Using WASHwatch where there’s limited political space for campaigning (Part 2)

WASHwatch can be used at various meetings to identify the current status of WASH at the national level and lay down agreed upon short, medium and long term advocacy priorities.

As mentioned in a previous post, WASHwatch data is not independently checked for validity. WASHwatch should be thought of as a type of ongoing survey of the state of national WASH policy. I think this makes WASHwatch data more valuable for two reasons. First, often the information that we are trying to compile simply doesn’t exist elsewhere and must be generated somehow. Secondly, WASHwatch allows for differences in perspectives to shine through in order to generate a more accurate big picture.

So why does this matter?

WASHwatch data could be taken and presented at CSO meetings and Quarterly Multi-Stakeholder Forums as a starting point to begin discussions. Attendees of these meetings and events could then debate differences in opinion and present evidence and rationales behind giving a certain score.

WASHwatch can help ensure that certain key issues in the sector don’t go overlooked, especially if the overall picture seems to be improving. Improvement in access to water and sanitation is great but the sustainability of that access matters more in the long run.Sustainability is ensured through strong government leadership, effective and meaningful frameworks and strategies and consistent and reliable financing, all things WASHwatch monitors.

Through debating the status of national WASH policy, areas for increased advocacy, that might otherwise have been overlooked, become immediately evident. Be it for increased government transparency in general or better monitoring in particular, sector priorities should be established to ensure a coordinated and consistent approach to advocacy is being pursued.


Katelyn Rogers


What data is collected in poor countries?

One problem every developing country shares is a lack of information about their population. How many people live in the country, where are they, what do they do for a living, where do they go to school, how healthy are they?

In rich countries this information is largely collected by service providers and automated systems – your employer knows your national insurance number and reports your earnings to the taxman; your doctor records that you visited and what was discussed. Your children are enrolled in a school and their exam results are compiled with all other children and available nationally. We know who has water through the records of water companies.

The systems to collect, store and use this information are expensive – they require hardware (ICT), skilled professionals, and large amounts of manpower inputting and administrating the information, and they only work for national data because very nearly everybody has access to, and uses, the state apparatus.

In lieu of this wealth of information, poorer countries take a more direct approach – the household survey. These involve a team of trained people going to randomly selected households and asking the people who live there a long series of questions about their lives.

These are blunter instruments than the above data – they can rarely be disaggregated beyond quite large areas, and they are time consuming, so can only cover the really essential items. They also may undercount the urban poor, either because the questioners avoid spending time in slums or because some of the people do not have ‘households’ that can be identified because they sleep on the street or at work. But they do produce nationally representative results and give a lot of useful information.

One of the most important advantages to this method is that they count people who are not using official services, and they tell us what those people actually do instead. In Africa, the WHO/Unicef JMP estimates that only 16 percent of people have piped water into their homes; if we only looked at data from piped water suppliers, as is the norm in the UK or USA, we would only have information on a sixth of the population, probably nearly all the most wealthy urban dwellers.

Many surveys, such as DHS and MICS, are funded by donors (USAID and UNICEF respectively) and are publicly available. Search for your country and DHS or MICS in Google, and you may find some valuable information about the lives of people in your country. You could use these surveys to see how access to WASH is progressing regionally, or by gender. If your government has promised to target the areas of greatest marginalisation, and share this information on WASHwatch under the box for Water Policy - Are there specific measures in the plan for targeting poor people, and addressing the interests of women?


By :

Tim Brewer


Using WASHwatch where there’s limited political space for campaigning

Last month, at the East Africa CSO Forum, we had the opportunity to present and discuss WASHwatch with CSO partners from the region. This post represents the first in a series of posts addressing and elaborating on what was discussed as part of this very dynamic and productive session.

  • The concept of crowd-sourcing data
  • The role that such data can play in advocacy
  • How we might be able to use WASHwatch in states where there is limited political space for CSOs
  • How we might be able to use the site in states where there is plenty of political space for campaigning
  • What problems people perceive with the site (this led to the addition of the disclaimer)
  • What strategies we might use to gather information to share on the site.

How WASHwatch data can be used to influence government in states where there is limited political space for CSOs was discussed and some of the responses that came out of this discussion will be addressed over the next few posts.   

Series 1 – Using WASHwatch where there’s limited political space for campaigning

Often, even in states where the government is resistant to overt challenges from civil society, they are keen to achieve developmental outcomes, and resource-limited when it comes to succeeding in this.

WASHwatch can be used as an ‘insider’ tool, working with ministries to identify gaps in sector structures which would improve progress towards the government’s goals.

For the majority of countries on WASHwatch, up-to-date and in-depth data on national budgets is far from complete. Despite commitments from governments to be more transparent in their budgets on WASH financing (e.g. having a separate budget line, or at least identifying which budget lines relate to WASH spending), finding the relevant budgetary data is still a difficult and laborious process and the absence of detailed financial data on WASHwatch reflects this.

Often, even ministry officials may have trouble making the case for larger budgets, or managing their spend, because of a lack of clarity in the government allocation and poor sector monitoring.

In the recent survey we conducted, the highest number of respondents said that finding out whether their country was meeting the 0.5% of GDP target was the most difficult challenge. And government spending is one of the weakest areas of information in the site at the moment.

So if WASHwatch data is incomplete how can WASHwatch help?

WASHwatch data can be downloaded into spreadsheets or printed directly from the website and presented to government ministers or officials. Highlighting the gaps in information gives weight to the demand for better and more accessible information on WASH financing in national budgets.

Of course, I recognise that this entails a lot more than knocking on Parliament’s door and is likely to take time and various influencing strategies. In the meantime, WASHwatch provides a platform where interested parties can compile their best information to generate reasonable estimates, either for use in campaigning or to share with the government in support of their WASH sector goals.

In this way, WASHwatch has a sort of dual role hoping to shine light on data gaps but providing a space where stakeholders can compile and share their individual knowledge to generate a more complete picture.

Beyond financing, WASHwatch provides stakeholders with a collaborative and real-time platform to monitor governments on their sector monitoring commitments. Effective WASH strategies require that countries have both the institutions and monitoring framework in place to ensure that policies and projects are being carried out as planned. Monitoring WASH requires proper leadership and coherence from government. And WASHwatch allows CSOs to score their governments’ progress in taking this fundamental step towards effective leadership.

Both of these elements relate to the question, which we’ll address in an upcoming post, of how and when governments themselves might add data to WASHwatch.


Katelyn Rogers


Why do we use JMP estimates on WASHwatch?

If you look at the bottom of any country page in WASHwatch, you’ll see two numbers, giving the percentage of the population of that country who have access to water and the percentage who have basic sanitation.

These numbers have recently been updated (we will be updating the site shortly – watch this space!). And this has led to much discussion about the merits of these estimates. Ian Ross has a very thorough blog-post arguing the merits of the JMP estimation method.

I’ll not rehearse his arguments here, and I don’t disagree with what he says, but I’ll expand on two key questions I think his post has raised.

The main criticisms of global estimates are

1) that they are useless – you can’t make WASH investment or policy decisions in Uganda based on JMP estimates*

2) that they are extractive – they require costly data collection but are of no value to the people who provide the data

These are both valid points, but they are not unanswerable.

Do we need global numbers?

The point of JMP estimates is to be able to compare levels and trends between countries; if that is not desirable, the details of the method are immaterial – we should just stick with country level information. is based on the premise that inter-country comparison is of enormous value. That highlighting where a country is performing poorly compared to its neighbour can spur that government to greater action.  That identifying the countries and regions of greatest need can allow international aid to be well targeted, and help campaigners to know whether it actually is.

Whether donors choose to use the data to best effect is a secondary question – we can’t know if they are off target, or demand that they do better, if the comparable data on need do not exist.

The usefulness of the data is only a problem if you are looking at global estimates as a service provision tool, akin to Water Point Mapping or Utility data. But this is not their purpose – these data are political. They tell us (comparably!) where the need is high, and where changes have been slow to materialise.

