Global water, sanitation and hygiene research priorities and learning challenges under Sustainable Development Goal 6

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Journal Article
Development Policy Review, 2020, 38 (1), pp. 64 - 84
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© The Authors 2019. Development Policy Review © 2019 Overseas Development Institute Motivation: Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a global partnership addressing universal water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) access. Shortly after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations, the research and learning (R&L) constituency of SWA undertook a systematic study to determine global research priorities and learning needs. Purpose: To identify priority topics where improved knowledge would aid achievement of Goal 6 by developing a global WaSH research agenda, and to describe evidence-use challenges among WaSH professionals. Approach and methods: We delivered a tailored, semi-structured electronic questionnaire to representatives from countries, R&L institutions, and other SWA partners (external support agencies, civil society, and private sector). The survey gathered views from 76 respondents working in an estimated 36 countries across all world regions. Data were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively to identify patterns and themes. Findings: Most responses indicated lower confidence in at least one Goal 6 target area, especially managing untreated wastewater and faecal sludge. To support learning, respondents valued a combination of both brief and lengthy information formats. WaSH information was perceived as contradictory or unreliable only among non-R&L constituencies. The R&L constituency saw ample learning and training opportunities, while others perceived barriers to participating. WaSH activities were frequently constrained by upward accountability to funders, while stakeholder inclusion was inconsistent. Policy implications: This study offers insight into perceived research and decision challenges related to Goal 6 targets. It develops a unified research agenda focused on high-priority topics, and recommends renewed attention to evidence synthesis, learning and implementation support, research engagement and multisectoral co-ordination.
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