Learning and sharing through WASH sector forums and events

There are many opportunities for stakeholders in the WASH sector to participate in local, regional, national and even international forums and events, where learning and sharing takes place on a huge scale.

Here we are using forum to mean a formal meeting of a large number of participants representing a wide range of stakeholders, usually held over several days. Their purpose is to share knowledge and experience on multiple WASH sector themes or to debate and resolve several identified problems in parallel sessions. (Note that forums may also be referred to as ‘platforms’.) In contrast, an event usually focuses on a single theme (e.g. water supply or hygiene promotion). Events could be special activity days, meetings, gatherings or celebrations. Although some events are very localised, others are huge international events involving hundreds or thousands of participants.

In this section, you will read about some of the most important WASH sector forums and events in Ethiopia, so you can see how they contribute to learning and sharing, and how the documentation is used to spread knowledge and experience to others.

The Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MSF)

The largest forum in the WASH calendar in Ethiopia is the Multi-Stakeholder Forum or MSF. This was mentioned in Study Session 9 as one of the mechanisms for collaboration between stakeholders. It brings together all the main stakeholders from government at federal and regional levels of the four WASH ministries, development partners, NGOs, and representatives of the private sector and academic institutions. The first MSF was held in Addis Ababa in 2006 and was attended by over 200 participants. The third forum in 2009 was when the concept of the OWNP was first presented to WASH stakeholders who greeted the idea enthusiastically (WIF, 2011). The fifth and sixth were both held in Addis Ababa in 2012 and 2014. These forums were held over two or three days and chaired by the State Minister of MoWIE. Their purpose was to improve communications between stakeholders and support mutual programme objectives and strategies (USAID, 2014).

Preparations for the MSF illustrate the principles of learning and sharing across the entire WASH sector. Planning for the next forum begin as soon as the outcomes of the previous one have been cascaded to all stakeholders. As part of this process, two other consultative meetings known as Joint Technical Reviews (JTRs) are held in each year. Their purpose is to review progress on previous plans and brainstorm the current key strategic challenges in order to decide on the priority thematic areas for the next MSF. The JTR sends task teams on field visits to selected regions, woredas, towns and kebeles to gather information on the identified topics, using an agreed method and checklist.

Figure 11.2 A team on a field visit to learn from local residents about WASH projects in the rural area of Bulen Woreda in Benishangul-Gumuz region.

The identified themes determine which locations are visited. For example, if self-supply and construction of domestic water supplies at household level is one of the thematic areas, this method is most extensively applied in SNNPR so this would be the selected region for JTR task team visits. If rural gravity schemes (water supply systems distributed over long distances using gravity feeds) are the selected theme, the visits would probably take place in Oromia region because this technology is widely available for review there.

The task team reports on the field visits in the two rounds of the JTR are combined into a single document, which is presented to the National WASH Technical Team in consultation with the National WASH Coordination Office for validation and endorsement. This document informs and directs the work of the organising committee for the next MSF. Note that this document meets the criteria outlined in Section 11.2 for ‘rich’ documentation in that:

  • it draws on the background and history from earlier work (e.g. in the previous MSF)
  • it reports on current practice gathered during the field visits for the JTR
  • it identifies the themes for the next MSF.

Every MSF concludes with a report on the proceedings which is circulated for comments and feedback at regional level. The regions are responsible for ensuring that agreed MSF strategies are cascaded down to zonal, woreda and town level. The front page of the proceedings of the sixth MSF is shown in Figure 11.3.

Figure 11.3 Proceedings of the sixth Multi-Stakeholder Forum, showing the objective, participants and themes of the undertakings on the cover. (NWCO, 2014)

The MSF proceedings include four or five action points or ‘undertakings’ identified by the delegates that every level of the WASH sector must agree to adopt. Table 11.1 shows the undertakings from the fifth MSF that took place in November 2012.

Table 11.1 Undertakings from the fifth Multi-Stakeholder Forum in 2012. (FDRE, 2012)

1 Implementation of the One WASH Programme as per the WASH Implementation Framework (WIF)
2 Implementation of signed MoUs at all levels
3 Ensuring the functionality of WASH services
4 Establishment of robust monitoring and evaluation systems
5 Development of water and improved sanitation safety procedures, capacity and processes.

It will help you to see how these high-level undertakings contribute to learning and sharing throughout the WASH sector if we take undertaking 2 as an example. Every level in the WASH sector from the regions, zones, woredas and towns each have to sign a version of the national MoU which has been ‘downsized’ in scope to fit their specific context and the responsibilities appropriate to that level. These MoUs are also examples of documentation from the MSF.

