Facilitating WASH forums
08 December 2010
The water in any catchment area is used by many people for many different purposes. Water scarcity creates tension between these users over how the water should be distributed – should priority be given to farming over city water supplies, for example, or should water for a budding tourist industry take precedence over water for the production of food or electricity. Such tensions have been a major cause of conflict in society from the earliest human settlements right up to the present day.
Successful multi-stakeholder efforts that have transformed disagreements over water into collaborative partnerships have shaped human history and often contributed to the rise of great civilisations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt and the pre-Columbian cultures of Latin America. History teaches us that the more effective stakeholders are at engaging in dialogue, the faster development progresses.
This is why, in 2009, SNV-Netherlands Development Organisation initiated a learning event consisting of the facilitation of multi-stakeholder process (MSPs) on water-related issues in12 countries throughout Africa. Most of these MSPs consisted of forums on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH forums) in which a wide variety of stakeholders were represented.
The variety represented by the various forums was one of the first things to strike SNV. The scope and type of the MSPs ranged from broad-based developmental challenges to single-issue forums. Some brought together actors at national level, while others consisted of tight-knit local groups. The design of the multi-actor groups was also hugely diverse – some were highly structured while others were fluid in their composition; some were formal, others informal; some were open to all, others worked with a closed membership; and some were government initiated, while others were instigated by NGOs.
The way an MSP takes shape depends largely on why it was initiated in the first place. We can broadly distinguish between MSPs that emerged from a crisis and those that emerged from a funding opportunity. MSPs born out of crises are established to solve a specific problem or address a particular challenge. This might be a failing water supply, a new large-scale water programme, environmental degradation or general water scarcity. For example, drought triggered the formation of the Water Users Association in Kenya. The Zambia WASH forum was a response to the sanitation-related health problems in schools.
Other MSPs emerged from funding opportunities such as the UN-Habitat Lake Victoria Region Water and Sanitation Initiative. The advantage of MSPs that are triggered by funding opportunities is that there are sufficient resources to support the process. But there is also a risk that the MSP will cease to exist as soon as the funding comes to an end.
As well as being dependent on donor money, there are other factors that affect the sustainability of MSPs. For example, MSPs may be vulnerable to political interference, elite capture (when a pressure group uses the MSP to serve its own interests), or the lack of clearly defined roles, responsibilities and mandates. Of course, bringing a forum or MSP to an end is not necessarily a bad thing. If the issue that triggered the set-up of the MSP in the first place has been resolved, ending the process is a natural conclusion.
The role of facilitators
The range of facilitation services provided by SNV during the 2009 learning event varied significantly from forum to forum and included technical backup as well as motivational support. First of all, the facilitator’s role was to foster enthusiasm and a sense of shared responsibility in the MSP as it addressed issues and tried to solve problems. Only when the participants felt that they were genuinely connected by a common interest did they begin to commit themselves to the process.
Sometimes SNV was the initiator of the WASH forum and took on the task of preparing sessions, developing the agenda, inviting experts and other key people to make presentations. But in other cases, the role of SNV advisors was to support local facilitators as they prepared, reported and documented the learning process and communicated its results.
SNV’s technical WASH expertise proved very useful in the preparation of background information (using tools such as water point mapping and baseline studies, for example) and in the development of tools for visualising and measuring WASH realities in the field (for example, audiovisual reports, interviews, citizen report cards and joint field visits).
Facilitators can be instrumental in creating an open atmosphere that values the inputs of each stakeholder equally – creating a favourable and supportive atmosphere that encourages women and less-vocal groups to participate. In some cases (Rwanda, for example), SNV contributed to the institutional setup of an MSP by supporting the development of regulations, defining members’ roles and responsibilities and even the formulation of national policy for sector coordination in multi-stakeholder platforms. In other cases SNV developed guidelines for MSP facilitation. SNV facilitators also supported follow-up activities such as lobbying for a more favourable legal environment.
Five key aspects of MSPs
The wide variety of MSPs represented in the WASH forums sometimes made it difficult to draw comparisons between them. Even so, participants were able to formulate five broad key aspects that are important to consider when facilitating an MSP. They included: participation, representation, results-orientation, leadership and funding.
Many of the challenges facing MSP facilitators concern the participants and the quality of the participation. A major challenge is to identify all the stakeholders concerned by an issue. Defining the issue in a very narrow way reduces the number of stakeholders in an MSP and makes the process easier to manage. But this will probably result in excluding many relevant actors – which defeats the purpose of forming an MSP in the first place. However, drawing the boundaries too wide can result in a lack of focus and may discourage participants as ‘embracing everything is the same as embracing nothing’.
