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Study Session 4 Stakeholders in Urban WASH


This study session explains how to identify and characterise people and groups who are stakeholders in urban WASH. You will learn about the advantages of working across discipline and sector boundaries, and of teamwork. This will help you, as a WASH worker, to understand the importance of involving stakeholders in planning and implementing WASH projects in your local context.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 4

When you have studied this session, you should be able to:

4.1  Define and use correctly each of the key words printed in bold. (SAQs 4.1 and 4.2)

4.2  Identify the range of stakeholders in urban WASH. (SAQs 4.1 and 4.3)

4.3  Explain how stakeholder mapping can be used to analyse the roles and influence of stakeholders. (SAQ 4.2)

4.4  Explain the purpose and advantages of stakeholder engagement. (SAQ 4.3)

4.5  Describe some of the challenges of stakeholder engagement. (SAQ 4.4)

4.1 What are stakeholders?

Part of the job of an urban WASH worker involves mobilising local resources to improve the water supply and sanitation situation in your community. This means helping to develop partnerships and collaborations among the stakeholders, for example, by gathering them together at a meeting, as shown in Figure 4.1. But who are the stakeholders and how do you identify them?

Figure 4.1 A community meeting to discuss improved WASH services.

A stakeholder is any person, organisation or group with an interest (stake) in something, such as a particular situation, intervention, project or programme. The stakeholders depend on the type and scale of the project, the local context, the local institutional set-up and the cultural conditions.

If you are considering a specific project and wish to identify the stakeholders involved (Mathur et al., 2007), you should consider those who:

  • are responsible for the project and its different components (including funders, WASH officials from different sector offices, managers, employees, etc.)
  • are intended users or beneficiaries
  • are negatively affected by the project but may not be in a position to say so
  • might threaten the success of the project through their opposition or lack of cooperation
  • could represent the interests of people unable to participate
  • have unique knowledge related to an aspect of the project.
  • Think of an urban WASH project you know about. Try to identify those who might have been involved throughout the planning and implementation process. Can you identify their stake in the project?

  • The stakeholders will vary from one project to another and you will have your own answer but you may have identified examples from several of the categories above, including representatives of project donors, utilities, contractors, schools, health facilities, local government offices, businesses and householders.

    You may also have identified stakeholders who are not visible in direct implementation, but should be taken into consideration. For example, people from neighbouring villages and visitors to the area may wish to use facilities when they become available. Each of these groups have an interest in facilities being developed and hence a stake in the project.

Some of those among the wide group of possible stakeholders can be identified as key stakeholders. A key stakeholder is a person or a group of people with significant influence over a programme or who will be significantly impacted by it. For the programme to be successful, their interests and influences must be recognised. Key stakeholders may include individuals, organisations and businesses in the public, private and non-profit sectors. These could be local community representatives, municipal sector offices (for example, water resources, health and education) and development partners including donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and private sector groups.

Sometimes, new stakeholders may emerge during the lifetime of a project. For instance, community water supply points may be used by people from adjacent villages who had not been considered during initial planning. This can lead to conflicts between intended and unintended users. If such a stakeholder was not involved during the planning stage, then conflicts are likely to be more serious and require resolution. It is much better to try to identify any unintended users at an early stage as this will enable them to feel some sense of ownership and reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

4.2 Why do we engage stakeholders?

Stakeholder engagement is the process by which the organisers of a project involve the stakeholders so they can influence its decisions and implementation. Some stakeholders may support the decisions, while others may oppose them. Some may be influential in the organisation or community in which they operate and hold official positions. Others may be affected in the short or long term by the outcomes of the project. The underlying principle of stakeholder engagement is that stakeholders have the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. This differentiates stakeholder engagement from communications processes, which just share and explain decisions that have already been made (, 2010).

  • What is the difference between communication with stakeholders and engagement with them?

  • In stakeholder communication, stakeholders are invited to hear about and accept a decision that has already been made. In stakeholder engagement, the stakeholders have the opportunity to influence the decision making.

The aim of stakeholder engagement is to:

  • hear what stakeholders have to say to establish what issues matter most to them
  • develop understanding and agree how best to deal with issues of concern to the stakeholders
  • ensure project sustainability by involving stakeholders in planning, implementation and monitoring
  • improve decision making and accountability.

Through working together, key stakeholders can identify common concerns, develop common goals and reap the benefits of the impact of a WASH project. Some stakeholders may also become involved in technical aspects, contributing to implementation, designing solutions and providing technical advice. Involving stakeholders in this way ensures more effective outcomes.

As a WASH practitioner you may be involved in arranging and facilitating discussions with stakeholders. This means encouraging people to participate. For this you will need to develop your communication skills so you can:

  • ensure involvement of all stakeholders, including vulnerable and marginalised individuals and households
  • understand their demand for service options and their willingness to contribute
  • create a sense of ownership among users and beneficiaries
  • help to achieve common understanding between the implementing organisation, user community and relevant stakeholders.

It’s important to involve stakeholders throughout the planning and implementation process. This brings benefits through:

  • opening the planning process to the public, making it more transparent and equitable
  • allowing stakeholders to participate in budget setting
  • ensuring the needs of the whole community are considered, so making projects more effective
  • helping to overcome resistance and mistrust by building support.

It may also increase efficiency if stakeholders contribute their labour and resources. Community involvement is shown in the construction of a school latrine facility in Figure 4.2 and a water point in Figure 4.3.

Figure 4.2 Construction of latrine and sanitation facilities at a school in Hawassa.
Figure 4.3 Community meeting at the site of a newly constructed water point in Hawassa.

Now read Case Study 4.1 and then answer the questions below.

Case Study 4.1 Ms Genet and the holy water

Ms Genet is an urban WASH practitioner who has started some collaborative work with an NGO to improve the town’s water supply. The NGO coordinator promised to cover all the project expenses and advised Ms Genet to design a development structure on a nearby spring called Tsebel.

Ms Genet shared this information with her immediate supervisor and, realising the benefits the improved water supply would bring, they decided to use the promised money to implement the scheme. She designed the spring development structure and in consultation with the donor agency hired a contractor to start construction.

However, Ms Genet then faced unexpected resistance from the community, especially from the church because the spring was regarded as holy. She tried to explain that the scheme would increase the available water supply by more than forty per cent. However they still expressed their concerns because they felt the scheme was abusing holy spring water.

  • What important steps did Ms Genet ignore while planning the scheme?

  • She failed to identify the key stakeholders associated with the use of the water from Tsebel spring. She did not consider cultural and religious issues relating to using holy water from the spring.

  • What is problematic with the way Ms Genet surprised the community members with the scheme?

  • Community and stakeholder consultations are crucial for the success of any new scheme. If community members are taken by surprise with a scheme they have not been consulted about, and have no understanding of the reasons for it, they will not develop any sense of ownership of it.

Stakeholder engagement improves communication and leads to better understanding. The benefits will depend on the context, but include increased community confidence, which comes from cooperating over project development. It can also encourage a culture of innovation and learning, which enables participants to make better-informed decisions. It builds trust, through open discussion of issues that are difficult to resolve, bridges cultural gaps and helps to reduce conflict. It can also enhance partnerships, for example, between the community and industry, increasing efficiency and so reducing future costs.

Read Case Study 4.2 and answer the questions that follow.

Case Study 4.2 Mr Mohammed’s dilemma – should he tell the user community?

Mr Mohammed is a WASH practitioner who manages a new water treatment and water supply scheme in Kori town. The groundwater source has high fluoride content but was the only water source available to be developed. Direct use of the groundwater for drinking will cause serious health problems for the community because of its high fluoride content. The proposed scheme uses chicken bone char to reduce the amount of fluoride in water supplied from two boreholes. Mohammed understands that the use of bone char is the only option available for treating the water but is concerned that the community may not accept the treated water for religious and cultural reasons.

