From systems to service: scaling up community management

Community management of water supplies can be described as a situation whereby water users take responsibility for the sustainable management of their water supplies. They feel and are, formally, responsible for sustaining or even improving the water supply service level. Over the last eight years IRC and partners (in Nepal, Pakistan, Cameroon, Kenya, Guatemala and Colombia) have been involved in a process of action research into and dissemination of results from experiences into community management of water supply systems. This paper draws on one of the major conclusions of this process: that to be efficient in meeting the challenge of large scale replication of community management there is a need for community management to become ‘institutionalised’ within the ‘intermediate’ levels of government and society. The necessary effective decentralised support structures and mechanisms, needed to make community management work, are not yet in place. This has already caused the failure and malfunctioning of many systems and puts the sustainability of many more at stake. Subsequently the paper looks at the implications of this statement and at the way forward.