Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS)

Applying, researching, and learning about systems-based approaches to improve the sustainability of water, sanitation and hygiene services​.

Introduction

Sustainable services remain a daunting challenge in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. National and local governments, service providers, and development organizations have traditionally focused on access and service expansion. Less emphasis has been placed on sustaining existing services and infrastructure. As a result, service functionality rates remain low as infrastructure quickly fails into disrepair.

Under the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS), eight partners are working with USAID to test new ideas, approaches, and tools to strengthen local WASH systems — comprised of actors, factors, and the dynamic interrelationships among them — and improve service sustainability. Technical areas of focus include professionalized maintenance for rural water services, collective action approaches, and systems understanding and engagement. Learn more about these topics through a set of curated resources here.

Professionalized Maintenance Approaches Icon
Professionalized maintenance that proactively service, repair, and replace hardware to deliver a more reliable, guaranteed service. SWS is working with in-country partners — Whave in three districts in Uganda and Oxford/FundiFix in Kitui County, Kenya — to assess promising maintenance models, capture information about their performance, and analyze the systems that underpin these models.
Collaborative Approaches Icon
Collective and collaborative approaches that leverage partnership among WASH stakeholders to overcome complex systems constraints and challenges. Through implementing a variety of convening bodies — including IRC- and Tetra Tech-led learning alliances in Ethiopia and Uganda, government partnership meetings in Uganda, and county-level WASH forums in Kenya — SWS is learning about how collective action approaches work, when and why to implement them, how to monitor them, and what outcomes can be expected.
Systems icon
Systems understanding and engagement tools and methods to better map, assess, and engage with WASH systems and actor networks. SWS is facilitating participatory research and is conducting targeted analyses such as network analysis, factor mapping, qualitative monitoring, and others.

A vacuum truck provides emptying services in Woliso, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Tetra Tech

Overview

SWS conducts factor mapping workshops in Kamuli District, Uganda. Photo credit: Nick Valcourt

Partners

Consortium

University of Colorado Boulder leads a consortium of partners who are developing, demonstrating, learning about, and sharing evidence on systems-based approaches for improving the sustainability of WASH services. With implementation of systems-based approaches in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, USAID – and the broader WASH sector – will gain an understanding of how, and under what conditions, these approaches can be effectively applied in future programs.

SWS Advisory Board Membership

SWS is advised by a group of respected members of the global WASH community.

  • Vincent Casey, WaterAID-UK
  • Louis Boorstin, Osprey Foundation
  • Jenna Davis, Stanford University
  • Adeeb Mahmud, FSG
  • Heather Skilling, DAI
  • Tjip Walker, USAID
  • Aaron Kabirizi, Uganda Ministry of Water and Environment (former member, now retired)
UC Boulder Logo
Environmental Incentives Logo
IRC WASH
Whave Logo
LINC
Tetra Tech
WaterSHED
University of Oxford Logo

A Whave technician conducts a regular maintenance check. Photo credit: Whave

Resources

SWS is developing a body of knowledge about the cost of different systems approaches, their benefits, and what is needed to sustain them; how to effectively apply these approaches to new or existing activities; the conditions that support and inhibit different approaches; and the effectiveness of certain approaches. Through a series of knowledge products, webinars, and other resources, SWS shares evidence and lessons related to systems approaches and tools with the broader WASH community.

Click here to view resources by priority learning theme.

Factors Driving Success in Collective Action Approaches to WASH Factors Driving Success in Collective Action Approaches to WASH
Learning Brief

Collective action approaches are increasingly being used to create sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. However, these approaches are relatively understudied, and little evidence is available on what real-world factors…
Conceptualizing Service Delivery Approaches from a Systems Perspective Conceptualizing Service Delivery Approaches from a Systems Perspective
Learning Brief

Over the past decade, the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector has become increasingly aware that the planning and management of sustainable service delivery requires an understanding of the interconnected factors that either enable or…
Sanitation in Small Towns – Debre Birhan, Ethiopia Endline Assessment Sanitation in Small Towns – Debre Birhan, Ethiopia Endline Assessment
Report

The overall objective of this report is to provide an endline assessment of the sanitation systems in Debre Birhan in 2021 as part of the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) project. It adopts a similar format to the baseline study,…
A Roadmap for System Strengthening for Professionalized Rural Water Maintenance Services A Roadmap for System Strengthening for Professionalized Rural Water Maintenance Services
Report

The principal hypothesis of the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS)  is that failure to provide long-term, sustainable services is a systems failure — a failure of institutions, policies, and regulation — and their application…
Bibliography of SWS Resources 2016-2021 Bibliography of SWS Resources 2016-2021
Tool

This bibliography reflects all Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) publications as of September 2021. SWS will continue to publish resources through December 2021.   

