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‘What’s working and what’s not?’ Lessons in supporting communities with infrastructure operations and maintenance

9 August 2023

RISE places high priority on the sustainability and long-term impact of our water and sanitation infrastructure. This means ensuring that systems can be effectively operated and maintained with community support and within local government frameworks.

“Trust is very influential on the adaptation and acceptance of residents”, says RISE Indonesia Stakeholder Manager Adrianto Hidayat. “In general, we divide several clusters within the community based on social closeness, kinship and also the infrastructure installed in them. Each cluster has one or more people who can be heard as leaders, they are the ones who will be responsible after the construction is complete,” he says.

By working closely with community members, government representatives, and utility providers to actively contribute to the operation and maintenance (O&M) of infrastructure in their settlements, RISE aims to create lasting positive change.

Stakeholder engagement 

RISE began organising workshops with Fijian and Indonesian stakeholders back in 2019, to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the infrastructure’s operation and maintenance requirements. These workshops brought together community members, government officials, and utility representatives. Through collaborative discussions, participants learned about the O&M requirements of the various parts of the infrastructure  and then determined which stakeholders would be most appropriate to take on the operation and maintenance responsibilities of each of the various components, including the pressure sewers, septic tanks, private bathrooms, drainage, and roads.

Discussing the significance of ongoing community engagement for future O&M, Kerrie Burge, RISE Deputy Director of  Design and Engagement, emphasised the program's commitment to understanding residents' needs and the importance of meaningful engagement to achieve long term outcomes. “Using our demonstration site in Makassar as an opportunity for learning, we want to know what is working and what isn’t when it comes to community O&M. How can we support residents to undertake long term O&M? What tools and information are useful and which ones aren’t? ”

Community engagement and decision-making

RISE’s ongoing engagement with residents in the demonstration site in Makassar include monthly meetings to specifically discuss operation and maintenance activities.

These monthly coordination meetings or workshops are held to gather feedback, discuss challenges, identify successful strategies, and explore alternative approaches. Household sessions ensure all community members, including adults, teenagers, and children are engaged and every individual's ideas and concerns are captured - an extension of RISE’s participatory approach to infrastructure design, and has continued beyond construction.

By actively involving the next generation through youth group meetings, the program ensures that knowledge is transferred to future custodians of the infrastructure systems.

Liza Marzaman, RISE Indonesia’s Safeguards Manager and community facilitator, who coordinates the monthly meetings stated, “the monthly meetings have been not only a place to learn about O&M requirements of each infrastructure element, but also where we troubleshoot issues that the residents face in the past month and try to find solutions to do better the following month. It's also a good place to hear feedback from the residents and create a suitable approach.”

In Fiji, the community identified a list of equipment they required, including gardening gloves for wetland maintenance. By addressing these needs, RISE is enabling community members to carry out wetland operation and management.

Additionally, the program explores mechanisms for facilitating communication and load-sharing among households, such as establishing WhatsApp groups for residents to coordinate wetland-related activities. Teams also took on board residents’ preference for video content over instructional booklets, for easy sharing and implementation.

Community Engagement Meeting in Indonesia
RISE Indonesia Community Engagement Manager Noor Ilhamsyah leads a community session.

Capacity building for sustainable systems

Prior to the infrastructure interventions, residents are made aware of long-term commitments and associated costs, such as desludging and electricity expenses. Transparency and openness about maintenance responsibilities allows community members to make informed decisions regarding their participation.

Josaia Thaggard, RISE Fiji Senior Engagement and Safeguards Officer aptly emphasised the importance of community collaboration, stating, "Success is dictated by their ability to assist us on the ground, providing essential information and support when needed. It is through this collaboration that we establish effective systems for operations and management."

Partnerships for change

RISE is also facilitating stakeholder engagement sessions involving municipal authorities, water authorities, and electricity providers, to address concerns and share information with  the community about essential processes like garbage disposal and service connections.

Reflecting on the project, Emily Darlison, Project Manager for our Fiji Build team, emphasises the team's dedication to amplify community and partner voices and incorporate their ideas. “The team has worked hard to let the community and partners know they have a platform to voice their opinions”, she says. “We aim to build capacity by incorporating and escalating their ideas. Their knowledge is important and required for the design, we can’t solve the problem without them.”

The high level of engagement with the program reflects the success of initial community engagement efforts, enhancing leadership skills, and building capacity of community members and stakeholders, for now and beyond RISE.

Cover image: RISE Indonesia Community Engagement Manager Icha leads an Operations & Management session with the community.