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a systems approach goes beyond infrastructure development

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

Adopting a ‘systems approach’ means going beyond infrastructure development to recognizing 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 and state 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.


The institutions related to service provision and service authority exist, are clearly defined, and have sufficient capacity. Coordination mechanism and coordinated sector action.

service delivery infrastructure

Includes development and maintenance. Clear frameworks, capacity, and roles exist throughout the project cycle including procurement, construction, and asset management.


Monitoring frameworks exist and are being used to measure and report on the quality of services (service level) being delivered.


Clear frameworks exist for the development of plans and budgets at all levels as well as clarity and capacity for their development.


Clear frameworks exist for financing service delivery, including full lifecycle costs and clearly identified sources for each component.

regulation and accountability

A clear regulatory framework exists, regulatory functions are clearly defined, regulatory capacity exists, and equity and accountability mechanisms are in place.

water resource management

A clear framework for allocation and management of water abstraction and water quality exists and is being implemented.

learning and adaption

Capacity and frameworks exist to capture lessons learned and to adapt and update service delivery models and other building blocks in the face of change and lessons learned.

Water For People recognizes that the WASH system does not operate in a vacuum and must consider the broader political economy and relationships with other sectors.

To strengthen these eight building blocks, we partner with other ministries, including health and education, at the national level and with other partners within these sectors at all levels to develop a more complete understanding of the operating environment and achieve Everyone Forever.

Pre-conditions and First Steps of the Everyone Forever Model

Because Water For People believes the building blocks are fundamental to achieving sustainable services across an entire district, Water For People’s Theory of Change and each of the key components of our model detailed in two sections below can be directly mapped to the eight building blocks.

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, markets are not contained within district boundaries, and our market-based sanitation initiatives operate both inside and outside the districts where the Everyone Forever model is implemented. These initiatives are tested and developed where market forces present the best opportunities to become sustainable and scale to a regional or national level.

New district assessment: When deliberating whether to enter a new Everyone Forever district, Water For People teams use a 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.

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.

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, NGOs, and research institutions 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. The MOU is ideally for a period of 5-10 years, based on the ambitious targets and the general timeline Water For People has historically observed as necessary to reach Everyone Forever. 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 (though usually for a shorter period of time due to the smaller scope of the partnership).


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 the sustainability of services and Water For People’s ability to eventually exit. 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. The entity can be a department within a regional or national government structure or a separate local entity. 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 and regulation 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; managing day to day administration, operation, and maintenance of water supply systems; and maintaining sustainability over time. 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 or the direct responsibility of local government 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 hand pumps 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, city- and town-wide inclusive sanitation, as well as market-based initiatives both inside and outside of Everyone Forever districts (as markets are not defined by administrative boundaries). Sanitation infrastructure in the contexts where we work includes various types of improved toilets with onsite disposal in dispersed rural communities, toilets with pit-emptying services in more densely populated areas, and toilets with septic tanks or sewered networks in small towns and cities. Beyond improved toilets, sanitation infrastructure also includes development of pit-emptying technology, sludge transfer stations, and connections to sewer networks, as well as infrastructure for fecal sludge and wastewater treatment and reuse. Infrastructure is contextualized to community needs, gaps in the market, and capacity of local actors.

Sanitation market systems development: Water For People pursues the development of sanitation services by rethinking and experimenting with sanitation services through market systems development, which is based on the principle that on-site sanitation at scale can only be achieved and sustained through tapping into the potential of the local private sector. Based on market opportunities, Water For People supports private sector initiatives to develop, test, and refine sanitation products and services (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:

  • Market system analysis to develop an in-depth understanding of how all parts of the sanitation ecosystem interact with each other and identify the root causes of gaps in safe sanitation access. Before brainstorming solutions, we brainstorm the actual problems. 
  • Mobilization and marketing efforts to increase demand for safe and affordable products and services.
  • Supply chain initiatives that build sustainable markets for safe and dignified toilets, affordable for people of all income levels. This work typically revolves around innovation in toilet design, decreasing production and distribution costs, and supporting growth of local businesses to reach customers in underserved markets with these products.
  • Finance initiatives to break down economic barriers to sanitation. For households, this includes the creation of sanitation-specific loans through microfinance institutions and the development of local government incentives that provide public sector funds to offset the cost of toilets for households. For sanitation businesses, this involves measures to increase their access to loans and public sector investment to start, grow, and expand their businesses to underserved areas.
  • Fecal sludge management initiatives to ensure that when toilet pits and septic tanks fill, the waste can be hygienically emptied and transported off-site to undergo treatment for safe disposal or, increasingly, reuse as fertilizer or energy sources for heating and cooking. These initiatives involve the growth and development of entrepreneurs for pit emptying in underserved areas, integration of technologies for pit emptying in areas that vacuum trucks cannot reach, design of centralized and decentralized waste treatment plants with sustainable management models, and the development of businesses to recycle treated fecal waste and repurpose it as fertilizer or fuel sources.

