Governance drivers of rural water sustainability: Collaboration in frontline service delivery

Dikshya Thapa, Muhammad Noor Farid, Christophe Prevost

Article ID: 1380
Vol 6, Issue 1, 2022

VIEWS - 385 (Abstract) 218 (PDF)


This paper contributes to a long-standing debate in development practice: under what conditions can externally established participatory groups engage in the collective management of services beyond the life of a project? Using 10 years of panel data on water point functionality from Indonesia’s rural water program, the Program for Community-Based Water Supply and Sanitation, the paper explored the determinants of subnational variation in infrastructure sustainability. It then investigated positive and negative deviance cases to answer why some communities successfully engaged in system management despite being located in difficult conditions as per quantitative findings and vice versa. The findings show that differences in the implementation of community participation, driven by local social relations between frontline service providers, that is, village authorities and water user groups, explain sustainable management. This initial condition of state-society relations influences how the project is initiated, kicking off negative or positive reinforcing pathways, leading to community collective action or exit. The paper concludes that the relationships between frontline government representatives and community actors are important and are an underexamined aspect of the ability of external projects to generate successful community-led management of public goods.


state embeddedness; frontline leadership; collective action; local governance; rural water; local infrastructure; sustainability; deviance analysis; mixed methods

Full Text:



Ahmad J, Devarajan S, Khemani S and Shah S (2005). Decentralization and Service Delivery (Policy Research Working Paper 3603). World Bank.

Aiyar Y (2010). “Invited spaces, invited participation: Effects of greater participation on accountability in service delivery.” India Review, 9(2): 204–229.

Andres L, Chellaraj G, Das Gupta B, et al. (2018). Why Are So Many Water Points in Nigeria Non-Functional? An Empirical Analysis of Contributing Factors (Policy Research Working Paper WPS 8388). World Bank.

Andrews M (2013). Explaining Positive Deviance in Public Sector Reforms in Development (WIDER Working Paper No. 2013/117). The United Nations University—World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER).

Andrews M, Pritchett L and Woolcock M (2017). Building State Capability: Evidence, Analysis, Action. Oxford University Press.

Ang YY (2016). How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. Cornell University Press. 9781501705854

_____ (2020). China’s Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption. Cambridge University Press.

Baiocchi G, Heller P and Silva MK (2011). Bootstrapping Democracy—Transforming Local Governance and Civil Society in Brazil. Stanford University Press.

Bardhan P and Mukherjee D (2006). “The rise of local governments—An overview”. In: Bardhan P and Mookherjee D (Eds.), Decentralization and Local Governance in Developing Countries: A Comparative Perspective, pp. 1–52. MIT Press.

Bardhan P, Mitra S, Mookherjee D and Sarkar A (2009). “Local democracy and clientelism: Implications for political stability in rural West Bengal”. Economic and Political Weekly, 44(9): 46–58.

Batley RA and McLoughlin CM (2010). “Engagement with nonstate service providers in fragile states: Reconciling state-building and service delivery”. Development Policy Review, 28(2): 131–154.

Besley T, Pandey R and Rao V (2005). “Participatory democracy in action: Survey evidence from South India”. Journal of the European Economic Association, 3(2–3): 648–657.

Boex J and Simatupang R (2015). A Comparative Overview of Local Governance Systems in Selected Countries (LPSI Working Paper 2015-2). Local Public Sector Initiative.

Borja-Vega C, Gruber J and Spevack A (2017). Increasing the Sustainability of Rural Water Service: Findings from the Impact Evaluation Baseline Survey in Nicaragua (Policy Research Working Paper WPS 8283). World Bank.

Bossert TJ (2015). “Empirical studies of an approach to decentralization: ‘Decision space’ in decentralized health systems”. In: Faguet JP and Pöschl C (Eds.), Is Decentralization Good for Development, pp. 277–298. Oxford University Press.

Brixi H, Lust E and Woolcock M (2015). Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Success Stories in Service Delivery in the Middle East and North Africa. World Bank.

Carter RC and Ross I (2016). “Beyond ‘functionality’ of handpump-supplied rural water services in developing countries”. Waterlines, 35(1): 94–110.

Casey K, Glennerster R, Miguel E and Voors M (2018). Skill Versus Voice in Local Development (NBER Working Paper 25022). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Connors G (2005). “When utilities muddle through: Pro-poor governance in Bangalore’s public water sector”. Environment and Urbanization, 17(1): 201–217.

Corbridge S (2005). Seeing the State: Governance and Governmentality in India. Cambridge University Press.

Fisher MB, Shields KF, Chan TU, et al. (2015). “Understanding handpump sustainability: Determinants of rural water source functionality in the Greater Afram Plains region of Ghana”. Water Resources Research, 51(10): 8431–8449.

Fisher J and Rucki K (2017). “Re-conceptualizing the science of sustainability: A dynamical systems approach to understanding the nexus of conflict, development and the environment”. Sustainable Development, 25(4): 267–275.

