USAID recognizes that in order to accomplish the goals set out in our Water and Development Plan under the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy, we need to ramp up our efforts to address evidence gaps that have impeded progress in the sector to date. As part of that process, the Agency intends to develop a Water and Development Research Agenda that identifies critical evidence gaps, guides research to fill those gaps, and ultimately helps to inform programming approaches.
To take advantage of the concentrated water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH)–sector knowledge represented at the 2019 University of North Carolina Water and Health Conference, we held a consultation designed to: 1) share our process in developing a research agenda; 2) increase awareness of key evidence gaps we have identified in the process so far; and 3) validate and prioritize research questions and themes for the forthcoming research agenda.
We had a packed house with more than 100 people in attendance for the Friday afternoon session. Jeff Goldberg, director of the USAID Water Office, and Ali Macalady, USAID WASH advisor, kicked off the process with an overview of our methodology for developing the research agenda and an introduction to the interactive sessions.
The majority of the time spent during the consultation revolved around these interactive sessions, which were designed to get input from researchers, practitioners, and others in attendance. USAID facilitators asked the participants to review draft research questions and provide input in a facilitated group discussion. The group discussion ended with a group sticky-dot voting exercise intended to gather input on prioritizing research questions (see photo below). The facilitators also gathered individualized feedback from a participant’s worksheet.
The amount of feedback received validated our efforts to conduct a wide-open consultation. Researchers appreciated the breadth of challenges to the sector, rather than focus narrowly on individual research interests. Practitioners appreciated the need for better evidence on technical approaches currently being implemented in the field. These discussions in some cases highlighted additional evidence gaps and important research questions that need to be considered, especially to ensure that emerging approaches are studied alongside evidence to support existing programming. In other cases, the discussions pointed to the need to refine questions to make them more pertinent to advancing evidence and programming in the sector.
We are thrilled by the attendance and interest in this session, and are looking forward to incorporating everyone’s feedback into a finalized implementation research agenda to support the Agency’s water and sanitation development work.
Ryan Mahoney, USAID Water and Sanitation Advisor