Involving stakeholders in planning and implementing projects is essential for their success and sustainability. However it can present challenges that need to be understood and overcome.
Lack of coordination
In the past there has tended to be a lack of coordination among the organisations and agencies responsible for WASH projects, for example between governmental and non-governmental organisations, and this has resulted in duplication of effort, contradiction or inconsistency (WUP, 2003). There has also tended to be separation between projects to improve water supply and those related to sanitation and hygiene. As a result of this fragmented approach, there have been gaps in communications with stakeholders and some have been left out of the planning and knowledge sharing in a project.
New approaches to WASH are more integrated and aim to bring different stakeholders together. There is a new emphasis on the importance of communication and collaboration. For example, the One WASH National Programme, launched in 2013 is a shared programme across four federal ministries. The National WASH Coordination Office has mandates to support stakeholder communications, knowledge sharing and dissemination, and to facilitate concerted urban WASH efforts at both national and sub-national levels.
Reaching low-income households
The delivery of water supply and sanitation to low-income urban and peri-urban communities is complex. Poor consumers may not be adequately represented in community organisations and are often perceived as being ignorant and apathetic. However, in many instances this is clearly not the case because they have proved themselves able and willing to help bring about change that will improve their living conditions (WUP, 2003). Effective communication strategies that reach out to low-income communities will be needed to ensure they are also included within the stakeholder group of users and beneficiaries.
Working across boundaries
One of the particular challenges of WASH is that it means working across sector and disciplinary boundaries. Although commonly referred to as the ‘WASH sector’, WASH is a combination, as you know, of water, sanitation and hygiene sectors and is therefore cross-sectoral, meaning it involves people from different sectors working together. In particular it involves representatives from offices and bureaus of water, health, urban development and finance. It is also cross-sectoral in the sense that it involves both public and private sectors including government departments and agencies, and contractors, consultants and other private companies.
Cross-disciplinary communication is also essential because many complex WASH problems require more than one source of information to solve them. Cross-disciplinary refers to the academic disciplines and training of the people involved. These could include engineers, sociologists, hydrologists, doctors, nurses, accountants and managers to name but a few. People trained in different disciplines often have different ways of thinking and approaching an issue that can make communication between them difficult. Care is needed to ensure that everyone understands each other and that the information provided by and to stakeholders is accurate, relevant and can be easily understood.
Although it can be a challenge, it is important to realise that cross-boundary working has many advantages as well. The combination of different perspectives and experiences brings a diversity of thinking and approach that can ultimately make a project more successful. The key issue is to recognise the differences and work with them to ensure all voices are heard.
Imagine you are working on a programme that involves liaising with officials from different government departments, including water resources, health and education. What issues would this raise?
The officials from the water resources department (engineers or water supply technicians), those from the health department (community health workers, nurses or midwives) and those from the education department (teachers) would all have different academic backgrounds and varying knowledge which they could contribute to the discussion.
Cross-disciplinary engagement is about teamwork, where individuals bring different skills to the table and see issues from different perspectives. However, in order for a new cross-disciplinary team to become effective that team must develop shared values and culture. As a WASH practitioner you may be involved in the development and maintenance of effective forms of cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary communication to manage complex WASH problems in your locality.