U.S. Global Water Strategy
Action Research Initiative


Filling evidence gaps in the water security, sanitation, and hygiene sectors is critical to accomplish the goal set out in the U.S. Global Water Strategy (GWS): Improve health, prosperity, stability, and resilience through sustainable and equitable water resources management and access to safe drinking water and sanitation services and hygiene practices.



What is USAID’s commitment? USAID’s Action Research Initiative in support of the U.S. Global Water Strategy (the Initiative) is a flagship investment in generating evidence that will drive improvements in the effectiveness of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and water resources management (WRM) programming and investments by USAID, other funders, and national governments. 

What is the plan? USAID is working through collaborative partnerships to surface new sector evidence and ensure that findings are readily applied to development and humanitarian programming and policy-making.

What is USAID currently doing? USAID has six centrally-funded research mechanisms (REAL Water, Urban WASH, WASHPaLS #2, PRO-WASH, SCALE, and MOMENTUM Country and Global Leadership) that build on previous work to generate new evidence and insights aligned with twelve focus areas. USAID also has activities with action research elements and research awards that contribute to the Initiative’s broad objectives, but that may or may not align with the 12 focus areas.

How will the evidence be used? USAID’s commitment to strategic collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptive management will ensure that the research findings will be used by USAID Operating Units throughout the Program Cycle—from initial strategy development to activity design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. USAID is also committed to disseminating research findings broadly and freely to all.

Focus Areas

The Action Research Initiative focuses on 12 topics to help partner governments and sector stakeholders deliver improved services sustainably, enhance water management, make the best use of available resources, and inform sector planning. These topics were identified in the Water for the World Implementation Research Agenda and the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance WASH Research and Capacity Building Agenda, which identify research questions critical to closing key sector evidence gaps.

Explore each topic and key findings by hovering or clicking on the cards below. Key findings for each topic are coming soon.


Develop and Strengthen Regulatory Frameworks

Improvements in finance and governance by strengthening policies and institutions with the overall aim of supporting countries.

Build Institutional Capacity for Governance of WASH and WRM Sectors

Human resources are critical to the functioning of regulators and service authorities. A review of effectiveness of staff incentives and collaborative efforts to help governments and partners working to improve sector governance.

Mobilize Domestic and Commercial Financial Resources

Understand the broader enabling environment and policies that lead to critical steps in access to finance, along with systematic comparisons of finance tracking tools.

Improve Sustainable Sanitation Coverage

How to combine area-wide sanitation interventions to ensure sustainable uptake, reach scale, and target the poor, while ensuring wide, lasting coverage in various contexts.

Improve Fecal Sludge Management

Testing of cost effective fecal sludge management solutions to help service providers become viable and scale-up naturally.

Consistent Practice of Key Hygiene Behaviors

New and innovative hygiene behavior change approaches that incorporate both behavior change communication and changes in the physical environment.

Improve Performance of Rural Water Services

Addressing the ongoing challenge of functionality with operations and maintenance models, governance, and associated financing to ensure continued services delivery.

Improve Performance of Urban Water Utilities

Finding institutional structures, leadership, performance benchmarking, and incentive systems to support and motivate urban water utilities to improve services in dynamic environments.

Improve Drinking Water Quality

Application and scaling of water quality monitoring and treatment tools and processes.

Implement Water Resources Management and Allocation Planning

Obstacles to inclusive water resource planning and improvements in monitoring surface and groundwater quality and quantity in resource-constrained environments.

Protect and Rehabilitate Watersheds

How to target, integrate, and phase watershed management interventions to optimize improvements in water quality and availability? What policies, institutional frameworks, and other enabling factors best incentivize green and other resilient infrastructure?

WASH in Humanitarian Settings

Improve effectiveness of WASH interventions in humanitarian activities.

* Note that BHA funds for action research are not limited to these topics.