Beyond the networked city: building innovative delivery systems for water, sanitation and energy in urban Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Our research will develop and test improved systems to deliver water, sanitation and energy services to marginalised people living in urban areas. These services are selected because they represent the most fundamental needs of urban populations and are the focus of SDG 6 (water and sanitation) and SDG 7 (energy). Our work will support the achievement of SDG 11 (sustainable communities and cities).
The research will be undertaken in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Kampala, Uganda. The population in both these cities is growing rapidly, with significant levels of poverty and significant numbers of informal settlements. Current rates of access to water supply, sanitation and energy are low in these cities, with striking inequalities in access to these services between wealthy and poor areas. The rapid increase in population has led to communities being established that are distant from existing infrastructure and difficult to serve. Households in marginalised communities therefore have to access water, sanitation and energy from informal and often 'off-grid' sources. This includes, for instance, using charcoal for energy, dug wells or protected springs for domestic water and basic on-site sanitation.
Our research will combine social, economic and political analysis with insights from natural and engineering science to understand how the infrastructure, management, finance and governance can be developed to improve water, sanitation and energy services. Our research is designed in five inter-related work areas. We will first establish a thorough understanding of each city. We will analyse how the cities have developed to date and how they are likely to develop in the future; we will identify which areas have access to formal services and which have access to informal services; and will we map the hazards and risks in each city. We will use data collected from official statistics to analyse each city and in Freetown we will use remotely sensed data from NASA to map the city.
We will then assess the formal on-grid services, using data key attributes of the infrastructure to develop risk maps. We will research the attitudes of suppliers, policy makers and city officials regarding the challenges and opportunities to extend services to people who don't currently have access. We will complement this by looking at how informal suppliers provide services, including the technologies they use and their business models. We will assess the resilience of the services and research the perceptions of the informal suppliers about how services can be improved and what they see as being their role in this. Next we will work in four marginalised communities to understand how and from where they currently access services, how much they pay and their perception of the quality of services. We will explore what people living communities think would be the best way to improve services and who they think should provide services.
We will use all the data we have collected about the city, from suppliers of services and from communities to develop a set of options for improving services to marginalised communities. This will use a 'Delphi' method that uses discussions to build consensus on which are the best options. We will involve policy makers, service providers and members of marginalised communities to develop the preferred options. The final part of our research will be to test specific interventions in four communities. We will undertake a formal outcome evaluation to assess how well these options work and undertake a value for money assessment of each option. We will also develop city-wide plans for the development of services over time. Throughout our research we will engage with local people, decision-makers and funders to ensure that our research addresses the questions they think are most important and to maximise the potential for our research to influence service development in each city.

Planned Impact

We have designed this project to maximise the potential for impact and have made impact a central consideration at each stage in the design. Th approach we have adopted in the research design, strongly rooted in the realities of each city and engaging with communities, service providers, policy makers and funders, ensures that our research will respond to the priorities of people living and providing services in each city and engages them in the research process.
The beneficiaries of this research fall into three groups. Firstly, we expect people living marginalised communities in both cities to benefit by supporting them to access safer, more reliable and more resilient water supply, sanitation and energy services. By directly involving communities in the research to identify their concerns and to understand their preferences, the findings and recommendations will reflect their needs and demands. By actively engaging the four selected communities in the Delphi workshops to develop preferred options, we will provide a direct voice for marginalised people on how and where services should be improved. These four communities will also directly benefit from the testing of the options, resulting in improvements in service delivery for them. Other marginalised communities will ultimately benefit from the development of municipal-wide service development plans which are based on the reality of their environments and experiences.
The second group of beneficiaries are the formal and informal providers of services and municipal authorities in each city, who will have access to evidence-based options and plans to help extend and maintain high quality services across their city. By using our research to look at the resilience of their systems and risks they face, and by working with them to identify their views on how services can be improved, our research findings will reflect the constraints and conditions they must operate within. Their role in the Delphi workshops and subsequent testing of options means that they will play a central role in developing new service delivery models that are realistic and deliverable. Their inputs into the municipal-wide plans that are the final output of the research will mean they have a stake in ensuring these can be successfully delivered. We anticipate that the models that emerge for testing and the municipal plans will include provision for formalising the important role of informal suppliers and so provide long-term opportunities for their business development.
The final group of beneficiaries are national and international policy makers who will have access to evidence-based models of service delivery for marginalised communities in rapidly growing urban areas. This will help national authorities plan the future development of these two cities and the other towns and cities in their countries. For international policy makers, it will provide models that can be applied in other countries and similar settings. Their engagement particularly in the Delhi workshops will allow them to both input and define preferred options, but also to hear the voices of marginalised communities and service providers directly, which will help them in defining more responsive policies.


10 25 50