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Published on: 23/04/2012

The workshop which was organised as part of the PSO-supported programme on sector learning with RCNs in Burkina Faso, Honduras, Ghana, Nepal and Uganda. Participants reflected on how resource centre networks are supporting learning in the WASH sector and shared stories of change as well as lessons on what works and what challenges exist.

How do WASH Resource Centre Networks (RCNs) support learning in their WASH sectors? What change has resulted from their work so far? From 17 to 20th April IRC conducted a workshop that brought together RCN coordinators from Ghana, Uganda and Nepal and IRC staff to reflect on these issues and draw lessons for the future. The workshop was organised as part of the PSO-supported programme on sector learning with RCNs. In this programme we have been using Reflexive Monitoring in Action, a methodology developed by the Wageningen University and the University of Amsterdam. The focus has been to assess, reflect and learn about how WASH sector Resource Centres and their networks can facilitate sector stakeholders to learn and to link learning among all institutional levels (referred to as 'sector learning') in order to provide more sustainable efficient and effective WASH services, in particular to the poorest.

The 3-day workshop was facilitated by Marlen Arkestein and Barbara van Mierlo. On the first day of the workshop, participants reviewed theories of change that had been developed in 2011. They discussed progress and challenges and updated the theories of change. Participants reflected on what works and what does not in supporting the sector to move towards a learning mode.

Collecting and analysing change stories 

Each country coordinator also shared a story of change with an IRC colleague and together they wrote the story down. On the second day coordinators shared these stories alongs with change stories that had been prepared before the workshop. IRC colleague Caridad Camacho shared stories from Burkina Faso based on inputs from the RCN coordinator there, and her own observations.
After listening to the change stories the group discussed lessons learned that surpass country level. There were several stories about a gradual increase in demand for the RCNs services as a result of the products and services that it produced. Participants reflected on what makes RCN initiatives successful in facilitating sector learning. Common lessons in the country stories of change included the following:

  • There is increased recognition by WASH sector stakeholders that learning is a valuable activity for understanding and addressing recurring problems and gaps in the sector.
  • RCNs are catalysing learning by providing relevant and timely information products and facilitating physical and internet-based platforms that enable people to share and make sense of information and experience.
  • The products and services are also an important way for the RCNs to gain recognition from sector stakeholders and help establish a niche for further work of the RCN, both are critical issues regarding the sustainability of the RCN.
  • Documentation, sharing and joint analysis as well as agreed actions are critical elements of the learning interventions facilitated by the RCNs
  • Change takes time and a critical mass of activities, contact moments and relationship building. Over a period of three years change is becomming apparent. Change that is becoming visible now emerges from a much longer partnership between IRC and the RC host organisations.
  • A window of opportunity can suddenly provide an urgency and felt relevance for coordination and learning, when before it was not taken up by sector stakeholders. In other words, RCNs need persistence but also need to be strategic and grab opportunities when they arise.
  • It has taken a lot of hard work, energy and commitment on the part of the coordinators. Their confidence and experience has grown considerably.

How to measure learning?

On the third day, gathered cross-country conclusions and discussed issues of embedding, political buy in and moving towards a learning mode in the sector. We concluded that some indication could be given but that it would be useful to develop indicators for sector learning, perhaps in the form of a descriptive ladder. The theory of change can be a tool to jointly review how far you have progressed and whether you're on track.

Also, we concluded that government commitment to learning is critical for sustainably moving the sector towards a learning mode. The RCNs need to establish partnerships with government at all levels. For this they need to be able to explain the value of learning in a way that is appealing and clear to government staff and also design learning interventions that link to or strengthen existing processes and platforms. Each participant looked ahead at future plans, questions for further exploration and immediate follow up actions from the workshop.

A session with Ton Schouten from Triple-S provided an opportunity to reflect on the different approaches towards learning and change at sector level. Triple-S has a clear change agenda centred on the theme of 'sustainable water services at scale', a large budget as well as a powerful partnership with the BMGF. RCNs don't have these assets, but they do have motivated and experienced facilitators, networks of partners and allies and a track record in facilitating learning processes. In most sectors a cycle of plan-do-fail is the norm. RCNs can support a new way of working in the sector through their learning concepts and their information products and documentation and facilitation services. Government commitment, the need to consciously plan for recurring reflection moments and the importance of skilled and well-connected facilitators were also common factors discussed.

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