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Delivering services overview

How to build sectors that can deliver WASH services that last

Widening the focus

In the past decade or so, the prevailing focus on expanding coverage through investment in capital assets—pipes, pumps, latrines—has begun to widen to encompass equally important aspects of WASH services: the functions required to deliver the service itself and to maintain the infrastructure in working order. IRC, through initiatives such as Triple-S and WASHCost, has been pushing for that expanded focus—what we call “a service delivery” approach—and working to develop tools to support it.

The approach requires:

  • looking at the entire life-cycle of a service—from the initial capital investment in facilities (the hardware) through the functions needed to continue to deliver the service (for example, monitoring and financial planning) to the replacement of assets (see figure 1); and
  • defining roles and responsibilities for multiple actors working at different levels (see Table 1) and improving coordination and harmonisation among them (see delivering change section of this tool box).

We’ve grouped our tools and know-how under key components (or as IRC calls them 'building blocks') of establishing a sector that can deliver services that last. These are for the most part applicable to both water or sanitation. Sanitation specific tools can be found under the sanitation block and hygiene specific tools under the behaviour change block.

Figure 1 entire life-cycle of a service

 Figure 1: The service delivery life-cycle

Figure 2 roles and responsibilities in delivery WASH services that last

Table 1: Institutional levels and functions for service delivery

Where to start

The most effective starting point depends on the country context, but in Figure 2, we’ve outlined a common sense approach to sequencing that most countries seem to follow.

In countries where rural water and sanitation coverage is relatively low and where ODA is the mainstay of financing for the sector, the first place to start is often in:

  • professionalising community based management,
  • developing alternative models, such as self-supply and private providers,
  • strengthening the ability of the service authority, usually local government, to oversee and support service providers, and,
  • finally, to expand monitoring efforts to include some measure of the services actually delivered and performance of service authorities and providers, rather than just the physical presence of facilities.

Figure 3 sequencing building a sector that can deliver WASH services that last

Figure 2: Building blocks sequencing for service delivery 

Countries that have medium to high levels of coverage (approximately between 65% and 85%), but are caught between the need to continue expanding services (often to the most vulnerable and hardest to reach) and at the same time the need to to sustain and improve existing services will want to focus on putting into place a clear and realistic financing framework to adequately manage replacement and support costs.

Lastly, for countries with only a small percentage of their population not covered, the obvious challenge is in reaching the ‘last mile’ and addressing capital replacement of aging infrastructure. These countries typically are also developing the more advanced elements of a service delivery approach such as asset management systems, comprehensive service delivery monitoring, advanced financing mechanisms and regulation of services in rural areas. In these contexts, the development of comprehensive water security strategies is also indispensable.

A virtuous cycle

This progression is in many ways a logical one – countries struggling with low coverage would not necessarily adopt regulation as the first step – but we also observe the inter-related nature of these building blocks. For example, once services become more professionalised, service delivery will become more monetised and less dependent on voluntarism. With that follows the need to have clear roles and mechanisms for tariff setting, balanced with other sources of financing. This process is usually guided by rules set by a regulator. This, in turn, also requires improved service delivery monitoring to assess whether services meet standards. We therefore believe that once progress is made with one or two of the basic components, a sector may end up in a virtuous cycle of development that is more conducive to service delivery overall. However, that does require that a sector is willing to operate on many fronts concurrently.

The use of tools in delivering services

The tools contained in this section of the toolkit are grouped broadly along the building blocks presented in Figure 3 above. Several of the tools relate to more than one building block, as the building blocks are interrelated, as are the tools to support them. 

Ideally, the tools should follow the broad sequence identified in Figure 3. In reality, this may not be feasible or even desirable, as in a given country, some components may already have been put in place, and others, that in theory, should have come earlier are still weak or missing. A first step in applying the tools is to define a logical sequence that makes sense in the country context where you work. In that way, a tailor-made sequence can be made with the corresponding tools.

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