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The Test of Time - Webinar Followup Discussion

Wed, 09/21/2011 - 19:42 -- Brian Banks

On September 15, GWC and the WASH Advocacy Initiative convened a panel of experts for a webinar on concrete options for post implementation monitoring and evaluation of water and sanitation projects. Discussion covered three leading means of monitoring: circuit rider programs, an accountability forum and remote monitoring.

Below are the questions that were asked during the webinar. Please click below to continue the conversation!

Comments

Is there more information on the details of the monitoring the Vietnam handwashing program?

How do 'we' ensure these databases such as IBNET continue to be updated by utilities and what will happen to the database when the donor funding ends?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

Circuit Riders in Honduras are provided an intensive 4 week training program per year in three core areas: Technical, Administration and Community Involvement. However, the minimum requirements to hire a Circuit Rider are basic plumbing and disinfection knowledge, background on how to fix water problems, ability or experience to install/construct/repair water infrastructure, field water analysis, and so on. Also, understanding on rate, charges, billing, fee collection, bookkeeping and basic financial knowledge, and finally some experience on community building.

What is the daily cost per capita/connection/system and is it the system cost or the circuit rider cost? Who pays for big breakdowns (are costs recovered?) and the original subsidies?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

Water services are not free. Participating communities pay in order to ensure that their water system functions properly. This service includes piping water from the water source, water distribution, disinfection and technical assistance. Prices change depending mainly on the water system type and the number of connections. For example, gravity feed systems are typically cheaper than systems that must use electricity and a water pump. A monthly fee is usually about one to two dollars per household. The water board is responsible for the collecting and administration of monthly fees.
The initial subsidy comes from a various sources including small and large foundation grants, small family foundation grants, corporate donations, charitable organizations and individual donors.

For circuit riders, are 4 to 6 visits per site per year consistent across countries and type of water treatment systems? Do you see the number of site visits per year decrease as the local community becomes more proficient in managing their treatment systems?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

No, the number of visits (4-6 times) per site is an average. The more organized is the water associations the less the frequency and time the Circuit Riders spend in that community, and the other way around. Circuit Riders spend more time providing technical assistance in newly affiliated communities and less to those that have been affiliated to the program longer.

Would be interested in how quality of service provided by circuit riders to communities is ensured i.e. what kinds of quality control measures are employed?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

The Circuit Rider program follows the National Drinking Water Regulations. In the case of Honduras and El Salvador, the standards are set by the Ministry of Public Health including bacteriological quality of the water, appropriate chlorine levels, and so on.

You mentioned that interest and funding for the circuit rider model is waning. Why do you think this is and how can this be energized on the local level, co-finance from local, regional, national governments?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

For a number of reasons, the Circuit Rider Program has struggled to receive and maintain sustainable funding. The current economic recession and the political climate are some of the most significant. To some extent, the vulnerability of the Circuit Rider program was realized in 2009, when the political unrest and economic downturn in Honduras led many donors to withdraw from projects in the country – an action that has had lasting deleterious effects on many local NGO’s.

The Circuit Rider program seeks to address this long-term structural weakness by laying the groundwork for at least 60% community financing for the program itself. The program is envisioned as a public-private partnership that provides a service that community water boards and users will be willing to pay for through a membership and tariff structure because they tangibly see and feel the value of services provided to them through the Circuit Rider program. Also, a market based mechanisms called “Water Bank” has been created with the purpose to recover some of the implementation expenses.

The circuit rider system seems to address the "scattered projects" issue - what are Erick's thoughts about how to make that a locally-organized approach, and not run by an outside org?

Submitted by Erick Toledo (not verified) on

Since 2009, in Honduras we piloted the sector coordinator approach utilizing trained community members (SWCs) to provide many of the services that had been provided by traditional Circuit Riders in the past. This has resulted in a lower cost structure for both salaries and transportation without negatively impacting services provided. We expect to achieve significant economies of scale as the program is ramped up and reaches more communities. Based on experience and lessons learned, the proposed program is designed to be as lean as is possible while delivering a low-cost yet high quality service.

