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Transforming accountability and project monitoring for stronger national WASH sectors

Published on: 11/03/2014

Donor funded projects often have a lot of resources attached to monitor the outputs and outcomes of their investments. This is an important and valid concern, but do you ever wonder if this makes any difference to efforts led by permanent, national institutions who are supposed to be monitoring WASH services for the long term? What happens when these projects inevitably run out of money and shut down?

Over the last decade there has been a major shift in perspective in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector in line with broader efforts to reform the effectiveness of development aid and to promote greater country ownership.

Greater alignment

The Paris Declaration and subsequent agreements have set out clear principles pointing towards the need for greater alignment with government priorities and country systems, including monitoring frameworks. Support is increasing for common programming frameworks, including sector-wide approaches (SWAps), with the explicit acceptance of joint monitoring and reporting frameworks and there is a growing number of examples of common nationwide monitoring systems. The global monitoring architecture spearheaded by the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) calls for a process of alignment around more common standards and indicators. And yet the reality in many developing countries is that country-led WASH monitoring systems remain weak or fragmented, are often underfunded, and are de-linked from core public sector systems.

Central themes and challenges to integrating project monitoring with national frameworks

Development partners of all shapes and sizes – from small charities to large international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), bilateral donors, and the major lending banks – support WASH interventions that often include a monitoring component. These externally financed programmes can provide valuable testing grounds for new, innovative approaches and technologies and are often flexible and responsive enough to allow for quick learning cycles.

However, such agencies often focus monitoring efforts on their ‘own’ project interventions, driven by a strong burden of accountability to taxpayers and institutional donors. Despite public acknowledgement and commitments to promote the use of country systems, concerns remain over lack of capacity. The result is that project-monitoring efforts may often work around, instead of working with, country-led systems. For many years this has resulted in a plethora of fragmented efforts to monitor WASH interventions that fall away once project funding has run out or the implementing agency withdraws.

Accountability is key

Development of well-functioning national systems has been undermined

One result of this tension over the long term is that development of truly comprehensive, well-functioning national systems has been undermined. But the reality is that such project monitoring, often linked to implementation on the ground, is not about to go away, particularly in many aid-dependent countries, and it is likely to be a continuing feature of the sector for the next 10 to 15 years.

Accountability is the key driver in this equation and raises some fundamental questions: why do we monitor? For whom? And, by extension, what do we monitor? The challenge therefore is how to harness all of the positive elements and innovation that external aid projects can bring and find ways in which these experiences can be integrated, scaled up, and sustained within the predominantly low-resource realities of national and local government systems.

The above text has been taken from:

Lockwood, H., 2015. Transforming accountability and project monitoring for stronger national WASH sectors. In: Schouten, T. & Smits, S. From infrastructure to services : trends in monitoring sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. Rugby, UK: IRC and Practical Action, P. 63-84