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