Action Research on Scaling Up Community Managed Water and Sanitation Project:
The Researchers, Training and the Research Agenda
Practitioners expressed a pressing need for concrete suggestions about addressing many of the
obstacles to scaling up, particularly those related to generating political consensus and
overcoming resistance of implementing organisations. The best practice literature gives scant
attention to such challenges, while the prescriptive literature was too general to be of practical
use. Developing a series of case studies that focus on issues of scalability – including candid and
detailed discussion of both successful and failed strategies – would be a valuable contribution
toward helping existing initiatives reach more communities – Davis, J. and Iyer, P. (2002) Taking
Sustainable Rural Water Supply Services to Scale: A Discussion Paper. Washington DC: World
Bank Water and Sanitation Program, p. 24.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water supply and sanitation have
put many developing countries for an immense task: to reduce by half the
proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and
sanitation by 2015. This means that coverage has to be increased dramatically
and in a speed unknown so far. But it is not only coverage that needs to be
increased. The sustainability of implemented water and sanitation systems must
be ensured to be able to deliver water and sanitation services not for the lifetime
of a project or a system, but indefinitely. These are the two goals of “scaling up
community management of rural water supply and sanitation”.
Community management has become the main model for implementing water
and sanitation services in rural areas. Most donors are using the model in their
projects and many governments now have taken up community management as
the preferred option for rural water and sanitation service delivery.
Community management has proven to be a successful and effective model for
water and sanitation provision, but it also has its problems and constraints.
Community managed water and sanitation systems are vulnerable. They are
vulnerable to a range of technical but most importantly social constraints. Water
committees lack capacities, trained committee members or operators leave the
community and are not replaced, the community is not a unity, women and
marginal groups are excluded from decision making and water use, technologies
are too complicated, spare parts are hard to find, there is not transparency in
book keeping and decision making, financial resources are misused. Some
communities do a god job, even years after system completion, but many
communities struggle with their water management tasks.
For true sustainability, for ensuring a continuous water flow form the tap,
communities managing their water and sanitation services need support. It is not
fair, not effective and a disinvestment to leave communities on their own after
handing over the newly implemented water and sanitation system. Support
should come from what is often called an enabling environment. From favourable
policies, translated in legislation and rules and procedures. But it should foremost
come from the administrative level in between the national government being
responsible for policies and legislation and the community. This so-called
intermediate level – so crucial in decentralisation - has different names and
shapes in different countries: district, local government, municipality, ward,
department etc. It is the level closest to the community that is the focal point for
flexible support to community managed water and sanitation services. It is also
the level that often lacks major capacities.
Institutional support mechanisms, policies, legislation, proper monitoring and
capacity building, these are all elements of a water and sanitation service to rural
people. The service ensures sustainable water provision, equitable water provision
and water provision to all. That is much more then putting in place infrastructure.
Communities are the preferred managers of such a service, but they can only do
a good job if these elements have been taken care of and support is in place.
Within such framework both sustainability and coverage can be addressed. That
is what is often referred to as scaling up.
Institutional strengthening is the key for increased sustainability and coverage of
community managed water and sanitation services. How should this institutional
support look like, who should be part of it, how are roles and responsibilities
divided, which levels should be addressed, how should linkages between
communities, districts and government be made, which capacities are needed at
what level? Although there are a lot of lessons learned in many countries for
example South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, India, the Philippines, Ghana but also
developed countries such as Switzerland and the USA, in every country, in every
context these questions must be addressed distinctively.
Learning from success and failures in the past, learning from community
management models in use in the country, investigating key factors for success
and failure, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of a country’s water and
sanitation sector, knowing the gaps in terms of capacities, policy and legislation,
investigating the country’s institutional set up, these are some of the aspects that
need to get attention. Action research is an appropriate model to dive into these
questions, reflect on the outcomes, design actions to overcome problems and
gaps, test them and monitor their impact. Action research combines critical
reflection, with acting, testing and trying things out. Action research enables
For scaling up all relevant stakeholders in rural water supply and sanitation must
be involved. They must all be part of the learning process, because they can all
provide lessons learned and they can all profit form the outcomes. Bringing the
stakeholders together and creating platforms for reflection, discussion and action
is a crucial part of action research. Action research is not only for the academics;
it is predominantly for those with a stake in solving the problems. Together they
search and test.
