Capacity, knowledge and documentation in sanitation and hygiene – calling for harmonisation and coordination

Credit: David BoucherieCredit: David Boucherie

More and more organisations working in sanitation and hygiene support the vision that equitable and sustainable sanitation and hygiene behaviour change and services at scale should be delivered through locally driven and locally sustained institutions, mechanisms and service providers. This calls for strengthening these institutions, mechanisms and providers at the level where they operate, regionally, nationally and locally, with an emphasis on Africa and Asia.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council has long called for more effective collaboration and coordination between WASH sector players, in order to ensure higher aid effectiveness, less duplication of efforts, and stronger WASH sector performance. One area with scope for improvement is that of capacity, learning and knowledge management.

A key principle is that capacity development, skills training, knowledge creation, learning and sharing should be processes driven by government and service provider institutions, with (international) organisations and external support agencies acting in a support role, as service providers and knowledge brokers.

In November 2013, a meeting of representatives of key partner organisations active in capacity building and knowledge management in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) found consensus on some guiding principles and commitments to improve coordination and harmonise individual and collective efforts in these areas, for more effective results in the WASH sector.

Organised by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), the meeting brought together partners from agencies such as Plan International, WaterAid, WSP, UNICEF, IRC, SNV, and UNV among others.

While recognising that in the field of knowledge as anywhere else, a certain level of competition and variety are important to promote quality and a broad range of offerings, the partners agreed on a set of ten guiding principles that could become a ‘code of conduct’ of sorts for all organisations working in this sphere:

  1. National and local governments should drive systematic sector capacity needs assessments, and skills and capacity development plans, with international organisations and NGOs providing support and responsiveness to identified needs and gaps.
  2. Sector institutions and organisations should agree on a set of core competencies for sanitation and hygiene programme staff and minimum standards for all trainings, irrespective of the training provider.
  3. Wherever possible, the sector should move to setting and using standard operating procedures, in order to build the capacity of systems rather than merely of the individuals within these systems.
  4. International organisations should collaborate with, and build the capacity of, local training, teaching and research institutions and structures, to provide trainings and build capacity of local sector staff.
  5. Local ownership of knowledge events, processes and capacity development interventions should be ensured, even where such processes may be (initially) externally-driven.
  6. Documentation should be systematic, built into performance contracts and focused on successes and failures in equal measure.
  7. Organisations should aim to share and build on each other’s efforts to support development and inform common approaches where appropriate.
  8. Sector events, meetings and workshops should serve a clearly defined purpose. Sector partners should aim to consolidate and/or better align organisation of events, meetings and workshops to avoid duplication and workshop fatigue and open up participation to a broader audience of stakeholders and concerned parties.
  9. Monitoring and evaluation should be government-driven, with sector organisations actively engaged in strengthening, building capacity and feeding into harmonised M&E systems and databases.
  10. Research performed to strengthen sector capacity, knowledge and performance should be directly available, accessible and applicable for sector policy makers and programmers

Each of the above principles comes with its own set of challenges. For example, all organisations with a learning agenda admit to having trouble with ensuring regular, good quality documentation of their experiences and lessons learnt, and closing the divide between the world of academic research and that of practitioners and policy makers remains a challenge across all fields of science and development. However the partners also recognised and agreed on a number of actions setting a course towards the achievement of the principles listed.

These actions include among others the establishment of a sector events calendar to work towards better event coordination and alignment and wider participation of stakeholders; to explore the collective training of national /regional sector consultants; the development of a common list of priority topics and themes for further research, rapid action learning and documentation; a scoping exercise of sector knowledge networks and platforms to explore consolidation and joint fundraising opportunities; and to explore setting up an annual M&E Forum and digest for closer collaboration and knowledge sharing on effective M&E systems, smart indicators and appropriate methodologies.

All these commitments are currently work in progress. This meeting was the first of its kind and focused on a core group of partners involved in these areas of work, but the process will only yield results if more and more organisations and partners work by the same standards and adhere to the same guiding principles. WSSCC is committed to continuing to push these issues and invites everybody who is interested to get in touch to discuss further.

Interested parties can contact Carolien van der Voorden, here: