Field-Level Leadership (FLL) is a values-driven change management approach with a growing record of being able to mobilize staff across the ranks of water agencies, translating their motivation into systemic and significant performance improvements at the organizational level. The FLL approach was developed in early 2000s by a group of public servants in the Government of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The Chennai-based Centre of Excellence for Change (CEC) has further improved and systematized the FLL approach in collaboration with the World Bank over the last 15 years, including through pilots implemented in World Bank-financed projects, spanning 13 public utilities, agencies and departments in Asia and Africa. Despite a successful track-record and growing demand, FLL services are not widely available to date, mainly limited by CEC’s constrained delivery capacity. The workstream “FLL: Models for Delivery at Scale” looks to develop a new operational set-up for FLL services to allow introducing the FLL approach to many more interested water agencies around the world, eventually perhaps to public service organizations more broadly.

How does this workstream connect with the valuing water principles and systemic change

While the FLL work was started long before the High Level Panel on Water formulated the Valuing Water Principles in 2018, the approach promoted by FLL aligns tightly with all Five Valuing Water Principles. The change-management work with water agencies’ staff is built around the staff’s personal values and the value that they see in the water that their agencies help provide; in fact, much of the motivational work done throughout FLL processes is anchored in the value that water represents – to the utility, to its clients, to the communities served by the utility, and to those that work for the utility (Principle 1). The workshops and projects that staff are involved in are designed and conducted equitably, transparently, and inclusively – all staff, at all levels, are invited to participate, and the projects that staff choose to do following FLL workshops in improving performance where they have influence is shared and celebrated across the organization (Principle 2).

Much of the work done through FLL workshops focuses on reducing water loss, and in fact one of the key performance indicators is the reduction in non-revenue water achieved through the projects undertaken by FLL initiatives; while this may not be directly protecting the sources, the efficiencies gained would certainly contribute (Principle 3). The entire FLL approach is built around empowering and involving utility staff at all levels in improving utility performance – giving them agency and offering opportunities to learn and become change agents themselves (Principle 4).

And finally, the change projects initiated by a FLL process tend to involve investments (leading to performance improvements) and are, in and of by themselves, an innovation in management and leadership at the utility level. Once deployed, an FLL approach can result in systemic change at the utility level – and the idea of this workstream is that if FLL services were available to many more utilities, this could result in system-wide improvements in how water utilities are managed as a whole.

The results of this particular workstream (beyond results achieved by individual utility-level FLL projects such as Beira), are that CEC – the team that has designed and so far implemented/co implemented all FLL work – has agreed to actively consider working with organizations and groups other than themselves on models for collaboration that would allow for broad scale-up of FLL interventions. A jointly conducted design process – that involved both CEC and the World Bank as the main sponsor for many FLL interventions, as well as design consultants from Aalborg University and, has resulted in an agreement that in order to adequately respond to the growing (actual and potential) demand a systematic operation would need to be set up, involving coordinated business development, orderly planning and precise targeting, timely provision of training services, quality assurance interventions, and learning from experiences. Most
of all, responding to growing demand will require the ability to deliver FLL workshops to utilities around the world, in multiple countries, cultural contexts and languages, with teams of about 5-10 trained facilitators deployed for 14 days per intervention, followed by backstopping support throughout the implementation process. An operational and business model was developed that will involve CEC as a “knowledge owner”, delivery partner (“Peer Learning Institutions”) and an “Anchor Organization” to handle all back-office functions, coordinate between partners and facilitate leadership decisions.

The next steps involve identifying suitable potential “anchor organizations” willing to collaborate with the World Bank and CEC in building FLL delivery at scale; identifying donor contributions and revenue stream models, and working with CEC and the World Bank on key decisions for transitioning into a “delivery at scale” modus operandi.

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