Preliminary proposals for information exchange and dissemination
Sharing of information on sanitation policies, programmes and research activities is at the heart of the Global Environmental Sanitation Initiative (GESI). The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) and the Water and Engineering Development Centre (WEDC) are developing a series of information management mechanisms to facilitate the sharing process. The purpose of this note is to outline current thinking and obtain feedback which will help to ensure that the resulting mechanisms provide helpful information without imposing excessive burdens on those contributing data.
The components of the proposed system are (NB. These are the information elements only, proposals regarding GESI’s role in sector advocacy are covered separately):
- A database on each agency and each country, covering policies, projects and other relevant sanitation activities
- An E-mail listserver enabling all participants to communicate continuously on emerging issues
- A GESI Home Page on the Internet giving access to the database and regular news items
- Periodic Newsletters distributed by E-mail and in printed form
- Briefing notes for the GESI Steering Committee.
1. The GESI Database
To share information, we first need to collect it. That means some work for those contributing the information the payback being that they gain access to equivalent information from many more sources. As information processing takes time and resources, and too much information can sometimes be as bad as too little, the aim is to store and share only information which will be of practical use to most people. By noting contact names, the database will guide users to sources from which more information can be obtained where necessary.
Our suggestion is that the database should have two main elements:
Agency-based information with an introductory section setting out the agency’s sanitation policy, any special conditions for supporting sanitation programmes, and, if thought appropriate, brief notes on past activities in the sector. This would be followed by a continuously updated section listing new activities (approved and pipeline projects, policy papers, research activities, etc).
Country-based information with an introductory section on national policies and strategies for sanitation, a list of agencies involved in the sector, including donors and NGOs, contacts for more information. This might also include sector statistics, drawn initially from the Joint Monitoring Programme and adjusted as later information becomes available. Again, the basic information would be supplemented by a list of approved and pipeline projects and other relevant sanitation initiatives. GESI proposes that there should be a national GESI focal point (an individual, rather than an agency) for each country, helping the WSSCC to gather the necessary data and maintaining regular contact through the Council’s regional chapters.
Because this database is going to be the core of the GESI information exchange, it is crucial to get the balance right now between usefulness and operational feasibility. Annexes 1 and 2 illustrate possible ways in which the two components of the database might be presented; Annex 3 shows a tentative project data sheet. Feedback is wanted as soon as possible on the desirability and practicality of gathering and disseminating the type of information shown and on any additional information which people believe it would be useful to include. One particular issue is the degree to which GESI should attempt to monitor the level of investment in sanitation programmes. Bearing in mind that what comes out of the database can only be as good as what goes in, we need to consider whether agencies will be willing to contribute financial data which GESI could aggregate.
Using a listserver, anyone who is part of the group can send one E-mail message that will be seen by everyone else. The intention is that WEDC will set up a listserver dedicated to GESI. That will create a continuous discussion forum on which anyone can post questions, comments, opinions, etc, or seek support for activities such as workshops. There is also the option to hold electronic conferences on a particular theme over a period of days, with a moderator later producing a report on the discussions. WEDC has experience of electronic conferencing and would take on the moderator role. It is also possible for selected contributions to the GESI listserver to be disseminated more widely through other listservers, so as to reach a particular audience (for example there is a listserver which is specifically for local government professionals).
GESI Home Page
WSSCC, IRC and WEDC are creating a family of Home Pages covering each organization’s own activities and some shared news items. The intention is that there should be a page dedicated to GESI, through which anyone will be able to get access to the GESI database, as well as reading the most recent news items about sanitation progress. In this way, interested parties will be able to access information about a particular agency or country to brief themselves for visits or project appraisals. Up-to-date information will be available at any time, without the need to wait for published reports from the Secretariat.
A number of existing newsletters carry water and sanitation news items. News about Council activities appears regularly in Source, which is published electronically and in hard copy form by IRC, and in the GARNET newsletters. A dedicated Newsletter for GESI will be published regularly on the GESI listserver and in hardcopy form for those without E-mail access. The Newsletter will summarise new activities notified to the Secretariat. It will also be the opportunity for spotting possible overlaps or competing activities by different agencies — one of GESI’s objectives.
Steering Committee Briefs
Once or twice a year, the Secretariat, supported by IRC and WEDC, will analyse the data coming into GESI and produce progress reports for review by the Steering Committee. These Briefing Notes may include comments on potential conflicts or opportunities for collaboration, as well as pointers to innovative activities which may be seen as case studies for replication elsewhere. New agency policy initiatives will also be reported.
Comments on these preliminary ideas, and any suggestions for additional information activities, will be most welcome and should be addressed to the WSSCC Secretariat, c/o WHO, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Fax: 41 22 791 4847, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. One of the criteria is that people should be able to obtain as much GESI information as possible for themselves, without always having to request it from the Secretariat, so minimising the extra workload for the Secretariat.