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Communication for Water Sector Reform

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The water sector is very much a matter of supply and demand – and you better not forget about the demand side. Reform in any sector depends on public support. A new Learning Note on “Communication for Water Sector Reform: Obstacles and Opportunities,” published by the World Bank’s Operational Communications department, showcases the role of strategic communication in making water sector reform successful and sustainable.

The Learning Note is authored by Karla Chaman, Tracey Miller, and Paul Mitchell, all long-standing communication professionals in development. The paper is aimed at project leaders working on urban water supply reform. On 16 pages, the authors explain how strategic communication can help governments and stakeholders to improve delivery and sustainability of water supply services.

The authors argue that strategic communication can help support reform in a number of key areas (p. 3):

  • Identify and manage barriers to reform
  • Build local ownership of reform through engagement
  • Contribute to sustainability through promoting ownership
  • Change mindsets and persuade stakeholders of benefits
  • Incorporate stakeholder interests in the reform program
  • Rally stakeholders around a credible, relevant, and compelling message
  • Enlist public support and reach decision makers
  • Manage expectations


Communication support to water sector reform should follow three principles: getting to know existing and potential customers; building awareness around the need for reform; and building support and systems for change. Strategic communication has specific roles within each principle, which can be summarized as follows:


Get to know customersBuild awarenessBuild support
Analysis of the political
environment of reform
Create awareness of the
need for change
Link strategic communication
with reform objectives
Stakeholder analysisCommunicate options
for reform
Access to information
Inform customers about
rights & responsibilities
Manage expectations and
communicate results


The authors’ advice on how to use communication to support water sector reform draws from more than a decade of experience with development communication, work with more than 25 governments, and surveys with World Bank task managers in the sector.

Photo: Flickr user sppong

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