WANTED: A paradigm shift in water sector capacity development governance

The WASH sector in developing countries requires an enormous effort if it is to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6), to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. At a time of unprecedented challenges, the sector is significantly hindered by an overall shortage of appropriately skilled people in the workforce.

Developing and emerging economies have made efforts to cope with in-country workforce development through training, organizational development and implementing institutional frameworks. Yet, many water utilities still view workforce development narrowly through capacity development interventions, without considering the governance of capacity development.

While increasing capacity development is important, governance of capacity development is crucial to ensure those interventions contribute to improving workforce development.

The governance of capacity development could be referred to as the strategy and actors involved in the assessment, approval, and implementation of actions aimed at improving the aptitudes, skills and performance of water utilities’ workforce. It’s not entirely new, but it’s rarely talked about.

Many utilities refer to training as one of the mechanisms for acquiring relevant job-related skills and knowledge. From personal experience, however, training isn’t always valued by utility staff as a means to improve their competencies; instead, it is viewed by some as an opportunity to travel, sometimes all-expenses-paid. For utilities where this attitude exists, it tends to create an atmosphere in which relevant personnel don’t get the needed training to improve their skills and knowledge.

While this situation may only apply to a minority of people, it makes me wonder why training opportunities become devalued in such a way? What are the criteria for selecting utility personnel for training? Is there a comprehensive assessment of personnel to evaluate whether the training programme is serving its purpose?

Paying more attention to the governance underlying the development of training is one way of addressing these issues.

The lack of governance structures for training in developing countries presents challenges for workforce development. My personal experience with water utilities in Nigeria, Ghana and other developing countries, highlights that training often lacks a standardised and clear strategy. There are diverse performance assessment tools, but these seem to be the only recognised tools for understanding on-the-job competency gaps.

Such assessment tools help identify relevant capacity development gaps, but don’t determine a training programme let alone who gets the training. In the absence of governance structures for assessing, planning and allocating staff training, insufficient transparency and accountability could be viewed as a hindrance and can cause unequal opportunities for personnel.

A recent research paper I coauthored (Yinusa and Wehn 2016) highlights that stakeholders “with shared capacity development concerns…can influence those plans adopted to address those concerns”. The governance of training in utilities should include department heads, supervisors, human resource managers and external trainers. Communication amongst these internal and external stakeholders should be encouraged so as to understand training needs, and enable feedback to managers from personnel.

Forming a cross-cutting working group responsible for capacity development governance, would enhance transparency and accountability in workforce development procedures and strategies. This would enable water utilities to foster a strong organisational knowledge base and, by having motivated staff, improve workforce retention.

It takes concerted effort of experts in a utility to recognize prevailing capacity development gaps, generate momentum for change, mobilize resources and built collective actions that improve governance of capacity development.

One method that can be introduced is ex-ante impact assessments, showing how training can be translated into improved on-the-job knowledge and skill competencies. This method can be used to illustrate its benefits to the utility management, and release resources for training.

Achieving the ambitious goals of SDG6 requires water utilities to significantly increase and improve workforce capacities and competencies, particularly in many developing and emerging economies, ensuring the good governance of capacity development is a critical stepping stone to success.



Yinusa, S. O., & Wehn, U. (2016). Institutional dynamics in national strategy development: a case study of the capacity development strategy of Uganda’s Water and Environment Sector. Water Policy.http://wp.iwaponline.com/content/early/2016/03/05/wp.2016.231.article-info

Saheed Yinusa