Mohammed is considering whether he should either:

  • inform the community and stakeholders during the planning stage about the use of bone char


  • keep the technical details of the use of bone char a secret because of its religious and cultural sensitivity.
  • Which option do you think Mohammed should adopt and why?

  • Mohammed should be loyal to the society he serves and build long-term trust by openly discussing the problem and the technology options. It is essential to inform the community and help them to understand the situation and decide together upon the best course of action.

  • What additional efforts could Mohammed make to help the community understand the benefits of using bone char?

  • He could identify key stakeholders and influential members of the community (opinion leaders and religious leaders) and ask them to help him. This could create a better situation for informed decision making and, by using scientific facts about the use of chicken bone char, he may be able to help community members to amend their religious and cultural views.

(Note there is work underway in Ethiopia to find alternative ways to remove fluoride from water, including activated alumina and artificial bone chars (Tesfay and Feleke, 2011). As yet, an alternative technology is not widely available.)

4.3 Identifying and mapping local stakeholders

Key stakeholders can be identified based on their relative influence in decision making, their responsibility, their involvement in day-to-day operations, their direct or indirect dependency on the project and their representation in the community.

4.3.1 Identifying key stakeholders

Representation from all the stakeholders is a priority in a multi-stakeholder WASH engagement project. Some less obvious stakeholders may be excluded from the usual decision-making processes; this should be avoided.

  • You have already come across a situation where some stakeholders were excluded from the decision-making process because they were not obvious. Look back to Section 4.1 and see if you can find it.

  • In Section 4.1 you read about community water supply points that may be accessed by people from adjacent villages who had not been considered during initial planning.

Local institutions such as schools, health centres, mosques and churches are considered important stakeholders. These are important strategic institutionsfor promoting community-based WASH interventions. While at school, children gain knowledge that influences them and informs their attitude and practice. In addition school children, via their teachers and WASH clubs, can educate their families and relatives when they return home. By this route, they can serve as agents of change to their communities. For example, Figure 4.4 shows a school WASH club performing a drama about handwashing for their relatives. (You will learn more about the role of schools in mobilising urban communities in Study Session 11.)

Figure 4.4 School WASH club performing a handwashing drama.
  • How might establishing WASH clubs in schools help in promoting improved hygiene in the wider community?

  • School children may learn at WASH clubs about washing their hands thoroughly after using the latrine. This could potentially lead to improved hygiene practices in the wider community if they tell their families what they have learned at school.

It is important to identify all stakeholders from the community including women, children and marginalised people. Marginalised people are those on the edges (margins) of society who are treated as insignificant or not important. There may be people in your community who find it difficult to come to meetings, for example because of their work pattern or because they have a disability. It is particularly important to ensure that such groups have a voice and are listened to. Excluding less obvious stakeholders from the usual decision-making processes is an easy mistake to make and may have serious social or economic costs. It can lead to unsustainable projects and no overall improvement in conditions.

A systematic approach to defining and identifying all relevant stakeholders during early planning stages is therefore essential for ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of urban WASH initiatives.

4.3.2 Stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping is the process of systematically identifying and analysing the relevant stakeholders, their relationship to each other, their level of interest, and their roles and responsibilities in relation to the power they hold.

Mapping the levels of interest of different stakeholders in relation to their interest or power can be done using the diagram shown in Figure 4.5. Their relative power and interest is categorised into four groups: those with high interest but little power (A), high interest and high power (B), low interest but high power (C) and low interest and little power (D).

Figure 4.5 Mapping stakeholders on a power/interest grid. (Adapted from DfID, 2003)
  • Consider a family with a disabled child living in an area with poor WASH facilities. They stand to benefit from a planned urban WASH initiative in their area. In which group would you place such a stakeholder on the diagram shown in Figure 4.5? In which group would you place a local politician, who lives outside the area served by the planned facility? Explain your answers.

