Being part of a network brings benefits to you as in individual. As a practitioner and member of a network you can represent your organisation and feel shared ownership of the network, its ideas and its advocacy. You can keep your own organisation up-to-date with new ideas and activities. Active involvement in successful urban WASH networks can bring you closer to colleagues and facilitate sharing of challenging, exciting and successful activities.
Advantages of networks for advocacy
There are also wider advantages that are the reasons why networks are important for effective advocacy. Coulby and Barcelo (n.d.) identify the main advantages as follows.
If groups with different experiences and perspectives work together, this enables participants to learn from each other. Building skills and knowledge together can lead to strong mutual support and solidarity.
A network helps avoid duplication of effort. Responsibilities and tasks can be shared according to the expertise and capacity of members and such sharing helps key stakeholders (e.g. donors, policy-makers and media representatives) to get to know each other better. Exposure to others in the network can lead to new opportunities for visits and training and lead to increased capacity building. Gaining valuable experience in cooperation and compromise and negotiation with members of a network can be very useful when negotiating with government agencies and service providers.
A network can enable more rounded policy proposals, based on experiences from many localities, different perspectives and critical discussions between members, to be produced. A strong, united voice reduces the risk of contradictory and mixed messages being sent to decision-makers. It also reduces the risk of any one individual being punished for speaking out.
If institutions such as NGOs and/or community-based organisations (CBOs) participate in sector discussions, there is likely to be more success in changing government policies and practices. It is also likely to result in respect and credibility from the WASH sector and potential donors. Ultimately, the benefit will be a bigger success in changing government policies and practices and increasing access to WASH services for poor communities.
List four benefits that come from collaborating in a network.
You may have picked any four of the benefits mentioned above but the most important ones are probably:
- working with groups that have different experiences and perspectives enables participants to learn from each other
- increased skills and knowledge builds mutual support and solidarity
- avoids duplication of effort
- responsibilities and tasks can be shared according to the expertise and capacity of its members
- helps key stakeholders (e.g. donors, policy-makers and media representatives) get to know each other better
- increases capacity building as participants gain valuable experience of working cooperatively.
Challenges of networks for advocacy
Supporting local and national networks to influence those who create policies, laws, regulations and budgets may present significant challenges. Belonging to a network can take up a lot of time and many of the activities involved are complex and difficult to achieve. These challenging activities could include:
- training communities (Figure 12.5), community leaders, other network members and local water boards and associations on their rights and responsibilities regarding urban WASH laws, budgets and policies
- educating national and local political leaders on urban WASH
- strengthening policy dialogues between communities, civil society groups and decision makers
- urging increased funding for government-funded urban WASH programmes
- supporting high-quality urban WASH messaging in local news media etc. may require more time and resources.
All of these advocacy initiatives are likely to require considerable time and resources, but influencing decision makers and strengthening their political will is essential for making any large-scale change.
What activities would you put in your advocacy plan to ensure urban WASH services are better promoted and resourced in your locality or organisation? For each activity, consider who should undertake it, how it should be undertaken, what resources will be required and what your role will be.
You will have your own answer but you may have mentioned activities such as convening meetings, public speaking, messages through local media, and consultations with the user community. You might also have mentioned developing a local network. This might involve the municipal government, youth groups (Figure 12.6), and women’s groups, non-governmental agencies and local traders.
Whatever the advocacy initiative you are considering, networking would facilitate inter-sectoral communications between all those involved. This is important for the participation processes and will always be likely to lead to more effective planning and implementation.