It’s good to talk:
An interview with Alexandra Clemett from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Learning Alliances for Wastewater Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation (WASPA-LA)’
Achieving complex change often involves many different people, with many different priorities, who are engaged in many different things. And, if you need all of them to cooperate for your change to be successfully implemented, you have quite a challenge.
This was the challenge faced by Alexandra Clemett, Project Leader of a Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project awarded to IWMI, when working on a wastewater agriculture project in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“In each of the cities where we work you’ll quite often have different organisations that are responsible for quite similar things,” says Alex. “You might have the urban development authority that does the planning and then the municipal council that has to implement. So you really need them to know what each other is doing, planning together and working very closely.”
And this has not been happening-the results of which are reflected in sectoral planning, poor communication among government officials, no involvement of community members, lack of knowledge about other sectors and alternative technologies, and, sometimes, ignorance that wastewater irrigation is even taking place.
The team decided to use a ‘Learning Alliances’ approach to try to bring people together to share knowledge and collaborate more effectively to achieve their goals.
“The idea was to bring all the different stakeholders together to talk to each other and understand each others’ issues so that they could try to build a better plan for addressing the wastewater and sanitation situation in the two Cities. So we brought together the municipal council, the water board, local government officials, the hospital, local people and farmers. We tried to bring in universities, too, because they could potentially bring in technical solutions.”
“A Learning Alliance is supposed to have platforms at different levels: National, intermediate, and community – which bring stakeholders together to promote and facilitate learning within them and also between the different levels. It is very strongly focused on effective sharing of knowledge and not just bringing people together.”
Although she believes knowledge sharing was useful, Alex says that she would, in the future, use an altered version of the particular approach chosen- the Learning Alliance- if at all.
“The approach was very time-consuming and a lot of the research became geared towards learning about and evaluating the Learning Alliance methodology itself.”
“Unfortunately we haven’t really had any research results on whether this new approach improved health or livelihoods,” she says. “I think, whilst the method was useful, it was really time-consuming. I would not use it in that way again. I would modify it and use particular elements of it. And I wouldn’t even call it a Learning Alliance, because that just confused people. Not everyone knows the names of these types of approaches. It is what they do to serve a project which is better to focus on.”
For Alex, the overall goal of the project was to find ways that wastewater can be managed properly so that household sewage and industrial waste does not enter the canals which then run into the paddy fields. While this overarching ambition wasn’t completely achieved, something did happen while the project was running. People became more aware of the issues involved.
This is not something that Alex underestimates.
“If what we have achieved by the time the project ends is that all of the stakeholders are much more aware of the issue, then we still will have achieved a lot” she says.
Some people didn’t even know that wastewater was being used for agriculture, says Alex.
“And some didn’t want to know because it’s actually illegal. But because these farmers don’t have access to better quality water they just go ahead and use it. So I think that at least some of the people who were involved in the planning and management of wastewater through the Learning Alliance now have better understanding of the issues.”
The idea to involve universities in the Learning Alliance also achieved some new awareness and change amongst the other stakeholders.
“We’ve got some universities doing studies on small–scale appropriate treatment,” says Alex. “In the beginning the municipal councils were just not interested in things like this. They just wanted large–scale treatment, but now they’re starting to realise that these are good options that they can potentially achieve and potentially afford.”
So even if the situation has not been completely resolved, some changes – especially in awareness – have happened from the various stakeholders coming together and sharing knowledge in the Learning Alliance.
So it is in fact good to talk.
For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI WASPA LA KSinR Pilot Project page