  • The family would be in group A: they have a high interest in the success of the initiative but have little power. The politician would be in group C: they have a large amount of power but little personal interest in the initiative.

  • Which group is likely to include the most marginalised individuals and why?

  • Group A is likely to include the most marginalised individuals because it will comprise those who are sick or have disabilities. They have little power and are unable to participate fully in the community.

Stakeholder mapping can help you fully understand a situation and see the relationships between the stakeholders and their role in the project or programme. This can be useful when developing a plan for stakeholder engagement. Such a plan should outline:

  • objectives (what are you trying to achieve?)
  • scope (who and what is included?)
  • methods (how will you put the plan into action?).

The methods used will vary for different stakeholders and will depend on several factors including how actively they are involved. For example, for users and beneficiaries, mediated discussions with service providers could be appropriate. For other, less engaged stakeholders, printed leaflets or other methods for providing information could be considered. (The methods for stakeholder engagement are considered in more detail in Study Sessions 5 and 6.)

4.4 Challenges for stakeholder engagement

Involving stakeholders in planning and implementing projects is essential for their success and sustainability. However it can present challenges that need to be understood and overcome.

4.4.1 Lack of coordination

In the past there has tended to be a lack of coordination among the organisations and agencies responsible for WASH projects, for example between governmental and non-governmental organisations, and this has resulted in duplication of effort, contradiction or inconsistency (WUP, 2003). There has also tended to be separation between projects to improve water supply and those related to sanitation and hygiene. As a result of this fragmented approach, there have been gaps in communications with stakeholders and some have been left out of the planning and knowledge sharing in a project.

New approaches to WASH are more integrated and aim to bring different stakeholders together. There is a new emphasis on the importance of communication and collaboration. For example, the One WASH National Programme, launched in 2013 is a shared programme across four federal ministries. The National WASH Coordination Office has mandates to support stakeholder communications, knowledge sharing and dissemination, and to facilitate concerted urban WASH efforts at both national and sub-national levels.

4.4.2 Reaching low-income households

The delivery of water supply and sanitation to low-income urban and peri-urban communities is complex. Poor consumers may not be adequately represented in community organisations and are often perceived as being ignorant and apathetic. However, in many instances this is clearly not the case because they have proved themselves able and willing to help bring about change that will improve their living conditions (WUP, 2003). Effective communication strategies that reach out to low-income communities will be needed to ensure they are also included within the stakeholder group of users and beneficiaries.

4.4.3 Working across boundaries

One of the particular challenges of WASH is that it means working across sector and disciplinary boundaries. Although commonly referred to as the ‘WASH sector’, WASH is a combination, as you know, of water, sanitation and hygiene sectors and is therefore cross-sectoral, meaning it involves people from different sectors working together. In particular it involves representatives from offices and bureaus of water, health, urban development and finance. It is also cross-sectoral in the sense that it involves both public and private sectors including government departments and agencies, and contractors, consultants and other private companies.

Cross-disciplinary communication is also essential because many complex WASH problems require more than one source of information to solve them. Cross-disciplinary refers to the academic disciplines and training of the people involved. These could include engineers, sociologists, hydrologists, doctors, nurses, accountants and managers to name but a few. People trained in different disciplines often have different ways of thinking and approaching an issue that can make communication between them difficult. Care is needed to ensure that everyone understands each other and that the information provided by and to stakeholders is accurate, relevant and can be easily understood.

Although it can be a challenge, it is important to realise that cross-boundary working has many advantages as well. The combination of different perspectives and experiences brings a diversity of thinking and approach that can ultimately make a project more successful. The key issue is to recognise the differences and work with them to ensure all voices are heard.

  • Imagine you are working on a programme that involves liaising with officials from different government departments, including water resources, health and education. What issues would this raise?

