When policy and the roles and responsibilities of service providers and government are unclear, it is difficult for civil society to advocate and tackle issues of accountability. Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring basic and safely managed WASH services, in rural areas and small towns were clear contractual arrangements are not necessarily well defined or sustainable? When these are clear, are there agreed measures of service performance and who is measuring and communicating results? It is crucial to hold parties accountable for their actions and promises.
Sometimes civil society may fill the evidence gap but then the agreed level of performance becomes a moving target. Government and service providers may choose to discount the methods used and results on the basis that they are not ‘approved’ or even ‘wrong’.
Establishing a national WASH M&E system is complex and it requires clarifying a matrix of roles and responsibilities so that it is clear who is reporting what and why. Using and communicating results is an important step in holding sector stakeholders accountable .
Indeed, for change and improvement at all levels, there is a need to engage in dialogue around sector performance in WASH service delivery.
The mechanics of measuring performance in a national system are relatively complex: many parties are involved over a large geographical scale. Setting appropriate indicators that are robust and measurable, and establishing sector roles and responsibilities is non-trivial and requires participatory and iterative processes. As a result, fragmentation is common and in resource-limited environments, the regulation of water and sanitation services by local authorities can be greatly constrained or entirely non-existent.
Taking all of this into account, wouldn’t it just be possible to use international indicators or even local measures and use research and periodic surveys such as the MICS to monitor and evaluate progress and skip national M&E systems? IBNET and IWA offer standard indicators. Indicators and reporting standards from the World Bank study on rural water indicators and the WPDx standard offer a start even for rural water services .
However, these standardized indicators do not per se lead to corrective actions. Who is listening and responding to issues? In effect, we are discussing taking actions and professionalized services to ensure that issues are acknowledged and addressed at the lowest appropriate level and that WASH services improve: in the community, in the district or elsewhere. Ultimately, this requires again more clarity on roles and responsibilities!
In a resource scarce environment, having a consistent approach that can be adapted as lessons are learned requires a framework larger the time-span of a project or short concession. It must be more targeted and specific than international sets of indicators (who measures, when, who uses the data, etc.).
Establishing national M&E systems with civil society and the private sector is important to ensure this framework and joint leadership and is why we talk about “country-led monitoring” instead of “government monitoring”
In 2016, we started participatory assessments of national WASH M&E systems in 10 countries. Since then 8 national M&E plans were drafted in each country and so far 2 validated with detailed activities and expenses.
A national WASH M&E framework can give a strong foundation for asking the right questions, identifying the right goals, targets, and indicators and providing a means to coordinate the measurement and learn from sector performance. The process of measurement really starts with asking the right questions.
Civil society and WASH service users need to know what to expect from the national framework and should work to influence it. Partners, donors, private sector (suppliers, distributors, works, etc.) need to have a framework within which there are clear rules and stable arrangement within which finance and contracts for products and services can be made available.
Indeed, a national WASH M&E system is a pre-requisite. It may look completely different across different countries as the questions and the regulatory environments vary, however, in all cases, there needs to be strong enough leadership in the country by all parties to ensure that new projects, contracts, and programmes follow the same logic or advocate to change it when it can be improved. In this way, we will learn and improve sector performance until we achieve the SDGs.
It will remain important for civil society, researchers and the private sector to continue to challenge governments to improve these systems and to work together to provide sustainable WASH services.