For sharing lessons learned, for sharing outcomes of action research, proper and
systematic documentation is needed. Only then others can be part of the
learning process. These are the core elements of this action research programme:
learning, implementing (testing), multi stakeholder involvement, documentation
Action Research on Scaling up in Ethiopia
The majority (85%) of the Ethiopian population lives in rural communities. It is
estimated that only 24% and 12% of the population have access to sustainable
improved water source and sanitation respectively (UNDP, 2004). The
functionality of the systems in use is often doubted. Lack of access to safe
drinking water and sanitation places a heavy burden of morbidity and mortality
on children who are especially vulnerable to diarrhoeal disease. Repeated bouts
of diarrhoea are not only debilitating for the patients but also increase the
burden on caregivers, family livelihoods, and ultimately the community. The task
of scaling up community managed water and sanitation systems is therefore
immense. All stakeholders in Ethiopia regard community management as the only
viable option to provide safe water and sanitation to more people.
There are many organisations working in the Ethiopian rural water sector
including government, UNICEF, World Bank, international and local NGOs. There
is therefore a long experience in rural water service provision and most
stakeholders use community management approaches. These experiences are
very relevant. They include successful community management of schemes
providing water to 150,000 people and more. However, experiences are scattered,
not shared and coordination is not optimal – systematic capacity building of
intermediate support levels is not sufficiently addressed. The few happy
communities with improved services are islands of success but in a see of
problems. The challenge will be to bring experiences, approaches and models
used together, to learn from that and to pilot improvements. Concerted action of
all stakeholders will be needed to move forward.
Under the leadership of the government, in Ethiopia many initiatives have been
taken to guide the sector. The government of Ethiopia has done so as well and
community management has also been incorporated in Ethiopia’s PRSP as the
preferred option for rural water supply. A long-term strategy and development
plan has been developed, there is a master plan for the sector and the World
Bank recently started a major water and sanitation programme. Decentralisation
in Ethiopia is well advanced. The action research will take place within these
opportunities and boundaries. It needs to build on them and where possible
improve them. The action research acknowledges the leadership of the
government in the sector and the national steering group will therefore be lead
by the department of rural water supply. The action research process is cyclical
See figure 1.
The action research will take place in pilot district – to learn how to strengthen
institutional structures and support community-managed systems in specific,
representative settings – by relevant stakeholders. But an important part of the
action research will also take place at the regional and national levels, to
disseminate the lessons learned in the districts, to make sure that the action
research links to ongoing programmes, strategies and policies.
Figure 1. Action Research Process
To conduct action research on community managed water and sanitation
projects/services so as to bring up coverage to 100% and contribute for indefinite
sustainability of community managed rural water supply and sanitation services
To do action research (reflect and act) to learn what is needed in particular how to
strengthen institutional support mechanisms for community managed rural water supply
and sanitation services to be able to provide indefinite sustainability and 100%
coverage to rural populations.
Document sector experiences, evaluations, strategies and master plans to
consolidate experiences to date with community managed water supply and
Document the process of the action research and the lessons learned.
Disseminate outcomes of the action research and make sure that the knowledge
gained is shared and discussed for replication.
Improve sector coordination, improve communication between the levels and
promote a learning environment.
Come up with discussed and agreed upon proposals and recommendations for
strengthened community managed water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia.
Make sure that past experiences and lessons learned in the action research are
documented and made accessible to all sector stakeholders.
Enable exchange of experiences and lessons learned in the action research on
scaling up with other Plan country offices and with other international sector
The strategy is to learn about improved community management by action research in
a pilot district in Ethiopia together with local stakeholders and by creating a learning
and coordinating environment for national stakeholders.
National Steering Committee with Plan Ethiopia as Secretariat will coordinate the
programme. The programme will be carried out in a national partnership with major
Ethiopian sector stakeholders. The programme will be supported with specific expertise
and skills of staff of Plan International Headquarters, Plan Regional Office and
International Research Centre (IRC).
