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Before yesterdayWASH OFXAM Blogs

Three things we’ve learned about measuring quality in humanitarian WASH responses

10 July 2019 at 12:17

Six months ago, we started a process for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practitioners and coordination platforms to measure the quality of our responses across different contexts. James Brown reflects on what we have learned so far. 

Crowded living conditions Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Photo: James Brown
Crowded living conditions in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Photo: James Brown

Back in January,¬†we¬†introduced the Quality Assurance and Accountability Project¬†(QAAP) ‚Ästa¬†Global WASH Cluster¬†initiative led by Oxfam, in partnership with¬†Solidarit√©s International,¬†Tufts University,¬†and¬†UNICEF.¬†The project¬†supports¬†humanitarian WASH coordinators¬†to¬†go beyond simple headline indicators to understand¬†‚Ästand ultimately improve¬†‚Ästthe quality of our work.¬†¬†¬†

Since October, our team has visited Bangladesh, Myanmar, South Sudan and Colombia. We’ve met with coordinators; programme teams; experts in WASH, protection, monitoring, and inclusion; as well as people directly affected by crisis.   

The purpose of each visit is to understand specific needs and challenges, and the approaches that have already been tried. We then work with the response team over several months to develop and test a quality assurance system that includes practical measurement tools. 

What types of challenge did WASH teams face? 

Long term sustainability of services in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh 

A massive and rapid influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar has created the largest refugee camp in the world. With the anticipated camp lifespan running into the long-term, it is essential to make good decisions about how to invest limited resources early on. 

Restricted access and protracted displacement in Rakhine State, Myanmar 

Across the border, the work of WASH teams is constrained by ongoing restrictions on INGOs delivering services in confined camps.  Longer-term planning to support internally displaced people (IDPs), sequestered to these camps since 2012, remains difficult given the absence of a clear government strategy for durable solutions to their displacement.

Fragile peace and Ebola in South Sudan 

Decades of conflict have displaced a third of the population. Over two million people have been forced to flee the country completely. Any optimism based on the recent peace deal is tempered by the threat of Ebola from neighbouring countries. The WASH cluster is coordinating a response in both formal and open sites across the country; constantly responding to new needs.

Despite the unique challenges of each context, we found consistency in the following themes:   

1. Data needs to be used in the right way 

WASH partners and third parties conduct sophisticated monitoring that includes surveys, interviews, focus groups, user feedback systems and community engagement.  In recent years, smartphone or tablet based digital surveys, GPS mapping and aerial imagery from satellites and drones have enabled us to collect huge amounts of data.  And specialist assessment organisations such as REACH can support organisations through large scale, multi-sector data collection and analysis.  

All this data can support responses to make evidence-based decisions, and to monitor the effectiveness of our interventions. However, the right data needs to be collected, shared and analysed in the right way. We found that this is not always consistent between partners, which means joint analysis at the response level is limited. 

2. Data needs to tell us if we are meeting our objectives 

Too often, data can’t tell us whether services really are equitable, sustainable, dignified or safe.
Additionally, the data being collected often does not¬†measure¬†the objectives of the WASH response,¬†or the risks faced by people¬†it¬†aims¬†to serve.¬†¬†Strategic response objectives often include¬†phrases¬†like ‚Äėequitable and sustainable access‚Äô or ‚Äėsafe and dignified¬†facilities‚Äô.¬†¬†

Yet too often, data used to measure these indicators can’t tell us whether the services really are equitable, sustainable, dignified or safe. Community engagement and consultation is rarely even factored into the planning of water and sanitation facilities. We measure and report from our humanitarian response point of view, rather than from the experience of people using them.  

3. We all need to work to consistent standards 

We saw many examples of WASH teams carrying out good quality programmes, designing approaches that are both effective and appropriate. The potential for other organisations in the response to learn from them, and to scale up to improve quality is great.  

However, service levels and approaches are often not consistent across organisations. And, while knowledge of key standards frameworks, such as Sphere and the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) is widespread, these standards are not routinely applied to programme design, or the development of monitoring frameworks. 

So, where next? 

WASH coordination platforms exist to promote joined up approaches across organisations, but in a complex response this can be extremely difficult. Teams are concerned about the growing number of WASH actors working without engaging with UN-led coordination mechanisms. We heard calls for the National Humanitarian WASH Coordination Platform (NHWCP) to be strengthened, and to ensure compliance with agreed ways of working.  

The Quality Assurance and Accountability Project will continue to work with coordination platforms to tackle these issues.  Together with country partners, we will define clear expectations and standards for each response, and design how best to monitor key performance indicators.   

By ensuring information is collected, analysed and shared in the right way, we can highlight where the quality issues arise.  Ultimately, our aim is to put quality at the top of the agenda. When partners have the right information at the right time, we will all be able to deliver continually improving, and more effective WASH services. 

Author
James Brown

James Brown

James joined Oxfam’s Global Humanitarian Team as a Public Health Engineer in 2012. In 2016, he was seconded to the Field Support Team of the Global WASH Cluster (GWC), taking on national coordination roles in both Iraq and Ukraine, working on capacity building initiatives and leading the GWC’s Technical Working Group on Cash and Markets. Before joining Oxfam, he founded a social enterprise developing household water treatment products for the development sector. His background combines humanitarian WASH programming with human-centred design and engineering.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it: Quality in WASH responses

14 January 2019 at 12:57

As we launch our WASH Impact Series, Oxfam’s Quality Assurance Project Manager, James Brown introduces a new global initiative to help organisations focus on achieving quality in humanitarian WASH responses.

