Water Currents: WASH and the Systems Approach

Water Currents is produced biweekly by USAID’s E3 Water Office. Each issue contains recent news and articles on water sector issues, partner and donor updates, latest sector research, and a special focus on one topic. Please provide your feedback and suggestions by contacting the waterteam@usaid.gov.

The USAID Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership (SWS) prepared this special issue of Water Currents focusing on systems approaches, which seek to understand the complexity, interactions, and interdependencies between actors and factors involved in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Actions are implemented based on this understanding and have the flexibility to adapt to feedback and changing conditions.

The purpose of SWS is to test new ideas, approaches, and tools to overcome barriers for improving WASH service sustainability via systems approaches. Additional information about SWS activities can be found on the SWS website.

Reports and webinars featured in this issue are from SWS and its consortium members, as well as the World Bank, USAID, and others.


Water Currents - In Focus

2018 and 2017 Publications and Webinars 

Using Network Analysis to Understand and Strengthen WASH SystemsSWS, February 2018. This webinar provides an introduction to network analysis and early lessons learned from analyses conducted in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Cambodia. SWS is using such analyses to better understand the complex interactions of actors in a local WASH system, with the ultimate goal of increasing the sustainability of WASH services.
Are Systems Approaches about Action or Distraction? LINC, June 2017. This bloghighlights some critical points to consider about systems-focused interventions that were identified during an SWS-hosted debate for the WASH sector in Ethiopia.
Three Key Insights into WASH Systems ApproachesLINC, January 2017. LINC's Matt Guttentag reflects on key insights for effectively applying systems approaches to WASH that he gained from a January 2017 workshop on sustainable WASH in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with SWS partners in this blog post.
Sustainability Assessment of Rural Water Service Delivery Models: Findings of a Multi-Country ReviewWorld Bank, August 2017. A multi-country case study approach is used in this report to identify good practices and challenges to building sector capacity and strengthening sustainable service delivery models for rural areas. Policy recommendations are centered around five areas: institutional capacity, financing, asset management, water resources management, and monitoring and regulatory oversight.
WASH Talk Podcast on Adopting a Systems ApproachIRC, January 2017. WASH Talk podcast host Andy Narracott and guest speakers Angela Huston of IRC and Harold Lockwood of Aguaconsult discuss how the systems approach came about, current evidence of its importance, and possible challenges for its adaptation in the WASH sector.
Water Point Failure in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Value of a Systems Thinking ApproachWaterlines, April 2017. This paper proposes the adoption of systems-based analysis for looking at water point failure and introduces some of the more common qualitative and quantitative analytical tools that could help reveal how these complexities might be managed more effectively.
Characteristics of Stakeholder Networks Supporting Local Government Performance Improvements in Rural Water Supply: Cases from Ghana, Malawi, and BoliviaWater Alternatives, June 2017. This study of local governments in Ghana, Malawi, and Bolivia applies social network analysis to identify characteristics of stakeholder networks that support performance improvements in rural water supply. Network analysis is combined with qualitative analysis to identify characteristics that are observable from a network perspective and perceived as important by stakeholders active in these networks.
What Do Declining Elephant Populations and Failed Handpumps Have in Common? Environmental Incentives, August 2017. As this article proposes, systems thinking—the understanding that the whole is more than the sum of its parts—may be the key to improving performance in both the conservation and WASH sectors.
Local Systems Practice User’s GuideUSAID Local Works, 2018. This online guide provides insights on several methodologies that can help organizations apply a systems lens to drive their own development. The guide is geared toward better understanding of how these approaches work, and where and when to best apply them.
Systems Thinking Toolkit: Putting Systems Thinking into Practice in Your OrganizationFSG, June 2017. This toolkit identifies several tools that are helpful in systems thinking practice, whether you are looking to understand an issue and its system, create a plan for action, or learn and refine as you go.

Additional Publications and Webinars, by Date

It's About the Systems, StupidIRC, February 2017. In this TEDx Talk, Patrick Moriarty of IRC discusses the need to invest in long-term solutions rather than focus on quick wins and the long-term costs of quick wins.
Building Environments to Support Sustainability of Improved Sanitation Behaviours at Scale: Levers of Change in East AsiaInstitute for Development Studies, July 2016. This chapter from Sustainable Sanitation for All discusses building supportive policy environments and institutional practices for catalyzing sustainable collective sanitation behavior change at scale. This includes scaling up the use of improved sanitation, along with improving the availability of affordable sanitation for all, to help rural communities achieve open defecation free status that is sustained over the long term.
Systems and Complexity White PaperUSAID, March 2016. This report reviews recent USAID applications of systems approaches to design, monitoring, and evaluation of activities. The paper provides an overview of systems practices and establishes a taxonomy of systems tools highlighting the uses and requirements of each.
Complexity-Aware MonitoringUSAID, June 2016. This discussion note outlines general principles and promising approaches for monitoring complex aspects of USAID development assistance. Complexity-aware monitoring is distinct from performance monitoring as practiced in USAID and is intended to complement performance monitoring when used for complex aspects of projects and strategies.
Understanding Handpump Sustainability: Determinants of Rural Water Source Functionality in the Grainter Afram Plains Region of GhanaWater Resources Research, September 2015. In this article, researchers  discuss a Bayesian network model that was developed using a dataset on rural water source functionality in Ghana. It found that functionality was strongly dependent on the implementer, pump type, management, and availability of tools, with synergistic effects from management determinants on functionality.
Achieving Systemic Change in Faecal Sludge ManagementIRC, January 2015. Thisbriefing note proposes a process for achieving transformational change, describing a three-step process to effect change at the city scale.
Against the Current: How to Shape an Enabling Environment for Sustainable Water Service Delivery in NigeriaWorld Bank, April 2015. In 2004, Nigeria and the World Bank launched the National Urban Water Sector Reform Project but failed to meet its essential objective of achieving a sustainable water delivery service. The report highlights the most salient bottlenecks that prevented initial plans from unfolding, the adaptation techniques that changed implementation in response to signals and changing environments, and the inflection points in implementation that provided conditions for a transformational change.
Whole System Change: Capturing the Change Process in the Ghana Rural Water Sub-SectorIRC, August 2015. IRC and its partners helped to create large-scale change in Ghana’s rural water sub-sector and in sector thinking and practice through a collaborative process of action research, reflection, and ongoing learning. The working paper describes the processes and actions that were undertaken by IRC and its partners. 
Local Systems: A Framework for Supporting Sustained DevelopmentUSAID, April 2014. This policy paper provides a blueprint for how USAID works to achieve its vision of sustainable development, identifying 10 core principles of successful local partnerships—including smarter evaluation systems and more flexible projects—that can adapt to emerging needs.

If you would like to feature your organization's materials or suggest other content for upcoming issues of Water Currents, please send them to Dan Campbell, Knowledge Creation/WASH Specialist, at dcampbell@waterckm.com.