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Evidence-based policy making as the alternative for effective water policy design and development: a case study of eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.

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The notion of evidence-based decision-making has, over the years gained prominence, especially in the post millennium era. The evidence-based approach to decision-making seeks to ensure that implementation is successful. Too often decisions are taken and implemented, but the intended results are not met. Focusing on evidence when planning and implementing policy ensures that development initiatives directly address identified societal problem. Evidence is viewed as a tool to making informed rational decisions during policy development. Evidence-based policy making is about making policy decisions based on knowing with an estimated degree of certainty what works, at achieving which outcomes, for which groups of people, under what conditions, over what time span, and at what costs. Research has shown that South Africa does not have a standardised framework for developing and designing evidence-based policy. This study explores the extent to which evidence informs the public policy making process in the South African water and sanitation sector. Building from existing work on evidence-based policy making in South Africa, it poses the following questions: 1) what is the extent of evidence use in public policy making in the South African water and sanitation sector? 2) Is there a need to improve and what should the alternative look like within the context of the fourth industrial revolution. This study adopted a mixed methodology approach. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were critical and relevant in carrying out this study, with purposive non-probability sampling being the sampling approach adopted. The qualitative research method was used to answer questions about the complex nature of phenomenon, mainly with the purpose of describing and understanding key variables from the participant’s experiences, opinion, and point of view. A total of 13 semi-structured interviews, using a semi structured interview schedule, guided by open-ended questions, were conducted with selected interviewees. Respondents were selected based upon their policy responsibility in their respective institutions that are linked to water and sanitation policy process, which included; the National Department of Water and Sanitation, eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, National Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Water Research Commission and Pegasys Institute. The quantitative element of the study sought to obtain opinions from the managerial employees at eThekwini Municipality, who are responsible for ensuring effective translation of policy objectives into water and sanitation delivery, in terms of the Water Services Act, 108 of 1997. Here, 100 self-administered survey questionnaires were sent out to officials at task grade 14 to 18 from eThekwini Water and Sanitation Department and was met with a 72% response rate. Data from both interviews and survey was analysed and consolidated, using the pre-determined themes for effective interpretation. Analysis of the responses indicated that there is no common definition of what is regarded as evidence in the policy making process. In most cases, statistical information and other policy documents from government institutions are regarded as the only evidence that can be used to make policy decisions. There is no interaction with research institutions, outside of government, who are in possession of much valuable evidence for policy decision making in the water and sanitation sector. In this regard the study concluded that there is enough evidence (in numbers and variations) in the sector that remains unutilized to make policy decisions. The findings of this study showed that the engagement of implementing institutions, including local government (Water Services Authorities) in the formulation of policies, has been inadequate. This was revealed when respondents from eThekwini Municipality failed to demonstrate a clear understanding of policy making process in the Department of Water and Sanitation. There was clear consensus on the importance of evidence in decision making process, despite there being no policy making framework in the Department of Water and Sanitation to guide evidence integration in the policy development and design process. The findings further revealed that there is a large amount of evidence that is being collected and stored by various institutions, inside and outside government, that could be used for towards improved policy decision making. Additionally, the revealed that national government, through the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, have introduced capacity building initiatives amongst government departments on evidence-based approach policy making, and that the Department of Water and Sanitation is participating in these efforts. There is a need for continuous capacity building on evidence-based policy making in the Department of Water and Sanitation. This study concluded that limitations in evidence use in South African government, in general, ranges from consensus on evidence-based process, what constitutes evidence, selective use of evidence, political influence on evidence, the extent to which monitoring and evaluation can provide enough evidence, and the purpose of research, among others. The study made the following recommendations: There is a need for the Department of Water and Sanitation to understand its stakeholders in the water and sanitation value chain and capitalise on their role and contributions to make more informed decisions; Invest in strengthening partnerships at the policy development and design level to ensure seamless policy implementation; Build capacity in conjunction with its partners and stakeholders on evidence-based policy development, design and implementation; and, Water Services Authorities to appoint water and sanitation policy specialists to act as conduit between the WSA and the Department of Water and Sanitation on policy matters and serve on the DWS policy teams.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.