Malawi: Ensuring sustainability in IWRM processes (#374)

To implement policy change is a process that takes time. During this time, it is possible that the people involved change, resulting in a loss of knowledge. In Malawi, action was taken to combat institutional memory loss by involving as many high-level decision-makers as possible and by organising awareness raising workshops. This demonstrates that it is possible to avoid the loss of knowledge when key decision and policy-makers change. 


Development interventions requiring policy changes take time. Yet, while a development intervention is on-going, the people involved often change. This poses the risk of losing the experiences and lessons acquired along the way. To ensure sustainability and avoid the loss of knowledge when new governments are elected and key decision and policy-makers change, specific steps are needed to strengthen institutional memory over time. The IWRM process needs to be institutionalised among relevant organisations and across government departments.

Action taken

The Malawi Water Partnership solved the issue of institutional memory by involving as many high-level decision-makers as possible. Early on in the process the Malawi Water Partnership organised awareness raising workshops for all senior civil servants which are the permanent secretaries in charge of water related sector ministries. Each of these permanent secretaries then briefed their ministers on the initiative.

As a result of this approach, the national IWRM Programme benefited from sustained institutional memory at higher political levels. When the minister in charge of water was changed, there was no loss of knowledge as the new minister already knew about the programme.

For example, in one case the permanent secretary responsible for gender affairs participated in an IWRM planning workshop arranged by the Malawi Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development with support from the Malawi Water Partnership. A few weeks later the President appointed the permanent secretary from the Ministry of Gender as the new permanent secretary for the Ministry of Water.

When a delegation from the Malawi Water Partnership went to see her to discuss the IWRM programme, she confidently supported the initiative, with which she was already familiar.

Lessons learned

Institutional memory enhances the sustainability of development interventions during and after initial development efforts. Therefore a comprehensive and coherent plan to ensure institutional memory should be developed and implemented at the start of an IWRM Planning process.


Photo credit: Geoff Gallice