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Rural water supply services worldwide consistently fail to deliver full public health impacts as intended due to a low service sustainability. This failure is increasingly attributed to weak local systems composed of social, financial and environmental factors. Current approaches in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector for understanding and improving these systems typically focus on the strength and capacity of these factors, but not the interactions between them. We contend that these approaches overlook the inherent complexity and context-specific nature of each local system. To assess this complexity, we conducted four participatory factor mapping workshops with local stakeholders across multiple rural water contexts to identify the factors and interactions that support service sustainability. We then evaluate the potential for factors to act as strategic leverage points based on influence, dependence and feedback metrics that arise from their interactions with other factors. We find that while participants across the contexts tend to identify a common set of factors, the interactions amongst those factors and their individual ability to influence service sustainability varies considerably across contexts. These findings suggest that a more intentional focus on factor interactions in WASH systems could lead to more effective strategies for improving service sustainability.

Valcourt, N., Walters, J., Javernick-Will, A., Linden, K., Hailegiorgis, B. (2020). “Understanding Rural Water Services as a Complex System: An assessment of key factors as potential leverage points for improved service sustainability.” Sustainability. 12(3), 1243; 10.3390/su12031243.