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Published on: 12/09/2014

These are the starting questions of a 3-year Action Research launched in 2013 and jointly conducted by IRC and local partners of the Dutch WASH Alliance (DWA) in 4 countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda.

This action-research has its roots in ongoing programmes of selected DWA local partners (AMREF in Ethiopia, Uttaran in Bangladesh, JESE and HEWASA in Uganda, and New Energy and CLIP in Ghana) that are currently implementing WASH initiatives. Based on the local contexts, all these programmes tackle cross-cutting issues linked to hygiene or community empowerment, in line with the DWA FIETS approach (Financial, Institutional, Environmental, Technical and Social sustainability, see link below).

Whereas monitoring tangible results, such as the construction of new water and sanitation systems, is rather straightforward, measuring the outcomes of soft activities may be more challenging. The DWA was hence particularly interested in finding out more about the effectiveness of their partners' programmes as regards to hygiene promotion and community empowerment. How to make sure that current activities have the expected outcomes? How to measure the effectiveness of current approaches and their achievements over the years? What could be done to make these even more effective?

An assessment of the existing

To get a better understanding of current activities and approaches being implemented by DWA local partners in the field, the first year of the Action Research was dedicated to listing the key activities aiming at Hygiene Promotion and Community Empowerment, and to developing a framework (one per country) comprising a set of indicators for each identified activity.

This inventory and description of activities, and definition of effectiveness indicators, was done during a 6-day workshop organised in 2013 in each of the countries. Tools were jointly developed to collect data on each of these indicators (e.g. household questionnaires, Key Informant Interviews guides), and a work plan was devised for the first round of data collection.

Data collection was conducted between mid-2013 (Uganda, Ethiopia), end 2013 (Ghana) and beginning 2014 (Bangladesh).

A participative approach for analysing and making sense of the data

A second workshop was organised at the end of the first year of the action research, with the aim of reviewing the process and making sense of the collected data. During this workshop, which brought together DWA local partners' staff, as well as in some instances other key local WASH stakeholders such as government extension staff, the following questions were answered:
- Were our tools and methodology efficient in measuring the effectiveness of our interventions?
- What results did we get? Better than expected? Less good than expected?
- In light of these results, does anything need to be changed in our activities for the coming year?

Consequently DWA local partners analysed the extent to which the various programme activities were effective in promoting hygiene and community empowerment.

Based on this sense making, workshop participants then identified some adjustments and improvements to their activities, to be applied in the following year.

Building capacity.... And sustainability

The Action Research is now in its second year, and the second round of data collection is starting, using the same monitoring tools, to assess if the adjusted activities led to more effective interventions as regards to hygiene promotion and community empowerment. This shall again be followed by some sense making and possible further adjustments of activities. A final round of data collection and analysis shall follow in 2015.

In addition to improving services delivered to the DWA programmes' beneficiaries, this action research helps in building the capacity of the DWA local partners and other local stakeholders, who are extremely enthusiastic to be part of the initiative. Health Extension workers in Ethiopia for instance shared that "It was the very first time we do this, and we enjoyed in particular to do it in a participatory way, not like the usual training in 'lecturing' mode". Working with local stakeholders in building monitoring tools that they understand and put into practice themselves, over a period of 3 years, builds ownership. And analysing results together and translating them into direct actions (modifying approaches and testing new ones), encourages them to have a critical eye on on-going work and to be innovative.

Going beyond usual ways of monitoring WASH programmes and looking into effectiveness and impacts are surely building blocks towards more sustainability.

Mélanie Carrasco and Valérie Bey, Programme Officers at IRC




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