Water Kiosk in Kitui County, Kenya. Photo credit: Jeff Waweru

Blog

Learn more about our latest research and activities, and get news about upcoming SWS events.

Social Network Analysis: Your Questions Answered Social Network Analysis: Your Questions Answered
Blog

This is the concluding blog in a series on Social Network Analysis in WASH. The other blogs in the series explore practices to help water maintenance service providers make strategic decisions to improve WASH systems and ways to apply SNA best…
Results of Social Network Analysis in WASH in Uganda and Kenya Results of Social Network Analysis in WASH in Uganda and Kenya
Blog

This blog is adapted from a version that originally appeared on Learning Lab’s website. It is the second of three blogs in a series on Social Network Analysis in WASH. The other blogs in the series explore practices to help water maintenance service…
Applying Social Network Analysis in WASH Programs Applying Social Network Analysis in WASH Programs
Blog

This is the first installment of the Social Network Analysis (SNA) in WASH blog series from Sustainable WASH Systems (SWS) Learning Partnership. The blog is adapted from a version that originally appeared on Learning Lab’s website. The other blogs…
Collaborative Solutions in Complex WASH Systems Collaborative Solutions in Complex WASH Systems
Blog

The rapidly expanding town of Debre Birhan, Ethiopia, population 113,000, does not have a centralized sewer network. Some 66 percent of the town’s fecal sludge is now improperly managed (83 percent at baseline), leading to considerable land, water,…
A Whave technician conducts a regular maintenance check. Photo credit: Whave Pandemic Impacts on Rural Water Services in Uganda: An Interview with Whave Director Adam Harvey
Blog

Restrictions on gatherings and movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have affected essentially all aspects of life around the world—from movie theater closures in India to November’s 2020 G20 Summit being held virtually. Even essential…

Community members attend a sanitation sales event in Cambodia. Photo credit: WaterSHED

Countries

ETHIOPIA AND UGANDA (IRC, Tetra Tech, and LINC)

IRC, Tetra Tech, and LINC are working with local actors in Ethiopia and Uganda to better understand and strengthen local systems for (1) rural water and (2) small town sanitation service delivery. In each location, SWS is promoting and facilitating learning alliances – stakeholder platforms for collaboration and shared learning – as a vehicle for better sector coordination. These platforms bring together actors at the town, district, zonal, and regional levels to innovate and take collective actions to strengthen systems for sustaining WASH services. Inspired by principles of collective action, SWS is undertaking learning and research activities that involve researchers and implementing agencies working together to further understand the challenges and test solutions. Learn more here.

UGANDA (Whave)

Whave is cultivating a sustainable model for rural water service delivery by testing and expanding a preventive maintenance approach in three Ugandan districts. Operating as a Ugandan regional service provider, Whave is signing multi-year preventive maintenance service agreements with communities that require community leaders to charge operation and maintenance tariffs, manage the collected funds in supervised bank accounts, and pay an annual service fee. An important component of this model is incentivizing local technicians to prevent breakdowns by paying them based on the number of days a water source is functional instead of paying them to make repairs. Whave is helping local governments build an effective institutional and regulatory structure to establish and enforce preventive maintenance services. Learn more here.

KENYA (University of Oxford and UNICEF)

Oxford and UNICEF, along with local partner Rural Focus, are developing, testing, and scaling-up the FundiFix model as one response to rural water challenges in Kitui County, Kenya. The goal is to provide a model for universal, rural water service delivery. FundiFix provides a performance-based approach to maintaining water infrastructure, using ‘smart handpumps’ that collect real-time information on abstraction volumes and breakdown incidents. Oxford and UNICEF are incubating the local Kenyan company Miambani Ltd. to provide preventive maintenance for small-piped schemes and hand pumps. Learning about and documenting the risks and returns of this approach will provide insights and direction for the government, private sector, and communities to establish an empirical basis for improving policy, practice, and investments for water security for the poor. Oxford and UNICEF are working closely with the government and other actors, using an existing platform of quarterly County WASH Forums, to strengthen the institutional coordination necessary for effective service delivery. Learn more here.

CAMBODIA (WaterSHED and LINC), completed in January 2019

WaterSHED and LINC drew upon the principles of collective impact and systems thinking to bring together a diverse set of actors, including government, private sector, NGOs, and donors, around a shared vision for universal sanitation and hygienic environments. With SWS support, the actors collaborated to develop a common measurement framework and to align mutually reinforcing activities. Systems mapping and analysis tools were used to effectively identify and engage relevant local actors, collectively prioritize high potential areas of collaboration to achieve sector goals, and better understand how collective efforts contribute to sustainable rural sanitation and hygiene services. Learn more about WaterSHED here.

Contact Us

Ryan Mahoney, USAID, rmahoney@usaid.gov