Defining Collective Action Approaches in WASH

The term “collective action” is becoming more prevalent in the international water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. As the WASH sector is increasingly looking to systems approaches to build sustainable services, many partners are applying collective action approaches to build strong local systems that consistently deliver WASH services. Systems approaches seek to understand the complexity, interactions, and interdependencies among actors and factors; takes action based on this understanding; and regularly adapts to feedback and changing conditions. Collective action approaches are one type of systems approach.

Given this growing interest in collective action approaches, many are wondering, “What are collective action approaches?” and “Should we be using collective action approaches in our activities?” Research conducted by the Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) aims to help donors, practitioners, and local governments better understand and make informed decisions about the use of collective action approaches within WASH programming. This brief presents a definition of collective action approaches and a working typology of the range of related approaches. This work is based on a literature review and interviews with experts and SWS partners who are working to implement collective action approaches to improve the sustainability of WASH services in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Cambodia.