By Susan Davis, Executive Director, Improve International
[NOTE: As of March 2013, the Accountability Forum is now called the Water for Life Rating]
I’m very excited to be supporting the first Accountability Forum, and not just for professional reasons. It feels serendipitous that my first project with Improve International will involve the Honduran water and sanitation organization COCEPRADIL (Comité Central Pro-Agua y Desarrollo Integral de Lempira). My very first visit to a developing country was Honduras, and the first water projects I ever helped to evaluate were built by COCEPRADIL. Twelve years later, one of my favorite stories is about the time we had to hike up a hill for three hours to get to one of the most remote communities in Lempira. My American colleagues and I were very slow hikers compared to the Hondurans who were used to zipping up and down the steep hills. The COCEPRADIL staff insisted we ride burros back down the hill so that we could get back to the hotel before dark.
So, back to the Accountability Forum. It is an innovative approach to address a sticky problem the water and sanitation world has been talking about for decades: the high project failure rate. Marla Smith-Nilson, Executive Director of Water1st International, who developed the concept for the Accountability Forum, explained her eureka moment. In November 2009, she attended Joe Cook’s presentation at an American Water Works Association Conference. Joe, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Washington, suggested accountability clubs as a possible way to ensure sustainability of water and sanitation projects. Marla said, “Kirk [Anderson, her co-worker] and I thought it was a fantastic idea and ran with it.”
To develop the idea, Marla and Kirk met with Joe and his colleague, Mary Kay Gugerty. Mary Kay co-wrote a thought-provoking paper on voluntary self-regulation by non-profit organizations. They strengthened the concept by including third party evaluators. In the summer of 2010, Water1st obtained funding for launching the Forum. Marla announced the Accountability Forum at the October 12, 2010 Sustainable WASH meeting in DC. I was at that meeting representing Water For People, and I knew they would want to be part of it. Coincidentally, Water For People had begun its own series of Accountability Summits to present monitoring data from its water and sanitation projects to supporters and peers in the US.
And now, the Accountability Forum is really happening! The Honduran organization COCEPRADIL has courageously agreed to be the first organization evaluated by peers and third parties in the first Accountability Forum evaluation visit. Central American and other representatives of Water For People, Living Water International, Save the Children, and A Childs Right are planning to join as members and observers, and we are still encouraging others to join.
The dates are set: December 12 -16, 2011. Improve International will facilitate the process by building consensus among the participants on the evaluation criteria, recruiting appropriate candidates for independent evaluation roles, and helping COCEPRADIL to prepare their project portfolio.
This pilot will inform future Accountability Forums in different countries. The goal is to evaluate organizations on the actual sustainability of the projects they are implementing. We hope these types of events will create an environment where monitoring and evaluation is rewarded. Donors would clearly benefit from information provided by peers and a reputable, independent source.
On top of the professional thrill of being part of this experiment, I have to admit I’m hoping to get another burro ride.
If you are interested in joining the Accountability Forum in Honduras or future countries, email me a photo of your favorite burro at email@example.com