Published on: 11/03/2014
Ensuring long-term services on a large scale.
At IRC we use the phrase "a service delivery approach" as shorthand for our belief that success in achieving universal access to water and sanitation requires a shift in focus: from delivering hardware through projects to delivering services to whole populations. Adopting a service delivery approach implies emphasising the entire life-cycle of a service: both the hardware (engineering or construction elements) and software (capacity building, institutional support, financial planning) required to provide and sustain a certain level of access to water. It also requires definition of the roles and responsibilities for multiple actors working at different institutional levels and improving lines of accountability, coordination and harmonisation among their activities. Above all else, it requires the alignment of incentives - rewards and sanctions - to the delivery of service against agreed indicators that cover aspects like service quality and user satisfaction.
In the developing world, approximately one out of three rural water supply systems is not working at any one time.
In the developing world, approximately one out of three rural water supply systems is not working at any one time. Failures on this scale represent hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted investment and millions of people having to fetch water from distant, unsafe sources – to the detriment of their health, education, and livelihoods.
True life-cycle costs are poorly understood and are not planned for – resulting in extended downtimes or complete abandonment of systems while funding for major repairs or replacement is sought.
The predominant community management model has limitations and is inherently un-scalable.
Donors and NGOs have often taken their own approach to implementing rural water-supply projects. This has meant systems are built without the supporting institutional structures needed to sustain long-term services, and that rural water sectors have not been strengthened, despite significant investment.
In the current projectised approach, after construction of a new system, users have access to a given level of service. The new system initially functions well, but due to lack of support and proper asset management quickly starts to deteriorate until the service collapses completely. If the community it is intended to serve is lucky, it is revived at some time in the future or replaced by the construction of a new system, typically by another agency.
In a service delivery approach, once a water system has been constructed, the service is maintained indefinitely through a planned process of low-intensity administration and management, with occasional capital intensive interventions to upgrade the service level and to replace the hardware at the end of its designed lifetime.
In a service delivery approach, once a water system has been constructed, the service is maintained indefinitely.
Operationalising a service delivery approach requires action at multiple levels on the part of different actors. Change won't happen overnight, but using tools like the Triple-S principles framework, it is possible to make progress step by step. Some requirements for operationalising service delivery include:
The adoption of a focus on service delivery, also implies starting to work with a number of other concepts. These include:
These concepts are elaborated further in the notes linked to below. These also contain further explanation on how we understand related concepts such as institutional levels and scale and sustainability of services.