The role of social capital and sense of ownership in rural community-managed water systems: Qualitative evidence from Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia

Many water systems in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries are community-managed. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of community-managed systems is important to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) six, which calls for universal access to safe water. Social capital and sense of ownership are theorized to influence the effectiveness of community-management. To explore this relationship, we conducted a qualitative study of how and why social capital and sense of ownership facilitate water system sustainability, and their relationship to one another. Individual interviews and focus group discussions with community members, water committee members, local leaders, and external support actors were conducted in eighteen communities with successful community-managed water systems in Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia. We found that social capital facilitates water system solicitation, water committee elections, resource mobilization, and information sharing. Sense of ownership plays a role in organizing and enabling water system decision processes, physical labor, and resource mobilization. Both social capital and sense of ownership facilitate different forms of community participation that are crucial to processes which support water system sustainability. Further, our results suggest a new theoretical framework where social capital and sense of ownership are inherently linked through community participation and can thereby interact to magnify or undermine each other’s effects. Results also suggest that social capital and sense of ownership can have meaningful effects on socioeconomic and gender equality in rural communities by creating opportunities for alternative resource mobilization and female participation. We suggest external support actors actively assess and leverage the social strengths of rural communities, identify successful and skilled community members, encourage female leadership, and emphasize activities and trainings that incorporate social capital and ownership.

The role of social capital and sense of ownership in rural community-managed water systems: Qualitative evidence from Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia. Emma Kelly, Kristen Lee, Katherine F Shields, Ryan Cronk, Nikki Behnke, Tori Klug, Jamie Bartram. 2017. Journal of Rural Studies, Volume 56: 156-166. doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.08.021