Benchmarking rural water systems by a simple score


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Improved water supply in Kipanduka village, Tanzania
Photo: Alessandra Argenti/ World Bank

Can the ability to sustain rural water systems be captured by a simple score? A new multipurpose four-page tool seeks to measure the likelihood of sustainability by assessing the capacity of a village water committee. Previously, such tools were often either too lengthy and academic or the assessment was left to the discretion of local officials with the risk of omitting critical components. Now a more practical model has been developed that aims to be user-friendly but detailed enough to detect gaps and prioritize interventions for village water committees.

This journey started in a rural village in the district of Karatu, Tanzania where a new water system had just been commissioned. The district water engineer was about to inaugurate the water scheme after a five-day training of the village water committee, giving them full ownership of their water scheme. During the opening ceremony, one question kept puzzling her: “Was the village water committee fully equipped to manage, operate and maintain their newly installed water scheme?”

In an attempt to address this question, Indonesian water practitioners developed a 14-page Community Competency Model in 2014 to assess the village water committees’ ability to operate and maintain rural water schemes by focusing on four main competency domains: Governance, Operations, Financing and Technical Issues. This monitoring tool is not only comprehensive, but provides a much-needed roadmap for village water committees, setting a clear standard for the minimum requirements for the water scheme to be sustainable. In its application in Indonesia, the model facilitated competency self-assessments by the village water committees, allowing local government authorities (LGAs) to identify capacity gaps as defined by the water committees themselves. Furthermore, as LGAs have performance contracts with village water committees, the model allowed them to carry out quality control to ensure that the committees met their contract requirements.

The tool was then shared with Tanzanian colleagues who applauded it for its ability to clearly articulate the core competencies of rural water committees. The model was revised and carefully tailored to the Tanzanian context, giving emphasis to brevity, ease of use and mapping the steps to high performing village water committees. A simple scoring system was added, to better quantify the level of capacity in a transparent and easily comparable manner. It ranked each village water committee in one of three categories: i) “Minimally Operational”, associated with a high risk of system breakdown, ii) “Partially Operational”, associated with a medium risk of breakdown, and iii) “Fully Operational”, associated with a high likelihood of sustainability and cost recovery.

In Latin America, far away from both Tanzania and Indonesia, rural water committees were facing similar challenges and as a response, water sector government officials developed a sustainability monitoring tool in 2011. The Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR, as per its name in Spanish), adopted by nine Latin American countries, assesses the performance of rural water committees, the quality of service delivery and its sustainability. For that purpose, SIASAR defines four fundamental entities involved in the provision of WSS services: the community (users), the water committee (or service provider), the water infrastructure and the technical assistance provider (role usually assumed by the local governments). The performance of each entity is evaluated in a metric of four levels, denominated in an ABCD rating. The A rating corresponds to an optimal level of service whereas D, in the other end of the spectrum, corresponds to a level with no service and where a strong intervention to build or rehabilitate the service is necessary. SIASAR’s comprehensive yet pragmatic framework to assess the integrated performance of the rural water sector is a powerful tool for decision makers at all institutional levels.

Scoring competencies of village water committees, while clearly highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, enables local level authorities to identify and plan for appropriate interventions. Either through the competency models in Tanzania and Indonesia and their characteristics descriptive of all three levels of development, or through the SIASAR framework in Latin America and its ABCD performance ratings, these models serve as a practical roadmaps to help villages achieve the highest level of competency and provide sustainable water services to their village. For example, the rural village in Karatu district scored 56 out of 100 points, and was categorized as only “partially operational” shortly after inauguration. Using the model, the village subsequently invested in water meters for all of its standpipes, made a plan for preventive maintenance, and slightly raised their water tariff to ensure the sustainability of their water scheme.

Do you know of any practical, concise and ready–to-use tools in your country that can score competencies of water systems and ultimately help improve their performances? Share your experience by leaving a comment below.

Ed Bourque
November 29, 2016

Mr. Welsien,
Interesting. I'd be curious to hear what the Tanzania ministries think about this (scalability, actionability, etc)
Also, there's no reason why this cannot be used for an urban well water context, right?
Hope all is well in the Dar es Salaam WSP office.

Kris Welsien
December 05, 2016

Correct, the approach is theoretically the same for urban water utilities but perhaps much more complex.

