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.