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A case for WASH Sector Learning and Knowledge Management

Published on: 30/08/2016

At the 6th Africa Water Week, IRC - International Water and Sanitation Centre, convened a session to discuss the importance of knowledge management and sector learning as essential components in strengthening national WASH sector systems, and make appropriate recommendations.

The adoption of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) provides a new context for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector. Achieving the Africa Water vision 2025, the Agenda 2065 and the SDG6 target of universal access require innovation and application of the best and proven methods and approaches. But what are the required methods, approaches, institutional arrangements, finances and tools? Who has the capacity to find and develop contextualized solutions?

In the recently concluded 6th Africa Water Week, IRC - International Water and Sanitation Centre, convened a session to discuss the importance of knowledge management and sector learning as essential components in strengthening national WASH sector systems.

The session was convened under the under the auspices of Africa Joint WASH Learning Initiative, which brings together a group of partners that are committed to coordinating learning activities for purposes of achieving SDGs. The session intended to generate recommendations on how knowledge management and sector learning can become an integrated part of the envisioned Africa roadmap to implement high level commitments towards achieving SDGS in the WASH sector.

Basing on three case studies, participants tried to find answers to three key questions:

  • Who should be natural champions? Organisations and platforms that could be drivers for Knowledge Management and Sector Learning in WASH in the West and Central Africa region?
  • Who should take a leadership role in enabling Knowledge Management and Sector Learning in the WASH sector in West and Central Africa region? What role could or should AMCOW be playing?
  • What would be needed to ensure the partnerships' independent role and financial sustainability over time?

The ensuing discussions raised key questions and proposals on how sector learning can be better coordinated and more effective to ensure that it contributes to the attainment of universal access to WASH.
Kitchinme Bawa Gotau of African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) posed the question: How relevant and effective are the knowledge management and sector learning activities? Who defines the WASH learning agenda? He called for a strategic framework for knowledge management and learning and better coordination of learning activities in Africa. He recommended that actors had to strike the right partnerships. He also stressed the need for the right political leadership and stronger involvement of African actors and institutions. "There is need to be led by a regionally rooted African institution and hope that AMCOW will take this role. The Africa joint WASH learning initiative is part of the effort to change the way we do things," Gotau said.

Sharing learning and KM experience of the African groundwater network, Mustafa Dienne of Université Cheikh Anta Diop noted that Africa had many groundwater sites across the continent but there are challenges about the knowledge surrounding them. Often times, there is no information available to users especially in terms of guidelines. Failures are not documented and groundwater maps are not available. There is a missing link between researchers and practitioners. He emphasized the need to share all information between individuals and institutions.

More issues arose from the presentation about learning on collective behavior change in sanitation, under the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF). The presentation highlighted the strengths of peer learning between countries, which have led to the adoption of good practices like Follow Up MANDONA in the GSF. Learning and Knowledge Management under the GSF has also led to the to the budding of a Francophone Learning network, taking into account the limited opportunities for Francophone countries to engage in international learning and exchange.

Some countries are already taking steps to plan strategically for KM and learning. Ousmane Ouedraogo from the Ministry of Water and Sanitation in Burkina Faso presented the country's strategic direction for KM and Learning. Called upon participants to reflect on how actors in Africa can align the knowledge management and sector learning agenda at continental and international levels with national issues and priorities for the realisation of SDG 6. He also called upon actors to develop strategies to ensure adequate and sustainable funding of Knowledge Management in the sector at national level.

At end of the session, participants agreed that to achieve SDG6, it is important to strengthen national level learning and knowledge management bearing in mind the following recommendations.

  • Learning requires a collaborative effort between governments, researchers, WASH practitioners and private sector actors at country and regional levels. Additionally knowledge users should be seen as information providers and should therefore be included in the learning and knowledge sharing process.Learning should be nationally owned and funded. African actors need to own the learning and knowledge management process. There should be Africa regional ownership and AMCOW should lead this process. Groups such as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) can play this leadership role sub-regionally. The national priorities should inform the learning agendas.
  • National governments should set up national learning hubs with support from the Africa Joint WASH Learning Initiative members (WSSCC, RWSN, psS-Eau, UNICEF-WCARO, SWA and AMCOW), civil society organizations and national academic institutions
  • The roadmap (Africa Action Plan) include guidance for government to allocate budget lines specifically for learning to embed learning and knowledge management into national budgets