The water sector faces immense challenges, which are characterized by complex interactions between the social and ecological systems. Improving the linkages between sector-wide monitoring, learning and capacity development is of pivotal importance for coping with this complexity. For deciding where to invest, how to sustain and improve water and sanitation services and for understanding which policies and strategies work, both reliable data and critical joint reflection are crucial. In the water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, two developments have the potential to contribute to increased sector capacities to reflect, analyse and act upon lessons learnt. First, the interest of national governments and donors in monitoring and evaluation, which is gradually shifting from counting infrastructure built, towards sustainable development and sector performance reviews. Second, participatory monitoring methods and multi-stakeholder processes are being used to increase transparency and accountability and to facilitate dialogue, learning and joint action. The demand for continuous learning and adaptive management based on sound monitoring data can be stimulated by incentives and supportive institutional settings. The supply – the mechanisms, tools and capacities for monitoring – must also be strengthened, especially the capacity to use monitoring data to take action. Learning-oriented monitoring processes can help identify capacity gaps, while the process of joint analysis, reflection and sharing lessons has the potential to build capacities. Commitment of stakeholders throughout the sector to do things better and differently is a critical element towards building a learning and adaptive sector.

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