Pathways to sustainability: A fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis of rural water supply programs

Despite recent progress extending access to drinking water supplies globally, ensuring long-term functionality of rural water infrastructure remains challenging. Past research on rural water project outcomes has used two principal approaches: large-N statistical studies estimating average effect sizes, or case studies providing causal description. Notably lacking is a rigorous comparative analysis of conditions determining sustained service delivery.We use fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) to identify causal conditions (“pathways”) leading to sustained functionality of rural water supplies across diverse geographies. Twenty cases were selected through a review of the literature. We identified and coded five conditions to examine their influence on project outcomes for each case. Results reveal three distinct pathways sufficient for achieving sustained functionality: Pathway 1 features piped networks with professionalized, service-oriented management and post-construction support. Pathway 2 features a self-supply approach (e.g., private wells and small piped schemes) delivering water services on premises. Pathway 3 describes community-managed water points (e.g., deep boreholes with handpumps) in the context of freshwater scarcity. Two conditions were common across all pathways: good financial management and user participation in project decisions. Strong management, combined with sufficient financial and technical resources, moderates the influence of physical water availability on service sustainability.

Pathways to sustainability: A fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis of rural water supply programs. Sara J. Marks, Emily Kumpel, Jean Guo, Jamie Bartram and Jennifer Davis. 2018. Journal of Cleaner Production, 205; 789-798. doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.09.029.