“How do we know process is being made? How can we know if an intervention is making our local water and sanitation system more sustainable?” These are very important questions regarding projects or programmes in water and sanitation. Therefore a suitable method is needed to make the development visible and measure the progress.
Indicators are one approach to measure progress.The term "minimum indicators" is used in recognition that:
- It is better to start with a small set of indicators that are feasible to monitor and to improve over time.
- There are many other indicators that could be used to measure progress beyond this basic level.
Indicators provide an effective tool to measure progress and performance. An indicator is the representation of a trend tracking the measurable change in a system over time. Generally an indicator focuses on a small, manageable set of information that gives a sense of the bigger picture. Therefore it can be seen that there is no need to measure everything. Furthermore the choice of indicators is important as to whether it gives sufficient ‘sense of the bigger picture’.
Only well selected indicators can assist the process to maintain a focus on the important work areas and take strategic decisions to address problem areas. That makes a project sustainable and allows responsible persons to act.
Use of Indicators
Indicators are useful to:
- Measure progress over time against various water and sanitation objectives providing information relevant to policy.
- Measure performance against a target to evaluate the effect of policy actions and plans.
- Present information to the public or stakeholders in a simplified way.
- Identify areas for increased attention by an organisation.
Indicators Have Two Core Functions:
- To provide system information to inform the project team (responsible organisation), the public and policy makers.
- To translate data into policy relevant information. That is, they describe, show trends and communicate the results of implementing objectives.
Criteria for Developing Indicators
The most important point in developing indicators is not to be too ambitious. Start with what can be realistically done or else failure is guaranteed.
a) Simple, Easily Measured, Understood and Applied
The data used for indicators should be in a format that is easy to use. The more complex the indicator the less useful it will be.
b) As Few as Necessary
The capacity to measure and report is usually limited by financial and human resources.Being burdened with an excessive number of indicators may mean that the system fails to achieve the expected benefits or does not work at all. A set with a large number of indicators will tend to clutter the overview it is meant to provide.
c) Use Existing Information Where Possible
It is preferable that the information needed to measure an indicator is available through existing data sources and monitoring programmes or that data collection can occur through existing programmes. This will improve the cost effectiveness of the system.
d) Relate at the Appropriate Scale
An indicator should be related to the specific situation it is "indicating" information about. The indicator should be measurable at an appropriate scale.
e) Detect Change
The indicator should be able to detect change. If it does not reflect change because it was poorly selected or the situation has changed then another indicator should be identified.
f) Comparable, Repeatable and Defensible Between Sites and Times
It is an advantage to use indicators which are comparable between similar projects in different countries. That allows transboundary comparisons and assures the choice of the indicator.
Note: Indicators are useful tools for measuring progress and motivating action in specific areas. They should be limited to those that can reasonably be measured. Start small, build up gradually.
Typical Indicators to Measure Sustainability in Sanitation and Water Management
(Adapted from MUGA and MIHELCIC 2008)
Depending on the scope of an intervention in the field of sustainable sanitation and water management, different indicators will be applied. Some typical specific examples to measure sustainability are:
Water Sources Management
- Water withdrawal: absolute or per-person value of yearly water withdrawal gives a measure of the importance of water in the country's economy.
- Ground water level development (rise or fall of ground water levels, pollution).
- Water sources quality (e.g. turbidity, minerals content, pathogens, chemical quality).
(Adapted from MUGA and MIHELCIC 2008)
Reuse and Recharge of Nutrients and Water
- Percentage of reclaimed water used in agriculture to total agricultural water use.
- Percentage of nutrients used from recycled sources.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. Furthermore, also other, less technical indicators (such as e.g. hygiene behaviour, knowledge on water related diseases etc. could be measured).
http://www.washplus.org/ [Accessed: 19.12.2013]
The WASH Sustainability Index Tool, developed for the USAID-Rotary International H2O Collaboration, is a tool to assess sustainability of WASH programs. The tool considers the sustainability of institutional, management, financial, technical and environmental factors.