Supervisor training in preparation for the baseline.
Supervisor training in preparation for the baseline.
What is the SWIFT extension aiming to achieve?
The programme aims to reach 701,951 people in DRC with two out of the three elements of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). However, the long term impact of the programme will go significantly beyond WASH, contributing amongst other things to a reduction in water-related mortality rates, a reduction in the amount of time spent searching for water and a simultaneous increase in households’ economic activity and school attendance by children.
The programme will be delivered in 20 months between May 2017 and December 2018 across the three provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema. It will be followed by a 15 month extension phase, ending with the endline survey in March 2020.
What has been done so far?
We have just finished the inception phase. During this two-month period, we recruited and trained new staff, collected data on the areas of intervention and harmonised approaches between partners.
Manon Hourdin, SWIFT’s consortium coordinator in DRC, says: “One of the most time-consuming things during the inception phase was getting the MEAL systems in place. We have learned a lot from the first phase of SWIFT, and for the extension we needed to make sure that those lessons were absorbed and monitored at all levels – by the implementing partners, the programme and the consortium as a whole.”
Could you please elaborate on what this harmonisation involves?
The process included establishing the MEAL methodology, a quality checklist as well as the number of intended beneficiaries. The elements are agreed in advance between partners, DFID’s independent verifier and where relevant the Congolese authorities. Manon: “We are using the same standards, collecting the same evidence and in the same format – this makes it easier and more transparent for everyone involved.”
To establish the number of beneficiaries, another major component of the inception phase is compiling a population database. This information is vital for the organization of the response. It is also a requirement for a PbR programme like SWIFT, which is assessed on outcome (i.e. amount of people reached) rather than output (e.g. amount of latrines dug). Manon explains: “Tearfund reaches over 600 villages, Oxfam over 300, so that is a lot of data to process, clean and verify. From SWIFT 1 we learned that it is vital to collect this information centrally and in a standard template.
We now have a system where all information is input centrally by our SWIFT Consortium MEAL Officer, and where each update or change is logged. This makes the data collection much more transparent and orderly. Nevertheless, every time that we change location we need to do a new feasibility study, a technical study, and discuss the results with the BCZ [Bureau Central de Zone de Santé, the local representation of the Health Ministry] – so the process can take quite a long time.”
Just one second… you just gave a rather specific beneficiary target; how did you get to such a figure if you are still finding out who actually lives where?
This is exactly one of the difficulties of working under a payment by results contract: there is a difference between the contractual objective of the programme and the dynamic conditions on the ground. The beneficiary target is based on the requirements set by the donor, DFID, and on the available information on population numbers and SWIFT partners’ understanding of the situation in DRC.
However, that situation can change. Official census data can be outdated or incorrect. Sometimes, an organization or local government we sought to partner with may have partnered with a different NGO while we were getting the project approved. Sometimes, we may even have identified a possibility for a sustainable intervention that we need to discard in the inception phase because of contract-technical reasons.
“Contract-technical reasons”? What does that mean?
To give an example, Manon cites the case of Kiwanja, a village along a main road in North Kivu. “Kiwanja is rapidly developing into a semi-urban area; it already has a water system in place but it does not manage to supply the entire population. Some public water points are broken while private connections to hotels and restaurants consume an unidentified share, and there is clearly a structural need for water among some households.”
“However, looking at the yield from the springs, there should be enough water to provide the entire population. Without installing meters at all the water points in the city, it would be impossible to establish the consumption per water point (public and private). This presented SWIFT with the difficulty of not being able to prove to the donor the exact amount of direct beneficiaries.”
In other words, even in a case where there is no dispute over the need of the intervention it still might not be possible to do so due to the nature of the contract.
That certainly sounds challenging! What are some of the other challenges?
Pick one. East DRC is a very complex environment to programme in. Years of civil war have caused a myriad of challenges, such as missing or defective infrastructure, a turbulent political context and a lack of capacity amongst local water utilities and other institutions.
Moreover, as in the first SWIFT programme in DRC, many of the areas in which we are working are semi-urban ones like Kiwanja, meaning they feature the population size and density of a small town but without the infrastructure and governance structures or services of an urban area in place. This presents its own unique issues. Unclear institutional responsibilities, a weak focus on WASH and an often mobile population are just some of the issues faced by SWIFT’s implementing partners.
So how does SWIFT cope with these conditions?
The key to coping with these dynamic circumstances is to organize the programme in a flexible and responsive way. One of the biggest resources we can draw on in this respect is our learning from our earlier programme in DRC. To this end, we maintain an online database with recommendations that resulted from SWIFT 1. In addition, we produce a quarterly internal report stating which recommendations we did not follow with justifications for why we chose not to. We also log whether the recommendations actually resulted in an improvement so that we can revise our approach again if necessary.
Another feedback loop that we are setting up for the extension is a complaint mechanism. We will provide a toll-free number for people to call with any questions or complaints about the programme. We hope this makes the programme more transparent and responsive.
Finally, we are attempting to integrate the practice of frequently doing power analyses. Manon: “The different stakeholders and power relations change constantly and are different in each location. We have an online template that our staff can use to ensure that the programme continues to accurately take all stakeholders into account.”