Measuring WASH sustainability in a Payment by Results context

Mimi Coultas Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Payment by Results (PbR) is bringing new ways to fund water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. Here Mimi Coultas from Plan International UK, reflects on a recent joint side-event at WEDC Conference which explored the opportunities and challenges to this new way of funding. 

Sustainability of WASH programmes is a key concern for everyone involved in the sector: country governments, NGOs, donors and – most importantly – communities directly impacted by interventions. We all want to ensure that positive impacts continue to be felt beyond the lifetime of specific activities.

However, the introduction of Payment by Results (PbR) to the sector has brought a new way for donors to encourage sustainability in the form of financial incentives. Unlike with grant-funded programmes, in which payments are made for expenditure linked to specific activities or outputs, in a PbR context, contract holders – or ‘suppliers’ – receive certain payments only if they can demonstrate that they have achieved agreed sustainability targets.

Agreeing exactly what these sustainability targets should be, and how to assess them, remains a challenge. Measurement and monitoring of real sustainability is difficult, and evidence on the best tools and indicators to use is limited.

As the current suppliers for DFID’s first PbR WASH Results Programme, the South Asia WASH Results Programme (led by Plan International UK), the SWIFT Consortium (led by Oxfam), and Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (led by SNV) are amassing valuable learning on measuring WASH sustainability in a PbR context. Representatives from the three suppliers hosted a joint side-event at the 39th WEDC Conference to explore the opportunities and challenges of measuring sustainability in a PbR context with conference participants. Suppliers presented an overview of their programmes; the approaches and tools we are using to monitor, report and verify WASH sustainability within them; and the lessons we have learned to date.

Despite the diversity of the three suppliers’ programmes, a number of common, PbR-specific themes emerged from the presentations. Perhaps the most prevalent of these was the increased strength of programmes’ monitoring and evaluation systems and data as a result of the stringent verification requirements of PbR, which everyone reported as a positive step. Closely linked to this though, and also recognised by everyone, were the challenges of defining ambitious yet achievable sustainability targets, and agreeing realistic means of collecting and verifying data towards these.

To complement the suppliers’ experiences, the session also included reflections from a member of the WASH Results Programme’s verifier, e-Pact, whose role it is to check that the results suppliers claim are accurate and worthy of payment. While suppliers focussed on the challenges of agreeing indicators and ways of measuring these, it was a reminder that PbR is also new to e-Pact, which faces its own challenges in verifying the systems and data.

The session ended with a lively discussion. PbR is a relatively new form of financing for the WASH sector, and many people had questions around the funding mechanism and its implications for programming. It was great to see the level of interest in WASH PbR and the WASH Results Programme in particular, and as suppliers we look forward to continue sharing our experiences over the remaining two years.


Stephanie Burgos