Effective WASH Approaches and Innovations in the Civil Society WASH Fund
The Civil Society Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (CS WASH) Fund is a five-year programme supported by the Australian government with the objective of enhancing the health and quality of life of the poor and vulnerable by improving sustainable access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Between 2013 and mid-2018, the Fund will have supported 13 Australian and international Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to deliver 29 WASH projects with an investment of AUD103million across 19 countries. The Fund is expected to provide direct benefits to 3.5 million people and indirect benefits to over 10 million people.
Toward the end of 2017 the CS WASH Fund commissioned a team from Aguaconsult to conduct in-depth research of CSO project experiences in cross-cutting areas of interest including: i. WASH policy influencing; ii. Gender and social inclusion (GESI); iii. WASH market facilitation; and iv. Innovation integration and uptake. The researchers worked with Fund administrators to prioritise the CSO interventions by focusing on those which have displayed promising approaches in these themes. Working together, they prioritised 23 CSO interventions, with 43 different unique interventions across the four themes.
The research involved secondary data review as well as primary data collection via interviews and an online survey. Data collection from different sources across the prioritised projects was structured using a research framework to facilitate information management and resulted in 1,503 individual citations or data points. By using methodologies to quantify qualitative information the research team was able to collate, score and analyse the data by theme and a range of associated learning questions. Data were tabulated to facilitate quantitative evaluation and presentation.
As well as overall responsibility for this contract, Aguaconsult is leading the thematic research into policy influencing. Some of the initial findings from this key area of research include the following:
• The CS WASH Fund has, through its implementing CSO partners, been able to play a substantive role in influencing policy in 10 countries, including both national level policies and local guidelines, with a focus on sanitation and hygiene, but also on financing. The principal reasons for CSOs to engage in policy influencing are lack of or incomplete policies, the failure of existing approaches and efforts to improve pro-poor outcomes.
• The most common ways CSOs assessed policy contexts was by relying on long-term presence or by carrying out sector analyses. Only one CSO used a specific tool or methodology to understand the policy context and political economy of the WASH sector.
• The more successful cases were carried out by CSOs with a premeditated strategy of collaborating with other organisations and the most effective engagement was found via government-led working groups at all institutional levels.
• Informal lobbying through one-on-one engagement was also found to be very effective in certain country contexts. Field visits and learning exchanges facilitated by the Fund proved highly useful as they allowed space for such ‘soft influencing’. Unsurprisingly, those CSOs with an organisational mandate for policy influencing performed best.
• The majority of effective CSOs had good insights into policy reform cycles and approached influencing by aligning with government priorities. CSOs used field evidence as the most important tool for influencing policy.
• A small number also engaged with political champions as entry points to affect policy change. Equally, political influence and resistance by decision makers were cited as the most critical barriers, along with the difficulty for CSOs to influence change on their own. Frequent government staff rotation was also a challenge and often resulted in ‘lost investments’ for CSOs which take time to re-establish.