Sector-wide approach

As you may have noticed, in every walk of life the need to look for better ways of doing things never stops. We always learn from past experiences and, based on the lessons learned, we change our way of doing a particular task in order to yield better results. We can also expect that the new way of doing things will be cost-effective and shorten the time it takes to accomplish.

In the WASH sector, for many decades, a project-based aid approach, sometimes referred as ‘the traditional aid approach’, was applied at all levels. A project-based aid approach means aid is provided to support the implementation of a single project without integrated planning or use of resources. In the past, for instance, donors used to support either water supply, sanitation or hygiene education projects separately, one at a time, each funded by a single donor. The need to pool resources and integrate projects was not well recognised. However, when the project-based approach was evaluated, it was found to be inefficient in terms of resource use, and tended not to produce the expected results for donors and recipient governments. Consequently, a new sector-wide approach has been developed and is currently being applied in various development programmes – including the WASH sector.

A sector-wide approach, sometimes shortened to SWAp, is a development concept where all significant sector investments are channelled towards the same objectives and follow a consistent strategy that is guided by a consolidated investment plan. In the early 1990s, SWAp became popular as several donors recognised the comparative advantages it brought in maximising the effectiveness and efficiency of aid.

SWAp is based on a framework where all resources in a sector are managed in an integrated and harmonised manner. In addition to being more effective and efficient, SWAp can create the opportunity for aid-recipient governments to play the leading role, with all funds being disbursed and managed by the government.

The need to shift towards a sector-wide approach is supported by evidence from many WASH projects in the past which were unsatisfactory in terms of result, sustainability or empowerment of beneficiaries. For example, several years ago a project team was trying to promote latrine construction at household level. They provided latrine construction materials to households for free, including corrugated iron sheet for roofing, concrete rings for pit lining and concrete squatting slabs. However, no effort was made to create demand for latrine construction in the target communities; the team did not consider hygiene education to be part of the project. After a while, when the team visited households to monitor progress they found that, rather than constructing latrines, the families had used the materials provided for other purposes. Corrugated iron sheets had been used for making doors, the concrete rings were used to make grain store pits and the slabs were used to cover these pits. Experiences like this meant that the need to consider and involve all sectors, at all stages of a programme, was gradually recognised and became standard procedure.

The main differences between the two approaches are summarised in Table 3.1. Some of the terms used in the table are defined in the notes below it.

Table 3.1 Comparison of the two approaches: single versus sector-wide.

Efficiency¹ Maximised Decreased
Equity² Ensured Compromised
Transaction costs³ Minimised Increased
Sustainability4 Certain Uncertain
Resource management Integrated and coherent Fragmented and incoherent
Government ownership and leadership Improved Weakened

1 Efficiency: increasing output for a given input, or minimising input for a given output, while still maintaining quality.

2 Equity: allocation of resources, services and opportunity to all segments of the population according to their needs, for example, all regions, agrarian and pastoralist, urban and rural, able and disabled, male and female, etc. In other words, equity means fairness and impartiality to all concerned.

3 Transaction costs: costs incurred in making an economic exchange.

4 Sustainability:generally refers to projects and interventions that give due consideration to social, cultural, and environmental factors, as well as the economic factors, and therefore are more effective and long-lasting.

Compared with the traditional approach, what are the benefits of a sector-wide approach in the WASH sector?

Show answer

The sector-wide approach means that resources are consolidated and managed in an integrated and harmonised manner. It can bring improved efficiency, equity and sustainability of development projects. In addition, it ensures government ownership and enables them to play a leading role.

The sector-wide approach marked a shift of development thinking from single-sector into multi-sector perspectives. Accordingly, this concept of engaging all relevant sectors with a clear outline of the roles and responsibilities within each of the sectors has been well recognised and practically applied in the One WASH National Programme.

Last modified: Wednesday, 24 August 2016, 12:38 AM