Research and Learning – a key building block to good quality and sustainable WASH

Patrick Moriarty, Executive Director, IRC

19 Apr, 2017 in Partner Perspective Categories

With the High-level Meetings about to start, members of SWA’s Research and Learning constituency will be joining ministers with the message that research and learning are essential to achieving the SDG.

Prior to the Addis Sector Minister’s Meeting in 2015, SWA’s Research and Learning (R&L) constituency identified a set of messages to share with the assembled ministers (I wrote about these at the time in this blog).  During the couple of days of the meeting, and in discussion with other constituency members present it became clear that behind these there was one overriding message: that investing in research and learning is a crucial part of the national systems building required to achieve SDG 6.

All our other messages referred to the “why” of doing this.  Why is a strong international and national research and learning capability a crucial building block for sustainable WASH services? Because it is the basis for evidence based decision making; because it provides the insights necessary to be more efficient and effective; because it creates the ability to adapt in the face of rapid change, be that from climate, shifting demography or increased demand.

Two years later, our message remains the same.  SWA is committed through its shared building blocks and behaviours to the strengthening of national systems:  national systems that are able to meet the goal of universal provision of WASH services.  Research and learning are critical element within those national systems, part of what we sometimes call the sector’s enabling environment.  An enabling environment without which it is very difficult to make sustained progress, or to attract much needed additional financing into the sector. 

Research and learning are, like other aspects of the enabling environment, heavily reliant on public finance.  So, a key part of the message to both sector and finance ministers is the need to invest in national research and learning institutions (university departments, technical training centres, national research institutes and resource centres) as part of their broad investment in creating strong and resilient national enabling environments.  Enabling environments that provide the framework for efficient, well governed, evidence based and equitable service delivery and in so doing make the sector attractive to inward investment.

As always, I go to these events hopeful that the dialogue is shifting, that WASH is becoming more professional, more of a normal social sector like education or health in which Government accepts its leading role.  And that as part of this shift, which implies a major effort of institution building and strengthening, space will be found for those institutions that do research and learning.