We did it! The Water & Sanitation Accountability Forum
took place in western Honduras mid-December, and I still feel the buzz of excitement. It was challenging logistically but at the end of the week, we felt like we had accomplished what we set out to do:
- Evaluate the programs of COCEPRADIL, an organization based in Lempira that has been building community water projects for more than 20 years
- Test the overall process for the Accountability Forum
We had an excellent turnout: 22 participants not counting translators, COCEPRADIL staff, and local community representatives. We were so thankful that representatives of the following organizations made time to join us for this important experiment: A Childs Right; CRS / Global Water Initiative Central America; El Porvenir; Laird Norton Family Foundation; Oxfam / One Drop Foundation Pure Water for the World; Save the Children; Water 1st International; Water For People; Water Missions International. In addition, we had two independent evaluator who stepped right in with great ideas to improve the process.
COCEPRADIL should get particular credit for being willing to be the first organization evaluated through this process. Read more about COCEPRADIL at the end of this blog.
On Sunday evening, most participants arrived at the COCEPRADIL training center, where we all stayed for the week. COCEPRADIL hosted a cookout and entertainment by local chorus and dance groups.
Day 1 – Setting the Stage
Marla Smith-Nilson of Water 1st International explained why we were holding this Accountability Forum: “The sector faces many challenges.One is a high project failure rate. Somewhere between 30-50% of water projects fail after implementation [globally]. Another prominent challenge is lack of follow-up after projects are completed….So we wondered if there is something that we can do to create incentives in our sector so that monitoring and follow-up actually happens.” Other business sectors have associations with standards for membership and hold each other accountable through collaborative monitoring, she continued, and this Forum is modeled on that approach. In addition to the goals above, she said the Forum should provide an opportunity for member organizations to learn from each other’s work in the field.
COCEPRADIL and community water board members presented on the history of their work different aspects of the programs, including sewage treatment and watershed protection.
After lunch, we selected the communities to be evaluated.
- COCEPRADIL selected one community that reflected their best work. They selected Candelaria, the small town where their training center is located.
- We assigned a number to each COCEPRADIL’s projects (total of 159)
- We put the numbers in a hat (actually a local Mayor’s cowboy hat) and shook them around
- We asked 4 participants (from different countries) to each select 2 slips of paper from the hat
- Once we had 8 community names, we checked with COCEPRADIL staff on the age of the water projects in each community (we wanted to make sure they had been completed more than 5 years ago). They all were.
- Then we asked how long it would take to get to each community (we had allotted two days with two groups for site visits). Four of the communities were impossible to reach in one day. COCEPRADIL was also concerned about visiting a couple of communities where many residents were harvesting coffee. However, the group decided it was important to honor the random selection process.
As we went through the process we had questions and thoughts about ways to improve it. Below are a few questions on the community selection process:
QUESTION: How do we ensure that we have the entire list of the organization’s work? We talked about ways to confirm lists from outside sources, such as looking at donor organizations’ annual reports. Maybe we could start building a confirmed master list of all water projects.
QUESTION: How do we ensure that we are able to visit the most remote communities? We will build in time to allow for an overnight stay on the next evaluation trip. It is important to include the most remote communities in evaluation because they often have the less successful projects. According to Rob Bell of El Porvenir, there are ”two main reasons for this: (a) closer communities have easier access to town and our staff, hardware stores, plumbers, etc. and opportunities to find solutions to problems that come up and (b) we do a lot of follow-up in communities, but . . .it is easier to visit the closer communities. Less [of our] presence in the farther communities means less training, less follow-up and less opportunity – in general.”
QUESTION: How do we make sure the evaluation considers how the organization’s work has evolved over time? We can do something like divide the list of projects into those greater than 10 years old and greater than 5 years old.
Later in the day, we reviewed the water committee and household evaluation questionnaires. The independent evaluators took responsibility for the organizational structure piece, taking time to meet separately with the COCEPRADIL leadership.
In the evening, more cultural fun: local poet Armando Jose Ramos read us his poetry and told us about his experiences as an immigrant in the United States.
