RBI addresses the improvement of water and sanitation services and their compliance with EU standards by making Utility Performance Indicators (UPI) available to decision-makers from both national and local governmental bodies.

The project is implemented in six countries eligible under the GIZ Open Regional Fund programme: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The project was developed in close contact with the DWP and is run in partnership by IAWD and GIZ/ORF. The thematic priority of the DWP concerns the strengthening of institutional capacities and the development of regulatory and policy instruments for the water supply and wastewater sector, focusing on vertical co-operation between regulators and public utilities. Conversely, the ORF/MMS focuses specifically on the link between municipalities and utilities. This difference is turned into a synergetic co-operation, aligning both projects to act towards utilities, municipalities and regulators.

In consideration of the existing benchmarking methodologies and the need for their gradual introduction, the project was structured into three work packages. The first work package tackles the issues of data collection improvement as well as validation and conversion processes for regional UPI benchmarking. The aim of the second work package is to establish two regional working groups. Finally, the third work package was designed to deliver capacity building to the regional UPI working groups and public utilities. The project aims at the creation of systems and tools for improving the available information about water utility performance in SEE. Through utility performance indicators, defined by the stakeholders at both the local and national levels, information about the effectiveness and efficiency of utilities’ operations will be provided and benchmarked (compared). It is deemed that the information collected will be used by decision-makers from municipalities and utilities to support and back up management decisions. At the national level, it will be used to monitor the implementation of EU Regulations and to take necessary policy measures. Moreover, sharing the same information at both the local and national levels will foster a common understanding of the challenges and priorities to be addressed and strengthen the policy dialogue between national and local authorities. This should lead to better national policies and better implementation of EU Regulations.

Under the first work package, contracts were established to support the national implementation of benchmarking activities in the countries of the region. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the contract is e.g. implemented by the association for water and the environmental sector “AquaSan”, with an overall objective to facilitate country-wide discussion on possible utility performance indicators and benchmarking The activities within the contract have been focused to prepare the environment for launching and organizing the data collection processes, as well as to foster the utilities’ participation in national and regional benchmarking activities. 3 workshops have been organized to address the above described topics. Technical support has been provided during the data collection according to IBNET methodology which was established by an additional contract through DWP. In consideration of existing activities in the field of benchmarking in FYR Macedonia, focused on the development of the data management and benchmarking system “makbis.org.mk”, supported by the Competitive Grant window of DWP, the support required in FYR Macedonia was to (i) collect the data for the year 2014, according to the IBNET methodology, (ii) Develop training materials and facilitate trainings for the PCUs on how to operate with the data management system “makbis.org.mk” and to (iii) promote the IT platform “makbis.org.mk”. For this purpose a contract has been established with Association of providers of communal services in Republic of Macedonia (ADKOM). The very successful cooperation with ADKOM resulted in 8 customized workshops, collection of 2014 data for 46 utilities in accordance with the IBNET methodology and respective data quality review. In the framework of national support for Montenegro, the engagement of Mr Aleksandar Krstic was based in his present involvement in utility benchmarking activities in the region. 3 customized workshops were held and datasets for 12 utilities were collected. Comprehensive data review and verification was executed during the data collection process. Beside this contract additional support for benchmarking activities in Montenegro was granted by DWP. In Serbia, cooperation has been established with the Association for Water Technology and Sanitary Engineering (AWTSE). The cooperation has been customized to involve all respective institutions which have been involved in the existing data collection efforts as well as to technically take into consideration those efforts. Hence the data collection was executed using IBNET methodology and by questionnaires previously developed and used by The Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure in Serbia. This data collection was followed by a verification and review process which comprised several iterations of data corrections. The results of this activity have been disseminated as a part of the annual event of AWTSE. All data collected through the national benchmarking activities within the working package 1 is available through the Danubis portal.

Under the second work package, two regional hubs for supporting utility benchmarking were established. The hubs (working groups) were thus set up, one including the target countries Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, and the second for Albania and Kosovo. Both working groups are referred to as “hubs”, and both have a person responsible for co-ordinating the activities – the “hub co-ordinators”. The main purpose of the hubs is to implement the benchmarking exercises planned through this project in line with the methodology of the European Benchmarking Co-operation. Furthermore, the hubs should support the strengthening of the individual and collective capacities of National Utility Associations (NUAs) in the region. The hub co-ordinators provided technical support to the utilities under the benchmarking activities, which were structured into two cycles. In the first cycle, data were collected for 2013; in the second, for 2014. Both hubs implemented successfully two benchmarking cycles according to the EBC methodology, which includes supporting the utilities in comprehensive data collection, “orientation & training” workshops to introduce the utilities to the exercise and “benchmarking” workshops for each cycle, where the data collection results were presented and discussed including identification and processing of specific improvement topics. Following utilities participated from the hub comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia: Vodovod Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Bosanska Krupa, Gračanica, Zenica, Velika Kladuša, Vinice, Bitola, Kumanovo, Budva, Bijelo Polje, Bar, Herceg Novi, Kotor, Ulcinj, Subotica, Novi Sad, Bečej, and from the hub covering Albania and Kosovo: Prishtina, Peja, Prizren, Gjakova, Mitrovica, Gjilan, Ferizaj, Tirana, Pogradec, Gjirokastra, Durres and Lezha.

All services required for the implementation of the third work package are contracted to the European Benchmarking Foundation (EBC). The EBC provides its vast experience in implementing benchmarking exercises and, technically, also the means for data collection. The activities of the EBC include project preparation, development and delivery of a training programme for the regional hub co-ordinators and support in implementing the orientation and training workshops for the utilities. Several trainings and workshops were facilitated by the EBC with the aim of training the hub co-ordinators and utilities as well. The EBC’s original benchmarking platform was developed in 2006. In view of the numerous additional requirements posed by this project, the EBC was required to revamp the platform. The development of the new platform was completed in due time, and the second benchmarking cycle was implemented using the new platform, which now offers improved automatic generation of benchmarking reports, supports several languages and provides automatic data validation to the extent possible.

By way of summary, the Regional Benchmarking Initiative, providing comprehensive support for benchmarking activities in the target region, has moved both the region’s UPI Benchmarking with EBC and the national benchmarking according to the IBNET methodology to the next level. Local associations have now significant experience in IBNET and UPI benchmarking with EBC, structured mechanisms for data collection are created and can be easily deployed in the years to come. The successful cooperation with the PUCs which have done great efforts in data collection, conducted performance assessments and improvement efforts, significantly contributes to the development of the sector. Formation of hubs enabled comparisons of these initial benchmarking exercises across a wider region. The in-depth experience of EBC was a crucial contribution to capacity building and provides key orientation for the operation of the hubs established.