Enabling environments for inclusive citywide sanitation: a conceptual framework

Themes: Faecal sludge management Sanitation Urban Sanitation Research Initiative WASH
Countries: Bangladesh Bangladesh-local Kenya Kenya-local Zambia Zambia-local

By Sam Drabble, Head of Research and Learning

One purpose of global conferences like World Water Week, Stockholm, is to provide insights into new approaches and ways of thinking that are driving progress in the sector. In recent years, WSUP has observed (and welcomed!) an increased emphasis on “systems change” at these events.

A necessary shift is taking place: away from a narrow focus on building taps and toilets, and towards an understanding of water and sanitation as a service, whose effectiveness depends on the wider enabling environment. In simple terms, universal coverage requires services which are 1) sustainable and 2) delivered at scale – and neither is possible without strong systems.

In Stockholm the increasing momentum towards systems change was evident – my week began with an excellent “morning of systems” convened by Agenda for Change highlighting a number of ongoing initiatives in this area  –  and served to build on July’s UN High-Level Political Forum and the associated SDG 6 synthesis report, underlining the imperative to strengthen governance, finance and capacity development if we are to achieve universal access.

So how does WSUP work to strengthen systems? From the outset, system-strengthening has been embedded in our Theory of Change: we partner with institutions and the private sector to develop effective service delivery models, and work in parallel to create the conditions for these services to be provided at the city level, including within low-income areas.

“Invisible barriers to urban water and sanitation”: read our CEO’s view on systems change

That means political will, strong service providers, clear policy and institutional frameworks, regulation and enforcement, targeted investment, consumer willingness to pay, private sector enablement, I could go on…but how can we make sense of this complex web of interrelated components, which together make citywide services possible?

Envisaging an end state: WSUP’s sector functionality framework

Despite its acknowledged importance, the components of the “enabling environment” for urban WASH services can be weakly understood and conceptualised. At World Water Week we introduced WSUP’s new Sector Functionality Framework (SFF) – a framework, based on WSUP’s experience, for the building blocks required to achieve inclusive city-wide water and sanitation.

The SFF has been developed over the past two years and is now being tested in WSUP programme countries in collaboration with Oxford Policy Management. Comprising 21 indicators across seven areas, the SFF draws in part from the UNICEF WASH-BAT “enabling factors” categories – reflecting the need to ensure alignment with existing sector frameworks where possible – with separate but closely analogous frameworks for water and sanitation.

Though extremely difficult to achieve, the sustained presence of these 21 components in a given location would represent an end state for a functional urban WASH sector.

WSUP’s Urban WASH Sector Functionality Framework: what the “enabling environment” really looks like

Applying the framework: baseline evaluations based on stakeholder consultation

So we have developed this framework – now how do we intend to use it?

Over the past 12 months the SFF has been applied to develop baseline assessments of sector functionality across WSUP’s six programme countries, with the intention of conducting two-yearly assessments from this point forward.

Critical to the rationale for this process is the engagement of local stakeholders, including ministries, utilities, municipalities, regulators, civil society representatives and the private sector.

These actors are not merely consulted as part of the assessment – they are the assessment, responsible for allocating scores to each indicator.

Scores are initially provided through an anonymised survey, in which stakeholders are provided with a simple likert scale and associated guidance notes for each indicator; this is followed by a mediated process of negotiated consensus, as part of the workshop which forms the core of the evaluation.

The output is a visualisation of sector functionality with a traffic light system, helping to identify barriers to progress.

Example output: provisional sector functionality assessment for Bangladesh (sanitation)

Applying the framework: mapping future capacity development and influence interventions

We believe that convening stakeholders to discuss sector functionality and develop consensus on bottlenecks has intrinsic value – but there is more we can do to ensure the Framework contributes to improved outcomes in our focus countries.

In coming months, we will be exploring additional applications of the SFF, including the potential to inform WSUP’s capacity building and influence interventions and the overall effectiveness of WSUP’s work.

Our recent Guide to strengthening the enabling environment for FSM maps activities implemented under WSUP’s 2012-2017 BMGF-funded programme in Bangladesh, Kenya and Zambia to the SFF, demonstrating the potential of the framework as a planning tool to inform the focus of future programmes.

We have work ahead of us in better understanding how we can use the SFF, and in ensuring the baseline assessments provide a foundation to drive progress in our focus countries.

But we think this is a tool with real potential to impact systems change, and our task will be made easier by emerging sector-wide consensus on the requirement for approaches of this type (we were encouraged by the reception the framework received at World Water Week).

Full details of the SFF can be made available by contacting We will be releasing a report on the baseline sector functionality assessments in our six focus countries towards the end of the year.


Top image: Upgrading sanitation facilities in Naivasha, Kenya