A community of action researchers needs building
International: Plan International and IRC (Simon Heap/Ton Schouten)
National steering committee supported by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG)
Secretariat: Plan Ethiopia supported by Research Co-ordinator, secretary/casher and
Regional: Regional Steering Committee supported by Plan Shebedino PU and
Community: Community Action Researchers (committees, implementers)
Master’s students from Water Technology Institute, Arba Minch University seem a
Debub University, Awassa and Awasa Vocational Training College also need
Addis Ababa University / Institute of Development Research
Other organizations/ individuals suggested by National Steering Committee
Action Research: the theory and the practice, with examples
Interviews, Focus groups, PRA techniques
Meta evaluation method and report structure
Writing case studies
Documentation and dissemination
The research tools:
Several different research tools should be used;
All stakeholders should be able to use the tools;
Tools are generally common to the qualitative research paradigm – journals,
document analysis, observation, questionnaires, semi-structured interviews,
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools (village mapping, priority ranking, Venn
diagrams, wealth ranking etc) and case studies;
Quantitative approaches where necessary will complement qualitative approaches
International mentoring/supervising role will be front-heavy then change to low
maintenance over time.
The Research Agenda
Start with action research to learn about how to scale up community management of
rural water supply. What will be part of this action research and how will it be done?
Main research aspects and questions
The questions that need to be addressed in the action research include:
What are the necessary structures and institutions needed to implement and
support community management in the long term (training, facilitation, auditing,
spare parts, etc.)?
Who are the organisations best suited to implement and provide long term
support to community managed water systems (NGOs, local governments, private
sector, a mixture?
What are the skills and capacity requirements for their employees?
What are the cost implications of developing the necessary support structures: in
terms of personnel, transport, training needs, capacity building, etc?
What are the lessons learned to date in successful/unsuccessful community
managed systems within the target district: a) within the community b) external
to the community? What has worked, what has not and most importantly why
and why not?
What is the role of indigenous community institutions in the management of
water and sanitation services? What is the level and quality of cooperation
between these institutions and “modern” institutions responsible for water supply
and sanitation management?
What tools can be used to establish the need for, and help decide the shape of,
external support to communities? Tools should be based on needs, resources,
and stakeholder analysis.
Once coverage with community-managed schemes begins to be significantly
increased, does the local level private sector become more involved? Do
communities begin to support each other? Are there economies of scale?
What can we learn from the process to scale up: how to create incentives, how to
overcome resistance, how to coordinate and overcome lack of coordination and
competition, how to increase ownership and commitment to scale up?
During analysis, the action research will examine critically the technical and
financial sustainability (technical and design issues, financial management and
cost recovery) gender issues, enabling environment including policies and
procedures and aspects of monitoring and evaluation
The level of the research
The research on the level of the district means that the partners involved need to learn
about what is needed and how to scale up. The lesson learned must be fed back to
country level: national government, other agencies etc. Once the lessons learned are
shared and agreed, other districts can be scaled up etc.
Research methodology: action research
The methodology for the research will be based on action research. Action research is a
common search into the questions mentioned above, identifying solutions, testing and
correcting solutions and disseminating findings.
All stakeholder groups will be research partners. Their roles will be: design,
implementation and monitoring of the main research activities. In addition they will
provide support through identification of useful tools and methodologies, facilitation of
exchange visits, documentation of the process, design and implementation of
monitoring and assessment systems. They may also play a role in capacity building.
The research group in which all main stakeholders need to be presented is the
crucial body, with additionally specific tasks for each stakeholder as sketched above.
The research group is the body of learning, the shared and negotiated search into
problems and models. Action research aims to include all partners that can and want to
implement change and make them part and responsible for change. Action research
also involves a constant feedback and dissemination of results and outcomes to the
stakeholders in the district and national government. This to ensure that research is not
isolated from institutional realities. Research and dissemination go hand in hand.
August 2004: Actions research proposal discussed, amended and approved
October 2004: A unit needs to be created with recruitment of research co-ordinator,
research officer and community action researchers.
November (1st half) 2004: Systems developed and capacities put in place for action
research, documentation and dissemination. Ton and Simon to visit: workshop on action
November (2nd half) 2004: Literature Review; annotated bibliography of key texts;
secondary analysis on existing documents needs to take place: mapping out of
contextual issues. Stakeholder Analysis and institutional mapping at national, regional
and community levels.
December 2004: Meta Analysis of the evaluations of community managed rural water
projects implemented in Ethiopia by different organizations such as World Bank,
UNICEF, Water Aid, Water Action, Norwegian Church Aid, etc. by the Secretariat and
Technical Advisory Group. Data collection as well as field visits and in-depth interviews
and focus groups. The preliminary findings of the meta analysis and the situational
assessment will be implemented while the process of the before immediately
January 2005: Writing up of Meta Analysis. Situational assessment of pilot project
district (Shebedino) by Secretariat and Core Team, with support from the TAG.