Nicolas Dickinson
December 03, 2016

The Community Water and Sanitation Agency in Ghana has a published monitoring framework operationalised in 6 of 10 regions which includes a similar assessment of the service provider across different service provision models. In the case of the CWSA framework it is the district that is doing the assessment as they have a responsibility to provide direct support to communities. It would be worth adding/linking to this experience on the IRCWASH.ORG or CWSA websites.
Perhaps the comment about the "discretion of local officials" could be reworded to be clearer as later you clarify this framework is targeted LGAs anyway who are made up of local officials. Do you mean these types of assessments should be embedded in national guidelines and frameworks or that the methods should not be ad hoc or both? Either way the application of frameworks can be at the discretion of local officials in decentralised and resource scarce contexts.

Kris Welsien
December 05, 2016

Dear Nicolas,
Thank you for directing us to the Ghana monitoring framework.
Yes, the framework highlighted in the blog is meant for LGAs. By "discretion of local officials", we refer to a situation where there is no framework for the LGA. In such case, it would be left to the LGA's discretion on what competencies to focus on.

Kris Welsien
December 05, 2016

To Ed:
The approach is theoretically the same for urban water utilities but perhaps much more complex.

Lugard Ogaro
January 10, 2017

Dear Welsien,
I am trying to adopt this model for urban water schemes in Kenya. Though we have a benchmarking guideline by our regulatory body, the level of detail one desires to have so that we can be able to un-pack the problems surrounding management of water, cannot be generated by the guide. I am however wondering if you could share the scoring sheet for the 21 indicators?

Kristoffer Welsien
January 10, 2017

Dear Lugard,
You are right, this competency model is developed for rural water committees and is not detailed enough to capture the complexities of an urban water utility. The competency model contains the scoring sheet already. For each indicator there is and option of scoring 1 (red), 3 (yellow) and 5 (green). The competency model can be accessed through the hyperlink in the first paragraph.   

Gustavo Heredia
January 10, 2017

Yes, at AGUATUYA (non profit foundation in Bolivia) we have a very practical score card to evaluate and compare small water operators. The first part evaluates the organization and the second part in performance based! We'll be happy to share.

Brian Mathew
January 13, 2017

An excellent way forward, though it will need minor adjustments for each situation. It may also need an additional matrix of solutions... what to do if.... which both communities, local government and local businesses can consider. Mechanical expertise for example is something that needs regular use if it is itself to be maintained. Even well trained mechanics (like the rest of us) if they don't do regular work, tend to forget how to undertake tasks in the best way... thus a 'pool' of such mechanics operating across a ward or a district on a daily basis are more likely to be proficient in their work than 'occasional' mechanics. The question then needs to be asked how to maintain such a body of trained mechanics (male or female) so that the skills are always on hand to deliver the necessary expertise. Whether to have a public private partnership, a fully private system or a local government run scheme such as the 'pump minders' in Zimbabwe of the 1980's & 90, which then sadly broke down as the Country itself went into economic melt-down.
It is true that some communities will be sorted enough to hire in these staff on a regular or as needed basis, but others will not, and it does not take much imagination to guess where the next cholera epidemic is likely to start or to take hold. Which comes back to the need for local government to be involved and ensure that such basic services have a robust system of maintenance and repair with paid proficient mechanics. Otherwise everyone suffers...

Henry Narteh Adipah
January 16, 2017

Dear Sir,
With my twenty-two years experience as a lecture and community mobilizer in community water and sanitation,I think the major challenge is sustainability. The tools or equipments break down easily. This pumps eg.India Mark ii Nira could not function continuously for a year. This is no problem with management of the systems since water polices are the same everywhere.
I will end by suggestioning that efforts should be made to encourage nations to introduce solar pumps.

Joshua Wilkie
April 23, 2018

I recently completed my post-grad master's thesis on "The Sustainability of Community Water Management During Protracted Conflicts" while working in an urban/peri-urban setting in South Sudan. Since there was a lack of any tool to measure such a thing during a conflict situation, I used Community Water Management Competency Model to gauge the sustainability, then took into account the specific local context due to the conflict through a risk analysis. Unsurprisingly, community water management on it's own was not very sustainable in a situation where close to 100% of the population was displaced and there was a lack of services, supplies and skills locally, yet this was the prescribed approach at a government, donor and humanitarian coordination levels. It was a really interesting project for me to work on and certainly encouraged me to think about how best to approach WASH services and conflict and post-conflict settings.
Would the thesis be of interest/use for anyone at the World Bank to read, and if so who would I forward it to?