They also provide a benchmark. If there is a wide difference between a recent survey and the JMP estimates, this provokes a question – has a recent government initiative had a massive impact? Has a terrible disaster destroyed a lot of services? The difference from the normal is thrown into relief and invites a closer look.

So yes! We need these numbers.

Can we afford these numbers?

One of the most important features of the JMP estimates is that they are incredibly cheap – all the data on which they are based is already being collected, for national purposes. All that has to be done is to ensure that wherever a survey looks at water and sanitation it includes a few basic, comparable questions, and to collect all the surveys that have ever been taken and extract the relevant data.

This is not easy, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than going annually to every country in the world and observing every water connection. This is a good example of ‘aggregating up’ to form global estimates, rather than modelling global estimates and then generalising down to country level.  For a reasonable, methodologically transparent and consistent estimate of global WASH poverty, the JMP data is an absolute bargain!**

As Ian and others commenting have pointed out, we need different data for different purposes, and we must cross-reference and triangulate as much as possible to ensure reliability, precision, and to draw the most effective policy conclusions. But throwing out a cheap and politically useful piece of global analysis because it doesn’t do everything we like, would be a terrible folly.


* This seems to be the crux of the objections around functionality – the surveys do measure functionality in the sense that the source currently being used must be functional, but they don’t account for whether the same source will still function in six months.

**  It is worth noting that the only affordable way for JMP to provide more credible estimates that take functionality, quality, proximity and all the other facets of access into account is for these data to be collected at national level. They are advocating for this in the post-MDG monitoring proposals, but they cannot be expected to collate and analyse data that no-one is yet collecting, and to collect it themselves would be exactly the kind of  eye-wateringly expensive and extractive study we want to avoid.

Share is not the last word – it is always a work in progress.

Our goal at WASHwatch is to provide a complete picture of national water and sanitation policies through measuring progress made by government towards meeting their policy and budgetary commitments. Were this simple, it would already have been done. Unfortunately, the necessary data is not always easily accessible, if at all. So how do you analyse data that is not available? You have to generate it!

The data available at WASHwatch can be thought of as an ongoing survey of how WASH stakeholders and advocates view their government’s progress. One common worry we have encountered is that as the data is crowdsourced (and therefore has not been independently checked for its validity), it might not be accurate. We do not see this as a challenge but rather an opportunity. Often when people think of data they think of hard data, that is, quantifiable data put forth as indisputable fact.  Hard data is certainly valuable but there is also a role to be played by hard data’s softer counterpart. Soft data is more subjective, a collection of anecdotes, surveys and opinions. Both hard and soft data add value and the two often work together, complementing each other to tell the full story.

The data available at WASHwatch is subjective and as with any survey data, the value is all in the analysis. It is not because survey respondents all agree about something that it is necessarily true but their agreement (or disagreement) tells a story. “Good progress” will undoubtedly mean different things to different people. Not all of the contributors will have access to the same information. Some contributors might have a rural perspective and others a more urban perspective. However, it is precisely this array of perspectives that enriches the WASHwatch data. Consensus over a country’s high score indicates more than just progress, it indicates a certain level of transparency because multiple stakeholders are aware of what the government is doing. Similarly, a government scoring poorly does not necessarily mean that no progress has been made but that the government in question has not been very transparent about their successes (or their failures). Although not always explicitly stated, it is certainly in the spirit of the Sharm el-Sheikh, eThekwini, SACOSAN for governments to improve transparency surrounding water and sanitation programming, policy and funding. After all, what good is a national sanitation policy if no one is aware it exists and no one can monitor whether or not it is being implemented?

WASHwatch contributors are encouraged to comment on previously uploaded data. Like any good survey, one response simply won’t do and the more the merrier! In order to generate reliable data, we need responses from multiple sources. WASHwatch data is constantly changing, reflecting changes in government actions and policies.  When governments make progress or start to fall behind, WASHwatch provides a platform for people to report these changes in real-time. Like policy, policy monitoring is an active and dynamic process.  WASHwatch provides a platform to collect and share data about  water and sanitation policy commitments. However, WASHwatch is not the last word. It, like the government policies we monitor, is a work in progress.

Join the discussion at WASHwatch


Katelyn Rogers