February 2005: First National Workshops for learning and capacity building will be
carried out. Followed by workshop for core group on:
Action research tools and all other tools needed in the diagnosis phase.
Scaling up – management models for rural water supply, case studies etc.
Planning the diagnosis phase.
Procedures, tools for learning, documentation and dissemination.
Calendar year 2 (2005) will go through a cycle of diagnosis and testing and
implementation, both at district level in the core group and at national and regional
level in the steering groups.
Action Research on Scaling Up Community Managed Water and Sanitation
Item Description Costs (in US$) Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
01/07/2004- 01/01/2005- 01/01/2006- 01/01/2007-
31/12/2004 31/12/2005 31/12/2006 30/06/2007
Action Operational Research Coordinator 4000 13,200 14,652 16,116
research costs for the (senior)
programme action Researcher officer 1600 5280 5808 6384
unit research Driver 1000 3300 3630 3993
programme Assistant accountant/ 1600 5280 5808 6384
Car 36000 0 0 0
Contribution to office 2280 4560 4560 4560
Office equipment 14,527 0 0 0
Contribution to 700 1400 1400 1400
Stationary 1400 2400 2400 2400
Vehicle running and 700 2400 2800 3456
Vehicle Insurance 240 240 240 240
Subtotal 64,047 38,060 41,298 44,933
Action Learning Local travel 5000 10,500 10,500 10500
research – workshops Local allowances 750 1500 1,500 1,500
NSC and Meetings Local meeting space 2100 2100 2100 2,100
RSC Field visits Subtotal 7850 14,100 14,100 14,100
Action Capacity Local travel and 5300 5300
research – building allowances
core action workshops Local meeting space 2100 4250 4250 4250
research Sharing and Subtotal 7400 4250 9550 4250
group in planning
the district workshops at
Item Description Costs (in US$) Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
01/07/2004- 01/01/2005- 01/01/2006- 01/01/2007-
31/12/2004 31/12/2005 31/12/2006 30/06/2007
Action Data Local travel and allowances 5200 10400 10400 10400
research – collection Local meeting space 2300 2300 2300 2300
research Local Subtotal 7500 12,700 12,700 12,700
Action Action Software for data bases 500
research – research Acquisition of books, 500 750
facilities facilities magazines etc.
Building a national resource 2000
base on water and sanitation
in Ethiopia – accessible
through Internet and hard
Sub Total 3000 750
Activities for The activities may vary from 18,000 34,000 34,000 34,000
testing action capacity building activities,
research improved networking, better
outcomes. information systems,
Subtotal 18,000 34,000 34,000 34,000
Internationa Internationa 2-3 international travels per 5000 10,000 10,000 10,000
l exchange l year
visits conferences Subtotal 5000 10,000 10,000 10,000
Documenta Documentat Documentary film and video 7500 15,000 15,000 15,000
tion and ion of outputs for (international)
disseminati action advocacy and training
on research Journalistic support (training 7500 15,000 15,000 15,000
process in writing skills, writing flyers
Documentat and advocacy materials,
ion of posters, articles, creating and
outputs maintaining web portal etc.)
Disseminati Design and printing 5,000 5,000 5,000 5,000
on of International conference 30,000
process and bringing together
outputs of international scaling up
the action experiences
research Subtotal 20,000 35,000 35,000 65,000
Item Description Costs (in Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4
US$) 01/07/2004- 01/01/2005 01/01/2006 01/01/2007-
31/12/2004 - - 30/06/2007
Support IRC Support in terms of In total 40 days 13,600 27,200 27,200 27,200
management and per year
institutional aspects Travel 5000 10,000 10,000 10,000
of rural community allowances,
managed water accommodation
supply and sanitation Subtotal 18,600 37,200 37,200 37,200
hiring capacity, film
experiences in rural
Total 151,397 186,060 193,848 222183
Contingency 7.5% 11,354.775 13,954.5 14,538.6 16,663.725
Grand total 162,751.775 200,014.5 208,386.6 238,846.725
The 4 year Grand Total Cost of the Project = $ 810,000
* Remark: Action research combines both research and action (implementation). Plan Ethiopia
will coordinate its WATSAN activity with the action research and will utilize its WATSAN
budget (about $270,0000 Sponsorship budget for five years) for the implementation of the
action research outcome. This will help Plan Ethiopia to improve the implementation of
evidence-based projects. In addition, Plan Ethiopia has got fund from NORAD (about 1.6
million dollar for the years 2004-07). This will be implemented in line with action research