Forum for Learning on Water and Sanitation (FLoWS)

As mentioned earlier, FLoWS is another important forum in the WASH sector, led by the Federal Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy in collaboration with an Ethiopian NGO known as RiPPLE (Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia). RiPPLE conducts action research and organises research-focused events with other key stakeholders almost exclusively in the WASH sector.

FloWS was launched in 2008. The report from that meeting set out its goal to link research with practice in order to support delivery of the MSF undertakings. To achieve this they planned to:

  • provide a series of national learning events across the year, bridging the MSFs, that enhanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in implementing the undertakings
  • document the learning from these events in a series of reports and briefing notes that allows the fullest possible sharing of knowledge and information across the sector
  • consult widely during this process on future learning priorities in the sector and help to consolidate national priorities in sector learning into a document presented each year at the MSF (MoWR, 2008).

The importance of learning and sharing is clearly central to these intentions. FLoWS take place regularly and can be anywhere in Ethiopia, depending on the thematic areas selected for the forum and the willingness of hosting organisations to hold the forum in their town. The scope of each FLoWS is narrower than the MSF in its themes, its duration and number and range of participants, so you can think of them as ‘mini-MSFs’. As an example, the eighth edition of FLoWS held in June 2013 took rainwater harvesting as its theme (Figure 11.4). The one-day workshop heard presentations from researchers and practitioners on rainwater harvesting experiences in Ethiopia and a range of related topics (RiPPLE, 2013).

Figure 11.4 Rainwater harvesting tank collecting water from the roof of a housing block.

Other WASH sector forums

A complete list of all the WASH sector forums would be very long, so we have chosen a few examples to illustrate the range of levels: national Ethiopian forums, a pan-African forum and a global forum.

National forums

A good example of a national forum is the Water and Sanitation Forum (WSF), where NGO members and other interested parties meet regularly to debate sector needs. Another is the WASH Media Forum, managed by the WASH Ethiopia Movement and WaterAid. This is a forum for media professionals designed to enable them to engage in WASH sector promotion and policy dialogue (WEM, n.d.).

Pan-African forum

AfricaSan (African countries Sanitation and Hygiene Platform) is a pan-African forum that meets annually for between three and five days, bringing together the knowledge and experience of different African countries so they can learn from each other.

Global forum

At the global level, there is Stockholm World Water Week, held annually in September in Sweden. Delegates come from all over the world representing governments, NGOs, donors, public and private sector companies, universities and consultancies, as well as other interested individuals (Figure 11.5).

Figure 11.5 Delegates at Stockholm World Water Week 2014.

WASH events

WASH events differ from the forums by focusing on a single identified theme. They may be local, national or international and are often given the title of ‘festivals’. An example is the annual National Sanitation and Hygiene Festival, led by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the WASH Ethiopia Movement, hosted by WaterAid Ethiopia. This event occurs in a different regional town each year; for example it was held in Dire Dawa in Yekatit 2007 EC (February 2015 GC). Figure 11.6 shows the opening celebration. The festival was created to facilitate learning and sharing experiences within the sanitation and hygiene sector, supporting dialogues between stakeholders and mobilising the media and the private sector. This was a public event that anyone with an interest in sanitation and hygiene could attend, not just invited experts and delegates. Like the forums, the festival concludes with the production of proceedings and action points for different bodies, including the government, donor agencies, the private sector and civil society organisations.

Figure 11.6 A police music band playing at the opening of the National Sanitation and Hygiene Festival in Dire Dawa, February 2015.

As an example of the outputs from one of these events, the 2015 Festival agreed a number of key points to be taken forward as a focus for further action in the coming year. These included:

  • controversy about differences in the figures for improved access to sanitation and hygiene services in regional health bureaus administrative reports compared to the JMP report
  • communicable diseases attributed to poor sanitation and hygiene are still the leading causes of morbidity and mortality
  • health institutions and school WASH facilities and services are poorly constructed and unhygienically managed. Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is not included within routine requirements.

Another annual event in Ethiopia is known as Hidar Sitaten, which was initiated by Emperor Menelik II in the nineteenth century. This focuses on environmental sanitation through mobilising the mass population in rural and urban settings to clean up their local areas by collecting up all their garbage and other solid waste on a day of action each year on 21 November.

In addition to these national festivals, you have already read in Study Session 3 about some WASH sector events celebrated in Ethiopia that take place on the same day all over the world.

What global WASH events do you already know of?

Show answer

You may have mentioned Global Handwashing Day which occurs every year on 15 October, World Water Day on 22 March and World Toilet Day on 19 November.

In the final section of this study session, we show you how the outcomes of learning and sharing opportunities, including at WASH forums and events, can be scaled up from small pilot projects to meet national strategic priorities.

Last modified: Wednesday, 24 August 2016, 5:02 AM