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Making sanitation happen: turning ‘political will’ into action

Research reports

Written by Nathaniel Mason, Mariana Matoso, David Booth

This is a study on how political commitment to sanitation translates to results on the ground through: prioritisation throughout all government departments and implementation alongside continuous learning and adaption. The research, which WaterAid commissioned to the Overseas Development Institute, explores these processes in Ethiopia, India, and Indonesia, paying special attention to the incentives at play. The three case studies find that values of modernity, along with political and professional return, galvanise prioritisation. 

Two key recommendations emerge:

To cascade political prioritisation to lower government levels and across critical ministries. How?

  • Foster buy-in by aligning with the world views of those involved, linking sanitation with notions of nation building and modernity.
  • Tap into personal aspirations, ensuring sanitation efforts receive recognition and result in career progression.
  • Enlist authoritative figures to drive prioritisation across all ministries and departments.
  • Work with the financial, legal and political realities of decentralisation affecting decision-makers at local levels.

To invest in timely course correction to address bottlenecks. How?

  • Invest in reliable verification systems to reduce misreporting and build trust in data.
  • Nurture a culture of learning, providing space and flexibility for trial, error, learning and adaptation.
  • Use informal sharing and reporting mechanisms, such as WhatsApp groups, that cut across hierarchies and enable a rapid and regular flow of information.
  • Set up review mechanisms, ensuring quality over quantity and involving those with decision-making power as a way to ensure it all leads to progress-chasing policy implementation.

Links to all three case studies, the policy briefs and the synthesis report can be found below.

Nathaniel Mason, Mariana Matoso, Andres Hueso, Bethel Terefe Gebremedhin, Rajan Verma, Indriany Gunaviti Reshvi, Nugroho Tomo.