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Published on: 11/03/2013

Service delivery models provide agreed legal and institutional frameworks for delivering a service, including commonly understood and accepted roles for actors involved in the development and provision of the water service, the type of physical infrastructure used to deliver water services, and standards for levels of service to be provided. Service delivery models are thus an integral part of a service delivery approach.

What is a service delivery model?

A service delivery model describes the service to be provided under the model, as well as the infrastructure and the management model needed to operate and maintain the infrastructure in order to provide the service. Water services can be described in terms of levels of service with attributes such as quality, quantity, reliability and accessibility. The management model refers to the institutional arrangements for the service provider. These service providers are supported by authority and support functions that are required to ensure sustainable water services, as described further in the page on institutional functions and levels . Service delivery models are guided by a country's existing policy and legal frameworks which define the norms and standards for water supply, the roles, rights and responsibilities, and financing mechanisms at national level. As such, service delivery models cut across the different levels and scales as illustrated in the figure below.

Different service delivery models

The following broad groups of service delivery models can be identified: community-based management; public sector utilities; private sector; and self-supply. In a country, or even within a single decentralised administrative unit, water services can be provided through a variety of service delivery models. These models can differ in the level of service provided under the model, the type of infrastructure and/or the management model.

As an example, the figure below provides an overview of service delivery models in Ghana; and shows the four main models, as well as more detailed variations under these broad groups. Even more variations can be identified when considering differences in terms of combinations of management models, type of infrastructure and service levels.

The different service delivery models tend to be applied in different types of settlements, depending on contextual factors, such as availability of water resources, geology, demography and choice of the users. A utility service delivery model is for example commonly applied in densely populated urban areas, where clients can easily be connected to a central piped system. Community-based management service delivery models are often applied in rural areas and small towns, though each may have differences in for example the type of technology used or the service level.

Within a service delivery approach, clear guidance should be provided on where and when to apply which service delivery model. If that is not provided, the choice of model may be more arbitrary and can depend more on perceptions of implementers. In that case, a situation can occur in which people living in similar contexts depend on different service providers under different service delivery models. As the price people pay for the service often depends on the choice of hardware and software applied to provide the service, people under different service delivery models can pay different amounts for a similar level of service, in terms of quantity, quality, accessibility and reliability.

What is IRC doing about it?

Where well-articulated service delivery models exist, such as community-based management in many places, IRC advocates that the different stakeholders in a sector, including NGOs and development partners, follow these service delivery models. But often service-delivery models are not fully and clearly defined. In those cases, we support in the defining of those, as we have been supporting for small-town and peri-urban water supplies in Ghana. In other cases, it may be relevant to consider and promote alternative models, such as self-supply, so that these become recognised in the future. 

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