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Hear No Evil: Not Listening to Stakeholder Feedback Stakeholder, accountability, governance, transparency, learning from failure

Hear No Evil: Not Listening to Stakeholder Feedback

Recently I read a few articles that made me feel quite disheartened about the willingness of NGOs to design, develop, and evaluate projects based on stakeholder needs.  I want to believe that these are exceptions to the rule, rather than being common, but they are worth mentioning either way.

At the World Bank ‘Development Impact’ blog, one blog post that is part of Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel’s “Learning From Failure” series noted the unwillingness of NGOs to participate in an SMS-based stakeholder study by IPA and Global Giving in Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador.  More than half of the ‘treatment’ sample – 13 out of 18 NGOs in a total sample of 36 organizations refused to participate in the study.

Main reasons for not participating included

1) a belief that the work was too sensitive.

2) the study would take too much time from the NGO.

3) some feedback might jeopardize donor funding.

The first reason is understandable and the second is arguably so as well, but the third is all too depressing.  Until and unless development projects learn to accept failure and learn from it, projects will never improve.  

 

Another blog post that I read recently was an article in The Conversation that described a sanitation project in Laos in which failure to listen to stakeholder needs resulted in continued open defecation and the use of the newly-built latrine to store rice!

Again, I am not naive enough to think that this is the only failed project or that it will be the only project to fail.  I just think that these examples serve as reminders that beneficiaries and their needs have to be part of project design.

 

I am not here to bash NGOs and CBOs.  I am just citing these examples as reminder to be circumspect about what is done in the name of development.  Additionally, it is worth noting that I could just as easily come up with examples of how local, district, or central government is neglecting its citizens  OR how the private sector, for various reasons, is not functioning well and thus neglecting potential customers in the context of service delivery.

Past project successes and failures, along with contextual information on a development sector’s enabling environment, are just part of the overall puzzle that should be analyzed before projects are designed or money is spent.  I’ve done this sort of analysis in the WASH sector, and I believe in its value.  If you do as well, and have any particular needs in this regard, feel free to send me a note.

 

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID

Corruption in the Water Sector: Do ‘Water Mafias’ exist?

Given the Hollywood treatment through the movie Chinatownwe see the California ‘water wars’ in action.  Conflicts between private landowners, municipalities, etc. exist to some extent or another, as does the general issue of sectoral (urban, agricultural, industrial) use and allocation.  While, there are varied perspectives on how this issue plays out (“whiskey is for drinking. water is for fighting over” ? ) on the large integrated water resource management (IWRM) level (‘Big Water’) [and I often defer to those with IWRM expertise, to people such as David Zetland at Aguanomics or one of my PhD supervisors (2008 Stockholm Water Prize Winner) Dr. Tony Allan],  this post focuses on what I like to call ‘Small Water’, or water at the level of the provision of and access to water.

At the level of household drinking water, water can perhaps be considered a (continuous, flowing) service if it is delivered though a utility service connection, but the reality for many in developing countries is water purchased in discrete units.  Many of us have seen the ubiquitous 20 liter jerry cans in which water is sold and re-sold in urban areas.

Since water is therefore a product, rather than a service, it is not unreasonable to look at corruption in water as a market imperfection and/or something that happens as a result of poor market regulation.  Water mafias have been documented in Nairobi, Delhi, Karachi, and many other places.  Water mafias aim to collude, control markets, restrict supply, and keep shortages high.

I will always think back to this failed water supply initiative in the Kibera informal settlements of Nairobi as a classic case of the water mafia.

“The attitude and behaviour of city godfathers [emphasis mine] was considered by many to be the greatest hindrance to private sector participation in Kibera. It has been difficult to pass decisions aimed at improving distribution networks, billing, metering and putting together a coherent and sustainable system involving the various interested parties. In addition to this, it is known that City Council workers collude with unscrupulous persons to frustrate officially recognised connections…

In Kibera, there are power structures within the community that benefit from the opportunities for rent-seeking associated with the existing water supply system [emphasis mine] . There are vested interests within the local administration, to some extent embodied in the positions of the village elders. Political parties have also contributed to the form of the current water system, and people’s positions on water issues are influenced by party affiliations….

water sellers in the settlement are often linked to these power
structures [emphasis mine]…

Since water vendors and kiosk owners are private enterprises, it can be said that there is private sector participation. However, the relationship between these private enterprises and local officials is not the kind of public-private partnership envisaged by proponents of private sector participation [emphasis mine]…

Viewed as a whole, the project did not work. The objectives of the project have clearly not been met. There has been virtually no improvement in distribution, and water prices have not fallen. What remains is a sense of failure and frustration that may well undermine future initiatives.[emphasis mine]…

It might have been better if the project had never been started. [emphasis mine]”

What does this mean in terms of practical purposes for any new water supply initiative?  The complete terrain of formal and informal participants in the supply, management, and distribution of water must be known and the government must be doing something to address any theft, control, or collusion. The Water Integrity Network (WIN) is a great resource for further reading in this area.

What are your thoughts? Do you know an example of a well-intentioned but failed WASH project?