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Quick guide to Monitoring

Published on: 17/02/2014

Towards a shared vision of strong national sector monitoring systems that enable the planning and sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene services.

IRC's new monitoring book "From infrastructure to services : trends in monitoring sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services" provides a background to the topic. Stef Smits, co-editor of the book, says it’s crucial that local government monitoring systems are in place to improve the sustainability of WASH service delivery. This quick guide is based on the introduction of the book’s first chapter “Know the problem, find the solution! Monitoring sustainable WASH service delivery: opportunities and challenges”.  

Trends and developments

Monitoring is not new in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, but the way in which it is done is changing rapidly. Over the last 50 years, United Nations (UN) bodies and other international organizations have led global monitoring efforts. Monitoring has also become an integrated part of many WASH projects. Data collection has often been a bottleneck, limiting regular updating of information after an initial assessment. Also, much of what was labelled as monitoring stopped at the level of reporting, with little action taken as a result of the monitoring. The last decade has seen a number of trends and developments that are affecting the scope of WASH monitoring and the way in which this is done.

Monitoring access

Monitoring access to WASH has become standard practice almost everywhere. The UN Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) has set the standards for monitoring access to water and sanitation globally. In addition, various countries have started undertaking nationwide inventories of access to water and, to a lesser extent, sanitation facilities, referred to as water point or sanitation mapping.

Service delivery indicators

Increasingly, other service delivery indicators are also being monitored; access only tells part of the story of progress in WASH. For example, progress towards the achievement of the millennium development goals (MDGs) would be significantly lower if water quality was taken into account. Recent monitoring initiatives seek to include indicators such as water quantity, quality, and reliability, and even the performance of the service provider. This is reinforced by the need to monitor progress towards the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation.

Monitoring inputs

Increased attention is being paid to the monitoring of ‘inputs’, such as finance flows and policies and legislation for WASH services. There are initiatives to monitor these at global level, through the two-yearly GLAAS (Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water) process, as well as at country level, for example through budget tracking.

Who monitors?

The changes in what is being monitored are accompanied by changes in who monitors. Monitoring was often the domain of implementing organizations, reporting on numbers of new facilities built. At best, these results fed into national asset inventories, but more often they remained internal reports for funders. With a changing focus on monitoring service delivery, local and national governments in particular are getting involved, as they are ultimately responsible for delivery.

Accountability and ICT

Monitoring is also getting more prominence due to the increased demand for accountability. Users of water and sanitation services seek to hold service providers to account over the services they receive. The aid effectiveness framework, as reflected in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, highlights mutual accountability between recipient governments and donors as one of its key principles. And, as a result of a more critical attitude of taxpayers in the North with regard to the use of aid, donors seek to provide accountability for the impact of aid. Much effort has therefore gone into operationalizing the accountability relations between donors, governments, and users, for which monitoring of service delivery is a prerequisite.

Lastly, developments in information and communication technology (ICT) have significantly reduced the costs and time needed for data collection, processing, and visualization, and have provided opportunities for more stakeholders to collect and access data.


Driven by these trends, we see an emerging shared vision for the role of monitoring in the WASH sector: one where strong national sector monitoring systems enable the planning and sustainability of WASH services. Strong monitoring systems involve various elements:

Strong monitoring systems have clear institutional arrangements, with dedicated financial and human resource capacity

Monitoring must be engrained in the national sector institutions that have the mandate to carry out monitoring, act upon the results, and be accountable for them.

Strong monitoring systems imply having clear institutional arrangements, with dedicated financial and human resource capacity. This also often means having arrangements to share the costs of monitoring between sector institutions and having the mechanisms to create an intrinsic motivation for carrying out that monitoring, including, for example, mandates and incentives.

It implies having information systems, including indicator sets, surveys, and new ICT that collects and stores data.

Achieving this vision is not straightforward: it requires capitalizing on the trends and opportunities outlined above. It also means dealing with challenges such as finding a balance between the complexity of indicators and their ease and cost-effectiveness of use; and making the most of the parallel monitoring systems of national governments, projects, and international organizations.