and action planning. Water For People works with government partners to hold annual Reflection Sessions in all Country Programs, with participation from various government, community, and private sector partners. The purpose is to engage these stakeholders to review monitoring data, gauge progress toward goals in district WASH plans, identify successes and barriers, assess our collective impact, note lessons learned, set future priorities and work plans with service authorities, and improve our plan to reach effective and sustainable service delivery, including planning for Water For People’s exit. These sessions double as capacity-building exercises, helping districts and service authorities prepare to eventually take over monitoring.

Water For People also promotes learning forums and exchange visits with stakeholders at district, regional, and national levels.

WASH policy: Water For People influences and advocates at district, regional, and national levels to develop or change policies that allow for a high-quality and sustainable service delivery environment. Policies might include recognizing a district-wide, system-strengthening approach in the national water strategy, mandating each district to establish a District WASH Office, establishing WASH Boards, discouraging shallow wells as an unsustainable technology, prohibiting illegal dumping of sludge, promoting pay-as-you-fetch models, and requiring a certain budget allocation from all departments for natural resources activities.

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