Thursday, 6 March 2008

Hardware and software

I’m often struck these days by something rather curious: that in the mid-1970s, when John Kalbermatten, then Senior Water and Wastes Advisor at the World Bank, started the two-year Bank-funded research project on low-cost sanitation, we found out quite a lot on sanitation technologies, the so-called ‘hardware’ (and this was the ‘easy’ part), but we struggled with the ‘software’ − how to interact with communities to take their views into account − but by 1978 the Kalbermatten model was developed (and published here). Eventually, of course, community participation developed into an ‘industry’ of its own and became accepted as part and parcel of sanitation planning. So today there’s a lot of knowledge and experience about this: PHAST, for example, and Community-driven Development. [Probably the best document on urban sanitation planning is GHK’s 2002 report Effective Strategic Planning for Urban Sanitation Services: Fundamentals of Good Practice − if you want a really good short introduction to urban sanitation planning, then read Section 3 of this report A Strategic Approach towards Sanitation Planning.]

But, in contrast, so it seems to me, the hardware is less well understood today than the software − most engineers and planners just don’t know, never mind fully understand, the whole range of sanitation technologies available. This situation is particularly acute at the local level, but often not much better at national level. There’s No substitute for knowledge!

So how did we get into this situation, the reverse of the 1970s, that the hardware has fallen behind the software? Graham Alabaster and I talked about this at AfricaSan2008, but we couldn’t really explain this ‘failure of engineering’ − or, perhaps, this ‘failure of engineering education’. But it’s something that has to be rectified and IYS2008 is a good time to start − and a good place to start is here.