Oleh: Rudy | September 19, 2007

How do participation and social capital affect community-based water projects? Evidence from Central Java Indonesia

Review of article “How do participation and social capital affect community-based water projects? Evidence from Central Java Indonesia” written by Jonathan Isham and Satu Kahkonen.



The observation that apparently similar communities exhibited very different track records in managing common resources or organizing for the common good is the important point in this work. This case study from Indonesia by Isham and Kahkonen empirically documented the importance of social capital for key areas of development. It examines community-based water services in the Central Java province of Indonesia and analyze why some services have succeeded there while others have failed.

By using the qualitative and quantitative data, the author come to the conclusion that the answer depends on the extent to which demand-responsive approach embedded in community-based water projects was actually implemented. In village with high levels of social capital-in particular villages with active groups and association-household participation in design is likely to be high and monitoring mechanism are more likely to be in place. In those villages, households are accustomed to working together, and social ties deter free-riding. This is especially important in the case of piped water system; whose design and monitoring are more dependent on collective action.



Isham and Kakonen began with the introduction of three types of community-based water projects. Two projects partially financed by the World Bank were implemented by the government of Indonesia, the Water Supply and Sanitation Projects for Low Income Communities (WSSLIC) and the Village Infrastructure Project (VIP). In addition NGOs in Central Java have implemented water projects that were partially funded by bilateral donor (NGO).

The impact of community-based water projects in Central java has varied widely, with projects funded by VIP and NGOs tending to achieve better health outcomes than projects funded by WSSLIC. The percentage of people who were “very satisfied” with service was also higher in villages with VIP or NGOs projects than in village with services funded by WSSLIC. Why have some water projects performed well and others performed poorly?

To answer this question, Isham and Kakonen reviewed how closely those water projects followed the community-based approach. Their works examine whether services provided were demand-responsive and whether rules governing the design, construction, and O&M of services provided incentives for user participation. In particular, it examines the effect of different rules promoting and coordinating user participation in service design, construction, and O&M on the performance and impact of these services.

The content and enforcement of the rules governing user participation and service delivery may be influenced by social capital, as measured by the prevalence of social networks and pattern of social interaction among users. Social capital may affect how successfully users act collectively to craft and implement rules and whether they comply with the rules. Collective action is not automatic, low levels of user participation in service delivery and users inability to form water committees to manage the service-and the subsequent poor performance of the water service-can be partially attributed to low levels of social capital.

After Isham and Kakonen found that design outcomes and household participation in service design and decision making varied widely across projects and villages, they moved to the important critical question that “Did informed participation and decision making by households lead to the different technology choices in Central Java? The results show that informed participation and decision making by households did affect the type of service selected and the level of service selected. Given the opportunity to choose their own type of service, household were likely to choose piped water system with private connection. In contrast, village leader and outsiders tended to select communal well.

These results reveal the importance of involving households in service design and decision making by the households led to different technology choices. This result implies that if households are not involved in service design and decision making, service provided are not likely to correspond to demand.

The community-based water projects in Central Java called for households’ participation in service construction and O&M. In practice, household participation in construction and O&M in Central Java has been modest. While some households have contributed to the construction and O&M of services in all projects, not all households using the services have contributed their required share. Isham and Kahkonen argued that household participation in construction and O&M is indeed associated with better performance of water services. They found that household contributions to O&M and monitoring of these contributions promote the performance of all types of water services.

Combined with the results presented earlier, results on effect of design, construction, operation and maintenance outcomes on impact suggest the following chain of causality from design, construction and O&M participation to improved household health. First, when given the opportunity for informed participation and decision making, household in Central Java express a preference for a piped service. Second, rules that promote and ensure user involvement in service construction and O&M lead to better performance of these services, including the availability of water every day. Finally it leads to improved health.

Last section discusses the effect of social capital on impact and performance of community-based water services. The ability of household to work together to design, construct, and operate and maintains water services may depend on social capital. This social capital can be measured by the existence of active civic associations and networks, pattern of social interaction, and norms of trust and reciprocity among households. Several indicators were used by Isham and Kahkonen to measure social capital. The indicators are: Social capital index, density of membership, meeting attendance, participation index, and community orientation, number of joint village activities, social interaction, and neighborhood trust.

The case study data lend support to the conclusion that by reducing the cost of collective action and promoting cooperation among users, social capital can improve the design, construction and O&M of community based water projects, improving the impact of piped water services. Social capital is matters for piped water system because designing and constructing piped system require more skills and more joint efforts-operating and maintaining piped system requires more collective efforts and cooperation.

It comes to conclusion that in villages with high levels of social capital-particularly in village with active village groups and association-household participation in design is likely to be high and monitoring mechanism are more likely to be in place. In these villages, households are used to working together, and social ties deter free riding. In village with piped water system, higher levels of social capital are associated with stronger household-level impact.


Comment and Question

Isham and Kahkonen works is very persuasive since they empirically shows the effect of social capital in community-based water projects by using convincing quantitative and qualitative data. They are focusing on the cohesion of community social ties as the crucial factors for social capital in the community-based water projects.

In regard of Bonding and Bridging social capital, it seems that in this case, regardless of its negative effect, bonding social capital is very important for the success of community-based water services in Central Java. Is it true in this case? In what condition should we consider the importance of bonding social capital or bridging social capital?

Considering that villages in Central Java is not so much different and they have same root of tradition and custom including the tradition for collective work, what factor may affect the different amount of social capital in each village? Isham and Kahkonen emphasize on the active of village groups and association and the fact that household are used to working together, Is it enough to explain the different amount of social capital among villages?


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