USAID Launches Water for the World Research Agenda

Today, USAID is releasing its first-ever “Water for the World Implementation Research Agenda”—a key component of our effort to expand the evidence base for effective water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming and ensure sustainable progress toward a water-secure world. This agenda will guide investments in implementation research across USAID’s Mission- and Washington-based development portfolios.

The agenda identifies 27 broad research questions that are critical to closing the lingering evidence gaps directly related to accomplishing all four USAID Water and Development Plan Development Results. They also represent the culmination of an extensive process of exploring the evidence base associated with current approaches to WASH development programming and consulting across USAID and with our partners to prioritize and validate the proposed topics. 

For example, under Development Result 1: Strengthening Sector Governance and Financing, the agenda highlights the need for greater evidence around the governance of small and informal service providers. These providers often play a vital role in extending water and sanitation coverage to segments of the population not yet connected to a utility network. The agenda proposes several questions to improve USAID’s understanding of how to work with this important group: What are the best approaches to regulate small and informal service providers? How can this be done without disrupting the service they often provide to the poorest and most vulnerable?

Under Development Result 2: Increase Sustainable Access and Use of Sanitation and the Practice of Key Hygiene Behaviors, the agenda proposes an exploration of targeted subsidies and how best to apply them in area-wide sanitation programs, among other topics. Although taboo in the sanitation sector for more than a decade, targeted subsidies appear to be a necessary piece of the intervention mix to bring vital sanitation services to everyone.

Among the research topics identified for Development Result 3: Increase Sustainable Access to Safe Drinking Water is the need to explore sustainable management models for water services. For example, USAID’s WASH Ex-Post Evaluation Series demonstrated that previous investments in rural, community-managed drinking water access have not been sustainable. Yet, evidence gaps remain about how to ensure that frequent breakdowns do not continue to undermine gains in rural drinking water access. The research agenda highlights the need to answer these critical questions: In what contexts, including the level of support or oversight given, are community-managed water services more likely to be sustainable? And what alternative management models exist when these enabling factors are not in place?

Finally, the agenda highlights a number of implementation research questions that are important for advancing Development Result 4: Improve Management of Water Resources. One of the key questions is: What policies, institutional frameworks, and other enabling factors foster and incentivize green and resilient water and sanitation infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries?

We are excited to share the full set of questions that reflect the outcome of the consultation process we undertook to investigate and prioritize sector evidence gaps with our development partners and other stakeholders. We invite you to work with us to fill these gaps as we refine our research questions and methods, generate evidence through implementation research and other learning activities, and promote the use of new evidence in programming to maximize impact. For our part, we stand committed to using findings as they emerge in our programs and to lead on knowledge sharing with our partner governments, donor counterparts, and implementers.  

For more details read the full Water for the World Implementation Research Agenda.

By Alison Macalady, Abigail Jones, and Elizabeth Jordan of USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene