Benchmarking to improve delivery
Water lies at the heart of everything that is important to human life in areas such as food, sanitation, energy supply, the production of goods and transport. The effective management of water resources is therefore a priority of the global agenda, especially in the context of the challenges posed by climate change.
While the challenge is global in scale, water resources are local and municipalities play a significant role in managing this precious resource to ensure that their constituents have an adequate service provision.
The Municipal Benchmarking Initiative
In response to a growing development-driven water demand and increasing water scarcity as a result of urbanisation as well -climate change, in April 2011, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Water Research Commission together re-established water services benchmarking in South Africa through the launch of the national Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (MBI) for Water Services in South Africa.
This initiative acknowledged the need for improved performance management by local government and aimed to support municipalities in improving the efficiency of service delivery in the area of water management.
The MBI aims to “improve effectiveness in water services delivery through comparative performance benchmarking and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing”.
It is through the holistic approach that SALGA hopes to build communities of practice within and between municipalities, thereby forging relationships of mutual respect and trust between municipalities and strengthening the development of performance tracking, reporting and comparative assessment systems.
By offering a bottom-up focus, starting with those stakeholders on the ground, the MBI hopes to -accurately be able to measure the performance of municipalities in the area of water provision, improve reporting systems and affirm the importance of service delivery in this area through effective bench-marking.
To achieve its aims, the MBI is structured on a modular, tier-based approach to benchmarking, which it was hoped would encourage and enable all relevant stakeholders to participate at a level aligned with their current capabilities and future aspirations. The initiative offered municipalities a choice of what level they wanted to participate at and migrate accordingly.
The MBI is based on the mantra “for municipalities, by muni-ci—-pali—ties, to the benefit of muni-ci—pali-ties”.
At the heart of the initiative lies a desire to create a support network that fosters a culture of information exchange between peers so that municipalities can come together to learn from one another’s experiences in water management and effectively formulate best practice models.
To quantitatively measure performance and monitor the areas in which particular municipalities were succeeding or falling short, a web-based data capturing system called munibench was introduced.
Since its establishment in 2011, the MBI has made significant strides in improving water management at the local level.
Firstly, the MBI exemplifies a pragmatic approach to benchmarking, which has effectively addressed the current situation and designed an approach that takes into consideration varying circumstances of different municipalities. It has successfully encouraged participation from all municipalities, be it at basic level, where the municipality only uses existing data to show performance, or a more advanced level of participation.
By allowing municipalities a degree of choice in their level of participation and which performance indicators they monitor, SALGA has effectively ensured that the initiative was truly inclusive and could be adapted to meet the needs and capabilities of each of the municipal stakeholders.
Another strength of the MBI lies in its multi-faceted approach to knowledge sharing and education. Not only has the initiative encouraged municipalities to share information and experiences among themselves, but the Water Services Master Classes (WSMC) have served to bring together senior technical and managerial staff, environmental experts and professionals to discuss experiences, achievements and challenges.
Through this exchange between stakeholders from across the spectrum, all those involved in municipal water services can become more informed and the MBI can be made increasingly relevant and context sensitive in the future. Furthermore through the introduction of the water services league, municipalities are able to gauge their performance on an annual basis.
SALGA has been successful in developing a web-based database and reporting system that further assists when it comes to information sharing and in training. The munibench database is an important tool in allowing policy makers to collect, collate and analyse data from all the municipalities and metros throughout the country.
Using technology, SALGA has ensured that the MBI is transparent and all municipalities are able to access the necessary information.
Challenges for the future
While the MBI certainly signifies a step in the right direction when it comes to improving water -services delivery in South Africa, SALGA acknowledges a number of core challenges that stand in the way of further progress.
Benchmarking is not a municipal priority, nor is it part of the current municipal culture.
Changing this will take time and there needs to be greater interest, commitment and involvement from councillors, -senior management and technical staff as well supportive involvement and alignment from key municipal and water -services groups such as the National Treasury, the Department of Cooperative Gover-nance and the Department of Water Affairs.
Moving forward there would be a need for strengthening and -alignment of data collection -mechanisms to minimise duplication and data burden.
He further stressed the importance of more -frequent municipal engagement through site visits. The MBI is an innovative and -inclusive approach to tackling -service delivery issues.
It is has established important tools for change. However, it is too early to judge the MBI’s success fully at this stage. Municipalities, policy makers and various stakeholders involved in water affairs will need to capitalise on the momentum created by the MBI to continue making -improve—ments in this crucial area of environmental affairs in the long-term.
The contents of these pages have been supplied and/or signed off by SALGA.