Applying Social Network Analysis in WASH Programs

Rural Sanitation and Hygiene (RuSH) Network members participate in a Social Network Analysis workshop in Phnom Penh in 2017. Photo credit: WaterSHED

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 in the series explore practices to help water maintenance service providers make strategic decisions to improve WASH systems and ways to apply SNA best practices in WASH work.

More and more, implementers are adopting systems-thinking approaches to better understand local actors and the complex systems in which they live to uncover more sustainable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) solutions. 

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a systems-based method increasingly recognized as a valuable instrument to better understand stakeholder relationships in WASH activities. SNA provides evidence-based network “maps” that visually depict member engagement, relationships, and power dynamics, coordination levels, resource flows, and the network’s overall structure, among other elements. These maps can help prioritize learning, cooperation, and collaboration toward collective goals. SNA also highlights essential details in an existing network structure to inform the design of a program’s strategy, interventions, and partnership approaches.

Unlocking Potential for County-wide, Sustainable Potable Water Services

In Kitui County, Kenya, SWS designed a program to develop, scale up, and test a preventative rural water maintenance model. Research using SNA revealed that the County WASH Coordination Office held a central position in the local WASH network. The research also showed several peripheral WASH networks did not fully communicate or coordinate with the government’s WASH efforts. 

The results prompted SWS partners to design a program around the county government’s coordination with an existing, widely respected, multi-stakeholder committee — the WASH forum — toward county-wide, sustainable potable water services.

SNA can also highlight network trends and help stakeholders to shift from a technical WASH focus to a systems mindset that encourages collaboration. An endline SNA in Kitui showed that the county government was still central to the WASH network, but that the WASH forum had progressed significantly. Compared to the baseline, forum participation increased and the overall network included more dedicated core actors and fewer peripheral members (see figure).  

 

Visualizations for all ties and frequencies between interviewed organizations in 2018 (left) and 2020 (right) in Kitui WASH Network (Source: SWS)
Figure: Visualizations for all ties and frequencies between interviewed organizations in 2018 (left) and 2020 (right) in Kitui WASH Network (Source: SWS)

 

The results of this work have created a more resilient, connected and collaborative WASH network in Kitui, able to weather tumult and produce results. The WASH forum collaboratively developed the first county water bill to address the county’s most pressing WASH issues, including the need for better monitoring and professionalization of rural water service delivery, funding for water access in rural areas, and legal recognition of the forum.

Learn More
  • Listen to an online training on how SWS partners used SNA during key program stages in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Cambodia.
  • Read about a case in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia, where repeated analyses prompted the creation of a learning alliance to improve the town’s sanitation services that demonstrated significant influence on both town dialogue and budgeting decisions. 
  • Explore practices to help water maintenance service providers make strategic decisions to improve WASH systems and ways to apply SNA best practices in WASH work. 

By Rich Fromer, LINC Managing Director, and Stephanie Lacouture, LINC Communications Associate