60 seconds with…Ben Harris

Our ‘60 Seconds with…’ blogs are designed to provide a quick run down of what our staff do here at Itad. Here is what Ben had to say…

What’s your job here at Itad?

I’m a consultant in the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) team – part of Itad’s Social Protection and Livelihoods theme.

What does that involve?

At the moment most of my work is on the verification of DFID’s WASH Results Programme. The programme is using Payment by Results and is one of the few examples of this funding methodology in WASH, so there is a lot of learning on all sides.

I’m also leading a smaller piece of work assessing the outcomes of water and sanitation projects in Malawi. It’s a small project, but has given me the time to tackle with some really interesting problems about how you measure the impact of WASH interventions.

How did you get into the field?

Via physics, the civil service, volunteering abroad, sustainable transport advocacy and then a masters in Water and Sanitation. I knew I wanted to have a career which allowed me to make a positive impact, and WASH has allowed me to mesh that with my geeky side.

 What do you enjoy most about your job?

Getting my assumptions challenged constantly – whether learning from somebody with a completely different background, or receiving (usually) constructive criticism – within Itad and with our partners, there’s a healthy disregard for received wisdom.

What new innovations have you noticed in your sector?

In the last few years there’s been a growing acceptance that water supply (and sanitation) isn’t just about the pipes in the ground: the people, institutions and financing needed to keep services running are essential if we’re to avoid yet more broken handpumps (there’s a depressing collection of sad stats here). This all gets very complex very quickly, so working out how you can monitor change in these systems is going to be a really interesting area of development in the next few years.

Recent highlight?

I worked on my first proposal recently and we developed some really nice ideas for work with the client. They liked what we came up with and now I’m looking forward to working on it.

Most interesting question you have been asked recently?

An apparently innocuous question from somebody outside the WASH sector: “At what point can you tell if a water point is likely to be sustainable?” If a water point has worked for two years, will it continue to do so the future? After five years? 10? It sounds like something we should know, but it feels like we don’t.

Favourite place you have visited as part of your job?

Visiting some of the projects we monitor in Bangladesh recently was definitely a highlight – there is some really interesting work going on using participatory processes to establish project baselines. That said, I’m looking forward to a week of fieldwork in Malawi in the next few weeks.

Ben Harris, January 2018