Introduction to Enabling Environment

«The enabling environment is the term used to describe the broader system within which individuals and organizations function and one that facilitates or hampers their existence and performance. This level of capacity is not easy to grasp tangibly, but is central to the understanding of capacity issues. They determine the ‘rules of the game’ for interaction between and among organizations.  Capacities at the level of the enabling environment include policies, legislation, power relations and social norms, all of which govern the mandates, priorities, modes of operation and civic engagement across different parts of society» [“Capacity Development Practice Note”, United Nations Development Programme, New York, NY, USA, October 2008]

An enabling environment creates an atmosphere that allows a flourishing and sustainable water sector where people have dependable and adequate services. The country enjoys a water sector that achieves economic, environmental and social goals.

Without an enabling environment, managers in a water sector struggle on a day-to-day basis just to provide intermittent services that barely, if at all, meet minimal quality standards. People lack access to water, the economy is held back and the environment suffers. The UN has declared equal and non-discriminatory access to safe water a human right.

On the path to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we have learned that infrastructure and funding are not enough. The stories are legend about failed infrastructure and water sectors that cannot be sustained. The reasons often have to do with ill-defined roles and responsibilities, constraints on decision-making authority, low tariffs that prevent cost recovery, lack of a common direction and lack of political will.

Creating an enabling environment can unlock organizational and human potential and result in dramatic improvement in a water sector.

Enabling environments are created at high levels of national governments. Water sector managers operate within the enabling environment. Therefore, it is important for water sector managers to understand the ‘rules of the game’.

While sector managers often do not have the power to create or improve the enabling environment, they can often have a voice through lobby groups and associations to influence elements of the environment such as national water policy and planning.