In addition to that, a market based program called the “Water Bank” provides products and services to local utilities became a source of internally produced revenue. The Water Banks projects the potential to generate significantly more income – up to 50% of the Circuit Rider’s operating budget -- from Water Banks sales by fully exploiting the demand for chlorine products in served communities and other retail clients. An increase in income from the Water Banks could help subsidize the costs of the Circuit Rider program, lowering the burden on communities.

For the Accountability Forum, How will you determine which sites gets visited for evaluation to avoid cherry-picking sites by the org under evaluation?

Of course this is a very important question for the Forum as well as for any organization's routine monitoring - to try and get a truly representative sampling of projects to help provide information about trends in project outcomes. There's also the on-the-ground reality of needing to make sure communities have enough advance warning of our visit that we aren't visiting on a local market day (when many people might be absent) or their desire to be accommodating of visitors and cook us chicken soup. This is a protocol that Forum Members are currently discussing in preparation for our December pilot Forum in Honduras, so it's not set in stone. But here is how we currently do it at Water 1st and what we have put out there for comment by other Forum Members to react to as we develop the protocol for site selection in December:

1. The organization to be evaluated will send us their body of work a few weeks before the forum which will include information on each project (type of project, date completed, number of beneficiaries/participants, location, current status if known, etc)

2. Then forum members and the evaluator will participate in a random selection of sites to visit which represent a range of projects

3. We will inform the organization to be evaluated which projects we have selected for evaluation with only enough lead time for the community to prepare for our visit. In the case of Honduras, the organization to be evaluated in this pilot Forum has asked for 1-2 days lead time to get a message to the community so that key people (like the committee) are present. So, in 1-2 days they can probably do some quick fixes on projects if needed, but we believe it will be pretty hard for them to perform major repairs on any one project or perform quick fixes on all the projects we intend to visit.

4. We also like to visit one project that an organization has identified as an example of its best project. You can learn a lot as an evaluator seeing the one "cherry picked" project. So in addition to the random selection of sites, we have suggested to the Forum to include one site that the organization being evaluated has selected for us.

What are specific examples of the remote monitoring tools, how they are installed and work, and what is the investment required to implement remote monitoring?

One of the fundamental questions in all of this is that of governance – who is monitoring what and how is this integrated? For example, it is not uncommon to find 3, 4, 5 or more monitoring efforts in one (small) geographic area – central government, local government, international NGOs, local civil society groups. How can we address this situation?

My initial reaction is that this is not a situation that I have encountered. The overwhelming reality seems to be that there is too little monitoring, not too much being done at too many levels. I would be interested in seeing the place that has too many overlapping groups doing monitoring (Isn’t there a statistic we all quote that says less than 5% of projects are visited after the ribbon-cutting ceremony?).

Having made that comment, I think there is value in involving all those groups in monitoring. Coordinating that process would be important. I wouldn’t want communities overrun with multiple visits from groups that don’t know what the other is doing. These people have a lot to do to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. Their time should be honored. Incidentally, that seems like another good argument for convening Accountability Forums. All those groups can participate together using the same monitoring protocol.

The focus has been on monitoring water scheme functionality, but I wonder about how groups attempt to monitor behavior change over time. Eric, you mention that your group monitors behavioral change outcomes (e.g. handwashing, latrine use)? Can anyone share examples of how you do this and what the result has been?

This is a great question/observation. It is essential to monitor all the critical components of your program. If you believe that your program is about changing attitudes and structures within a community, your monitoring protocol better include some method of measuring those changes. Many organizations don’t include those items because they seem too qualitative and we are overly focused on quantitative measures when we talk about monitoring.

Or maybe some organizations simply don’t value the hygiene practices/toilets portion as much as the water supply. By actually monitoring those elements, we might find that our accomplishments on those elements aren’t as good as the water side. Learning that could drive us to make some adjustments.

