How can online data platforms improve management of water, sanitation and hygiene services? WaterAid's experience using mWater
Increased access to mobile phones has allowed for a shift in how information is gathered, shared and used. Ellen Greggio and Emma Stewart discuss how this access can benefit the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and explore the benefits of online data tool mWater in identifying gaps in, and monitoring quality of, WASH services.
In the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era, data supported decision-making is key to achieving the ambitious target of universal and sustained access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). With regular and reliable data on current WASH access and its management means there is a greater chance for the much needed improvements in WASH governance to be made.
Access to data is essential in order to highlight the gaps in WASH service provision, inform management and budgeting of services, and ultimately to accelerate the rate at which evidence based policy, planning and resource allocation can take place. Availability, accuracy and use of data is critical to the performance and accountability of the WASH sector, and is essential to transform the past trends of low service functionality and sustainability rates.
The potential of data and ICT
Information communication technology (ICT), and specifically mobile data collection, has led to an exponential increase in the amount of information available, and importantly, the ease at which this data can be shared with those who make decisions. Increased access to mobile phones, even in rural remote areas, allows for a step change in the way information is gathered, and ultimately, how services are managed. The WASH sector needs to leverage this opportunity and use it to more effectively monitor and manage services and increase their sustainability.
Along with many other organisations in the sector, WaterAid believe that good quality data and effective monitoring are critical components for ensuring sustainability of services and reaching the SDG targets. Data availability and access is fundamental to:
- Identifying under-served populations, addressing inequity of services provided and ultimately achieving universal access.
- Analysing factors that can lead to low service sustainability, for example, inadequate rates of fee collection, availability of technical support and spare parts.
- Informing planning and budgeting at local and national level and supporting coordination across partners.
Investing in tools for the sector
WaterAid continues to invest in the development and use of free-of-charge ICT platforms and tools that enhance data collection, management, analysis, and sharing.
While these are being used for improving the effectiveness of our programmes in 20 countries, our ultimate aim is to see improvements in governments’ monitoring and planning processes. Therefore we also invest in demonstrating the benefits of using ICT to local and national governments and how it can help them in regular monitoring.
WaterAid started our investment in the early 2000s with the development of the Water Point Mapper, a simplified Geographic Information System (GIS) solution, based on Excel and Google Earth, which allowed users to create maps of water access at both the waterpoint and at the administrative (e.g. district) level. These maps helped to identify geographical areas or particular populations with a lack of water and sanitation access, and also highlight areas with water quality and sustainability issues.
In 2014, following a review of over 40 different ICT solutions available in the market, we embarked on our partnership with mWater – an online platform which facilitates WASH-specific mobile data collection, analysis and sharing.
A key decision factor for our partnership with mWater was based not only on their great technology solution, but on the foundation of a free and open access platform for the sector, with collaborative funding model for developments of the platform as well as strong WASH expertise.
WaterAid strongly aligns with this ethos and makes all technical developments supported by WaterAid accessible to all mWater users. This means that anyone can use the tool, share data and contribute to consistent WASH data and knowledge to drive change.
mWater now offers a wide range of functionality including a standardised indicator library for increased data harmonisation and consistency, generation of maps, and automatic or customised data visualisation in the form of interactive webpage reports. We believe this comprehensive functionality can support decision-makers such as local government, service providers and utility companies to make improved data based decision-making and ultimately improve overall water and sanitation services.
mWater use by WaterAid and partners
Since 2014 WaterAid’s use of mWater has grown significantly, with over 1,700 users across our countries of intervention, and, excitingly, we have seen an increasing number of our partners adopting it independently. Some examples of what the use of mWater is supporting WaterAid to achieve include:
- Tracking WASH service levels in WaterAid programmes in line with SDG definition to show contribution to overall sector progress. Rwanda school baseline
- Monitoring services provided with support from WaterAid in communities, schools and healthcare facilities, improving consistency and quality of databases.
- Track sustainability of our programme interventions up to 10 years after we support a community – with our Post Implementation Monitoring Surveys – to highlight key learnings to address in future programmes and to inform service providers. Mozambique example
- Working with local governments to complement or strengthen their existing WASH monitoring processes, many of which still use paper- based forms, with irregular updating and limited data analysis and use. We have supported service providers to collect detailed data on water supply systems and overall WASH service levels across whole districts to inform their annual planning and budgeting processes. Bugesera example
We hope to engage more with other organisations and governments to support further harmonisation of indicators, collaborative monitoring and evidence based decision-making. We believe that these will be key drivers for change in the WASH sector and will allow us to accelerate towards the goal of leaving no one behind.
Lastly, it’s important to note that while we see increased data access as a key driver for change, we remain adamant that for any technology to work it needs a conducive environment, and to be integrated effectively within the systems, processes and feedback loops that ensure data is used effectively and responded to, for increased WASH service access and sustainability. Improved monitoring needs to be complemented by improvements in sector coordination, financing, planning, institutional arrangements – and our work strives to reflect such an approach.
Lastly, it’s important to note that while we see increased data access as a key driver for change, we remain adamant that data management technology requires a conducive environment if it is to succeed. Furthermore, the technology needs to be integrated effectively within the systems, processes and feedback loops that ensure data is used effectively and responded to, for increased WASH service access and sustainability. Improved monitoring needs to be complemented by improvements in sector coordination, financing, planning, institutional arrangements – and our work strives to reflect such an approach.