There is widespread recognition of the importance of support to community-based water service providers for sustainability of rural water supplies. However, there is little quantitative evidence to back this claim and a very limited understanding about the characteristics of support agents that are most significant in providing effective support.
This paper presents the results of a study on support to service providers in Colombia, including a quantitative analysis of the impact of different support agents on service levels, performance of service providers and functionality of infrastructure assets. The methodology included: 1) characterisation of seven different support agents and their performance, 2) analysis of service levels, performance of service providers and functionality of infrastructure for 29 service providers that received structured support, and 3) analysis of the same factors for 11 service providers that did not receive structured support.
Nearly all service providers in this study were found to receive some type of support, but sometimes this was unstructured and irregular. The providers receiving support in a structured and frequent manner performed better against a list of expected functions than the ones receiving ad hoc support. However, there was no clear effect found between support and the level of service that users received or the asset status. The paper also concludes that there is scope to improve the effectiveness of support agents, with key factors identified which explain that effectiveness; these key factors are the frequency of support, the institutional capacity of the support agent and the targeting of support to different types of communities. [authors abstract]