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Published on: 17/11/2011

A crucial building block in delivering sustainable services is a monitoring system able to track a level of rural water service over time, especially the performance of key technical, financial, and management functions so that problems can be anticipated and addressed. To help the sector IRC and the six-year Triple-S (Sustainable Services at Scale) Project have started the Building Blocks for Sustainability series.

This briefing series is a resource for people who make decisions about rural water supply—financing, policy, and programme design and implementation. Publications outline the basic building blocks for sustainable delivery of water services—such as indicators and targets, aid harmonisation, and professionalisation of community management—and provide evidence and examples from actual practice. Findings and recommendations are based on the results of a multi-country study carried out by Triple-S and a review of broader sector examples and research.

Functionality a limited indicator

The fundamental limitation of functionality as an indicator is its focus on the output (i.e., asking whether water flows from the tap or hand pump), and not on the underlying factors that make a service sustainable, such as adequate management capacity, tariff recovery, and technical backstopping.

Indicators for service monitoring

Adapting indicators to focus on the service provided and defining sector targets is an important step in creating more sustainable rural water services at scale. The aim is to create a system that provides government, service providers and users with the information necessary to set targets, monitor progress, take corrective action and ensure accountability.

Emerging solutions and good practice

Honduras, Nicaragua and Uganda have used composite indicators to improve rural water services. Composite indicators require more resources for data collection and analysis. Local and higher levels of government must also have the capacity to take short-term and longer-term management decisions and follow-up actions based on the data collected.

The Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) in Ghana produced a first draft of 20 sustainability indicators in five main categories. These indicators monitor the service provided, the performance of the service providers and service authorities.

Monitoring for performance management

Data collection is worthwhile only when it is analysed and the resulting information feeds into decision-making processes. Monitoring information is important at the aggregated national sector level and at lower decentralised levels, where it can alert authorities to trouble spots and successes they can replicate. Only a few countries have incorporated performance management into their WASH sectors.

In Honduras, technicians visit rural water supply systems to review aspects of the service, including indicators of technical performance and condition of the infrastructure, management and organisational issues and the state of financing and required investments. The results are collated in the field and fed into a programme called Rural Water Supply Information Systems or SIAR. The classification allows technicians to identify and anticipate risks to sustainability, even if the physical system is not showing major problems, and to evaluate the performance of the service provider, and provides recommendations to address low-scoring areas.

Recommendations for monitoring

First steps towards improved monitoring include:

  • Introducing functionality (measured at regular intervals) as a proxy indicator for sustainability
  • Introducing basic indicators to monitor service providers—fulfilment of basic financial, technical and management functions—to enable corrective action
  • Improve alignment around monitoring to ensure adherence to minimum requirements and to contribute to common monitoring frameworks

Where service providers are professionalised, monitoring frameworks can provide the basis for more formal regulation and improved accountability to consumers.

Points for government action

  • Invest in monitoring systems that track system functionality and service sustainability (e.g. financial health)
  • Build capacity of local government to use monitoring information to better plan and support more sustainable services.

Donors and Development Partners action:

  • Incorporate conditions into grant agreements with national governments to strengthen monitoring systems and capacity.
  • Write into agreements that grantees and contractors align monitoring with national systems.

International Financial Institutions action:

  • Make infrastructure loans contingent on an element of support for monitoring systems.

About this Brief

Triple-S is a multi-country learning initiative to improve water supply to the rural poor.

‘Service Delivery Indicators and Monitoring to Improve Sustainability of Rural Water Supplies’ was written by Harold Lockwood and Anna Le Gouais of Aguaconsult with input from Ton Schouten, Tania Verdemato and Patrick Moriarty. It was reviewed Robert Bos, Coordinator of Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health at the World Health Organization.

Download the eight-page PDF document.

For additional monitoring resources, go to

Dick de Jong

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