During the 4th Annual GPSA Global Partners Forum, through the GPSA-WPP Partnership, one of the key workshops focused on thinking about community engagement for inclusive water service delivery. This roundtable discussion led by Maitreyi Das, the Water’s Lead Social Development Specialist, highlighted the challenges encountered, lessons learned and impacts observed in integrating social accountability approaches in the water sector. Panelists included: Shovcat Alizadeh, Oxfam Country Director; Sophien Ben-Achour, Sahel Team Leader at Search for Common Ground in Niger; Gisela Keller, Managing Director for Helvetas; and Lizmara Kirchner, Senior Water and Sanitation Specialist. These Panelists shared experiences of implementing and operationalizing CE in water sector from different perspectives in a well-rounded and robust discussion.

 

In 2016, the GPSA and the Water Partnership Program initiated a collaboration to support the operationalization of social accountability approaches in water sector in three countries. In Tajikistan, the project instituted new crowd-sourced service standards and citizen feedback mechanisms monitoring actual services against those standards. Now, the sector’s institutions and their key constituencies are seeing improvements not only in water service delivery, but also increased engagement with their governments and consumers. In Benin, the project empowered municipal officials to adopt public audits, enhanced oversight functions of user associations, and introduced transparent management practices of public contracts. Preliminary results indicate an increase of 23% in collection rates across four communes.

In Niger, the project examined the institutional capacity of a local network of CSOs and two community radio stations to help improve communication and community dialogue for the resettlement due to the construction of a dam and hydropower plant called the Kandadji Program.

 

In addition to these projects, the collaboration has also supported development of knowledge products, including a framework of social accountability specifically for water sector. This framework would serve as guidance for practitioners aiming to integrate social accountability and citizen engagement in the sector.

 

At the workshop, participants were challenged to focus on two questions: “What worked and for what purposes?” and “What would you do differently if you had to do it again?” Participants were encouraged to draw on examples from their own contexts. A connecting thread in implementing social accountability mechanisms was the critical role of trust, underscored by each panelist. In Tajikistan, the process to improve the relationship, namely to create trust between the service and providers, took over four years to establish. The concept of payment for water was not widely accepted in a context where community based initiatives are not encouraged.  Similarly, in Benin, technical aspects of water service delivery were not the core issue, but the improved interaction between the state and citizens where social accountability interventions became the cornerstone to develop this trust on both sides.

 

After identifying the fractured relationships communities can have with government, panelists and participants began to outline strategies to strengthen trust. In Niger, based on their preliminary work, CSOs found that the diversity of mechanisms not only strengthened trust of citizens but resulted in greater reach. Likewise, as noted from one of the Bank’s projects in Brazil of resettling citizens, the developer needed to put forth a concerted effort. After decentralization began in Tajikistan, CSOs observed that the closer the institution to the people they served, the greater the willingness of citizens to change their behavior towards institutions. Finally, a nuanced approach even within one region solidifies trust, where social cohesion may be stronger in a rural setting in relation to a peri-urban environment, thus affecting the relationship with the service provider.

 

Engaging citizens can be done through a variety of means, such as radio or leaflets, but regardless, developing a relationship of trust between communities and governments can make social accountability mechanisms sustainable and effective.