Gathering evidence for advocacy in Uganda with Watershed

Watershed (2016 - 2020) is a strategic partnership under the dialogue and dissent programme of the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs (DGIS), in which four Dutch NGOs work together with civil society organisations (CSOs) in six countries: Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, and Mali.


In Uganda, the Watershed programme has been working to improve the management of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services by empowering CSOs in the Rwenzori region under the Albert Water Management Zone to lobby duty bearers. The programme has been implemented in the districts of Kabarole and Ntoroko, where citizens are advocating for sustainable water resource management, the restoration of their rivers, and access to safe and clean water for everyone.

Above: In the Rwenzori region, the River Mpanga is a lifeline for an estimated 1.2 million people. From its origin in the Rwenzori Mountains, the river flows through the Kabarole, Kamwenge and Kyenjojo districts before reaching Lake George. Over the past fifteen years, River Mpanga’s flow and quality have been severely affected by human activity. The degradation of natural resources is a key barrier in achieving WASH access for all. Video created by EyeOpenerWorks.


Kabarole and Ntoroko, Uganda


Water quality









The challenge

Access to WASH services is impeded for nearly ten million people in Uganda. The unserved people face multiple vulnerabilities brought about by social, economic, environmental, technological, institutional and legal factors that account for their marginalisation and exclusion from WASH services.


CSOs have a key role in mobilising communities and are the voice of citizens and marginalised groups at local, national, and international level. Together, local communities, CSOs and government bodies have the power to improve WASH access. However, most CSOs don’t have the capacity for data management - from data collection to data use - and therefore lack evidence to support their lobby and advocacy (L&A) efforts. What’s more, government decisions are not always data-informed, contributing to ineffective governance of WASH and water resource management.

The partnership

In 2016, together with our other consortium partners - IRC WASH, Simavi and Wetlands International - we set out to build the capacity of CSOs in evidence-based L&A, and to support the local and national government in effectively using WASH and water quality data for decision making. We used the Data Journey methodology - Design, Capture, Understand and Act - to ensure that data is used effectively and efficiently throughout.


A participatory and inclusive design phase is crucial in order to align all stakeholders and identify opportunities and challenges from the start. The Watershed team had already conducted a design phase, with a Theory of Change, at programme level. Before we could start building government and CSO capacity in Uganda, we needed to do the same at country level.


As part of the planning process for the Watershed programme, the consortium members commissioned a context analysis with the objective of understanding the environment the partners would be working in. This would include both a factor and stakeholder analysis and would inform the discussion and decision making process around the scope and geographical location of the programme.


The analysis showed that there was a deficit of evidence-based programming. Despite the important WASH progress that had been made in recent years, particularly at the national level, the systematic collection and use of data to better inform programming was still lacking and sustainable IWRM remained a major issue. The analysis also revealed that previous interventions weren’t adequately tracked and documented and that lessons learned weren’t captured or shared, resulting in wasted resources and lost knowledge. In terms of policy influencing and advocacy, the analysis revealed that most civil society organisations operating at local and national level had a lack of knowledge and very limited capacity on a range of related issues, including district level planning and resource allocation processes.


A three day Theory of Change (ToC) workshop was facilitated by Akvo in Uganda. The objective of this workshop was for local Watershed partners - Caritas HEWASA, Joint Effort to Save the Environment, Uganda Water and Sanitation NGO network, Albert Water Management Zone and Kabarole District Water Office - to think through assumptions on how change will happen that will eventually lead to WASH access for all.


Using the context analysis as a basis, the Uganda team identified their desired impact - sustainable WASH for all - and then worked backwards to determine how we’d get there. Which outcomes need to be realised to reach the impact, and how are they interconnected? Which stakeholders would need to do what differently? Which strategies will help to achieve these outcomes? And which data would we need to capture in order to monitor the outcomes? The team made sure that all of the underlying causal assumptions were recorded and made explicit before finalising the Theory of Change.

Creating Theory Of Change
Above: Identifying causal assumptions in the Theory of Change
  Based on the ToC, the team identified which data was needed:
  • to monitor and evaluate the programme (qualitative data),
  • to inform decision makers (local and national government) on the status of WASH in Uganda (quantitative data), and
  • to generate evidence for CSOs and community members to use for their lobby and advocacy efforts (quantitative data).


Qualitative data: In order to monitor the outcomes of the programme and the capacity development of the CSOs, the Watershed Uganda team used Capacity Self Assessments (CSAs) and Akvo’s PMEL platform, Akvo RSR, to track progress. In RSR, partners can share qualitative updates on their activities. These updates are used to track progress and also as knowledge sharing and learning between countries in the Watershed programme.


