Discussion paper

This is the third SDG discussion paper from UQ in Water for Equity and Wellbeing Series, and was undertaken as a transdisciplinary review by 12 researchers across UQ with backgrounds in community development, social science, public health, integrated water resources management, policy and systems thinking.

The combined research investigated the SDG6 target of ‘community participation’, which was identified by the UN to recognise that communities can affect the long-term success and impact of water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) projects. Community participation is also a target to achieve the related UN SDGs for gender equity (SDG5.5) and urban planning (SDG11.3).

An investigation of 60 WaSH projects found that community participation approaches often occurred too late and on low-level decisions. Instead, we argue that the UN target of SDG6b presents an opportunity to design policies and procedures that serve as a mechanism to engage communities at earlier points in the timeline – where the scope of decisions is greater.

This discussion paper presents four specific recommendations to improve the quality and impact of community participation in sustainable development, including in WaSH projects:

  • Recommendation 1: Develop a common definition, framework and principles for community participation in WaSH.
  • Recommendation 2: Ensure that the community participation approach for WaSH is designed to include five key elements: establishing an agreed participation objective; ensuring inclusiveness; providing information and capacity building; enabling spaces for dialogue; and ensuring transparency; and that it involves a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
  • Recommendation 3: Provide meaningful community participation opportunities as early as possible in the development of WaSH projects.
  • Recommendation 4: Establish robust indicators to monitor community participation in WaSH, and document participation from a community perspective to improve future efforts.
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