  • The officials from the water resources department (engineers or water supply technicians), those from the health department (community health workers, nurses or midwives) and those from the education department (teachers) would all have different academic backgrounds and varying knowledge which they could contribute to the discussion.

Cross-disciplinary engagement is about teamwork, where individuals bring different skills to the table and see issues from different perspectives. However, in order for a new cross-disciplinary team to become effective that team must develop shared values and culture. As a WASH practitioner you may be involved in the development and maintenance of effective forms of cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary communication to manage complex WASH problems in your locality.

Summary of Study Session 4

In Study Session 4, you have learned that:

  1. It is important to identify and characterise the stakeholders involved when planning urban WASH projects so that all interests can be considered.
  2. The planning and implementation stages of community WASH projects needs effective communication with stakeholders so that their knowledge and resources can be included.
  3. Engaging stakeholders helps to improve decision making and accountability and ensure sustainability of WASH projects.
  4. Stakeholder mapping is a useful tool for defining the level of interest and power of each stakeholder.
  5. In the past, the approach has been fragmented with a lack of coordination between organisations responsible for WASH projects.
  6. It is important to understand the advantages of working across disciplinary and sector boundaries. Teamwork involving a variety of people with different skills and knowledge will bring more effective and sustainable results.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) for Study Session 4

Now that you have completed this study session, you can assess how well you have achieved its Learning Outcomes by answering these questions.

SAQ 4.1 (tests Learning Outcomes 4.1 and 4.2)

Explain what is meant by a stakeholder and give three examples of key stakeholders in urban WASH schemes.


A stakeholder is any person, group of people or organisation with a possible interest or stake in something. Key stakeholders are those who have significant influence or will experience significant impact. In urban WASH schemes typical key stakeholders include the users and beneficiaries, the people responsible for the scheme (for example, local sector officials, service providers), and people who may be negatively affected.

SAQ 4.2 (tests Learning Outcomes 4.1 and 4.3)

Outline the purpose of stakeholder mapping.


The purpose of stakeholder mapping is to analyse the relative power and influence of different stakeholders and relate this to their level of interest in the scheme, project, programme, etc. Successful stakeholder mapping helps you to design effective engagement processes based on your knowledge and understanding of the relationships between the different stakeholders.

SAQ 4.3 (tests Learning Outcome 4.4)

Imagine you are working on a project to build a new public latrine block at a market place. You are preparing a plan to engage stakeholders in the project. A new colleague has recently joined your work team and you are asked to explain to them what you are doing and why. What are the main points you would include in your explanation?


You might start with an explanation of the overall purpose of stakeholder engagement, which is to involve stakeholders in project planning and development so they can influence the decisions and outcomes. You may also have mentioned any of the following points:

  • You are developing a plan to meet with stakeholders to hear their opinions about the proposed scheme because it is important their views are taken into consideration.
  • By involving the stakeholders, they will feel a sense of ownership and responsibility so the project is more likely to be successful and sustainable.
  • You need to prepare information about the scheme that you can share with stakeholders.
  • It is important to reach all members of the community so you need to consider how you can ensure that there is representation from all the groups, including the vulnerable and marginalised.
  • The process will help to develop two-way communication skills and will lead to better understanding on both sides.

SAQ 4.4 (tests Learning Outcome 4.5)

List three challenges associated with engaging stakeholders in planning and implementing urban WASH projects.


There are many challenges associated with community involvement that you might come across when planning and implementing urban WASH projects. They include:

  • Lack of coordination between different sectors and organisations makes it difficult to make effective plans. Poor communications between different organisations adds to the problem.
  • It is difficult to reach all members of a community especially those on low income, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Women may not be able to participate in meetings but it is important that they are involved in WASH developments.
  • Working across disciplinary and sector boundaries presents challenges because different ways of working must be brought together cooperatively, but this is not always easy to achieve.