Digital Monitoring in support of National eSystems Strengthening: Lessons from UNICEF’s RapidPro Scale Up Initiative
UNICEF looks to scale real time monitoring systems using open source technology to 110 countries by 2021.

By Moreblessing Munyaka, Aidan Cronin, Raquel Wexler

Learning how to scale innovations

Rural communities in Zimbabwe can now more quickly report water and sanitation (WASH) service deficiencies directly to government and obtain the services they need, thanks to UNICEF’s support to the Government of Zimbabwe’s national real-time monitoring systems and scale initiative.

Within a mere three months of implementation, the integration of real-time monitoring using the open source platform, RapidPro, into the government of Zimbabwe’s Rural WASH Information Management System (RWIMS) is complete. Already within its first few weeks of testing in the pilot district of Insiza, the integrated WASH system is covering more than 53,000 people – of which 8,000 are under age 5. With the strong support of government partners and based on current success, within the next few months, the initiative will expand to include over a million people.

“This initiative is exciting as it can help cut the time for communities to see service improvements, while at the same time help to strengthen social accountability and empower citizens to quickly report when service levels are compromised,” said Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF Zimbabwe Representative.

Government extension workers in Insiza district (469 km south of the Zimbabwe capital, Harare) receive training on the Rural WASH Information Management System (RWIMS) – SMS Notification Response (SNR). Photo credit: ©UNICEF Zimbabwe/2018/ Mutsiwegota

The difference real-time monitoring has made

In the past, the rural WASH information system faced challenges, including a lack of consistent communication between community informants and government extension workers on the status of water and sanitation services. This resulted in a lack of progress in the improvement of rural WASH services. Over time, rural communities became increasingly reluctant to report problems with community WASH infrastructure as no action was being taken by authorities on the issues raised.

Now, real-time monitoring using RapidPro in Zimbabwe enables communities to report changes in infrastructure functionality through SMS directly to government extension workers. The real-time information helps to address the long lag time between the deterioration in community WASH infrastructure functionality and its reflection in national databases. WASH extension workers no longer need to wait until visiting a site to record changes in the national database. Since the launch of this initiative in November 2017, over 1,100 community informants have been registered to report on the functioning of water, sanitation and hygiene services, and 61 water pump mechanics, environmental health practitioners, and district school inspectors have been registered to respond to mechanical issues in the village.

Fidres Manombe, Chief Executive Officer of Insiza’s Rural District Council, elaborated: “The burden of scavenging for WASH data is a thing of the past as our stakeholders can now easily go online and access District WASH data… Most exciting is the ability of the system to be accessed on the go through smart phones…. The initiative has also rejuvenated the interest of communities in the management of their WASH services. “

The real-time monitoring initiative is also supporting the development of a national sustainability strategy for real-time monitoring in the WASH sector in Zimbabwe, and strengthening data analysis and utilization by the government to ensure that plans and strategies are evidence-based. By strengthening rural WASH information systems, the initiative is also supporting the monitoring of WASH indicators that are aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and progress made — especially around Goal 6 (Safe Water and Sanitation). Work on the RWIMS has benefitted from the strong support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom.

A Zimbabwe Government extension worker updates the status of a borehole in Chikomba district, 118 km south of the capital, Harare. ©Ministry of Environment, Water & Climate, Zimbabwe/2018

Early lessons and experience sharing across countries

A lesson learned in the first quarter of implementation is the importance of government ownership and leadership. The rural WASH initiative puts the government in the lead for establishing the system. Also, assessing and discussing the sustainability of the system early in its adoption is critical to ensuring that it is effective, that financial costs are minimized, and that the RTM system can be supported over time.

In the coming months, a review of experience and lessons learned in the pilot district of Insiza will inform the scale up beyond the initial intervention area to 7 additional target districts in Q2 2018.

Zimbabwe’s rural WASH real-time monitoring experience also presents an opportunity for other countries to learn about how to integrate an SMS based system into an existing national information management system. Lessons learned for adopting such a model will be shared across regions.

An online RWIMS platform provides access to the national WASH database. Photo credit: ©UNICEF Zimbabwe/2018/ Mutsiwegota

A test case and emerging good practice for scaling innovations

In July 2017, 11 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and East and Southern Africa regions were provided an integrated support package of technical and financial assistance to strengthen and scale up national real-time monitoring systems through RapidPro. Working with national partners, these countries are designing and developing systems that range from monitoring sanitation services in India; enabling feedback from beneficiaries in Jordan on the quality of social protection safety nets to make sure the most disadvantaged children remain in school; to the upgrading and integration of health systems in Uganda. Participating countries currently include Bangladesh, India, Jordan, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan, State of Palestine, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe. This initiative is serving as a test case and emerging good practice for supporting national partners as they design, implement and assess programmes that leverage innovative tools – such as RapidPro – to address programme bottlenecks.


For more information on the Real-Time Monitoring Scale-Up initiative in Zimbabwe, contact:
Moreblessing Munyaka, WASH Planning and Monitoring Specialist, UNICEF Zimbabwe (mmunyaka [at] unicef [dot] org)

For more information on the Real-Time Monitoring Scale-Up initiative contact:
Raquel Wexler, Mainstreaming Innovation Lead, Office of Innovation (rwexler [at] unicef [dot] org)

Digital Monitoring in support of National eSystems Strengthening: Lessons from UNICEF’s RapidPro Scale Up Initiative
UNICEF looks to scale real time monitoring systems using open source technology to 110 countries by 2021.