What is benchmarking?

The International Water Association briefly defines benchmarking as: “a tool for performance improvement through systematic search and adaptation of leading practices”.

The IWA/AWWA-manual "Benchmarking Water Services, guiding water utilities to excellence" defines a new framework for benchmarking. According to this framework, benchmarking consists of two consecutive steps: performance assessment and performance improvement.

Benchmarking aims at improving performance, a search that never ends. Therefore, benchmarking is not a single action but a continuous, cyclical process.

A typical benchmarking cycle comprises the following steps and activities:

Performance assessment

  • defining benchmarking objectives;  
  • defining a performance assessment model; 
  • preparing tools; 
  • inviting participants; 
  • collecting data; 
  • validation and analysis; 
  • identifying performance gaps;
  • reporting.

Performance improvement

  • identifying good/best practices;
  • preparing a Performance Improvement Plan with targets and priorities;
  • implementing performance improvement measures;
  • evaluating. 

EBC’s benchmarking programme

EBC's benchmarking programme is fully aligned with the IWA/AWWA-benchmarking framework. Next to performance assessment, it pays special attention to the improvement step, because this is where it is all about.

Performance assessment model
EBC aims to present a balanced view on the performance of utilities. For this, five performance areas are analysed:

  • water quality; 
  • reliability; 
  • service; 
  • sustainability; 
  • finance & efficiency.

Because water utilities differ a lot regarding size, type of activities, technological development etc. a three level performance assessment model has been developed:



At the basic level, general data is collected to show a general picture and of the utility and its operating environment.

At the standard level, performance indicators are calculated for all key performance areas. This enables the identification of areas where performance might be improved.

At the advanced level, performance is analysed in more detail with more sophisticated methods.

Indicator choices
For reasons of standardisation, EBC's performance assessment model applies IWA's Performance Indicator System as much as possible.
In a serie of manuals of best practices, IWA has elaborated a major number of definitions for variables (V’s), context information (CI’s) and performance indicators (PI’s). 
The IWA PI-system can be considered as a “supermarket” of PI’s. For almost every PI one could think of, the system provides clear definitions, which enables standardisation.
EBC has made a choice out of the list of IWA V’s/CI’s/PI’s and has added a number of additional, tailor-made PI’s to accommodate demands of participating utilities.
In this way, for each key performance area one can determine the “performance gap” between an individual utility and the best performers.

Performance improvement
After the performance assessment stage, the most challenging part of the benchmarking process starts. To improve a utility's performance, it is important to understand the differences with the best performers: is it related to differences in technologies, in work procedures or the operating environment?

Each benchmarking exercise, EBC brings representatives of the participating utilities together in a 2-day workshop to discuss the results of the performance assessment stage and, moreover, to discuss good/best practices. The last step in the benchmarking process consist of preparing an Individual Performance Improvement Plan, to determine alternative solutions for improvement actions and to set priorities. After implementing actions and evaluating effects, the benchmarking cycle starts all over.


1.  Enrique Cabrera jr. et al (2011). Benchmarking Water Services. Guiding water utilties to excellence. IWA Publishing, London. http://www.iwahq.org.
2. Helena Alegre et al (2006). Performance Indicators for Water Supply Services. Manual of Best Practice. Second Edition. IWA Publishing, London. http://www.iwahq.org.
3. Rafaela Matos et al (2006). Performance Indicators for Wastewater Services. Manual of Best Practice. IWA Publishing, London. http://www.iwahq.org.





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