18 June 2020

Setting up an Operator Model

Author/Compiled by
Manal AlShraideh (BORDA)
Martin Wafler (seecon)

Executive Summary

Understanding institutional roles and responsibilities is critical to ensure reliable, cost-effective services. An operator model defines and clarifies ownership, decision-making, responsibility, contracts and agreements, management, and money flows between the operator, client and revenue collector at the local level (GIZ 2015). The overall aim is to identify the right operational setup among key actors to provide services for the local community.

By way of example: the Water Authority of Jordan (WAJ) is responsible for operating all treatment plants that serve more than 5.000 people. However, WAJ can transfer this responsibility to another entity (e.g. a private operator or municipality) by entering operational agreements. Thereupon, the delegated operator is responsible for the delivery of respective services. To successfully establish an innovative and sustainable operator model, the ISSRAR project supports WAJ in the preparing arrangements and agreements for the future operation of the sanitation system. The agreement will include everything that is required to facilitate a long-term sustainable sanitation project, from roles and responsibilities, operation and maintenance, revenue generation and financial management, to monitoring of the system. The agreements aim to empower both WAJ and the operator to fulfil their mandates, share the technical and financial risks, and strengthen their available capacities.

See our practical experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations below.

Why you should care

Factsheet Block Body

Setting up an operator model ensures transparency, accountability, and long-term sustainability in operations and maintenance.

What really matters: key lessons learned and recommendations

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Know who is the decision maker in operator selection

The ISSRAR project supports WAJ in the development and implementation of an innovative and sustainable model for the operation of a reuse-oriented sanitation system. In doing so, it is important that all stakeholders understand that the ISSRAR consortium has merely an advisory role and that the decision makers in the operator selection are WAJ (as owner of the wastewater treatment plant), the Ministry of Municipal Affairs of Jordan (MoMA) and the mayor of Azraq (as a potential operator).

Define requirements for sustainable operations and enable decision makers to select the ideal operator

Prior to the selection of the operator best suited to run the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) at Azraq, we determined what exactly would be required to sustain operations of the sanitation system.

Listing these requirements (i.e., financial sustainability, clear roles and responsibilities, administrative capacities, technical capacities, ownership and motivation, oversight mechanisms, etc.) enabled the decision-makers to select the ideal operator and allowed us to compare and evaluate operator alternatives: an operating unit under Azraq municipality, Miyahuna Water Company, and a private operator. It is worth pointing out that some deficiencies can be tackled effectively (e.g. technical capacities), while others are more difficult to overcome (e.g. willingness of actors to provide funding, paying fees, etc.). Furthermore, we believe that support from the community is a key decision-making factor that can only be evaluated very subjectively.

Understand the overall governance framework

It is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, and engage them from the beginning. Therefore, ISSRAR organized governance workshops for key national and local stakeholders. In this way, we were able to compile information on roles and responsibilities at an operational and supervision/management level, and clarify which relationships and agreements key stakeholders would need to enter into at an early project stage to then later successfully collect, transport, treat, and reuse wastewater and faecal sludge. Defining roles and responsibilities as relationships (e.g., between WAJ and the future operator) in the operator model helped us identify open questions and issues/topics that need to be addressed in contractual agreements.

Be aware of community concerns about possible operators

On paper, the local community doesn’t have a major role to play in accepting WWTP operators in Jordan, given that this is WAJ’s responsibility. However, due to the proximity of the WWTP to residential areas, as well as its location between North and South Azraq, adjacent communities had numerous concerns and questions about its operation. As one key task of the ISSRAR project was to establish an operator model that would ensure long-term sustainable operations of the new wastewater management system, the best-suited operator had not yet been determined at the beginning of the project. It was therefore very important to send a clear message to the community that their concerns would be heard and considered in the decision-making process. At the same time, the consortium always made it clear that the final decision concerning the operator would be made by the project owner (WAJ) and the municipality as well as the responsible ministry (Ministry of Municipal Affairs).

Consider the entire sanitation service chain

When developing an operator model with the aim of yielding maximum benefits and operating a sanitation system in a sustainable way, it is necessary to consider the entire sanitation service chain. Accordingly, any future operator should understand the required tasks, roles, and responsibilities related to collection, transport, treatment, and reuse processes.

To assess the future role and responsibilities of Azraq Municipality as well as its willingness and ability to operate the WWTP over the long term, we hosted a “Willingness to Operate” workshop. Together with local stakeholders, we developed a “Hopes/Concerns/Engines/Anchors” chart. Participants noted their hopes and fears as well as the factors that could accelerate (“engines”) or impede (“anchors”) the process of Azraq Municipality becoming the operator of the WWTP. This exchange was documented on a simple matrix using colour cards. In this way, we developed a common understanding of the future role and responsibility of Azraq Municipality in operating and maintaining the WWTP. This shared understanding (as opposed to a mere stock-taking of the municipalities operational capacities) helped to transform ISSRAR’s capacity-development interventions into a joint initiative of the project team and the municipality. 

Address all managerial, financial and technical aspects

To select the ideal operator, it is necessary to address the managerial, financial, and technical aspects of each operation alternative.

Managerial operation: Azraq Municipality needs to establish a new operating department/unit for sanitation services. This means that an organizational restructuring is required to handle the additional operational responsibility.

Financial aspects: Revenue from collecting fees, WWTP entry fees, WWTP O&M cost, and selling treated wastewater all need to be addressed individually and carefully. It is important to consider the pros and cons for each operation alternative by means of the operation alternative matrix. This will enable the decision-makers to select the ideal operator.

Technical aspects: WAJ has different technical capacities than the municipality and the private sector. It is important to explain the required technical capacities to potential operators. ISSRAR presented these operational functions to the Azraq municipality team in a workshop that supported them in assessing their capacity needs.

Learn from previous experience

Carefully assess already existing operator models. Meeting and interviewing mandated operators, reading any previous contractual agreements between WAJ and the municipality or private sector was crucial in informing and strengthening ISSRAR’s contractual/operation agreement.

Initiate business model thinking

People used to see sanitation projects as a service. However, ISSRAR aims to develop a new financial model that can generate revenue to cover part of the operational costs.

Presenting a clear operational and financial model to the local community is important to win their much-needed trust and support. In addition, any increase in desludging services will be met with scepticism by the community. They have to understand why it is in their best interest to pay for additional services.


Factsheet Block Body
  • Did you define requirements that ensure sustainable operations? Did you enable decision-makers in the selection of the ideal operator?
  • Do you understand the key stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities at an operational and supervision/management level?
  • Are you aware of community concerns towards possible operators?
  • Did you consider the entire sanitation service chain in setting up the operator model?
  • Are you addressing all managerial, financial and technical aspects in the selection of the best-suited operator?
  • Are you considering lessons learned from previous experiences in setting up the operator model?
  • Are you initiating a business model thinking process in developing a new financial model that contributes to covering part of the operational costs.
Library References

Operator Models

This study on operator models for integrated sustainable waste management (ISWM) aims to understand and classify the diversity of ways in which waste management services are organized across the world.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH (2013): Operator Models. Respecting Diversity. Concepts for Sustainable Waste Management. URL [Accessed: 09.06.2020]

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