At Water 1st, we’ve found that household visits are the only way to really ascertain what is happening with hygiene education and toilets. We can make simple observations that give us some information about hygiene behaviors - is soap present, is the water container covered, are animals kept out of the house, is chlorine present, is the toilet being used. Interviews with family members are very instructive and allow us to ask qualitative questions that I believe get past people telling us what they think we want to hear - questions like, "what has been the most difficult hygiene behavior change to implement in your household?"

In our experience, especially in rural areas, it's clear that our project participants are most interested in a convenient, safe water supply and toilets and hygiene education may not fall anywhere on their priority list. So, this is an area of our work that is challenging in many ways. Anyone in our culture who has ever wanted to change a habit (diet, exercise, smoking, etc.) knows that that knowledge is not enough. Having information can be very different from applying it. In the case of safe hygiene behaviors, people tend to know more than they practice.

All very interesting - would be interesting to think of some kind of support via Facebook type social networks so that monitoring continues indefinitely. Of course this could only work in sufficiently electrified areas.

Is there a place for qualitative evaluation in WASH? Is anyone doing it? What does it look like?

We use qualitative evaluation as much as quantitative evaluation, mainly to gauge consumer satisfaction. We believe if consumers are satisfied, they are more likely, for example, to pay a fee for their water, which means the community has funds to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance of the water system. We also use qualitative questions to learn more about the hygiene education program - to learn if it was valued by the participants and also if information from hygiene educators was disseminated and retained.

Our qualitative questions are ones like, "Do you like the water system?", "How has this project benefited you, benefited your family?", "If you could start the project over again, what would you change?" "Do you like the taste of the water?", "Was the hygiene education program helpful?", "What hygiene practices were the easiest to adopt?", "What hygiene education practices are the most difficult to adopt?", "Is the water fee reasonable?", "Do you feel the water management committee is doing a good job?", "Do you think the community has adequate training to operate/maintain your water system?"

These are questions that lead us into longer conversations. After asking a question , we usually have a follow-up based on the answer so that we can get the most information possible. It means we have to be nimble, experienced and patient in the field, so we can adjust how we are asking questions in order to try and understand a consumer's experience with the project.

In doing evaluations, especially using qualitative questions, it also really helps that Water 1st makes long-term, regional commitments to our in-country partners. When we approach households, we are able to put the evaluations in the context of our desire to improve project implementation for the next community and the next. I believe that puts households at ease. We are not given them an examination with right/wrong answers to our questions. Our reason for being there is that we value their help in guiding improvements to our program.

Ideally, who should actually be leading post-implementation monitoring efforts and how can we make the shift?

The answer to that question is: It Depends. One purpose of monitoring is program improvement - trying to continually improve what you are doing. This is complex work and nobody is achieving perfect outcomes. We can all identify a number of areas that can improve. When program improvement is the goal, every organization should be doing its own post-implementation monitoring. I think the first shift that needs to be made is that everyone needs to routinely monitor their outcomes. If you aren't currently monitoring, then start small (monitoring the program outcomes you feel are most important) and build from experience. If groups need help with the logistics and protocols, something like the Accountability Forum can be extremely helpful. Rather than every organization having to reinvent the evaluation and monitoring wheel, the Forum can provide guidance regarding what to monitor and how to monitor it as well as provide actual experience using the tools in the field.

A second purpose of monitoring is accountability. How do we demonstrate to external stakeholders that we actually practice the concepts and ideals that we espouse? When this is the objective, the monitoring should have significant third-party involvement. We shouldn't be filling out our own report cards. We are asking for organizations who are already conveners of the water and sanitation sector and champions of greater sustainability of project outcomes (like GWC) to consider being the leader of the Forum in the future so that it can be an independent group and accommodate organizations working worldwide in a variety of programs and settings.

Submitted by Dayo Olugboye (not verified) on

Hi Everyone , I amintersted in joining the sustainabilty conversation

Submitted by Brian Banks on

Dayo,

Please feel free to join the conversation! You can reply to any comments in discussion board. If you have a new topic to suggest, please email sustainablewash@gmail.com.

Best,
Brian

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