Across all activities, Water For People encourages, supports, and works with the government to regulate any health risks associated with sanitation products or services. With private sector partners, Water For People provides third-tier support; that is, at least two organizations are in the implementation process between Water For People and the household. For example, Water For People supports a pit-emptier association (first tier), which in turn supports pit-emptying businesses (second tier), which in turn provide services to the households.

Hygiene & behavior change:We work with community groups, local leaders, schools, and health clinics to implement health and hygiene behavior change education and communication campaigns to promote safe water, hygienic toilets, and handwashing. We also work with these groups on the sustainability of hygiene practices in educational establishments. 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, film shows, multi-disciplinary shows, storytelling, and community theater. We also identify and engage community leaders (such as village chiefs, religious leaders, and students) to influence behavior change. In some contexts, we also work with community groups such as Community Health Clubs to encourage uptake and dissemination of the best WASH practices within communities.

Community engagement and feedback mechanisms: 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 developed a set of tools in Excel to calculate full lifecycle costs for high quality, sustainable water services. The costing tools are used together with the Asset Analysis, an inventory of water infrastructure assets and georeferenced location, age, and condition to plan, prioritize, and budget for future rehabilitation and replacement.

A tool called AtWhatCost helps define or adjust the tariff by calculating the costs to operate, maintain, and eventually replace or expand a water system. Tariffs are often approved at community meetings and through council resolutions passed by politicians, and this tool provides a realistic basis for these conversations. Water For People also promotes the installation of micro-meters to promote pay-per-use and adequate tariff collection.

The Direct Support Costs tool helps budget for district technical personnel and the time required for these personnel to provide technical assistance to communities. The Historical Investment tool, District Financial Sustainability Scorecard, and any other district-specific costing tools help district governments plan and budget for all costs necessary to maintain an adequate service delivery environment.

Although these tools are currently focused on water services, we are working to adapt them to sanitation services, particularly for fecal sludge and wastewater treatment plants. We also help develop business plans for private service providers, supporting them to understand how best to improve their operational and financial efficiency and overcome constraints to growth.

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, hydrologic and hydrogeologic studies, and district WRM plans that identify key priorities and conservations measures. Planning is aligned to broader catchment management activities happening in the region that often extend beyond a specific Everyone Forever district boundary. In addition to protecting drinking water sources upstream, WRM planning also requires attention on downstream impacts from insufficient sanitation services that contaminate shallow groundwater and surface water due to poor pit design, untreated wastewater, and illegal dumping. 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, wastewater treatment improvements, increased consideration of climate risks in water and sanitation infrastructure design, engaging in the implementation of broader catchment management plans, 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 go beyond evaluating infrastructure functionality to assessing levels of service, the capacity of institutions, and service sustainability. Water For People is tool-agnostic, promotes government-led monitoring, and advocates for the development of a national WASH Management Information System 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. While utilization of government-led monitoring systems is the goal, the reality is that these systems do not yet exist in many of the countries where we work, so we partner with district governments to monitor according to our Monitoring Framework.

For service level monitoring, 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 and sanitation. Enumerators are selected, hired, and trained by government partners with Water For People’s support to collect survey data. We also support the development of systems to organize, clean, and use the data for various analyses. Household and community level data are aggregated and consolidated to review progress at district level. This collection and analysis of level of service data is needed for routine data-based decision making and prioritization of investments.

To monitor sustainability, our two Sustainable Services Checklists measure progress toward our Forever milestones for water and sanitation. The Sustainable Water Services Checklist includes eight indicators within three categories: service authority structure, finance, management, and monitoring; service provider structure, finance, and O&M; and WRM. These indicators measure across the system-strengthening building blocks, and include questions on equity and inclusion. The Sustainable Sanitation Services Checklist includes three service authority indicators: structure and management, finance, and monitoring. Over time, we will incorporate indicators of sustainability with local actors across the value chain. Sustainable Services Checklists are completed annually with data from two different sources: service provider surveys and interviews with district partners to inform service authority and WRM indicators. Water For People is also promoting a building block analysis to assess the strength of the WASH sector or system at the national level. In this way, the Sustainable Services Checklists and building block analysis can be used as an advocacy tool and an embedded monitoring tool.

Reaching and celebrating the Everyone and Forever milestones for water and sanitation becomes a tipping point for a given district, spurring increased motivation and investment from district, state, and national governments.

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, public institution, 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.

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.

WASH policy influence: 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.