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Making the most of available resources: lessons from value-for-money research

Published on: 19/05/2015

Value-for-money analysis should be a bottom-up process and managers of WASH programmes should embrace it to transparently track the progress of their project and to demonstrate results.

VFM-WASH Asia

Alexandra Chitty, Research Uptake Officer at SHARE, reports on the Sustainability and Value for Money seminar that took place at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

On Monday 11th May 2015, the SHARE Consortium co-hosted an international seminar with the DFID-funded VFM-WASH Consortium on how sustainability surveys and value-for-money (VFM) analysis can be used to improve the performance of WASH programmes.

More than 65 policymakers, practitioners and researchers from across the WASH sector turned out to hear researchers from Oxford Policy Management (OPM), the University of Leeds, and Trémolet Consulting share some fascinating findings from a project they’ve been working on for the past 2 years and to listen to a distinguished panel of guests reflect upon the value of VFM for WASH programming.

What is VFM and why measure it?

Key VFM questions

Laura Westcott of DFID kicked off the evening by explaining that VFM is about much more than just saving money or lowering unit costs. This DFID-championed concept seeks to ‘maximise the impact of every pound spent to improve poor people’s lives’. Essentially it is about making the most of the resources available and ensuring that these resources are used to bring about development outcomes that are sustainable.

Next, she gave a brief overview of the research the VFM-WASH Consortium has been conducting in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zambia since 2013. Laura explained that the project’s aims were twofold:

  1. Identify how VFM and sustainability can be improved in DFID-funded WASH programmes
  2. Assess the operational sustainability of rural WASH services in Africa and South Asia.

What did the VFM-WASH Consortium discover?

Ian Ross of OPM explained that to address the second facet, nationally-representative surveys were carried out in 1,200 households (in 60 rural clusters) across 4 countries and all public water points in those clusters were visited. Some of the key findings he highlighted were that: 

  • There was a high reliance on public water points in Africa, but a low reliance in South Asia where private ownership of water points was high.
  • Rural households in South Asia reported water points being operational almost 24/7 throughout the year, whereas households in Africa reported the availability of water at water points varying during the day and from month to month.
  • Functionality of public water points was found to be relatively high across both regions, ranging from 70 to 96%.

A culture change within the sector towards an appreciation of the value of VFM analysis is needed

Sophie Trémolet of Trémolet Consulting then spoke about the first facet of the project which consisted of interviews with key stakeholders, and data collection from and field visits to 6 DFID programmes. She emphasised the following salient findings:

  • Implementers were often reluctant to reveal what programmes cost due to fear that results may be misrepresented or used against them. A culture change within the sector towards an appreciation of the value of VFM analysis is needed.
  • There was limited data available with which to ascertain cost-effectiveness. Better data would go a long way towards remedying this.

Panellists’ reflections

Following these presentations, a panel of distinguished WASH experts reflected upon the project and the broader importance of VFM to the WASH sector, and answered some excellent questions from the audience.   

A simple cost per person analysis is not the most appropriate measure

Nicolas Osbert, Chief of WASH at UNICEF Zambia, discussed how UNICEF Zambia was using VFM in their work. He reiterated that at present VFM is a culture, not a science, and that a more scientific approach to VFM is needed before cross-country analyses can occur.

Girish Menon, Director of International Programmes at WaterAid, explained that WaterAid has moved away from a cost per beneficiary level of analysis towards a more comprehensive narrative of VFM which includes post-implementation monitoring to ascertain what works 1, 3 or 5 years later and why.

Finally, David Shimkus, Programme Director of the Global Sanitation Fund, emphasised that often a simple cost per person analysis is not the most appropriate measure. If the goal is to meet the most vulnerable or at risk with WASH services, capturing information on the enabling environment would be more salient. This is where VFM and sustainability analysis can add significant value.

Summing up

Throughout the event, presenters and panellists unanimously agreed that rather than being something to be cautious of, VFM analysis should be embraced by managers of WASH programmes as an excellent and systematic way to transparently track the progress of their project and to demonstrate results. There was a consensus that this will require a culture change within the WASH sector as VFM analysis is often currently interpreted as a top-down judging process. To achieve buy-in, VFM analysis must be portrayed as a bottom-up process.

Next steps

This blog was originally published as "How can Sustainability Surveys and VFM Analyses Improve WASH Programming?" on the SHARE website on 18 May 2015.

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