What is innovation and where does it come from? It’s not just about good ideas – after all, when it comes to international development, plenty of strong concepts don’t translate into widespread sector change or (crucially) improve the situations of those we are trying to help. Truly innovative ideas are those that transform into workable solutions that tangibly affect lives.

The link between ideas and action is therefore critical. WSUP is a practical organisation, working side-by-side with the people who provide water and sanitation services for urban populations, and we rely on innovative ideas and research to ensure that our programmes reach as many low-income people as possible.

So how can we make sure that research leads to sustained development in urban sanitation? Research can’t just rely on a strong concept that appeals to other researchers – it must also: 1) respond to context, 2) provide rigorous results and evidence and 3) speak to those who make decisions that impact the sanitation situation of millions of city-dwellers.

WSUP has launched a new research programme to address these needs, driving the urban sanitation sector forward in Ghana, Kenya and Bangladesh. From 2017-2020, WSUP will not only commission much-needed research projects in these three countries, but will work to ensure that the findings translate into policies, actions and guidelines that impact how the sector works for years to come. The research programme is funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development.

We have identified national partners in each of the three countries who will help WSUP to create effective research and use it to influence policy:

Bangladesh: International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, ITN-BUET
Ghana: Institute of Local Government Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology
Kenya: Ministry of Health, Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB)

How do we know what kind of questions to ask?

WSUP has worked in Ghana, Kenya and Bangladesh for a long time, but to really understand what researchers need to examine, we went straight to the source – the stakeholders in each country who deliver sanitation in cities every day.

Over February and March, WSUP convened two day workshops in Ghana, Kenya and Bangladesh where participants from governments, NGOs, regulators and utilities (to name just a few) could discuss bottlenecks and barriers and how they could be addressed through research, as well as what kind of research was most desperately needed in each country.


Participants at the workshops gave WSUP a great understanding of how the programme should develop, and what research projects will be produced by WSUP over the coming years. This is just the beginning, and the workshops mark the start of ongoing collaboration and engagement with key national actors.

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Read more about WSUP’s research work.