Designing for motivations in community‐managed rural water supply

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Malawi has achieved significant progress in rural water supply (RWS) coverage in the last 20 years. However, sustaining RWS services has proved difficult, compromising the health, economic, and education benefits associated with improved supply. As in most low-income countries, community-based management (CBM) is the dominant approach used in Malawi to manage RWS. In CBM, volunteer village water point committee (WPC) members are responsible for the operation and maintenance of RWS. The CBM model assumes a community’s interest in sustained RWS will motivate them to take on management responsibilities. However, members’ motivations have been oversimplified in academic and practice literature. This doctoral research determined the drivers, nature and impacts of members’ motivations. The research analysed: the types and quality of members’ motivations; the influence of context, including an asset-based community development (ABCD) program approach, in shaping these motivations; and the implications of motivations for committees’ management effectiveness. The research examined six WPC case studies in rural Malawi. Methods included semi-structured interviews, a borehole survey, and a motivation questionnaire. Self-Determination Theory, a theory of motivation, was used to explore motivation constructs. The theory proposes a continuum of motivation types determined by the degree to which behaviour is experienced as autonomous or controlled. Most members’ motivations were low to moderately autonomous. Higher-quality autonomous motives of WPC participation included the benefits of reduced water collection times, pro-social motives, and enjoyment associated with collaboration and opportunities to exercise initiative. Members’ autonomous motivations were internalised, and associated with persistence and navigating management challenges. Controlled motives also drove members’ participation, these included status-seeking, avoiding shame, and avoiding disappointing users and donors. Such motivations were lower quality, tenuous, and associated with feelings of pressure. Autonomous motivations were supported by a positive WPC–user relationship, social and technical support from others, and the relevance of RWS to community development goals. These conditions supported members’ psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and were a precursor to autonomous motivations. Regarding relevance, the ABCD approach helped participants endorse water projects. Participants contrasted the approach with top-down “imposed” projects, which along with an absence of district and development partner support, were reported as controlling and demotivating. A nuanced understanding of motivations is critical in sustaining RWS services. Thesis findings point to the importance of approaches to CBM which support members’ autonomous motivations. When this is done, members’ internalised motivations are likely to result in both improved management outcomes and RWS services.
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