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IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre

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When it comes to monitoring, evaluation and defining the standards by which WASH programs should be evaluated, I believe WASH in Schools has failed. Luckily, this is not a terminal failure but a learning opportunity that we can use to improve on future projects.

As many people pointed out in the first online debate, WASH successes depend on behavior change, which is not an easy outcome to measure. Behavior change is a process that occurs over time, especially as younger generations grow up and begin to place different values on sanitation and hygiene than did their parents. How to best monitor and evaluate behavior change is an issue that the Project WET Foundation struggles with daily. As an educational organization, we do not monitor our successes by the number of latrines built or amount of soap distributed. We do, however, report on the number of students reached by our materials. Unfortunately, this does not neatly translate into the number of children and communities that have adopted sustainable and long-term healthy habits.

True monitoring and evaluation on the behavior of healthy habits in communities must be carried out regularly throughout, and periodically after, a project is fully implemented—potentially over five to 10 years, if not longer. Building such evaluations into grants and proposals remains challenging at the very least—and securing funding for post-project evaluations is nearly impossible. How are implementing organizations expected to carry out effective evaluations if the funding organizations do not support such components of a project?

In the short term it is easy to categorize a project as a success or a failure. For example, a project that builds 10 latrines can be termed a success. One year later, if the latrines are being used as storage for maize, the project is termed a failure. However, what if, five years down the line, families begin to clear out the latrines and use them for their intended purpose after values-based educational programs in the community? Is the project a success or a failure? Perhaps it is simply a slow behavior change that will eventually lead to improved community health.

The challenge for all of us in the WASH in Schools community is to look down the road at how we can evaluate behavioral changes within students and within a community. Whatever criteria or standards we decide to use, WE must first undergo a value change and begin to promote the value of regular and long term monitoring and evaluation as part of any WASH project.

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