Data-Driven Government Planning and Priorities

We all agree that monitoring data for water supply services often needs to be more complete, more consistent, and more useful at different levels for appropriate decision-making. What is often missing from the conversation is the need for government ownership and management of the data. In the field of rural water supply infrastructure and water services, the WASH programs of NGOs are not often designed with government as partners from the beginning. In the session at UNC Water and Health Conference, 2018, we discussed this challenge – and how CARE, Water for People, and SweetSense have been working to overcome this challenge.

Each of the three presenters were to answer these questions:

1. What data was used for decision-making?

2. Who owns and manages the data?

3. What government decisions resulted from use of the data? To what impact?

4. What role did you play in working with government? What were the key challenges?

CARE presented on the case of Ethiopia –CARE and the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) conducted two main studies to inform government decision-making.  Most of the data was collected by government officials who were trained by CARE on the survey instruments and use of the mWater mobile app (for the second survey). The first survey, conducted across 5 zones (over 11 million inhabitants) was the Spare Parts study – which surveyed government staff, community WASH committees and private suppliers. The study found that while communities know where and what to buy there is little available within 50km and travel costs and time are too high for communities to access spare parts. The Government, which is responsible for major repairs is rarely allocating the resources, and there is low competition for spare parts and costs are high. The GoE was also interested in conducting an inventory of existing water supplies to see which ones were and were not working – in 2016 the team visited over 9000 water points – and two years later many of these water points were fixed by the government and new points were installed in underserved areas – all because of data!

Water For People presented on the case of a municipality in Nicaragua where Water For People has been working with the local government to monitor various water service metrics including water quality, quantity, accessibility, and downtime.  The data is collected annually across all 46 communities in the municipality.  The local government’s WASH office is now responsible for data collection, cleaning, and presentation to local stakeholders.  This data has provided the information needed for the local government to set realistic targets and make incremental progress and strategic investments towards their goal of universal and sustainable services across the municipality.  As a result, this municipality achieved a critical milestone in 2018 - all communities now have reliable water service!

This session provided a platform for sharing stories and learning about working with local governments and using data to influence their planning and priorities.  The session also provided a platform for meaningful conversations about challenges with sustaining government monitoring systems.  The cost of monitoring and models to cover those costs was a key challenge raised.  This and other challenges, all point to the need for strong government partnership and co-financing from the beginning. 

After all, government is the most important, decision-making stakeholder in most contexts.  When it is mentioned, it is only mentioned but rarely dug into in a meaningful way.  There are a few experts in this arena that have great lessons, but these need to be disseminated and become part of a recurring conversation by implementers and funders in the sector.  Many of these conversations are just scratching the surface. 

CARE and Water for People convened a side session at the 2018 UNC Water and Health Conference, moderated by Guy Hutton of UNICEF, with a presentation from Evan Thomas of University of Colorado, Boulder and founder of SweetSense Inc.