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Published on: 09/04/2014

The case for Sector learning in Uganda is now more convincing than it was three years ago. This became clear at the November 2013 Learning retreat for Triple-S Consortium and strategic partners where capacity of the sector to learn and adapt was acknowledged as key in sustaining rural water services.

Learning is a process of joint reflection and analysis on our practice, performance trends, systemic challenges or opportunities with the aim of questioning the status quo to inspire thinking  on how to do things differently or to do entirely different things. The learning process is  meant to challenge our ways of working and the belief or value systems that guide us.

The ambition of all water users or citizens any where in the world is to have access to safe water all the time without any interuptions. This requires that the network of actors including service providers, authorities and regulators, Civil Society Organizations and Development partners many times operating at different level (national, regional, district and sub county) works towards a common goal. It is pertinent that these actors have mechanisms for joint reflection on how what they do fits together and for coordination to ensure that standard procedures are followed and that emerging issues on rural water services are promptly addressed.

The sector is cognisant of the complexity of dealing with actors with different interests at different levels. Multistakeholder platforms (MSPs) have thus been established to bring actors together to share information, analyze performance, and coordinate stakeholder actions to improve efficiency and effectiveness of WASH service delivery.

At the district level the District Water and Sanitation Coordination Committee (DWSCCs) have been set up to coordinate all WASH actors and strengthen collaboration with other sectors. At regional level the inter district meetings provide opportunities for actors (District Water Office, politicians) at the decentralized level  to interface and dialogue on policy issues with staff from the centre especially those at the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE).

At national level the Joint Technical and Sector review forums provide opportunities for joint reflection on performance against planned sector targets with a performance measurement framework. They also serve as accountability forums for MWE, development partners, legislators, and District Local Governments.

Other MSPs include; thematic and working groups on Functionality, Good Governance, Sanitation, and and one specifically for Development Partners. The Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO Network (UWASNET) also has a number of working groups similar to those in the main sector.  Given this kind of landscape, clear and targeted communication is required to ensure that lessons generated from the decentralized level are not lost in the web of MSPs at National level.

As testified by the participants at the Roundtable meeting on Decentralized learning in March 2012, MSPs have increased collaboration and trust between the sector stakeholders, increased political support for the sector, and contributed to increased budgetary support for software. The participants also noted that there is a lot of information generated in different platforms though they were not sure if such information is synthesized and shared beyond the level at which it is generated.

This implies that actors at the decentralized level should be aware of the objectives and headline issues that different MSPs are focusing on in order to support them with evidence. It is important to ensure that MSPs at decentralized level also generate the right content to aid them in improving practice and negotiating for space on the relevant MSPs at national level. Evidence is always required to inform policy dialogue but this can only come from the lower levels that have direct contact with implementation. At the moment there is a big challenge on synthesis, and concise documentation of issues emerging from practice. MSPs at decentralized level are still struggling with documentation and communication of issues from their regions. For Technical Support Units (TSUs) 2 and 6, regional learning forums have been useful in documenting, sharing of promising approaches, and providing support for scaling up across districts. Scaling up the learning forums beyond the two TSUs and providing support in synthesis, documentation of emerging issues and facilitation of learning forums will provide a broad evidence base to inform policy and practice. Given the relevant skills, TSUs and CSOs championing learning at the regional level would be able to facilitate this process.

Learning and coordination model

Given the different interests, roles and levels at which stakeholders in the sector intervene, IRC/Triple-S is working with MWE through an action research approach to develop a Learning and coordination model aimed at improving learning at different levels.

Objectives for learning and coordination

The model will provide a formal structure for aligning learning agendas at different levels, synthesizing issues, harvesting evidence emerging from the MSPs, and tailoring communication outputs/messages to relevant institutions.

The model proposes that an institution is identified and seconded to run WASH knowledge management hub on behalf of MWE. The hub will be a resource center for the water and sanitation sub sector responsible for coordinating the learning process. It will be owned by MWE but managed by the selected institution.

The model further proposes that the Water & Sanitation sub sector working group will approve the overall learning agenda. The hub will be responsible for collecting synthesizing and disseminating information on innovations in the sector, and managing a WASH web based data base. It will work with the Sub sector working group to develop proposals for sector undertakings and will set the agenda for CSO undertakings according to themes prioritized by the working group. The hub will also support TSUs and CSOs at regional level to facilitate learning at regional level and synthesize issues, and promising approaches relevant for influencing policy. The figure below shows how information will flow to and from the hub from different MSPs.

Consultations with MWE and other actors on how to make the model work are still ongoing but there is positive feedback from stakeholders (SNV, Water Aid, and NETWAS) that have been championing learning at the National level. Stakeholders anticipate that the model will quicken the process of decision making on policy issues using the broad and rich evidence base from regional experiences. MSPs will also become more effective in generating context specific, actionable and relevant content that is within the mandate of their target institutions. There is hope that what started as an experiment within Triple-S is likely to develop into a recognized way of working in the sector.

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