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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Improving Water and Sanitation Services through Enhanced Data Management Tools

Jenny VanCalcar

Improving Water and Sanitation Services through Enhanced Data Management Tools


Information and communication technologies (ICT) can be a powerful tool for development by empowering people through increased access to information, breaking barriers impeding collaboration, increasing transparency and improving the efficient use of resources and time.  But the full benefits of ICT have yet to reach billions and the role of ICT for socio-economic development is still in its infancy.  Initial focus has been centred on incorporating ICT tools to improve the fields of health, education and governance.  This thesis looks at how some of the same tools might be utilized to improve water and sanitation services. 


Utilizing a gap analysis, the thesis first looks at the constraints currently facing small-scale water and sanitation practitioners; next the requirements of an ideal system are formulated followed by a critical assessment of tools to help fill the gap.  Semi-structured interviews, case studies and a literature review were drawn on as the main data inputs.


Three primary communication pathways were identified that ICT tools could help improve: 1) communication from NGOs downward to distributors, workers and users of the water and sanitation services, 2) communication upwards from the NGO to funders and researchers with a stake in the work, and 3) communication horizontally to other NGOs for collaboration, support and knowledge sharing.  Improvements to the internal processing of data within NGOs were also considered.


Potential utilization scenarios were developed for tools such as SMS messaging, voice systems, PDAs and offline software and then assessed for appropriateness against the sustainability criteria of technical feasibility, cost, suitability, simplicity and adaptability.  The analysis showed that all tools had their positive and negative features and incorporation would depend on the exact requirements of individual organizations.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.