Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) failures continue to be discussed mostly off the record, with professionals the world over repeating one another’s mistakes.
Failure is difficult to talk about, but WASH failures have negative impacts – money is wasted and sometimes people are harmed. We need to acknowledge that not everything we try will succeed, but that if we learn from one another, we can continuously improve our work. Since 2018, we have attempted to foster this change through the ‘WASH Failures Movement’.
This issue of 'Frontiers of Sanitation' is a compilation of what we’ve learned about why WASH failures happen, how we can address them, and how we can facilitate a culture of sharing and learning from failure in the WASH sector.
In 2022, FINISH Mondial and the Sanitation Learning Hub conducted a participatory and immersive research study to understand ground realities and lived experiences of sanitation and hygiene access in Nandurbar district, Maharashtra and Darbhanga district, Bihar in India.
The main objectives for the immersion were:
- to identify challenges and barriers towards access to and use of sanitation and hygiene services within challenging contexts,
- to capture community voices
- to find contextually rooted ways to identify enablers towards safe and equitable access to and use of sanitation and hygiene services in these areas; and
- to inform FINISH programme design and support the development of human-centric strategies for improving access to sanitation hygiene services for marginalised and left-out communities, while strengthening gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).
Key lessons learnt from the study included:
- universal access to and use of toilets has not yet been achieved, and people affected by poverty and marginalisation remain excluded;
- existing toilets need retrofitting and maintenance to become usable;
- we need to consider context specific adaptations for programming for tough physical conditions such as flooding and drought;
- caste-based inequality is prevalent with major implications for access to sanitation and hygiene services;
- and behaviour change programming remains relevant for these contexts.
This Learning Brief presents work undertaken by WaterAid Bangladesh and Rupantar in collaboration with the Sanitation Learning Hub (SLH), at the Institute of Development Studies, and the University of Technology Sydney – Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF).
A sanitation-focused climate lens was added to existing ward vulnerability assessment tools due to the increasing WASH-related climate impacts in the study site. The aim was to understand climate induced impacts on WASH and feed this into programmatic guidance through the preparation of locally-led comprehensive ward development plans.
This Learning Brief is intended to provide inspiration to practitioners and WASH experts on how to adapt existing vulnerability assessment tools to integrate climate considerations. This study engaged several stakeholders including climate vulnerable populations, development practitioners, researchers, and local government across Krishnanagar Union under Sathkhira subdistrict, to create evidence-based approaches to address climate induced WASH vulnerabilities in coastal Southwest Bangladesh.
This research sought to answer the following questions:
- What is the current status of WASH facilities in nine wards across in rural southwest Bangladesh?
- How are climatic conditions impacting water, sanitation and hygiene practices?
- What actions can be undertaken by various stakeholders to address climate induced WASH problems?
Menstrual health is a public health issue, yet many women and girls in low- and middle-income countries still need to achieve it. People with disabilities are particularly disadvantaged and often excluded from interventions to improve menstrual health
in development and humanitarian contexts.
To start addressing this gap, the Bishesta campaign – a menstrual health intervention for people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers was designed and delivered in Nepal’s development setting. The campaign was adapted for Vanuatu’s humanitarian emergencies and is called the Veivanua campaign.
This Frontiers of Sanitation issue presents the study findings and explains the steps followed throughout these two processes. It includes recommendations to support others to adapt the campaigns for different settings.
“I am so thankful for having a chance to meet the government and to talk about sanitation.” (Woman from female-headed household)
Female-headed households often get left behind in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming and policy. This Sanitation Learning Hub learning paper presents findings and recommendations for action, from the participatory video research project, ‘Sanitation, health and livelihood issues for female-headed households in Tasikmalaya’. The project supported eight women in Awiluar village, Tasikmalaya, (a peri-urban community in west-Java, Indonesia), to explore the challenges they face and ideas for solution using a participatory video process.
The process included activities to develop personal confidence, teamwork, collective and visual storytelling, reflective enquiry, communication skills and audio-visual technical skills. The women collectively created a video to communicate their sanitation, health and livelihood priorities, which was screened with local government officials and community members promoting vital dialogue and encouraging action. The aim of the project was to ensure that the specific needs and long-term interests of female-headed households are better met going forward.
Further details on the approach can be found in the accompanying SLH learning paper (18), ‘Using participatory video for empowerment in sanitation programming‘; this describes key activities involved and their value to programming. It aims to spark sanitation and hygiene researchers’ interest in the potential for using participatory video.
