Rudo Gwata — Most settlements in Zimbabwe’s urban and rural areas continue to face what are seemingly perennial water challenges despite efforts over the past three decades to address same.
Such efforts encompassed several projects and programmes, implemented by the State or with the help of development agencies.
Although the success of these interventions were reported, acute water shortages persist, and in some cases even getting worse, thus giving an indication that the impact of the earlier interventions may have been limited.
These earlier projects and programmes were mostly aimed at rehabilitating, drilling or upgrading boreholes, wells, water systems and components.
According to literature, newly-developed or rehabilitated water and sanitation sector infrastructure in Africa, including Zimbabwe, collapses within a decade of delivery.
This shortcoming is primarily attributed to two factors both closely linked to the project and programme processes.
First, there is habitually insufficient focus on sustainability during the lives of the initiatives.
The sustainability of a project or programme refers to its capacity to continue delivering benefits to the target group for an extended period of time beyond its life.
Secondly, the short lifespan of deliverables, as well as the poor impact is blamed on the general lack of a sense of responsibility for development or ownership of assets.
This leads to a legacy of neglect which is prevalent in most communities.
In turn, such sense of ownership is also a strong driver of sustainability and therefore, its absence further negates the latter.
Underscoring maximum stakeholder participation throughout the project process from the problem identification phase to farthest beyond the life of the initiative is regularly an effective remedy for these inadequacies.
Arguably, the source of these shortcomings, which are also very common in most development initiatives, lies in the planning and implementation processes of associated initiatives.
It is, therefore, imperative that stakeholders should consider doing things differently, particularly to instil a sense of ownership among beneficiaries, towards obtaining a lasting solution to the problem.
The application of the basic principles of Results Based Management (RBM) approach in project/programme management has consistently proved to be a surreal remedy for such deficiencies.
Such basic principles include focus on people and the desired changes in their lives or conditions, ensuring that every decision is informed by evaluative evidence, maximum stakeholder participation, continuous monitoring and reporting plus learning from both success and failure towards continuous improvement.
Explicitly, a project is only deemed successful when the desired long-lasting change in people’s lives or their conditions, ordinarily manifested through changes in behaviour, are evident.
On the contrary, the success of most earlier development projects, including water and sanitation, was determined by the successful completion of activities which did not quite lead to the desired sustainable improvements.
Moreover, the basis for choosing project activities, for example, drilling 10 boreholes or sinking wells in a region, was not always clear to most stakeholders who also habitually remained separated from the interventions.
With the RBM approach, all decisions ought to be informed by real information gained through experience or gathered through research and with the maximum participation of stakeholders, particularly the target beneficiaries. This group possesses the best quality data to help clearly identify the problem, spell out the desired change plus the best possible way(s) to address the same.
Subsequently, the desired change dictates the nature of deliverables that would be required to help bring it about, then such deliverables determine the nature of essential activities to bring about such change as well as the associated resource requirements.
Accordingly, the relevance, effectiveness and efficiency plus buy-in and ownership of the ensuing project are almost guaranteed right from the start.
Also, clearly defining expected changes in the lives of the target population and reverting to them for assessment significantly supports the accurate measurement of the impact that the project has on the water challenges, or problem.
Both literature and experiential evidence show that in Zimbabwe most members of communities identify and refer to communal boreholes.
For example, they use the name of the entity that drilled the borehole such as ZINWA, DDF or other development agencies as a reference point thus giving a clear indication that the sense of ownership is limited or completely missing. Consequently, members of the community tend to expect the drilling entity to take responsibility for the upkeep of the facility that is made available for their benefit.
One reason cited for such lack of ownership was the total exclusion of the communities from both the planning and implementation of the borehole projects.
In some cases, the communities spell out their preferred solutions to the problems, which are usually different from those provided.
Typical examples are wells or modernised rain water harvesting systems instead of boreholes.
Asserting maximum possible stakeholder participation throughout the lives of development interventions is a highly effective practice that helps to instil a sense of ownership of both the initiative and the ensuing deliverables.
Such sense motivates meaningful utilisation and subsequently effectiveness of the latter, as well as drive the enthusiasm to keep the facility functional, again underwriting the conspicuously lacking and much desired sustainability.
The principle of continuous monitoring and reporting refers to the routine collection, analysis of data plus information in order to track progress, using predefined clear indicators, towards achieving the intended changes.
It also helps in the assessment of project effectiveness plus efficiency in the use of resources. The reported information is used to inform decisions relating to the management of both current and future projects.
That is, monitoring allows stakeholders to identify trends and patterns, adapt strategies, and make quality decisions regarding resource requirements and utilisation.
On the contrary, the assessment of earlier projects is only reported on the number of units produced, typified by the number of boreholes drilled plus the estimated number of beneficiaries.
Such reporting is regarded as an anomaly to which the failure of most initiatives is attributed.
This is because the mere delivery of boreholes does not always bring about improvements to the target population. Additionally, the assessments were generally irregular and were in some cases, only conducted after the projects had gone far off course or already completed thus stifling the potential for effective and timely course correction.
Moreover, the accurate assessment of the efficiency of the projects, implemented using traditional management approaches, was often difficult mainly due to the utilisation of limited information to guide decisions or poor costing during the planning phase.
The use of evaluative evidence to inform decision-making is informed, in the context of RBM, helps to effectively address this shortcoming is a remedy with very high potential for success.
Performance information is also used for learning towards management improvement through the adjustment of strategies during project implementation or to inform decisions relating to future planning.
In the case of the water interventions in Zimbabwe, information on the earlier project characterised by their limited or lack of impact on the water challenges can be effectively used.
That is, taking into consideration both best practices and lessons learned for purposes of improving the design and implementation of future projects.
In addition, learning enhances the capacity of individuals as well as the organisation to generally improve their decision-making skills.
Basically, RBM supports better performance and greater accountability of projects through clearly defined and spelt out planning, managing and assessing the progress of a project with a focus on the intended changes in the lives of the target population or their conditions.
Setting out the intended results plus ways in which to measure whether they are achieved or not helps stakeholders to reasonably determine if a genuine difference has been made for the people concerned.
Furthermore, the approach facilitates thinking through and ensuring that deliverables from projects continue to address the challenges over a long time.
This is achieved through the clarification of the associated roles and responsibilities as well as the control and management of the ensuing infrastructure or system during the planning phase of the project.
In essence, use of the RBM approach can prove to be a useful remedy for the limited impact of water and sanitation development interventions.
Dr Rudo Grace Gwata-Charamba is an author, development project/ programme management consultant and Researcher with a special interest in Results Based Management (RBM), Governance and Leadership.