Welcome to WASHWeb

An invitation to improve the WASH data ecosystem

Nicolas Dickinson


January 26, 2024


February 5, 2024

Listening to stories

Sitting together and listening to stories is a source of insight. At a young age, my parent’s work on peace and reconciliation exposed me to thoughtful communicators from different places: Norwegian resistance fighter from WWII who survived against all odds and went on to work on reconciliation himself, Native American leaders and Indian leaders (from India) who processed together with Europeans and white Americans shared colonial legacies, musicians who faced incredible odds and sang about it, and Cambodian educators who survived and outlasted the Khmer Rouge. I also had the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures. Through libraries and books, I continued to travel to new places.

As personal computers and then internet took off, my curiosity and computer programming led me to develop early information products like websites and hypercards from the mid to late 1990s. I was excited about the possibility to connect to even more of the world and to learn and share stories. Finally, my studies and work, especially from 2001 onwards, brought my passion for sharing knowledge and experiences to the water, sanitation and hygiene space. However, one thing still strikes me: listening to stories from people with different experiences is how I learn the most. They are a source of my inspiration and help me both frame and validate the information I get from diverse sources.

Telling and accessing stories about water, sanitation & hygiene

We continue to tell stories with the purpose of improving knowledge in water, sanitation and hygiene. While we tell stories in our sector and produce reports, there is often a barrier between experts who communicate in conferences and users in communities: we use different language, talk in different forums, and have different interests. But by having more exchanges between experts and non-experts these barriers can be overcome. As a result, knowledge can be discovered when it is needed by whom it is needed. Listening, validation and respect are essential so that data and information are owned by those who produce it. With WASHWeb, we want participation in a space where this happens. Discussions already taking place can become more accessible.

Data for action: WASHWeb

But back to my story: I am remain surprised when I receive a request to work on one more national database or to produce one more programme evaluation or one more national monitoring and evaluation manual. While this has been my bread and butter for a number of years now, I am convinced that focusing more on data for action is less about these artifacts (databases and manuals) and more about the action and vision that produces data and the people who use information. Working to address people going back to open defecation after having a latrine in a community gives the opportunity to identify and collect data that will make a difference, such as understanding the latrine types and quality of latrines households use. It gives us a sense of how these factors impact the ability of people to continue to use latrines. The information is not the source of improvement. The source of improvement is from the vision and will to address a challenge of open defection. Does it require targeted subsidies? Does it require a new sanitation product by a local innovator? How can that be developed? These questions are answered through collective action and collective information sharing. Data alone is not the answer.

I would like to invite you to take part in a few different discussions with your colleagues, with the people you speak to day to day, and with partners and leaders:

  • Using data better: How can we leverage all the activities, surveys, communication and information that is already there without overburdening people?

  • Social justice: How can we improve the representation of the least served in statistics and data? What are the ethical and power dynamics around this data and how do we better manage this?

  • Systems thinking: How can we better use qualitative and quantitative information holistically in collective action?

  • Accountability: Who’s doing what, where, and when? How can this be made more visible to ensure accountability?

Why a discussion? Because this is how we can link data to people and their stories!

I am searching for homes to host these discussions for people passionate about the stories that speak to these questions and for the data producers and users who need to link data to action. Are you someone who can facilitate this discussion? Or perhaps you know an existing community of practice such as RWSN or Susana or in a sector leader like IRCWASH or Agenda for Change? Are you interested? Please get in touch!

Nicolas Dickinson

Some things I have done:

  • Publishing an open source software package for downloading JMP data for all countries, including inequality country files as a single dataset
  • One of the originating partners of the Water Point Data Exchange (WPdx) and long-time working group member: I first proposed it to be data exchange standard instead of a list of common indicators
  • Life-cycle analysis of costs and finance of WASH including the WHO WASH Accounts WAPT and the WASHCost calculator prototype
  • Co-founding Knowledge Point Q&A with IRCWASH, WaterAid, and RedR among others: the successor is now hosted by CAWST
  • Supporting IRCWASH’s online resource library in various ways since 2008
  • Researching mobile-enabled technologies from data collection to billing in WASH, including sitting on the GSMA grant panel for a number of years
  • The 12 components participatory assessment methodology for national WASH M&E used to develop costed M&E plans in 8 countries in Western and Central Africa with UNICEF and IRC
  • Supporting the establishment of Akvopedia
  • Founding WASH Web

Feature photo by McKenna Phillips found on unsplash.com.