Department Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development

Lighthouse Initiatives in the Urban Water & Sanitation Sector


An Integrative Assessment of Lighthouse Initiatives for Onsite Urban Water Management

Why? – Project Goals

Onsite and decentralised urban water management systems (UWM) will play a key role in enabling sustainability transitions in the water and sanitation sector. Yet, despite their potential, only a few cities worldwide have successfully implemented innovative approaches at scale – so called “lighthouse initiatives”. Our project focuses on some of the most visible examples.

We are particularly interested in the long-term implementation process and understanding how key actors were able to establish socio-technical configurations ‘that work’ over time. Overall, we aim at developing a holistic assessment framework that identifies interdependencies between technical and institutional aspects. The goal is to operationalise this framework with a set of clearly defined indicators for key institutional dimensions, as well as technical performance parameters.

Ultimately, the project aims to conceptualise, identify, assess and synthesise international best practices to derive a guidebook for future large-scale implementations of UWM solutions in cities in both developed and emerging economies.

What? – How do we define Lighthouse Initiatives?

  1. Comprehensive socio-technical configuration that integrates new technologies into a matching socio-economic and institutional context.
  2. Long-term perspective in terms of project length and available funding, creating a stable incentive / support structure, enabling ‘adaptive learning’ among local actors.
  3. Broad-scale adoption, at the minimum for a neighbourhood or city district level (fully developed value chain comparable with the fully mature, centralized approach).
  4. Visibility and impact beyond immediate context, that it can inspire and guide similar initiatives looking to replicate its core features.

How? – Research Logic & Methods

We adopt a cross-comparative case study approach that synthesizes results from prior projects at Eawag (see 4S and BARRIERS projects) and amends them with additional secondary data and targeted expert interviews. In doing so, we aim at generating practice-oriented lessons on how to best implement lighthouse initiatives and to derive new theoretical knowledge on the generic success conditions of lighthouse initiatives for sustainability transitions within UWM.

Using a mixed-methods approach, this project runs over a 16-month period and includes three work streams:

  1. Conceptualisation and identification of high-profile lighthouse initiatives;
  2. Developing an integrative assessment framework for LHs and conducting a detailed cross-comparative analysis of the selected LHs based on this framework;
  3. Synthesis and documentation of pathways leading to successful implementation of LHs, including an academic paper distilling the generic success conditions of different types of LH initiatives.

Where? – Current Candidates

Context Country City Case / Project










San Francisco

Jenfelder Au



Onsite Water Reuse











New Delhi

Zhōng Shuǐ


ATS Pristine


Vasant Vihar