Among water, sanitation and solid waste service providers, benchmarking is the process of assessing performance for the purpose of comparison with other service providers or changes within the utility over time.
Utility rankings can inform policymakers, those providing investment funds and customers regarding the cost-effectiveness of different water utilities. Benchmarking also provides objective grounds upon which utilities can measure the impacts of management reforms and investments. It can support utilities in the development of performance improvement plans based on realistic and measurable performance targets, and when the data is reliable, benchmarking alone can provide a strong motivator for improving performance, as utilities aim to climb to a higher position within a pool of competitors. By focusing political attention on service quality, benchmarking can also shield operators from political interference. Revealing service shortcomings and disparities through benchmarking also opens up the opportunity for citizens to engage constructively with utilities to provide better services.
Currently, in all but the biggest of African utilities, regular, rigorous assessments of service performance are not undertaken. Operators tend to be unable to say with much precision or accuracy how much water and of what quality they are producing, what population they are serving, how much water goes missing, and – for many operators- even where much of their piped network is located. Though there can be technical constraints to obtaining such quantitative information, these are greatly confounded by poor political will to ‘face-up’ to the extent of performance deficiencies.
A key component of the h2.0 Initiative is to link utility-reported performance data with citizen feedback on service (CRCs) and household surveys on coverage
In the Google h2.0 Initiative, the objectives of the “benchmarking” component are multifold.
- initiate utilities in the process of benchmarking, encourage public disclosure of information, and promote the use of the information in planning to improve services.
- enable contrast of utility-reported performance information with other information on water and sanitation service provision obtained through other survey methods, as a basis for dialogue and decision making and as an input to the integrated monitoring tool;
- better understand how utilities monitor their own performance and with what regularity and accuracy, in order to develop more realistic and meaningful benchmarking indicators.
- enable comparison with other data on consumer perceptions and water and sanitation coverage, it will ensure that the performance information elicited is comparable with that elicited via other survey methodologies being tested through the h2.0 initiative, and
Because many good benchmarking methodologies already exist, the objective is not to recreate a new methodology but to build on existing methodologies. For this reason, the benchmarking instrument that will be used in the Google h2.0 Initiative will build on existing tools, such as Tanzania’s UWSAs benchmarking exercise, the WOP-Africa Self-Assessment Questionnaire, and IB-NET methodology for water and WSP’s Solid Waste Management Service Level Benchmarking Questionnaire for solid waste and sewerage.