What we learned from our post-2015 advocacy
Agenda 2030 outlines a diverse, universal and incredibly ambitious programme. But how effective was the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector in ensuring these issues gained the profile they deserved as part of our post-2015 advocacy? Jayde Bradley, WaterAid UK's Advocacy Coordinator, muses on the findings of a recent evaluation of this work.
We (WaterAid, the World Health Organization [WHO] / UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation [JMP] and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council[WSSCC]) commissioned Advocacy Hub to undertake an evaluation to assess the impact of WASH sector stakeholders’ joint advocacy activities in influencing the post-2015 process from May 2011 to December 2015.
The main inputs for this evaluation included: i) internal evaluations and reflections from each of the commissioning organisations (including WaterAid’s internal evaluation by Simon Trace, of which the summary can be accessed here); ii) a documentary review supplemented by additional research; iii) interviews; and iv) a survey.
What did we learn?
Overall, the evaluation found that ‘the sector achieved a strong political outcome that gives it a good platform to push for future implementation [of Agenda 2030], and, therefore, better WASH outcomes’. Goal 6 and other WASH-related aspects of Agenda 2030 are a good result and a major advance on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the proposals at the outset of the post-2015 negotiations.
The evaluation found that this was achieved in the absence of strong counter position, and that this is fairly typical of the type of advocacy WaterAid, WSSCC, and JMP are engaged in. It is almost never the case that a decision maker would say to us ‘we are opposed to universal access to water and sanitation’ or ‘we do not think that’s important’. However, this does not mean that said decision maker is strongly in favour either, or that they are willing to use significant political capital to push for changes (for example improvements to strengthen the WASH language in the post-2015 negotiation text).
The influencing tactics were largely driven by an ‘insider approach’ and provision of technical expertise that worked hand-in-hand with flexible and responsive political advocacy. For example, the WASH sector coalesced early around a common agenda, codified in a 12-page document detailing the underlying ‘asks’ of the post-2015 process.
It is interesting to note that these same tactics in a more hostile political environment would probably not have been as effective, and that in that situation the campaign may have benefitted from additional external pressure, for example mass mobilisation of civil society and the general public.
Another challenge that emerged during the evaluation process was that of trying to establish direct attribution, which is far from an unusual problem in measuring advocacy impact. Even though the evaluation was conducted relatively soon after the period in question, many staff involved found it difficult to attribute the specific activities or messages that had influenced them, or they had moved on and could not be consulted (which is common after the end of a long, coordinated, multi-sectoral advocacy process).
Overall, there is evidence of a positive contribution to the final outcome. There was less fractured lobbying among WASH stakeholders compared with other sectors. This was partly achieved through aligned advocacy by many individuals and organisations rather than tightly organised advocacy delivered through a single, recognised entity (essentially: ‘a coalition of individuals, not of organisations’).
This is borne out by recent research assessing why some advocacy and campaigning efforts manage to influence global political agendas but others don’t. One of the key success factors is the existence of wider webs of individuals and organisations sharing a concern for an issue (rather than just analysing the most visible moments and actors).
Learning from the evaluation itself
We learned a lot from the evaluation process itself, to inform WaterAid’s future advocacy planning, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting (PMER) work.
There were big benefits to undertaking the evaluation in partnership, including greater resource and the ability to reach wider networks to encourage a more diverse range of stakeholders to contribute their views to the evaluation. However, we could have been more ambitious in who we consulted, for example by being more willing to expend political ‘capital’ to get the views of senior decision makers and influencers in this process.
From the outset we aimed to be as transparent as possible, for example by requesting feedback on the project terms of reference from WASH sector stakeholders not directly involved, or encouraging participation in the survey to ensure broad and varied input was sought.
We have also developed a comprehensive dissemination plan to share lessons and create buy-in to implement recommendations in a tangible way, for example through a webinar with other members of the WASH sector (you can listen to the recording here).
You can read more about the findings of the evaluation in the summary and annex documents. We plan to incorporate the findings of this evaluation, including recommendations for strengthening joint advocacy monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems, into our new project to develop our long-term PMER framework. Do message my colleague Dan Jones if you are interested in finding out more about this.
It would be great to see more development organisations in the WASH sector and beyond doing this sort of evaluation – or perhaps there are already examples out there? In which case, do share your experiences in the comments box below or with me on Twitter.