The purpose of community engagement in WASH is to improve the health and economic condition of the community by improving the success and sustainability of WASH projects. This can happen through joint identification of problems, addressing ideas and concerns and identifying opportunities (Figure 6.2). Engaging the community may also enable emerging issues to be identified and be dealt with in a proactive way before they have become problems.
If a community is able to join service providers and officials and deal with issues as and when they arise, this:
- may lead to better use of limited resources and more efficient service delivery
- helps officials to appreciate possible untapped community resources that can be mobilised and build on community strengths
- informs policy making at the local level
- improves the targeting and effectiveness of WASH services
- helps to measure how agencies and partnerships are performing
- helps to build community ownership.
Community support for developing services that solve real problems and meet real needs can benefit both the community and the implementing organisation.
If you were working for an organisation developing new WASH services in your locality, what would be the advantages to you and your organisation of engaging the community?
Community input can help you to focus on the community's concerns and help you to identify emerging issues earlier. You may then be able to deal with those issues in a proactive way, leading to better use of limited resources and more efficient delivery of services. You may have thought of other advantages.
A well-planned community engagement will enable the diverse concerns of the community to be identified on issues that matter most to them. Moreover, it will ensure that their expectations are met.
From the point of view of the community itself, engagement increases access to information about government operations. This means that people are better informed and therefore more able to put forward ideas and take part in processes that affect them. This helps to reduce the level of misconception or misinformation and conflict with the community. It demonstrates openness and accountability, consequently building trust and credibility. Outcomes that reflect the aspirations of the affected community then become more achievable.
Having a greater input into government planning and decision-making processes gives the community a voice and helps vulnerable individuals to become more aware of their constitutional rights. Moreover, if communities are involved at all stages of a WASH initiative, from planning through implementation to monitoring, it is much more likely to be sustainable and successful in the long term.
The sustainability of a community initiative in the urban setting demands high-quality leadership, a strong sense of ownership, social cohesion, gender equality, effective management and adoption of effective and environmentally sustainable technologies. You will learn more about sustainability in Study Session 11.