Enhancing sanitation programming through real-time learning


In Cambodia, a Global Sanitation Fund (GSF)-supported programme is using real-time and action learning techniques to increase its impact.

This innovative learning and documentation project is funded by the GSF, through the Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Programme (CRSHIP). The project, which is the first of its kind within the GSF network, is being implemented by WaterAid.

The project focuses on generating real-time, emergent learning for CRSHIP implementing partners, to solve complex problems as they occur. Building on renowned research, the learning and documentation activities are designed to inform strategic and adaptive programming, while supporting the rigorous documentation of knowledge and evidence. Through the continuous feedback and exchange generated through social media, pause and reflect sessions, field visits and workshops, implementing partners have been able to make adjustments to their approaches rapidly and in real time. This has facilitated better networking and relationship building, new ideas, and increased visibility for issues of common concern among stakeholders.

In addition, the learning and lessons are being consolidated into short narratives, reflection papers and other documentation, to further inform programme implementation. Other activities under the project include rapid research and capacity building.

Why real-time?

Although there were successes in the first phase of CRSHIP, the programme encountered many challenges and fell short of achieving its targets. The need for enhanced learning and documentation was identified as a key lesson from this phase. Through research and analysis driven by the GSF secretariat and active support from other partners, CRSHIP determined that by identifying opportunities and challenges in real time, the programme’s implementation strategy could become more adaptive and appropriate. In late 2015, a learning and documentation grant was awarded to WaterAid for the second phase of CRSHIP, which began in early 2016.

The grant project builds on lessons from the first phase and experiences from the development sector. Moreover, it is grounded on renowned learning and knowledge management research and concepts applied to development work, such as participatory action learning, positive deviance and systems thinking. A GSF senior portfolio officer based in the WSSCC secretariat designed the project with CRSHIP, with key inputs from the CLTS Knowledge Hub.

Rafael Catalla, CRSHIP Programme Manager, highlights the importance of the grant project:

“The learning and documentation grant is very important to CRSHIP 2 because first it facilitates learning between and among our [implementation partners], with [provincial departments of rural development] and even at the national level. It also gives us the documentation of this learning. It is important to document this learning because we immediately apply what we learn from the field. The other side of that is we need to document everything so that we have a basis for future work and actions. And this is also the basis for sharing with other programmes and projects so they can learn from us.”

Sophal Chim, Programme Coordinator for CRSHIP implementing partner Ponleur Komar, also acknowledges the benefits of the project:

“[Learning and development] helps us reflect on our project implementation. Previously there was no one giving us any feedback on our work even when we did something wrong.”

Image: Learning Network posts

Real-time learning and documentation through social media

Implementing partners have been encouraged to use social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Google+ to document their observations and immediately share them with peers. The Learning Network on Facebook has emerged as the most successful platform. The network serves as a platform for vibrant discussions. Through the platform, implementing partners, Executing Agency staff, sector partners, and government staff share learning and documentation around a range of themes, including community participation, quality facilitation, programme management and equity and inclusion. A learning and documentation management team shares tools, facilitates discussions and monitors and summarizes the emerging learning and documentation on the platform.

Implementation partners share a range of documentation on the network, including photos, videos and case studies. In addition, the learning and documentation team regularly develops and shares short narratives that expand on the documentation from implementation partners.

Pausing and reflecting

Building on the real-time learning on social media, the learning and documentation team facilitates pause and reflect sessions for implementation partners and their counterparts. Occurring every two months, these sessions are an opportunity to comprehensively and systematically reflect on activities, progress, challenges and lessons, rapidly devising solutions where necessary. Reflection papers based on these sessions are also shared.

Engaging sector partners and GSF-supported programmes

The learning and documentation team facilitates rapid research initiatives with academic and government institutions. These research activities build on emerging real-time and pause and reflect themes, such as the sanitation needs of women and girls and the impact of post-triggering follow-up on household sanitation decisions. The findings and knowledge are shared with implementation partners to help them improve their work.

