How ‘knowledge exchange’ may improve the capacity development of local government for the decentralisation of WASH services in Cambodia

By Simon Ross, IWCAN

In an interview, Virak Chan discussed his role in Cambodia as the national water and sanitation focal point for the World Bank in the context of a sanitation project. This involves facilitating communication between diverse stakeholders to improve the capacity of the national government to produce policies that are more responsive to the actual needs of communities working to improve sanitation outcomes. This article discusses ‘knowledge exchange’ processes with local stakeholders aimed at access bottom-up approaches to planning and financing water and sanitation services in Cambodia.

It is important to identify more effective ways of transferring the ownership of resources and projects to relevant local actors to better respond to what communities need. Change agents who are closest to where services are delivered and needed have the most potential to deliver effective, efficient, and responsive sanitation services that best meet the needs of communities, particularly addressing needs of women and children.

Virak, a water and sanitation specialist with the World Bank in Cambodia, describes his role as helping to facilitate enhanced ownership and capacity through knowledge exchange. He helps the government to deep dive into on-the-ground water, sanitation, and hygiene problems, and to share this information with sector partners. Virak emphasises that knowledge exchange should not only be a top-down and needs to accurately reflect experiences at the local level.

What is knowledge exchange and how can it help?

Knowledge exchange, as described by Virak, is a social learning process that can be led by individuals and groups at the local level to share their practical experiences in trying to addressing water and sanitation problems. It is powerful because it enables front-line people with experience of what the barriers are to successfully addressing problems at the local level to express themselves.

Local change agents such as the Commune Committee for Women and Children (CCWC) can clearly explain what is and what is not working. When knowledge exchange is facilitated well it identifies what the barriers to improved services are, and which actors are capable of removing them. Knowledge exchange enables adaptive policies that build on the capacity, confidence, and conviction of local individuals and groups to advocate for their needs at the local level.

When knowledge is exchanged, learning is two-way. When higher levels of government engage in these processes, they are better able to learn how to leverage local resources to be effective and to understand where the private sector and donors might have more impact and use the limited budget of the government more effectively.

The use of knowledge exchange to support local change agents to increase their influence on the policies that affect them

CCWCs exist in every commune in Cambodia. They have a very broad role including raising awareness of the rights of women and children, mobilising access to health and education services, and advocating for how local government budgets can more effectively meet the needs of communities. Their role is mandated in policy, however, it is an onerous role and often it is not resourced in local government budgets, where infrastructure projects are simpler to acquit and receive higher priority.

(Source: The World Bank Water and Sanitation Program

Virak says that the World Bank focuses on engaging CCWCs to support decentralised WASH delivery: “When we provided technical assistance to the subnational government for planning, budgeting, monitoring, and implementing rural sanitation service delivery, it was important that we worked closely with the CCWCs as focal points for the implementation of sanitation and hygiene improvement activities”.

Building more effective programs and policies following knowledge exchange

The World Bank supports systematic capacity building including research and policy development as part of a knowledge exchange process to understand the behavioural aspects of open defecation. This way, the World Bank can better understand community knowledge, drivers, attitudes and motivations for changing sanitation behaviours in order to design and implement sanitation and hygiene services to have a greater impact.

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