Sharing Lessons, Improving Practice: Maximising the Potential of Community-Led Total Sanitation

CLTS is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD). Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation and take their own action to become open defecation free (ODF).

At the heart of CLTS lies the recognition that merely providing toilets does not guarantee their use, nor result in improved sanitation and hygiene. Earlier approaches to sanitation prescribed high initial standards and offered subsidies as an incentive. But this often led to uneven adoption, problems with long-term sustainability and only partial use. It also created a culture of dependence on subsidies. Open defecation and the cycle of fecal–oral contamination continued to spread disease.

In contrast, CLTS focuses on the behavioural change needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements – investing in community mobilisation instead of hardware, and shifting the focus from toilet construction for individual households to the creation of 'open defecation-free' villages. By raising awareness that as long as even a minority continues to defecate in the open everyone is at risk of disease, CLTS triggers the community’s desire for change, propels them into action and encourages innovation, mutual support and appropriate local solutions, thus leading to greater ownership and sustainability.

IDS has been working in support of CLTS for close to a decade. During this time, CLTS has become an international movement for which the CLTS project at IDS is the recognised knowledge hub. The IDS project on Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is committed to supporting CLTS to go to scale with quality and in a sustainable manner, and to accelerate its spread. The aim is to contribute to the dignity, health and wellbeing of children, women and men in the developing world who currently suffer the consequences of inadequate or no sanitation and poor hygiene. The focus to date has been on rural areas, where we seek to contribute to intensified momentum, expanded scale, and enhanced quality and sustainability of CLTS, with increased access to and use of safe sanitation and hygienic behaviour.

We develop, deliver and co-convene workshops for learning and sharing, support networking, connect those engaged in or interested in CLTS with each other, and liaise with and support other knowledge networks and providers. We operate the CLTS website, and disseminate a bi-monthly newsletter, and other media communications, for example the CLTS blog.

We make field visits to keep in touch and up-to-date, and research, write, publish and disseminate on key issues as they become evident. We seek, collect and disseminate knowledge, research and information on the approach. We undertake the translation and dissemination of key materials. Through workshops and our ongoing interactions and learning, we collaboratively identify emerging priorities, issues and questions for going to scale with quality as well as insights, possible solutions, innovations and strategies. We aim to influence, monitor and report on CLTS-related research, including broadening the CLTS evidence base for influencing. This includes on-going scanning of relevant research, a research review, and commissioning new research on a limited scale as necessary.

The CLTS website is unique in the scope of its global span dedicated solely to CLTS.

Key contact

T: +44 (0)1273 915668


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Photo of Naomi Vernon

T: +44 (0)1273 915684


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Photo of Robert Chambers

T: +44 (0)1273 915723


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How to Trigger for Handwashing with Soap

Frontiers of CLTS: Innovations and Insights 2 (2014)
Maulit, J.A.

CLTS in Africa: Trajectories, Challenges and Moving to Scale

In 'Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa: Where do We Stand? Analysis from the AfricaSan Conference, Kigali, Rwanda' (2013)
Cross, P. and Coombes, Y.

'Lukenya Notes': Taking CLTS to Scale with Quality

Bevan, J. and Maulit, J-A.

Digging in, Spreading out and Growing up: Introducing CLTS in Africa

IDS Practice Paper 8 (2011)
Kar, K. and Milward, K.

Tales of Shit: Community-Led Total Sanitation in Africa

Participatory Learning and Action 61 (2010)
Bongartz, P., Musyoki, S.M., Milligan, A. and Ashley, H.

Beyond Subsidies – Triggering a Revolution in Rural Sanitation

IDS In Focus Policy Briefing 10 (2009)
Bongartz, P. and Chambers, R.

Handbook on Community-Led Total Sanitation

Kar, K. with Chambers, R.
Project Dates:
February 2009 - February 2014
Project Status:
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Research Themes / Programmes:
Community-led Total Sanitation
Participatory methodologies
Water and Sanitation