The Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation — “to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” is a lofty one. Worldwide, 2.4 billion people remain without access to improved sanitation, and nearly 0.7 billion remain without access to improved drinking water sources. Those who have access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) services often must cope with intermittent water supply, sewerage system overflows, and poor customer service.
Poor service delivery frequently stems from a vicious cycle of dysfunctional political environments and inefficiencies in water and sanitation utilities. Global forces — including climate change, water scarcity, abrupt changes in the environment, population growth, migrations, and rapid urbanization — exacerbate these challenges and threaten the provision of high-quality and sustainable WSS services, jeopardizing the possibility of providing “water and sanitation for all.”
Therefore, water and sanitation utilities require a new strategic management approach to provide WSS quality services that ensure continuity of operations, encourage continuous improvement, develop strategic capabilities, and create efficient and sustainable strategic business models.
To guide WSS utilities to reinvent and strengthen themselves, the World Bank has developed Utility of the Future (UoF), a program designed to ignite, materialize and maintain transformation efforts in WSS utilities. The goal is to become the Utility of the Future — a future-focused utility, which provides reliable, safe, inclusive, transparent, and responsive WSS services through best-fit practices that allow it to operate in an efficient, resilient, innovative and sustainable manner. This is achieved through the strengthening of the essential processes of a WSS utility to face their current challenges, and the development of future-thinking capabilities to be one step ahead in a fast-changing environment.
Objectives of the Utility of the Future Program
Ignite actions, improvement, and sustainable transformation of water and/or sanitation utilities.
Guide utilities through the transformation process by working in parallel to strengthen their essential processes and develop their future-thinking capabilities to navigate a rapidly changing environment
Provide a practical, simple, and effective methodology to implement the transformation process in water utilities.
Strengthen a utility’s internal capabilities in operational and managerial processes, as well as in human and leadership skills.
Bring a utility’s team on board, gain their commitment, and empower them to transform the utility.
Connect utilities with peers globally to facilitate knowledge exchange and know-how.
Provide the water and sanitation sector with tools available to the public, within the open knowledge philosophy of the UoF program.
The main target audience of the UoF program comprises WSS utility managers, owners, and water practitioners.
The Utility of the Future
The UoF is a new paradigm for providing WSS services, far beyond what most utilities have achieved—or even aimed for—today. A UoF provides high-quality services in a highly efficient manner while also being innovative, inclusive, market- and customer-oriented, and resilient. The success pyramid illustrates the interdependencies and complexities of a UoF.
In light of an unpredictable and rapidly changing operating environment, the World Bank has developed this program to guide utilities in initiating and maintaining transformation efforts. The goal is to become a Utility of the Future—a future-focused utility that provides reliable, safe, inclusive, transparent, and responsive WSS services through best-fit practices in an efficient, resilient, and sustainable manner. The UoF is a new paradigm for providing WSS services, far beyond what most utilities have yet achieved—or even aimed for. A UoF provides high-quality services in a highly efficient manner while also being innovative, inclusive, market and customer oriented, and resilient. The success pyramid (figure ES.2) illustrates the interdependencies and complexities of a UoF, as well as the different perspectives, angles, or elements through which a utility can be analyzed.
On the apex of the pyramid is service to customers is the ultimate objective, which clearly depends on technical and commercial operations, though not exclusively so. Other elements of sound utility management are organization and strategy, human resource management, and financial management. Together, these elements promote effective and efficient commercial and technical operations, while the legal framework and governance in which the utility operates shape its enabling environment.
In addition, the UoF methodology incorporates complementary analyses, called “zoom-in lenses,” of key topics such as environmental management, energy efficiency, and gender balance and diversity, among others. These additional lenses allow utilities to gain a more in-depth understanding of particular topics of special relevance to them.
The UoF Methodology to Ignite Transformation in Water and Sanitation Utilities
The UoF methodology works in parallel on two dimensions to improve performance and ignite transformation in water and sanitation utilities: management and operational (a “hard” dimension that focuses mainly on processes and practices), and change management (a “soft” dimension that focuses on leveraging staff engagement, empowerment, and teambuilding).
Decision and preparation: This starts with a utility’s decision to initiate a process of transformation, after which it engages its board of directors, and develops a work plan with its management team.
Rapid in-depth analysis: It is important to analyze and understand a utility’s current performance and maturity levels, reviewing all its processes and defining the next desirable performance and maturity level.
Ignition and short-term action plan: In this third step, a utility considers its opportunities for improvement, defines and prioritizes possible actions to be implemented, and ignites transformation by implementing those high-impact and low-cost/effort actions that can be executed in the short term (100 days).
Strategic vision and long-term action plan: It is important that a utility define (or update) its strategic framework, vision, mission, values, and strategic objectives to define the business plan, incorporating those actions to be implemented in the long term (5 years).
Sustainable transformation: In the final step, the utility’s strategic vision and business plan are translated into actions to ensure sustainable improvement, and to continue the transformation process to become a Utility of the Future.
The change management dimension of the UoF methodology utilizes a process called SPEED (Shake, Pause, Engage, Envision, Deploy), which accompanies each phase of the utility’s transformation process with some guidance to be reviewed at the beginning and at the end of the phase. This guidance is related to leadership, engagement, empowerment, and team building. The SPEED stages that accompany the UoF methodology are:
Shake up the status quo, taking the utility out of the comfort zone.
Pause the utility’s inertia for a moment and start gaining commitment and momentum for the transformation.
Engage and empower the utility team to act and take ownership of the transformation process.
Envision the future and seize momentum to involve the entire utility.
Deploy the transformation process, making continuous improvement part of the organization’s DNA.
Below you can download the UoF resources: the conceptual and methodological UoF framework; and the UoF Toolkit for its application. The UoF Toolkit will be constantly updated, with new emerging topics, new technologies, new innovations, and new practices that will support utilities in their process of improvement and continuous learning.
UoF is a program in constant evolution and its vision is to keep co-creating and multiplying knowledge for the benefit of the sector, the utilities and the community. Contact us at email@example.com to send us your questions, comments or suggestions, and to be part of the UoF community.
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These documents and tools received the support of the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). GWSP is a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank’s Water Global Practice and supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austria’s Federal Ministry of Finance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, U.K. Department for International Development, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Please visit us at www.worldbank.org/gwsp or follow us on Twitter #gwsp.
Last Updated: May 12, 2022