Citizens ‘Grade’ the Water and Sanitation Utility in Karachi

In Karachi, Pakistan, the majority of citizens suffer from poor levels of water and sanitation services, especially those in low-income settlements. To help them create a plan to improve their services, the Karachi City District Government formed a partnership with the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP).
The partners began by giving citizens an opportunity to ‘grade’ the performance of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) using ‘citizen report cards‘. This method was piloted in Bangalore by the Public Affairs Centre in 1993 and has proven to be a demand-responsive,  positive force for change, not just in Bangalore, but internationally.
Asking customers to grade the performance of the utility provided the Karachi government with neutral, credible and apolitical information on consumer preferences and concerns surrounding water supply and sanitation services.
“The report card has provided us information about those areas which we considered as outside the coverage of KWSB” said Ayub Shaikh a staff member of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board.
Nearly 5,000 men and women in nine towns in Karachi representing low, middle, and high income groups were asked to grade the utility. Women are generally involved in accessing water for their familieswhile men typically bear the cost of services.
The partners launched a communications strategy early in the process to make sure the findings of the report card were broadly disseminated to increase and encourage public debate. They turned to PANOS, a global program created to engage the media and increase public debate through training, orientation, and opportunities for understanding and learning.
The communications program was designed to build a partnership between the government and the media to build awareness of civic rights and responsibilities, highlight the need for reform, and most importantly create a constituency that has a loud voice so their demands can be heard for improvement of services.
The partners held meetings early on with editors of newspapers and publications, as well as news directors of radio and television stations to help build a platform for discussion about the goal of the report cards and help them build up a roster of journalists who may cover the results.
Workshops also helped familiarize the reporters about the key challenges of providing water and sanitation services, such as deteriorating services, cost recovery, poor customer service, affordability and the institutional, technical, and financial challenges.
Panos organized a workshop titled, “Profiling the Water and Sanitation Sector in Karachi – A Stakeholder Consultative Dialogue.” Well-known journalists gave presentations on the role of the media in reporting civic issues and the challenge of keeping issues like water and sanitation on the agenda.
“We got to know everything about water and sanitation at the workshop held by Panos. It was extremely informative,” said Saif Khan, a reporter from the Pakistan Press International (PPI) news agency.
Journalists were also invited to participate in a media mission to Bangalore where the citizen report card methodology was developed, tested, and refined over the past decade. It gave journalists an opportunity to see first-hand how reporters responded to the data and what kind of public discourse followed as a result of the media coverage.  
Five fellowships were awarded to journalists from English and Urdu newspapers to help advance research and reporting on water supply and sanitation in Karachi with technical support given by Panos media trainers and other specialists in the field.
Once the final “grades” were released, Panos hosted a workshop to share the survey findings and begin brainstorming on potential story ideas. They also developed a 17-minute documentary and a media toolkit.  
The documentary, “Water Wisdom – Hearing Citizens’ Voices on Water and Sewerage Services,” was produced both in English and Urdu and documented the entire process of the citizen report cards, highlighting the need for more citizen engagement to help build demand for better services and the real power citizens can have on public policy. 
The media kit, “Water Wisdom on Tap – a Journalist’s Guide to the Citizens’ Report Card on Water and Sanitation Services in Karachi,” also provided detailed information on the results of the citizen report card as well as a list of resources and experts whom the media could contact as they develop related news articles.
The media played a critical role in helping to make the data from the report card accessible and understandable. Engaging them early in the process was critical to put water supply and sanitation issues on their radar. As a result of the program, a dedicated unit with KWSB was created to improve transparency of the “Citizen Report Process and Performance Benchmarking” and to ensure attention was paid to consumer needs as new data surfaces.