The least intensive collaborations are informative platforms that simply improve the availability of information. Slightly more intensive are consultative approaches that aim to improve information flows (processes) and reduce the duplication of effort. Next, collaborative approaches aim to improve the way that services are delivered by building consensus on the bottlenecks and challenges that affect the stakeholders. Finally, the most intensive collaborations are integrative, which aim to mobilize members for joint actions according to a shared agenda.
By grouping and comparing similar approaches, we can more easily identify trends and lessons. Ultimately, a guiding framework of the range of related approaches could help organizations select the most appropriate approaches for their context and goals.
Within this range of collaboration, “collective action” refers more narrowly to both collaborative and integrative approaches. This definition best fits the recent wave of activities that seek to bring together stakeholders around a common vision and problem to change how WASH services are delivered.
Specifically, we define a collective action approach as: A process for improving a public service in which sectoral stakeholders regularly convene and take joint actions to address shared problems, and in which:
- problems are complex and their solutions require deliberation and action by many actors,
- members agree on a shared vision and shared problem definition, and
- stakeholders clarify responsibilities for service provision and hold each other accountable for actions.
Collective Action in Practice
MWA has been using a collective action approach in Ethiopia since 2017. With their partners, they agreed to use a collective action approach to:
- Strengthen ability for influence both within and outside of the coalition
- Enhance learning across partner organizations
- Increase efficiency of implementation and program progress
- Improve utilization of the best capacities of each organization for maximum progress
- Minimize overlapping or duplicating efforts
Already, MWA has seen that the partners are communicating more frequently, helping each other with shared challenges, and are committed to a shared vision. For example, one organization asked for help to implement a technology that was new to them from an experienced organization working in a different district. In another example, Food for the Hungry and World Vision came together to jointly implement work in the same district. The two organizations pooled funds and hired a coordinator who supports both organizations, while also engaging with district (woreda) government on behalf of the shared program.
The SWS Learning Partnership is also implementing and documenting collective action approaches in Uganda, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Kenya. While more evidence needs to be collected, promising results have been observed in the first three years of the program. In Woliso, Ethiopia, a collective action group came together to address the shutdown of the town’s only fecal sludge dumpsite. As a result of engagement with the collective action group, the town administration identified a new site and began to acquire and develop it. In Kitui, Kenya, an SWS-supported coalition contributed to legislation that will clarify roles and responsibilities for the organizations and agencies involved in water service delivery. The legislation will formalize the collective action platform as an official county-level advisory structure and will provide regular budget to support the platform’s functions.