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Open AccessArticle

Understanding Rural Water Services as a Complex System: An Assessment of Key Factors as Potential Leverage Points for Improved Service Sustainability

1
Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
2
Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington, DC 20004, USA
3
College of Engineering, George Fox University, Newberg OR, 97132, USA
4
IRC-WASH, Bole Sub City, Woreda 4, Addis Ababa 1000, Ethiopia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(3), 1243; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12031243
Received: 8 December 2019 / Revised: 25 January 2020 / Accepted: 4 February 2020 / Published: 9 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Global Engineering and Sustainable Development)
Rural water supply services worldwide consistently fail to deliver full public health impacts as intended due to a low service sustainability. This failure is increasingly attributed to weak local systems composed of social, financial and environmental factors. Current approaches in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector for understanding and improving these systems typically focus on the strength and capacity of these factors, but not the interactions between them. We contend that these approaches overlook the inherent complexity and context-specific nature of each local system. To assess this complexity, we conducted four participatory factor mapping workshops with local stakeholders across multiple rural water contexts to identify the factors and interactions that support service sustainability. We then evaluate the potential for factors to act as strategic leverage points based on influence, dependence and feedback metrics that arise from their interactions with other factors. We find that while participants across the contexts tend to identify a common set of factors, the interactions amongst those factors and their individual ability to influence service sustainability varies considerably across contexts. These findings suggest that a more intentional focus on factor interactions in WASH systems could lead to more effective strategies for improving service sustainability. View Full-Text
Keywords: Rural water service delivery; systems thinking; complex systems; causal loop diagraming; WASH Rural water service delivery; systems thinking; complex systems; causal loop diagraming; WASH
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MDPI and ACS Style

Valcourt, N.; Walters, J.; Javernick-Will, A.; Linden, K.; Hailegiorgis, B. Understanding Rural Water Services as a Complex System: An Assessment of Key Factors as Potential Leverage Points for Improved Service Sustainability. Sustainability 2020, 12, 1243.

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