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Developing institutional frameworks for monitoring rural water services in Latin America

Various countries in Latin America have begun monitoring rural water supply service delivery, driven by two objectives: 1) to establish rural water inventories for investment planning, and 2) to target post-construction support. A methodology to define an institutional framework for monitoring was developed in order to avoid problems with the sustainability of the monitoring systems themselves.

Why the tool is needed?

For the last thirty years, community-based management has been the predominant service delivery model for rural water supply in Latin America. Despite its spread throughout the region, this model faces many challenges. A significant percentage of rural water systems under-perform. In Honduras, for example, about 37% of the rural water systems suffer from major problems (SANAA, 2009).

Monitoring can be one way of improving service delivery performance. It offers service providers information to take corrective actions, and it helps technical assistance support providers (PATs or Prestadores de Asistencia Técnica, as they are known in Spanish) target their post-construction support. Various countries in the region have seen the development of such support mechanisms, either by the public sector (national, subnational or local), or by private initiatives, such as associations of community-based service providers. Even though such support can have a positive impact on the performance of service provider, PATs often have limited capacity and do not provide effective backing. One of the reasons is that the support is generally triggered when a problem has already occurred. Having PATs monitor community-based providers on a regular/planned basis could help them anticipate service-delivery problems and better target their support. Regular monitoring may also provide governmental entities with information to adjust and improve policies and regulatory frameworks for the rural water sector.

Monitoring has been fraught with problems, particularly in terms of coverage and sustainability. In many Latin American countries, national regulators monitor urban service providers, but do not include rural providers, or only a small number of them, as collecting data is difficult and expensive. Other countries have been successful in mapping rural services nationwide, typically through resources from big projects or programs, but have struggled to regularly update the information due to lack of resources or unclear institutional responsibilities for on-going monitoring. The Rural Water Information System (SIAR) in Honduras, for example, performed reasonably well until external funding stopped and all data rapidly became outdated.

A systematic approach is needed to develop the institutional framework for monitoring rural WASH services, so that the monitoring system itself is sustainable.

Overview of the approach

We define a monitoring system as the procedures for carrying out monitoring, including: i) objectives, ii) processes, iii) institutional arrangements, and iv) tools. One of the main tools of any monitoring system is the information system, which includes indicators, algorithms and information technologies such as data collection instruments, databases and visualization tools. A monitoring system is a broader concept tough, which also includes the definition of institutional roles and responsibilities.

To develop a monitoring system, participating actors must clearly define and agree on: i) procedures (what to do), ii) institutional arrangements (who does what), and iii) the financing framework (what does it cost to monitor and how costs will be covered over time). It also requires identifying whether institutions have the capacity to fulfil these responsibilities and provide resources.

The tool described in this paper follows a four-step approach for the development of a monitoring system as (summarised in Figure 1).

Figure 1: Steps in the development of a monitoring system

Most monitoring systems require the involvement of a number of stakeholders. Developing a monitoring system is best applied through a multi-stakeholder process, for example through sector working groups. Such process needs clear leadership and coordination to bring all stakeholders on board and ensure the consistent application of the approach. This leadership role is typically played by the lead government agency for rural water.

The English document below provides a summary approach; the Spanish version contains the details, including an indicator definition.