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Research Overview

Institutions & Organizational Models

Many pressing challenges in the water and sanitation sector are institutional, rather than technical, in nature. Our group is interested in understanding the institutions and organizations that mediate the efficiency and effectiveness of water and sanitation service delivery. We have investigated how some developing-country organizations succeed in improving responsiveness and accountability to customers, improving transparency and reducing corruption, and expanding services to low-income households. We are also interested in policies related to pricing, subsidies, cost-recovery, and improving services to the poor.
We also conduct research on the role that markets and private-sector organizations can play in improving and expanding W&S service delivery. Involvement of large private-sector firms in W&S service delivery has been highly controversial in both industrialized and developing countries. Our group is interested in identifying the conditions under which such public-private partnerships tend to create conflict and resistance at the local level. We are also interested in understanding the factors that contribute to successful engagement of the private sector in W&S service delivery. We are focused less on “large” private-sector participation currently, and instead pursuing research on small-scale independent providers of water and sanitation services. Topics of interest include service delivery to low-income households and the use of microfinance to encourage household investment in infrastructure improvements.

Sustainability & Scalability

A persistent challenge in the water and sanitation sector is designing service improvements that are both sustainable, i.e., that continue to provide safe, reliable, affordable services over the long-term, and that can achieve impact at large scale quickly. Indeed, in many cases these two objectives can be in conflict. Our group is interested in operationalizing different conceptions of sustainability (e.g., financial, social, environmental), as well as investigating the linkages between user demand (preferences) and sustainability. 

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Health & Development

The links between water, sanitation, hygiene and health are intuitively obvious yet persistently challenging to document in a scientifically rigorous way.  Our group works in the area of modeling health outcomes as a function of various water- and sanitation-related, socioeconomic and demographic factors. We also evaluate the impacts of WASH improvements on rates of infectious disease, time savings, income generation, and other outcomes of interest. Finally, we are interested in what makes for effective health risk communication to households in low- and middle-income countries. This topic is important because there is a substantial behavioral component required for the health benefits of non-networked water and sanitation services to be realized.

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