By Misha Hutchings, Senior Research Associate
Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford.
December marked the beginning of year three in the development of the WASH SMS platform through our pilot project in Indonesia. The Institute and our partners Nexleaf Analytics and PATTIRO have been developing two Indonesia WATER SMS systems in Makassar, South Sulawesi and Malang, East Java along with the many stakeholders in urban water governance – customers, poor residents without service, utilities, local government agencies, NGOs and media. In a time when basic mobile phone mapping web sites can pop up overnight, our participatory development process has at times felt drawn out, especially to some of the residents who are experiencing urgent issues such as two-month water shortages and want their grievances redressed immediately.
Over the past few weeks PATTIRO staff brought all the stakeholders together in each pilot location for final Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues. The first Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues in early 2012 were focused on ensuring that the target users understood the basic functionality of the system; and sharing information about urgent issues and needs for the system among all the stakeholders gathered during community learning sessions and formal stakeholder focus group discussions with the water utility, the informal water sector, local government, and NGOS working on related issues. The second round of dialogues sought to compile user experience feedback following months of system testing, as well as to forge agreements among the groups about what users will submit, and to what issues they will respond. Each group presented their user experiences, listened to each other’s challenges and questions, and offered solutions for meeting each other’s needs.
This system is turning out to be unique due in great part to the participatory development process we’re using. The Indonesia WATER SMS system, being developed by and for utility customers, poor residents without service, utilities, local government agencies, NGOs and media, will assist each one of these groups in improving water services by opening up transparent channels of communication so that residents, utilities, and everyone else involved are better and more quickly informed. It makes sense that a system that aims to facilitate communication and information sharing between different groups should be designed with the needs and preferences of those groups in mind. But it is easy to forget that in order to involve every one of these groups, it requires a lot of coordination and time. Entering our third year is another reminder of just how much work and time they’ve put into this system.
In the first multi-stakeholder dialogue, we were elated by the thoughtful dialogue and interactions between groups that could’ve been communicating prior to these sessions, but weren’t; this was major progress. Then, there were several months where the utility and residents asked “But when?”, anxious to begin using their systems, and we had to remind them and ourselves that the testing allows us to “Fail fast, fail early, fail often”, as the saying goes, and that we should continue to do so until the system is ready. Now, after another round of thoughtful and engaging in-person dialogues a year later, we are in higher spirits about the work they’ve been doing and will continue to do, together, and what that means for the future of the system. If they are still incredibly invested in working with each other to make this system as useful as it can be, then that in itself is success.