Informing future investment decisions for water and sanitation projects in the asia pacific by integrating statistical and qualitative information
International governments continue to mobilize their resources to assist in attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goals targets. The Australian government is contributing to the goals of improving access to good quality water and sanitation for the world's poorest people through strategic planning for the allocation of financial and technical resources. Evidence-based information will assist in developing investment strategies where local needs for water supplies and sanitation in diverse, often remote locations are difficult to ascertain and deliver. Water management is a contextual and multi-faceted issue and there is a need to simplify complex aspects of water management into a smaller number of dimensions of meaningful information. This research investigates methodologies that support the integration of statistical and qualitative data to inform decisions on targeted aid interventions. Indicator methodology inspired by the Water Poverty Index (WPI) has been used to assess water issues and rank water 'needs' of locations as a means of decision support. The choice of appropriate scale and inclusion of temporal and spatial variability of water supplies and demand is absolutely critical when understanding the usefulness of indicator methodology. There are, and will always be, many spatial information and thematic information gaps often relating to particular issues that need to be addressed. In reality, assessments are often deduced from a situational snapshot using available data and information. As such, it is important that limitations of an assessment are made apparent to stakeholders and potential users in order to address concerns, inform opinions and enable decisions to be based within the context of pertinent issues, rather than based solely on a modelled representation of reality. A number of lessons have emerged when using indicators to formulate 'water needs' including the; (i) importance of considering data reliability issues, (ii) inclusion of qualitative information, (iii) need for a formal process for undertaking collective assessments, (iv) need for more coordinate data, information management and collection, and (v) choice of inclusive process to weight indicators and sub-indicators. Indicator methodology can be supported by a broader deliberative process of engagement involving in-depth explorations of data and collective learnings. Based on the lessons from development of water needs for several locations and in reference to the current literature, a deliberative process for integration and selection of indicators and weights has been designed, to be applied at a workshop in the Philippines, to be further informed by a Delphi survey. Collective information will be used to inform the selection of data sources and assessment of the validity and reliability of the data sources. The benefit of using a deliberative process is the improved ability to make strategic decisions at temporal and spatial scales where commonly, global data sets are unable to supply adequate and appropriate details. An engagement process with stakeholders allows for flexibility and greater adaptive capacity in decision making. The authors suggest the incorporation of the deliberative process provides a greater degree of analysis and an ability to better inform the index construct by providing a mechanism for the inclusion of qualitative information.