Impact Story

Strengthening learning and changing behaviour for better rural sanitation

Published on 1 August 2018

Millions of people in the developing world currently suffer the consequences of inadequate or no sanitation and poor hygiene. It’s a situation targeted by one of the Sustainable Development Goals, and is particularly prevalent in India – making it a focus for IDS’s Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Knowledge Hub. Based at IDS, the Knowledge Hub works with partners around the world to ensure that CLTS goes to scale with quality and in a sustainable, inclusive manner.

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Using timely, rapid and adaptive sharing and learning, the Knowledge Hub has been supporting the scaling up of inclusive CLTS and rural sanitation approaches in India. There has been a long history of failed rural sanitation schemes in India, where open defecation is widely practised. When occurring in areas of high population density, like Northern India, open defecation is thought to cause up to two thirds of child undernutrition.

The Knowledge Hub has worked closely with the Government of India and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) to earning in a national campaign to make rural India open defecation-free by October 2019. The high-profile, government-led campaign, Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), is probably the world’s largest current behaviour change programme – and one that has presented opportunities for influencing policy and practice.

Busting myths

One of three key impacts of the Knowledge Hub’s involvement with the campaign arose from grassroots-level research and engagement by IDS’s Robert Chambers and Jamie Myers to raise awareness about the efficiency and safety of twin pit toilets. This safe and low-cost technology – whereby a full pit is left covered for a year to become fertiliser – is promoted widely in rural areas. However, uptake is hampered by myths and stigma.

Headline-grabbing activities have sought to counter these. A breakthrough came in March 2017 when a government minister and a Bollywood film star, accompanied by a team of officials, climbed into a mature pit to dig out the compost to show how harmless – and valuable – the human waste had become.

The Knowledge Hub also contributed to the SBM-G’s widely distributed ‘living sourcebook’ by compiling more than 100 campaign actions to help reduce open defecation. This was distributed to more than 600 heads of district administration.

Practical and action-focused

Keenly aware of the need for immediate insights and practical answers, the CLTS Knowledge Hub worked with WaterAid India and Praxis to pioneer an immersive research methodology to improve policymaking. Researchers stayed with village families for up to four days to gain better understanding of their daily realities, and fed the policy implications gathered back to government.

Government officials then undertook a similar three-day immersion in Bihar, and another was planned for 100 graduate students from the University of Delhi. This uptake of immersive methodologies was another key impact of the Knowledge Hub’s work in India.

A third key impact was its collaboration with the Government of India and WSSCC to co-create Rapid Action Learning Workshops to develop sharing, learning and planning at district, division and national levels. Two workshop events were held in September 2017 and January 2018 with government staff in Uttar Pradesh. The practical, action and lesson-focused outputs from the events were distributed within two
days to maintain momentum and widen the reach beyond participants. The Knowledge Hub is now working with WSSCC to train and mentor facilitators to roll out further workshops, to enhance learning and spread good practices.


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