Examining countries where religious pluralism is in decline, including Iraq, India, Pakistan and Nigeria, this book brings together reflections, knowledge and learning about the daily experiences of religiously marginalized groups, generated using participatory research methods.
It also showcases the participatory methodologies implemented by its international team of contributors and highlights the importance of using non-extractive methods for engaging with participants.
Including a careful consideration of the ethics and limitations of participatory research with marginalized groups, the book reflects on the implications for people’s agency when research creates space for them to reflect on their realities in a group setting and uses methods which put their own experience and analysis at the centre of the process.
Comprehensive Social Protection Programming: What is the Potential for Improving Sanitation Outcomes?
Millions of people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities, undermining progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 that calls for adequate and equitable sanitation for all.
Efforts to improve sanitation outcomes have been rapidly accelerated in the past decade alongside an expansion of different financial incentives or subsidies to promote access to services and motivate sanitation behaviour. In parallel, social protection has become part and parcel of development policy, with many low- and middle-income countries now offering some form of cash transfers to those most vulnerable. Comprehensive interventions that couple financial transfers with complementary support such as behaviour change communication, training, or coaching have also grown increasingly popular.
Despite similarities between water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) subsidy schemes and social protection interventions, these policy areas have largely developed in silos and limited cross-sectoral learning has taken place. This paper begins to fill this knowledge gap by assessing the potential for comprehensive social protection in addressing sanitation outcomes and drawing out policy implications for the social protection and WASH communities. It does so by focusing on a social protection programme in the context of extreme poverty in rural Haiti.
Accessible Sanitation in the Workplace – Important Considerations for Disability-Inclusive Employment in Nigeria and Bangladesh
This paper explores the relationship between accessible sanitation and disability-inclusive employment in Bangladesh and Nigeria.
Both countries have sanitation and hygiene challenges as well as disability-inclusive employment challenges, but the existing evidence on the intersection of these issues that is focused on Nigeria and Bangladesh is extremely limited. Building on the literature where this complex issue is addressed, this paper presents the findings of a qualitative pilot study undertaken in Nigeria and Bangladesh. It focuses on the need for toilets at work that are easy for people with disabilities to use in poor countries.
These are sometimes called accessible toilets. Accessible sanitation is not regarded as a challenge that must be addressed by people with disabilities themselves, but as a challenge that must be addressed by many people working together – including governments, employers, and the community.
Exploring the Intersection of Sanitation, Hygiene, Water, and Health in Pastoralist Communities in Northern Tanzania
This paper explores access to water, sanitation, and health in pastoral communities in northern Tanzania.
It argues that the concept of gender, used on its own, is not enough to understand the complexities of sanitation, hygiene, water, and health. It explores pastoralists’ views and perspectives on what is ‘clean’, ‘safe’, and ‘healthy’, and their need to access water and create sanitary arrangements that work for them, given the absence of state provision of modern water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure.
Although Tanzania is committed to enhancing its citizens’ access to WASH services, pastoral sanitation and hygiene tend to be overlooked and little attention is paid to complex ways in which access to ‘clean’ water and ‘adequate sanitation’ is structured in these communities. This paper offers an intersectional analysis of water and sanitation needs, showing how structural discrimination in the form of a lack of appropriate infrastructure, a range of sociocultural norms and values, and individual stratifiers interact to influence the sanitation and health needs of pastoralist men, women, boys, and girls.
Between July and October 2021, the Sanitation Learning Hub worked with government representatives and development partners to develop, share, and cross-analyse case studies looking at local system and government strengthening in four local government areas across West Africa: Benin (N’Dali commune), Ghana (Yendi municipal district), Guinea (Molota commune), and Nigeria (Logo LGA).
The initiative focused on examples of local leadership in sanitation and hygiene (S&H), with case studies developed in collaboration with development partners (Helvetas in Benin, UNICEF in Ghana and Guinea, United Purpose in Nigeria) and the local governments they partner with.
The goal was to cross-analyse examples of local government leadership in S&H, looking at what led to the prioritisation of S&H, and identifying commonalities and transferable knowledge through a participatory cross-learning process. The case studies identified positive change occurred in local government leadership in S&H, and analysed the contributions to change, via document review, key informant interviews and focus group discussions.
This learning brief shares the learnings and recommendations that emerged from the case studies and through the three participatory workshops that followed.
A French translation is also available: Le leadership des autorités locales en matière d’assainissement et d’hygiène : expériences et apprentissage de l’Afrique de l’Ouest
A Portuguese translation is also available: A liderança governamental local em saneamento e higiene: experiências e aprendizagens da África Ocidental
Watch the webinar on the findings here: https://youtu.be/87z6ZrQMRc0
Government leadership at both the national and sub-national levels is an essential step towards ensuring safely managed sanitation services for all. Though the importance of sub-national government leadership for water, sanitation and hygiene is widely acknowledged, to date much of the focus has been on the delivery of water services.