Another participation challenge facing facilitators is how to ensure the participation of smaller organisations and groups that are not very well organised. This is related to the next key aspect to consider when facilitating an MSP: representation.
For meaningful participation to occur, stakeholders need to have a legitimate base. There has to be a constituency with an organisational structure that they can represent. First, the representatives have to be able and willing to voice the needs of their group in the forum. Second, the delegates have to be able to go back to their groups with clear messages about what was discussed and decided in the meeting.
There needs to be a communication and feedback system between representative and their constituents. It is hard to invite water users’ representatives to participate if there is not an organisation in place at water user level. It is also difficult to make citizen participation more active in terms of mobilizing ‘own contributions’ for example to the maintenance of the water supply service if delegates to the forum do not have a solid connection with the constituents.
An example of a group that is crucial to the debate, but often not well represented, are women. Women are instrumental in sustaining household hygiene and need to bring their knowledge and expertise to the table. But because women are not an organised group, their participation in WASH MSPs is often very low. To balance the participation it is often necessary to subsidise and strengthen the participation of less-vocal and economically poor.
The third key aspect to consider is motivating stakeholders by creating a shared sense of purpose. This can be done by clearly setting out what the MSP hopes to achieve. It is important to break down overall results into lower-level results and smaller milestones. This makes it possible to monitor progress and to keep the group motivated over a prolonged period of time.
When breaking results down into milestones and marking step-by-step progress, indicators should be placed at the levels of process, output, outcome and impact. Process indicators refer to the number of meetings held, the number of gender-specific participants, the number of issues dealt with and quality of participation. Process indicators also include what was done to follow up on the recommendations of the forum.
At output level, indicators should mark the number of advocacy issues that exist and the initiatives that were conceived in the forum.
At outcome level, it is possible to assess whether the quality of stakeholders’ interactions improved during the life of the MSP. It should also be possible to assess the extent to which the MSP was able to influence policy and contribute to civic engagement.
Indicators at impact level should show the effect that the MSP has had on access to water and the quality of sanitation services in the specific catchment area. One programme in Uganda (The LeaPPS – Learning for Policies & Practices for Household and School Sanitation), measured significant increases in the number and spread of latrines, bath shelters, drying racks and refuse pits during the MSP process. In particular, regular group discussion on ‘the most significant change’ gave very useful insights into what the participants saw as the value add by the LeaPPS programme.
Good leaders are experts in creating common goals and mobilising people to engage in activities for the good of the community. Inspired leadership can be a great asset for a successful MSP. The cases from cases from Rwanda, Zambia and Benin demonstrate this. However if such leadership is not there it is important to avoid that established leaders resist the MSP. If leaders resist, then people at the grass roots level probably resist it as well. Leadership patterns are very much context-dependent. In many countries initiatives need the buy-in from official government agencies, while others allow civil society leadership. Involvement of local authorities often enhances the possibilities for success. There is a need to align the platform’s functioning in tandem with the nation’s vision and policy. On the other hand, an open and deliberative leadership is favourable to facilitating the MSP itself.
Although they are not usually very expensive to set up, MSPs require a certain amount of funding to cover travel costs, the purchase of materials and the provision of basic food and drink. Larger and more complex MSPs need a facilitator and may have to carry out action-research activities. Facilitators should be aware that participants often attend MSP meetings in their own time and that they may be sacrificing other commitments in order to attend. Forums with many NGO participants and which are based in or around the capital cities do not necessarily need funding support because participants can cover their own transport costs and a rotating host system can be responsible for providing meeting space and refreshments. But such financial contributions cannot be expected from the smaller local organisations.
Minu Hemmati (2002) Multi-Stakeholder Processes for Governance and Sustainability – Beyond Deadlock and Conflict. Earthscan.
Smits, S, Moriarty, P. and Sijbesma, C. (eds) (2007)
Learning Alliances: Scaling up innovations in water, sanitation and hygiene. IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre. (Technical paper series: no. 47, pp. 174.)
SNV Rwanda, 2009, Joint Action Development Forums in Rwanda. Experiences and lessons learned.
IRC staff and partners-facilitated WASH Sector Learning Group: WASHsectorlearning@googlegroups.com
Documentation on LeaPPS and other WASH MSPs, www.irc.nl/sectorlearning
General Information on MSPs: www.changealliance.org
UN-Habitat web site on the Lake Victoria Region Water and Sanitation Initiative, www.unhabitat.org/categories.asp?catid=462
Search Terms casestudies africa