Aina prepares a meal at her emergency shelter outside Palu. Oxfam installed clean water facilities here after a powerful earthquake struck on September 28th, 2018. Photo: Rosa Panggabean/OxfamAUS

Aina prepares a meal at her emergency shelter outside Palu, Indonesia. Oxfam installed clean water facilities here after a powerful earthquake struck on 28 September 2018. Photo: Rosa Panggabean/OxfamAUS

What would a quality assurance system for humanitarian WASH programming look like? That’s the question being explored by the Quality Assurance and Accountability Project, a Global WASH Cluster initiative led by Oxfam, in partnership with Solidarités International, Tufts University and UNICEF.

Over the next six months we will be working to define and test a process that can be used by WASH practitioners and platforms to measure the quality of responses around the world.

Why is it important to measure quality?

WASH coordination platforms (sometimes called ‚Äėclusters‚Äô or ‚Äėsectors‚Äô) are groups of WASH practitioners from NGOs and UN agencies.¬† An important part of their work is analysing information to provide an overview of who is doing what, where gaps exist, and whether standards are being met. Their summaries are used to inform decisions about prioritising resources across the response.

Headline figures hide a multitude of complexities, and can give a very different picture to the reality experienced by many.
Until now, coordination platforms have mainly focused on quantitative measures of output, which are then compared to the number of people in each area to give headline coverage figures (eg 20 people per latrine, 15 litres per person per day, one hygiene promoter per 250 people).  However, these headline figures hide a multitude of complexities, and can give a very different picture to the reality experienced by many.

The risks of ignoring the unseen

A recent Oxfam study of several programmes showed that, on average, 40% of women were not using the latrines provided. The needs of different users had not been sufficiently considered in latrine design. If we collect and report only numbers of latrines constructed, without quantifying actual use, we’re likely misunderstanding the problems faced by most of the people we’re committed to reaching.

If we’re not asking the right questions it’s unlikely we will have the information to make good decisions.
In a humanitarian response, when time and resources are limited, we’re biased towards prioritising visible problems and risk ignoring the unseen. If we’re not asking the right questions it’s unlikely we will have the information to make good decisions.  And this can lead to wasting scarce funding on activities that do not contribute to our objectives of providing basic services and keeping people healthy.

Practical benefits for the WASH sector

  1. A consistent definition of quality

Quality is a broad term that encompasses so many different factors and contexts it can be hard to define.¬† It‚Äôs often easier to identify where quality is lacking, because we have a subjective understanding of ‚Äėgood programming‚Äô.¬† Therefore, our first challenge is to define quality in a way that is both specific enough to measure objectively, whilst being flexible enough to apply to a broad range of contexts.¬† We will do this by gathering input from WASH practitioners, and carrying out a desk review of existing literature.

It is essential that our definition of quality is rooted in the experiences of communities affected by crisis.
Through this definition of quality, we will be able to shape the way humanitarian WASH responses are measured: influencing the incentives that drive programme design.  It is essential that our definition of quality is rooted in the experiences of communities affected by crisis.
  1. An adaptable framework for measuring quality

We will develop a draft framework that sets out the universal components of quality in WASH programming.  This will form the foundations for developing context-specific monitoring systems that can be set up and tested in live responses.  The framework template will be updated as we test it in each context, and then later shared with other WASH coordination platforms for wider use.

  1. Three context-specific quality monitoring systems that work

Working with WASH coordination groups in three countries, we will use the general framework to create monitoring tools and approaches that are adapted to the needs of each context.  We plan to visit each country twice, initially to gather information, and then to test each of the systems developed.  This testing process will ensure we are delivering the information that is most useful to the WASH practitioners working there, without creating additional burden. It will also provide a baseline quality measure for future assessments.

  1. Guidance and advocacy

We will write a guidance note at the end of the project to summarise our process, and what we learned.  This can inform the roll out of further quality monitoring frameworks in other countries.  We will also make recommendations for the Global WASH Cluster to systematically improve the quality of responses.

 

We hope that this project will start a more focused dialogue around quality in humanitarian WASH responses.  By demonstrating practical ways WASH coordination platforms can measure quality across different contexts we hope that this will become standard.  Once quality is routinely measured, WASH coordinators will be equipped to make better decisions about priorities and programme design, and ultimately, ensure that we deliver on our commitment to the people we aim to serve.

Author
James Brown

James Brown

James joined Oxfam’s Global Humanitarian Team as a Public Health Engineer in 2012. In 2016, he was seconded to the Field Support Team of the Global WASH Cluster (GWC), taking on national coordination roles in both Iraq and Ukraine, working on capacity building initiatives and leading the GWC’s Technical Working Group on Cash and Markets. Before joining Oxfam, he founded a social enterprise developing household water treatment products for the development sector. His background combines humanitarian WASH programming with human-centred design and engineering.

 

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