The Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance, an international network of partners working to increase the scope and impact of Water Operators’ Partnerships (mainly peer support twinning and training between public utilities), hosted by UN-HABITAT, is working with Google.org and IB-net (the international Benchmarking Network for water and sanitation utilities) to develop a tool for presenting utility performance (benchmarking) data in a searchable mapped format online, called the Geo-Referenced Utility Benchmarking System (GRUBS).
Water Operators’ Partnerships (WOPs) are picking up as a means of helping water operators exchange know-how and experience to improve their overall capacity. Increased capacity is essential to improving performance and ensuring utilities can offer good, affordable, universal access to water and sanitation services, and WOPs are increasingly credited as a powerful and low-cost tool for building that capacity. The Global WOPs Alliance was established upon the recommendation of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board to have a global mechanism that would help increase the scope and practice of utility twinning and utility-based learning. Chief among its objectives is making it easier for operators to find others from whom they could learn.
GRUBS is conceived principally as a matchmaking tool for WOPs. The idea is that enabling utilities struggling in a particular aspect of utility management to quickly identify other utilities who perform well in that area, would help facilitate WOPs.
In its pilot phase, GRUBS is using data from the WOP-Africa self-assessments – a region-wide benchmarking exercise that collected performance data from 135 utilities on the continent – to develop the searchable tool. Using a simple function to generate maps, operators will be able to see where they stand amongst other operators on the continent in terms of 20 key aggregate performance indicators. The maps will clearly highlight the local ‘champions’ and situate the ‘good’ performers amongst global norms. Information will be provided for the user about how that performance data is collected and calculated, other factors it is related to, and implications of that performance area for performance efficiency.
Recognising that a good twinning relationship is not based on absolute performance alone, but also on the size, context, and history of the partner utilities, GRUBS is also developing additional features based on user generated content – best practices, photos and videos, question and answer forums, and so on, in the spirit of a social network for utilities.
But GRUBS also has a bigger agenda. It hopes that by providing tools that utilities want, it will encourage them to more systematically evaluate their performance, disclose their strengths and weaknesses with the public, and contribute to a culture where data helps drive decision-making and improvement in the water sector. Operators often hide their poor performance record from the public and even decision makers, but operators who have turned around their performance know that identifying and admitting weakness is a pre-condition for building the needed support for improvement.