Stockholm World Water Week brings together practitioners from across the WASH sector to discuss topics of mutual interest and concern. Attendees at the conference included development professionals working in rural sanitation, water ministry officials from Nairobi, water resource management researchers, and representatives from private sector companies providing WASH goods and services. While these individuals’ daily work looks extremely different, one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that there is a lack of cross-sectoral learning in WASH, and a desire to learn how to learn better.
At Results for Development Institute’s (R4D) WASH Impact Network, we are bringing together civil society organizations in India and East Africa that are implementing innovative approaches in the WASH sector, and trying to understand how they learn. Here are a few notable conversations that stood out to us at Water Week on the subject:
Beyond the Basics—Next Generation Solutions for Rural Sanitation
The Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and the World Bank Group presented best practices for getting buy-in from national and state governments to fast track improvements in rural sanitation. What they found was that the most effective means of doing this was by facilitating peer-to-peer learning through creating knowledge hubs, using peer networks and platforms, and sharing success stories through learning tours and site visits. Download the presentations through the SWWW website.
Addressing the Lack of Trained Professionals to Reach the Post-2015 Agenda
R4D's Peter Blair presents on the Network's capacity building activities.
Dorothee Spuhler, lead for the Capacity Development Working Group of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), facilitated a session that presented a variety of both in-person and online learning methods aimed at building the capacity of WASH professionals worldwide. These methods included field visits, learning tours, on-site trainings, and site supervision services—methods which have shown particular success in conflict areas such as Kabul, where BORDA is training local craftsmen and small and medium enterprises in the construction and maintenance of decentralized wastewater treatment systems and biogas digesters. Presenters at the session also highlighted online learning tools such as the Cap-Net Virtual Campus, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), and the Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox. There was also a focus on the need for more trained WASH professionals to increase in-country capacity - such as Lund University's Sustainable Sanitation in Theory and Action program to provide support to Master's and PhD students in Tanzania.
Transforming Knowledge Production and Innovation for Sustainable Water Development
At this session, Louise Karlberg, research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), called for a new way of conducting research that recognizes participants as local experts, in which they are encouraged to critique the data, tools, and assumptions used in research, and actually help write the final scientific report at the end of the study. In an atypical panel discussion afterward, panellists were asked a series of “tricky questions,” for example, “How can we know that new knowledge makes a difference?” James Clarke, Director of Communications at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), gave an honest answer to this one—we can’t. But he encouraged WASH professionals to think about how knowledge is delivered by asking “Whom do you trust? Whose information do you consider valid? From whom do you get information from and then want to go back home and do something with it?”
At R4D, we’re taking these insights and exploring them in the context of local WASH innovators that are faced with a number of barriers to scaling up interventions that work, and implementing new ideas. We’re doing this by first bringing together over 120 organizations working at the grassroots level in India and East Africa into a learning and collaborating network, and continuously learning from these organizations about what their organizational needs are, the challenges they face in scaling up and innovating, and how they learn most effectively.
Taking what we learn, we are delivering tailored training and capacity building resources through our regional partners, Dasra and Millennium Water Alliance (MWA) and other service providers, and feeding those lessons back to other development actors for those focused on transferring knowledge better. Browse our website to stay up-to-date on what we’re learning and sharing at R4D.