Day 2 – First site visits to test the evaluation process
In the morning, one group went in trucks to visit the Congolón spring. Another group visited the Congolón water tanks, the water filtration plant for Cholunquez, and a small water purification business. If the afternoon, we all visited the sewage treatment plant for Candelaria, which is being renovated. Then we divided up into smaller groups to do random household visits and a household focus group in different neighborhoods in Candelaria, and another group visited a solid waste recycling and disposal site.
That evening we had a youth dance presentation (which included tap dancing to a Juice Newton song), and then we reviewed the day’s learning and thoughts about the process, as well as the draft standards for the Forum. Participants thought the focus group format would be a good way to collect more information faster, so the independent evaluators modified the questionnaires.
It was over a beer that night I believe that one of the participants came up with the informal motto for the Forum: “like a conference, only funner.”
Day 3 – Evaluation visits
After another yummy breakfast with excellent local coffee, we divided into two groups and visited San Francisco and Celilac. I was in the group that visited San Francisco and I was very excited to see a water project more than 20 years old.
Again we broke into groups: three small groups for random household observations; another group to conduct the focus group interviews with the water committee and the households; and a group to look at water system components, tank, pipelines, etc. The observation group attempted to visit homes in the areas of highest and lowest pressure. We realized that it was handy to get the group visiting the tank to bring along the water board members so they wouldn’t be tempted to sit in on the household focus group. This was useful because one of the questions we asked the household members was whether they were satisfied with the water board.
In the evening, we returned to COCEPRADIL’s training center to compare the answers from the focus groups and the household observations. We also talked about challenges to the process and ways to address those the next day.
We had hoped to have the groups from both communities take time to share their findings, but there wasn’t time.
Day 4 – Evaluation visits
On this day we had groups visit Sosoal & San Andresito. We had the focus group and household observation process down pat by now and it felt like a shame that this was the last day. Sosoal is a coffee growing community so many of the families were picking coffee but we were fortunate to have a good number of residents join us. I wanted to buy coffee for Christmas presents but it turned out it was not roasted.
QUESTION: What denominator should we consider for community coverage? In Sosoal, there had been two water projects implemented, benefiting different families. But not all the households in the community were connected to the water system.
That evening we did an exercise with the whole group where we voted on our “gut feel” on how COCEPRADIL’s work would meet the key categories of the standards. (You’ll have to wait for the evaluation report to find out the results!)
Day 5 – Adios Candelaria
We had hoped to have time to synthesize the group’s findings, see if there were any contradictions, but several people needed to leave in the morning. We ended up using that time for the independent evaluators to meet with COCEPRADIL staff to finish the organizational structure evaluation.
QUESTION: Is visiting five community projects out of 200 enough to evaluate the organization’s body of work? We’re not sure but the independent evaluators felt comfortable making an evaluation. [The draft report should be ready mid-February 2012]
QUESTION: Are the standards about sustainability, impact, or accountability? We’re starting with accountability, but of course we want to encourage sustainable and transformative implementation.
To view photos courtesy of Leonel Mauricio Ayestas Lara of Water Missions International Honduras, click here.
About COCEPRADIL: In 1988, 18 communities in Lempira, Honduras made a joint proposal to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for support in building a large water system. The enthusiasm generated by this initial project motivated the community leaders to form a small group called COCEPRA. Their objective was to help other communities in their area obtain safe water supplies and to provide training in areas such as health education and operations and maintenance.
By 1993, in conjunction with CRS/Honduras staff, COCEPRA had provided training and assistance to 85 communities in need of safe water projects. The organization also expanded its mission to include watershed protection and adult education, and its name became COCEPRADIL, Comite Central Pro Agua y Desarrollo Integrado de Lempira (Central Committee for Water and Integrated Development of the Department of Lempira). Each of the local water boards formalized their association as COCEPRADIL, with the individual boards functioning as the General Assembly and a Directorate that now had legal status, permanent staff and significant achievements. In October, 1995, CRS/Honduras and COCEPRADIL took the first step towards making COCEPRADIL entirely self-sufficient. Since then COCEPRADIL has had its own staff and has the technical capacity to promote and supervise the execution of new water piped water supply systems in rural communities.COCEPRADIL´s roots in the communities, awareness of water quality and hygiene issues and participatory project planning and execution have enabled them to develop projects that carefully nurture and direct communities´ demands towards sustainable investments.
All photos courtesy of Michael Mickle.