Water Operators' Partnerships - WOPs

Frequently asked questions about WOPs

Frequently asked questions about WOPs?

What motivates utilities to do WOPs?

Operators have varied and complementary motivations for taking part in WOPs. It’s the combined incentives of WOP mentors and mentees that fuel these partnerships.

The main incentive for the supported operators or ‘mentee’ is to acquire high-calibre skills and capacity at a low cost to improve their performance and gain comparative experience for their staff. Operators that have received support through WOPs have said the process supported positive change within their utility, developed individual staff capacity and increased their efficiency.

The key incentives for the supporting or ‘mentor’ operator is to building the experience of their staff while making their jobs more interesting, gaining exposure and enjoying global visibility. Experienced mentors say that WOPs have a motivational effect on their team and allow employees to develop professionally.

Why are donors supporting WOPs?

Lack of sound utility management is a major bottleneck to financing investments for improving services or extending them to unserved. Banks will not lend to poorly performing utilities. Capacity development can therefore help utilities manage finances more effectively, and increase their performance in order to secure more funds.

Development banks have a vested interested in supporting the capacity development of operators as they are on the frontline of service provision and can ensure that investments in the sector is impactful and sustainable in the long term.
The donor community is seeing beyond traditional training-based learning towards more dynamic ‘social learning’ approaches such as are favored in WOPs. Drawing on real utility experience and professional expertise can inspire and motivate operator staff to make and sustain significant improvements.

WOPs are a low cost and often highly effective way of building the missing capacity. Because they target the resident staff of the operator, the new skills remain within the operator even after the partnership has ended.

GWOPA’s financing brief outlines key issues around the financing of WOPs. It describes common features of WOP financing, its benefits as well as challenges, and concludes with recommendations for financing WOPs to maximize effectiveness.

How are donors supporting WOPs?

Donors and development banks support WOPs through GWOPA, regional WOPs platforms, or directly. In some cases, they support the approach as part of wider efforts to increase access to quality water and sanitation services, in others, the goal is to lead to bigger institutional change within the operator and prepare for or accompany large-scale investment.

GWOPA’s financing brief outlines key issues around the financing of WOPs. It describes common features of WOP financing, its benefits as well as challenges, and concludes with recommendations for financing WOPs to maximize effectiveness.

How much does a WOP cost?

Compared to other forms of capacity building activities or consultancies, the cost of WOPs is generally low, as no partner makes a profit from the arrangement. There is no set cost for WOPs as each partnership is unique, however staff time, travel and accommodation for technical visits are the primary costs associated with WOPs. A WOP with two technical visits and staff time from both operators on two improvement tracks per year, usually costs under 50,000 USD. In many cases, operators offer in-kind contributions such as staff time spent on the WOP, although some operate on a not-for-loss basis.

What are the steps in a typical WOP?

WOPs vary greatly from one to the next, but they tend to follow the following steps:

  • Partner utilities come together based on their respective needs and strengths, often with the facilitation of a WOP platform. Factors like geographical proximity, similarity of context and services can favour the development of a strong partnership.
  • An agreement and/or framework for the partnership is established outlining timeframes, budgets, and overall objectives.
  • A participatory joint diagnosis of needs is conducted. Improvement tracks are defined and teams are established.
  • Workplans are created based on the mentee’s needs, priority areas and the level of commitment of the partners.
  • Ongoing peer support, through classroom and on-the-job training, remote exchanges and joint activities help the mentee operator to achieve organizational and behavioural change. Support may last several months up to over a decade.
  • WOP partners regularly assess progress and adapt their course of action as the partnership evolves.
  • At the end of the formal WOP, partners decide whether to continue, expand or close their partnership. Many WOP partners choose to continue working together.

Order and duration of steps will vary widely.

Why do WOPs focus on capacity development?

Capacity can be thought of as the financial, technical, managerial know-how to deal with current and future challenges. Recent studies have shown that water projects fail and huge sums of money are wasted because institutions have insufficient capacity to manage and maintain investments poured into them. Capacity needs to be combined with good governance and finance to have its full effect, but many argue it is the first bottleneck – capacity - that is the gateway to the others.

What difference do WOPs make?

Alone, WOPs can help operators make significant technical, financial or managerial changes with impact that can be felt by staff and citizens alike. In combination with other support and over longer time scales, WOPs can be transformative, allowing once-struggling operators to ensure water and sanitation accessible for all.

The impact of WOPs depends on the nature and duration of the partnership, and how well capacity development is linked to operational change and broader issues such as investment. Short-term WOPs can result in quick wins for the mentee operator and help identify needs, medium-term WOPs can prepare operators for organization-wide change and improvement and long-term WOPs can accompany major infrastructural investment to maximize impact.

GWOPA WOPs Case Studies describe the partnership process, the experience of partners and the results.

Where are WOPs happening?

WOPs are happening to different extents on every continent. GWOPA connects a network of regional platforms for WOPs in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, South East Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. It assists regional WOP platforms to develop business plans, helps them to raise money to support WOPs, and provides guidance on WOPs implementation. GWOPA’s global network allows operators to connect across continents with the mentor support they need to make their improvement.

GWOPA is keeping a global database of WOPs and currently has nearly 300 WOPs from over 100 countries on record. WOPs include national, regional and international partnerships between Southern and Northern operators working in rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

What topics do most WOPs focus on?

Some WOPs focus on a particular aspect of service provision or seek to improve specific processes, while others are more comprehensive.
Many work by changing practices that will result in increased efficiency, leading to greater financial sustainability and the eventual ability to improve and extend services. These WOPs may focus on reducing water losses, improving billing and collection systems, introducing GIS, improving Human resources or procurement practices, and so on.

Other WOPs might help the mentee operator extend its services by building solutions to better reach unserved populations, address the challenges imposed by changing climates, improve worker safety and job quality, take on services or manage new infrastructure.

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