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On the ground realities and inclusion

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The second day of the WASH M&E Symposium built off the momentum gained from the day before.  Many interesting topics were discussed, including how well information gathered from monitoring truly reflects the reality on the ground and the inclusion of equity in our monitoring efforts in order to reach universal access.  Both of these presentations encourage practitioners to truly understand the realities of those on the ground.

A PhD student from The University of Sussex named Kathi Welle presented the findings of her research on the politics of monitoring and whether the data collected are actually reflective of the situation on the ground.  Her study was conducted in Ethiopia in 2009 and 2010, with a case study on a particular woreda in the southern part of the country.  One of her main arguments is that monitoring of performance (or results) is affected by actors’ framings which shape how an issue is defined and therefore what type of solution is formulated to address the issue (based on the problem definition chosen).  As a result of the framings of various actors with various incentives and personal agendas, performance monitoring is subject to the bias inherent in the specific actor’s framing who collected the information. One example is the difference in calculation of access to water between the regional and the woreda level.  The regional level measures and reports on access to water by taking the estimate of the average number of users per scheme type, whereas the woreda reports on access to water by calculating the number of users within 1.5 km of the water point; based on these varying definitions, the regional level reports access at 58% while the woreda reports it at 38%.  One explanation for the choices to calculate based on different measures is the rationale (and incentives) which drive these actors. The regional level is interested in reporting higher figures for access in order to show positive trends at the federal level which in turn will reflect well on their efforts, whereas the woreda is interested in generating additional funds which is easier to justify when access rates are lower than others.  It is therefore quite possible (and probable) that a monitoring exercise is open to manipulation (whether intentional or not) to reflect that which best serves the needs of the actors conducting the exercise. 

A key take-away from this then is the acknowledgement that performance monitoring, though it appears objective, may be subject to bias based on actors' framings which elevate some issues while others remain neglected.  It is therefore important to consider other factors when trying to understand what is truly happening on the ground and not rely solely on data gathered from a monitoring exercise.  It also brings into question whether decision making can be truly linear - that is, whether evidence based decision based on monitoring results leads to the best decisions to be made.  It may very well be that the data shows high rates of access in an area but there can be challenges based on nuance (e.g. poor water quality rendering a water point non-functional) which are not captured and could therefore lead to poor decision making.  It is thus important to consult those who are closest to the ground, such as the water officers in charge of the woreda, who have more updated and nuanced understanding of where needs are highest, and even the people themselves who use these services.

In relation to improving the quality of the information we receive from the ground is to consider equity in our monitoring efforts.  As Archana Patkar from WSSCC so aptly stated in her presentation, we cannot truly gain universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene unless we consider those who are left out or cannot use or access services continuously over time.  As we are learning from the MDGs experience, not including equity in the indicators we measure has resulted in reinforcing the inequalities which exist.  If we are to sustain behaviour changes at scale, it is most important to reach those who are commonly excluded.  Some key questions to consider when monitoring equity in WASH programs are:

  1. Who's left out and why?
  2. Who does not use the service, when and why?
  3. Who cannot practice the behaviour, when and why?
  4. Who cleans and maintains the facilities or services, at what cost and for whom?
  5. Who is unable to maintain, rebuild, upgrade and invest in services and why?
  6. Who benefits and who does not?

To truly assess whether progress is being made in WASH services, it will be important to ask these questions and gauge success through the services provided to those at the bottom of the pyramid.  The WASH sector must strive to decrease inequalities through our efforts and measure progress against these indicators in order to reach universal access. 

Aside from these, there were many other interesting sessions and side conversations, such as measuring cost-effectiveness of hygiene promotion and developments in sanitation marketing indicators.  The symposium is a great forum for bringing the issues to the surface and starting crucial conversations and reflections between key actors in the WASH sector which can be continued even after these three days end.

You can read another account of the second day of the symposium by Andres Hueso Gonzalez here

Jolly Ann Maulit jollyannmaulit@gmail.com

Date: 11 April 2013