Giné R and Perez-Foguet A (2008). “Sustainability assessment of national rural water supply program in Tanzania”. Natural Resources Forum, 32(4): 327–342.

Heller P, Harilal KN and Chaudhury S (2007). “Building local democracy: Evaluating the impact of decentralization in Kerala, India”. World Development, 35(4): 626–648.

Heller P and Rao V (2015). “Deliberation and development”. In: Heller P and Rao V (Eds.), Deliberation and Development: Rethinking the Role of Voice and Collective Action in Unequal Societies, pp. 1–26. World Bank.

Hirschman AO (1970). Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States. Harvard University Press.

Improve International (2012, October 25). Statistics on Water Point Failures.

Kähkönen S (1999). Does Social Capital Matter in Water and Sanitation Delivery? A Review of Literature (Working Paper 9). World Bank.

Khwaja AI (2009). “Can good projects succeed in bad communities?” Journal of Public Economics, 93(7–8): 899–916.

Lam WF (1998). Governing Irrigation Systems in Nepal: Institutions, Infrastructure, and Collective Action. ICS Press.

Leonard DK (1991). African Successes. University of California Press.

Lipsky M (1980). Street Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. Russell Sage Foundation.

Lockwood H and Smits S (2011). Triple S Multi-Country Synthesis Report—Supporting Rural Water Supply: Moving towards a Service Delivery Approach. Practical Action Publishing.

Mansuri G (2012). Harnessing Community: Assortative Matching in Participatory Community Organizations. Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, World Bank.

Mansuri G and Rao V (2013). Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? World Bank Group.

Marks SJ and Davis J (2012). “Does user participation lead to sense of ownership for rural water systems? Evidence from Kenya”. World Development, 40(8): 1569–1576.

Marks SJ, Kumpel E, Guo J, et al. (2018). “Pathways to sustainability: A fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis of rural water supply programs”. Journal of Cleaner Production, 205(20): 789–798.

Narayan D (1995). The Contribution of People’s Participation: Evidence from 121 Rural Water Supply Projects (Environmentally Sustainable Development Occasional Paper Series 1). World Bank.

National Management Information Project (NMIP) (2011). Nationwide Coverage and Functionality Status of Water Supply and Sanitation in Nepal. NMIP, Department of Water Supply and Sewerage.

O’Meally SC (2013). Mapping Context for Social Accountability: A Resource Paper. World Bank.

Ostrom E (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press.

_____ (1999). Design Principles and Threats to Sustainable Organizations That Manage Commons (Workshop Working Paper W99-6). Indiana University.

_____ (2010). “Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change”. Global Environmental Change, 20(4): 550–557.

Peiffer C and Armytage R (2019). “Searching for success: A mixed methods approach to identifying and examining positive outliers in development outcomes”. World Development, 121: 97–107.

Pepinsky TB, Pierskalla JH and Sacks A (2017). “Bureaucracy and service delivery”. Annual Review of Political Science, 20: 249–268.

Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) (2010). “Myths of the rural water supply sector”. RWSN Perspectives No. 4. RWSN.

Sanyal P and Rao V (2018). Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Village Assemblies. Cambridge University Press.

Schouten T and Moriarty P (2003). Community Water, Community Management: From System to Service in Rural Areas. ITDG Publishing.

Sharma A and Gupta A (2007). The Anthropology of the State. Blackwell Publishing.

Somanathan E, Prabhakar R and Mehta BS (2005). Does Decentralization Work? Forest Conservation in the Himalayas (Discussion Paper 05-04). Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi Planning Unit.

Trent TR and Chavis DM (2009) “Scope, scale, and sustainability: What it takes to create lasting community change”. The Foundation Review, 1(1): 96–114.

Tendler J (1997). Good Government in the Tropics. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Tsai LL (2007). “Solidary groups, informal accountability, and local public goods provision in rural China”. American Political Science Review, 101(2): 355–372.

Wang C, Pan J, Yaya S, et al. (2019). “Geographic inequalities in accessing improved water and sanitation facilities in Nepal”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(7): 1269.

Whaley L and Cleaver F (2017). “Can ‘functionality’ save the community management model of rural water supply?” Water Resources and Rural Development, 9: 56–66.

Whittington D, Davis J, Prokopy L, et al. (2009). “How well is the demand-driven, community management model for rural water supply systems doing? Evidence from Bolivia, Peru and Ghana”. Water Policy, 11(6): 696–718.

World Bank (2003). World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work for Poor People. World Bank.

_____ (2016). Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement. World Bank.

_____ (2017a). Sustainability Assessment of Rural Water Service Delivery Models: Findings of a Multi-Country Review. World Bank.

_____ (2017b). A Wake Up Call: Nigeria Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Poverty Diagnostic. World Bank.

Zhang L, Heerink N, Dries L and Shi X (2013). “Water users associations and irrigation water productivity in northern China”. Ecological Economics, (95): 128–136.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2022 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

This site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.