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Institutional influence and role in decision-making

Professionalized maintenance arrangements are emerging and growing to improve rural
water service sustainability across sub-Saharan Africa, where local governments often act
as rural service authorities. Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment released a novel
policy in 2019 to promote professionalization, outlining requirements of local governments
to support professionalized maintenance under a new framework for rural water service
delivery. We identify how responsibilities of local government actors shifted under this policy
and then use Organizational Institutional Theory to explore how the institutional environment—
composed of regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive pillars—influences these
actors’ fulfillment of assigned functions under the new policy and support of professionalized
maintenance arrangements. To do this, we collected, transcribed, and qualitatively coded
data from semi-structured interviews with 93 Ugandan local government actors at all hierarchical
levels across 22 sub-counties in three Ugandan districts. Due to infrequent references
by interviewees to regulative influences on action such as formal rules and policies, we propose
that the new policy alone is unlikely to motivate essential local government support.
Allocated responsibilities must align with widely-cited normative and cultural-cognitive influences,
including relationship expectations, typical processes and routines, political dynamics,
notions of identity, perceived self-efficacy, and cultural beliefs. We recommend
leveraging existing institutional influences where possible to motivate actions aligned with
the policy. For example, local government actors can fulfill community expectations of them
to solve prolonged nonfunctionality by connecting communities to professionalized maintenance
service providers instead of performing individual out-of-pocket repairs. Improving
understanding of local service authority perspectives is essential as professionalized maintenance
arrangements emerge and grow and as new policies expand and shift essential
support functions.

Cord, C., Javernick-Will, A., Buhungiro, E., Harvey, A., & Linden, K. (2022). Institutional influences on local government support for professionalized maintenance of water supply infrastructure in rural Uganda: A qualitative analysis. PLOS Water, 1(2), e0000003.