Addressing data gaps to catalyse the adoption of SWA’s Collaborative Behaviours

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

Clare Battle explains how monitoring cooperation in the WASH sector can help Sanitation and Water for All partners turn agreed ways of working from principles to practice.

In 2014, the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) global partnership identified four Collaborative Behaviours (CBs) – ways of working that, if jointly adopted by governments and development partners, would improve long-term performance and sustainability in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. Since 2015, these Behaviours have been at the heart of SWA’s strategy.

SWA partners recognised that it would be important to track performance against the CBs over time, to ensure partners held each other accountable for their progressive implementation. By doing so, SWA hoped to join other initiatives such as UHC2030 (formerly IHP+), which uses sector-level monitoring of development cooperation behaviours to stimulate dialogue and drive progress towards universal health coverage (UHC).

SWA partners developed a monitoring strategy through a consultative process, with experts from across constituencies coming together to identify a set of indicators to assess both government and development partner progress on the CBs. Based on these indicators, a first round of monitoring took place in 2016/17, leading to the creation of Collaborative Behaviours country profiles for 37 countries. Efforts are ongoing to explore how to best use these profiles as an input to sector dialogue at country and global levels.

In recent months, the importance of monitoring the CBs has been reiterated. Partners have recognised accountability for performance against the Behaviours as a central pillar of SWA’s mutual accountability mechanism, and recent case studies of SWA’s impact at country level have highlighted the importance of improvements in partner behaviour. In December 2017, the SWA Steering Committee approved production of a second round of country profiles.

Identifying data gaps

However, to ensure this second monitoring round is successful in moving the sector forward, SWA partners must take on board a few key lessons. First and foremost, partners must commit to address the data gaps that were revealed by the first round and hamper our ability to build a comprehensive picture of government and development partner performance against the CBs.

Of ten indicators and sub-indicators used to monitor government performance in the 2016/17 monitoring round, data were only available across all 37 countries for three. At the other end of the spectrum, only Mozambique could provide sufficient data to assess the percentage of WASH activities captured in, or aligned with, the national WASH plan (indicator 1.3a).

The problem is even more acute when considering development partners. For eight of the 11 indicators and sub-indicators used to monitor development partner adherence to the CBs, data were unavailable or insufficient for all 37 countries. In two other cases data were insufficient or unavailable for development partners in all but one country.  This means no results were available at all on development partner adherence to key CBs, such as strengthening and use of country systems (Behaviour 2), and use of one information and mutual accountability platform (Behaviour 3). Data were consistently available for only one development partner indicator.

Not only do these data gaps make it very difficult to build a picture of the current state of the sector, they also seriously undermine one of the key principles of the CB monitoring process – that, by monitoring the performance of both development partners and governments side by side, the process would foster mutual accountability across SWA’s constituencies.

Strengthening reporting to ensure accountability

To an extent, these data gaps are unsurprising; it was always known that monitoring the CBs would push SWA partners out of their comfort zone. Indeed, much of the value of the process lies in throwing a spotlight on important issues that the sector has not previously tracked or reported. In many ways the information gaps themselves reveal important lessons.

The process also relies on publicly available data from existing sources, a deliberate decision made to avoid creating an additional burden in an already crowded reporting landscape. But this means that it is dependent on the strength and scope of existing monitoring and reporting initiatives, which in turn rely on active inputs from both WASH and non-WASH actors. This also makes it more likely that it will take time for adjustments to trickle through, and for collection of the required data to become commonplace.

However, if the value of the CBs monitoring process is to be realised – particularly as a tool for ensuring SWA partners hold each other accountable for system strengthening behaviours – it is vital that partners take urgent steps to start addressing these data gaps. This means both exploring opportunities to use alternative indicators and/or data sources, and strengthening partner reporting through the monitoring initiatives on which the CB country profiles rely. In particular, SWA partners must ensure they participate in the current UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) monitoring round, and report comprehensively against all indicators required to build a picture of their performance against the CBs.

Only in this way will the CBs move from on-paper principles to a tangible framework for assessing the effectiveness of development cooperation in the WASH sector.