At baseline, partners carried out an organisational Capacity Self Assessment (CSA) based on the twelve capacity elements that were developed in the ToC and used to monitor outcomes.

  • Internal organisation
  • L&A strategy
  • Understanding of the stakeholder context
  • Legitimacy through representation of constituency
  • Inclusion of marginalised groups
  • Level of understanding of sustainability of WASH services
  • Integration of IWRM-WASH
  • Transparency on own activities and results
  • Collaboration with other CSOs for effective L&A
  • Collaboration with other non-governmental actors for effective L&A
  • Use of reliable evidence for L&A
  • Level of holding service providers accountable


The CSAs were used to identify gaps in capacity so that partners could develop yearly Capacity Action Plans, in which they focussed on three prioritised capacity themes. At the end of each year, the CSAs were monitored and used to develop new action plans. This way, CSOs could gain the right training, skills, knowledge and resources to do evidence-based L&A.


Akvo also trained Watershed partners in outcome harvesting. The purpose of outcome harvesting is to “harvest” evidence of what has changed since the beginning of the programme and, working backwards, determine how changes in behaviour, policies or practices have led to those outcomes. By the end of the programme, the 72 harvested outcomes were used to reflect on the programme strategies and assumptions and adapt the programme accordingly.


Quantitative data: In order to inform decision makers on the current WASH situation in Uganda and generate evidence for lobby and advocacy, we needed to capture quantitative data on WASH and water quality. In the Kabarole and Ntoroko districts, no comprehensive data collection had been carried out on water point functionality, and there was a gap in service level and water quality data.


We put together a data collection and training process, which included the approval of the district water officers to ensure buy-in. Data was collected from all the 26 sub counties and town councils of the present-day Kabarole and Ntoroko districts. This included four sets of field data to gain deep insights into water quality and WASH access: water point data, data on WASH in schools and health centres, household data (water and sanitation), and water quality data. Using this as a baseline, the Kaborole and Ntoroko district authorities can monitor the service levels, identify places that have no improved water sources, and treat contamination to ensure safe water delivery.


To capture data on water quality, the Akvo Caddisfly app was used to test the quality of water in springs, shallow wells and boreholes as well as piped water systems at the point of intake and distribution. The Watershed Uganda team decided to test the key parameters for drinking water - E Coli, Turbidity, Electrical Conductivity, PH, Fluoride, Nitrate, Iron, Sulfate, Chloride and Phosphate, Arsenic - as well as the presence of key metals that could affect hardware such as iron.


WASH and water quality data not only shows government bodies what the problems are and where, but also empowers CSOs and citizens to advocate duty bearers for solutions.

Water Quality Test In Uganda
Figure 3: Watershed partners test water quality in the Ntoroko district of Uganda using Akvo Caddisfly.


To analyse and visualise the quantitative water point and water quality data, Akvo trained partners from IRC, HEWASA and Wetlands International in using Akvo Lumen, a data analysis and visualisation tool. As a result, dashboards could be easily shared with local councils and to the CSOs for L&A purposes.


The analysis of the water quality data found that 80% of sampled water sources were contaminated. This meant that water was not being contaminated at household level, but was already contaminated when it was drawn from the water sources. Based on this analysis, the Watershed team worked with the Albert Water Management Zone to introduce and promote the Water Safety Planning Approach in the Kabarole district.

Outcome Harvesting
Figure 5: Generating insights from the qualitative data using outcome harvesting.


Now that CSOs and community members had been trained in collecting and using data for evidence, the water source data could be used to engage duty bearers at different levels. HEWASA, for example, disseminated the Ntoroko water point mapping data during community barazas. Baraza is the Kiswahili word meaning ‘dialogue’ and is a platform for information sharing among communities and their local leaders. It is here that community members engaged their local leaders in discussions on WASH budgets and advocating for better WASH services. IRC Uganda used the data to engage Kabarole District Water Officers and Albert Water Management Zone on water source accessibility and water quality testing.


In the Ntoroko district, WASH data was used by duty bearers to improve on water point distribution by providing communities with more boreholes and repairing the broken ones. Using the data collected on the service levels and distribution of water points, the Kabarole district developed a master WASH plan for 2018-2030. This plan articulates the long term WASH priorities of the district based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Uganda’s national development goals, and the WASH and water quality data captured during the Watershed programme.


In 2019, the Kabarole district water office requested IRC and Akvo to build a digital WASH portal to provide real-time data on the WASH situation in the district. This portal is now being used for knowledge sharing, decision making and L&A.


Above: The Kabarole WASH portal showing real time WASH and water quality data. Visit the full portal here: Kabarole WASH portal.