The team also engages implementing, sector and government partners in various workshops and groups, to further review and reflect on learning. The learning and development coordinator also participated in a GSF workshop in Kenya, where she shared CRSHIP’s real-time learning experiences to GSF-supported programmes from Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal. She used the Learning Network to share what she learned from these programmes in real time. The project was also shared with all GSF-supported programmes and sector partners at the 2016 GSF Learning Event in Madagascar.

Capacity building

The learning and documentation team has facilitated coaching and developed tools for learning facilitation and analysis, impactful communication and the documentation of stories, case studies and reflections. The built capacity resulting from this coaching is evident in the high quality photos, videos and field messages on the Learning Network.

Positive impact on the programme

The Learning Network has proven to be an effective platform, facilitating daily learning exchanges between CRSHIP partners. To date, there are over 120 members in the steadily growing network, representing all 11 CRSHIP implementation partners, provincial government actors, the Ministry of Rural Development, CRSHIP management and staff and the wider GSF network. In the last six months alone, there have been more than 400 posts.

Udom Sok Ek, Programme Coordinator for CRSHIP implementing partner Sovann Phoum, explains how real-time learning and documentation (L&D) has enhanced his work:

“We did write case studies in CRSHIP 1, but we did not widely share them. With the existence of L&D, we are now able to post our activities. When we see our work is lagging behind other implementation partners [we feel] ashamed and then we have to improve our performance.

“There is a case when I organized a community meeting. Villagers joined the meeting for a while and they left. Only several people stayed until the end of the meeting. I did not know what to do back then. Without L&D, I would have to wait until the quarterly meeting to discuss the issues. But now, as soon as our problems occur I [can] write on the Learning Network Facebook page. Then I [can] receive a lot of suggestions from other partners regarding what they would do when facing similar problems.”

Sreymom Vorn, Project Officer for CRSHIP implementing partner Sovann Phoum, also highlights the benefits of real-time engagement:

“There is a case where some [implementation partners] and several other stakeholders misunderstood one of our posts. Luckily, the learning network allowed us to promptly solve these questions and misunderstandings.”

The network has also proved to be a useful programme management tool, enabling CRSHIP management to monitor progress on the ground, and identify and address challenges early, in real time. For example, programme implementation was course corrected after observing on the network that some implementation partners were facilitating community-led total sanitation (CLTS) before initial mapping and monitoring exercises. Through the network, master trainers have also been able to observe and constructively comment on the quality of work being conducted by implementation partners. Without the network, it may have taken CRSHIP management a few months or more to identify and respond to these challenges.

Pause and reflect sessions have given implementation partners the opportunity to share lessons learned and develop solutions with guidance from each other, government partners and CRSHIP management. The immediate feedback generated through these sessions has helped these actors rapidly identify and respond to programme challenges. By engaging provincial government counterparts, these sessions have also helped strengthen government partnerships.

Looking ahead: Addressing challenges, taking action and engaging the wider WASH sector

As the project continues to expand in scope with limited human resources, it is becoming increasingly challenging to sufficiently capture and consolidate the wide range of learning and documentation across the CRSHIP network. Revised staffing arrangements are being developed to address this challenge. Ensuring adequate participation and documentation from all implementation partners is another challenge being addressed, through coaching and the provision of smart phones.

Since the project began in late 2015, it has helped enhance learning, documentation, participation and networking among all of CRSHIP’s partners. The next phase will include supporting implementation partners to deliver their learning action plans, which include a set of learning questions for their target communities. Coaching will be provided on how to find answers to these questions and how to document the process and findings. The project will also continue to facilitate learning events, commission and coordinate rapid and formal research, produce and disseminate learning products, and compile qualitative and quantitative data on its impact.

James Dumpert, Learning and Documentation Manager for the project, reflects on its biggest achievement and the road ahead:

“The biggest achievement we’ve had so far is that we really have been able to develop a true learning network throughout the CRSHIP programme, with implementation partners, along with management, and of course with our government partners as well. Moving forward … we want to start sharing more, getting those lessons learned that we have had in CRSHIP outside to other partners. We really feel like we have a lot to offer to not only the Cambodia WASH sector but other global sectors as well.”