Social Infrastructure is what utilities need to take their traditional approach to the next level

Sep 28, 2023

Summary

Why do utilities (among other organizations) face profound challenges in maintaining a good quality of service? How we (as a community) can contribute to improving public commodities?

“Social infrastructure” is a concept that leverages social responsibility for the collective management of public infrastructure systems. It prospers on a strong sense of ownership and builds on the networks of trust in the community to come up with home-grown initiatives to challenge the status quo.

“Social infrastructure”

Came across this term before? I’ve spared you the time and Googled it already. Most of the search results would return details around “the infrastructure assets that provide services for society”.

Sounds boring, right? Let’s take this concept one level higher!

In many cases, public infrastructure is operated and maintained by the government. The overwhelming workload (among other factors) results in improper management and operations of these infrastructure systems, leading to faster deterioration.

How can we avoid this mismanagement of public commodities like water networks?

Communities benefit from these services, but where does the community stand in this value chain? Why does not the community participate in managing these assets? What potential are we missing through this traditional assets management approach? And what alternatives do we have?

In this blog, we’re adding a new dimension to the traditional concept by giving a chance for the community to participate in the decision-making process.

Building infrastructure on FIRM bases

Now is the time for the community to take action!

Simple contributions like leak reporting and raising claims have the potential to significantly improve networks operations. This is the essence of social infrastructure: unleashing the potential of sustainable resources management by engaging the society.

In the past, the focus was on increasing revenues regardless of the public interest. This model was dominant at the beginning of the industrial revolution, but it failed miserably. The solution is to follow a sustainable approach that puts people first.

Social infrastructure is NOT based on concrete structures and highways, but rather on human relations. In this approach, we start by building the firm bases, based on public good and urging public entities to take responsibility. Water utilities, for example, would need to take responsibility and support the community by providing adequate water supply, but they often face difficulties in putting this in practice.

The question is: Why is it so hard for water utilities and municipalities to take responsibility?

It’s often due to the organizational structure. Decision-making process is not always clear and decisions are not made collectively. Also, water utilities tend to focus on daily operations and they are overwhelmed by workload, which diverts their attention from strategic issues. Written procedures help get things more organized and lead to more active decision-making.

To overcome these obstacles, municipalities can involve stakeholders in achieving the goals and contributing to their improvement.

How attainable is this?

That’s not as difficult as you think. Society is eager to actively participate in improving their lives, especially in challenging contexts where the potential impact is much needed. Water availability is essential, so people would instinctively work on improving it as much as they could.

Communities need to cultivate a sense of ownership of public commodities and infrastructure. How can we leverage this sense of ownership to get tangible outcomes and ultimately improve people’s lives?

Here are simple steps to engage the community and support utilities in improving water supply: reporting for issues and leaks, raising claims, and supporting daily operations by voluntary work.

To put it simply, we need the community to work with municipalities on collective follow-up through:

  • Holding municipalities accountable to push for performance improvements

  • Proactively participating in operations and daily activities through e.g. voluntary work and reporting issues

  • Getting involved in the decision-making process to drive more impact

Taking social infrastructure to the next level

To take this concept to the next level, municipalities need to blend with the community. They need to feel like and act as part of the community so that they start getting a clear understanding of people's pains and concerns. Only then they would be able to lead for impact and become active in the decision-making process.

Water utilities often apply ad-hoc solutions that would only compromise the effectiveness of their improvement interventions. On the contrary, grassroots initiatives are more organic and come from a deep understanding of the context and awareness of the needs. Thus, they are more sustainable, effective, and progressive. Here is the roadmap:

  • listen to the community's needs and understand them clearly

  • assess these needs and set priorities

  • design interventions based on needs assessment, priorities, and suggested solutions

  • start implementing the applicable solutions

Sounds great! How to apply this context?

So now you have the blueprints, how would you start building?

The answer is social responsibility. Social entrepreneurs are taking the lead and filling the gaps. They thrive on giving back to the community and contribute to building resilience through home-grown initiatives. This is the core of our work in Flowless.

Flowless integrates emerging technology and social responsibility to help water utilities improve water efficiency. We go beyond smart technology through our innovative approach to facilitate smooth technology adoption and overcome financial limitations. Working hand in hand with utilities and the community is the key to effective and sustainable infrastructure management.

Flowless also contributes to building the capacity of both the community and utilities. This is materialized through workshops and advice for utilities. We give back to the community by supporting emerging thought leaders to come up with solutions and build initiatives to bring positive impact. One example is Flowless engagement in entrepreneurs’ programs like WetSkills, where we provide mentorship for emerging entrepreneurs in the water sector to seek solutions to the water sector's critical concerns.