This article sets out to start to address this imbalance by focusing on practical ways to galvanise and foster sub-national government leadership for sanitation programming. By focusing on the experiences across three sub-national areas in East Africa (in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya) where positive changes in the prioritisation of sanitation by local governments have been witnessed, we (a group of researchers, local government representatives and development partner staff) cross-examine and identify lessons learnt.
The results presented in this paper and subsequent discussion provide practical recommendations for those wishing to trigger a change in political will at the local level and create the foundation to strengthen sanitation governance and the wider system needed to ensure service delivery for all.
Today, people worldwide can expect to live into their 60s and beyond.
There are estimated to be around 900 million older adults (aged 60 years and above), around 13 per cent of the world population.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped shed light on the specific needs of older people as a group more susceptible to severe disease/infection, and revealed the lack of capacity within water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) NGOs to respond to these specific needs.
This Sanitation Learning Hub Learning Paper explores the WASH needs of older people in both development and humanitarian contexts, as well as the fundamental role older people play in facilitating other people’s WASH access, health, and wellbeing.
The paper refers to the data WASH actors collect on older people in order to understand their differing WASH needs, the barriers to accessing WASH, and the need to ensure older people’s participation, including their active role in helping find the solutions.
Recommendations are made for planning with communities and programme design; WASH programme implementation and to reduce environmental barriers.
This paper is also available in French and Portuguese:
This is part of a series of chapter summaries of the Handbook of Participatory Research and Inquiry.
This chapter provides an overview the increasing use of digital technologies in participatory research. It argues that increasing the use of digital technologies in participatory methods has been under-theorised and is not being systematically analysed. The chapter makes two contributions. Firstly it offers ‘digital affordances for participation’ as a new means of theorising the positive and negative implications of using digital technologies in participatory methods. Secondly it introduces the ‘participation cube’: a new model for structuring three-dimensional analysis of levels of (a) who participates (b) at which project stages (c) and with which level of participation in any kind of participatory project. The chapter concludes with an overview of five case studies in which the use of digital technologies both extends and limits participation in a variety of settings.
Since the turn of the century there has been a dramatic increase in the use of digital technologies in participatory work. Digital storytelling, online participatory mapping, and the use of digital cameras and editing in participatory video are clear examples but there are few participatory methods in which the use of digital technologies has not increased. The chapter does not advocate for the use of more or less digital technologies in participatory research. The author acknowledges that the use of digital technologies has both negative and positive implications. The objective of the chapter is only to argue that, given the on-going migration to digital methods, the positive and negative implications of their use has so far been under-theorised and under-researched. The chapter offers new theoretical and methodological means to enable a deeper and more systematic analysis of the ways in which digital technologies both extend and limit the possibilities of participation.
Digital Affordances for Participation
The concept of affordances is well established in design and technology studies but has not been applied systematically in participatory methods. Affordances refer to the ‘new action possibilities’ enabled, allowed, or invited by a new technology. Digital affordances can include the ability to combine images, sound, video, and text, to share files globally instantly, and to work collaboratively with hundreds of people in multiple locations.
The concept of digital affordances for participation is used to analyse the ways in which the introduction of new digital tools or the use of online spaces makes methods more or less participatory. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many participatory projects were forced online. This introduced some exclusions as the ability to participate was related to the quality of connectivity, digital literacies, and agency. However, some people living with disabilities found participation became easier, and some people felt more able to voice their concerns online that they did in a face-to-face setting. The chapter argues that more research attention is to better understand the particular affordance of different technologies for enhancing or limiting participation.
The concept of digital affordances for participation is one way of taking seriously the impact of introducing digital technologies to participatory methods. It focuses attention on the ‘new action possibilities’ that technology adoption involves. The introduction of digital technologies may enable practitioners to reduce dependencies on external experts. Online facilitation may enable the inclusion of people living with disabilities or make it possible to scale participation to include hundreds of people on multiple continents without flights. But it may also exclude people without connectivity or digital literacies. Five chapters of detailed case studies are provided that illustrate the negative and positive affordance of digital technologies for participation.
The Participation Cube
The participation cube is a novel way to structure a three-dimensional analysis of (a) who participates (b) at which stage of the process, and (c) at what level of participation. The participation cube is designed as a heuristic device to help practitioners avoid homogenising the experience of all participants across all stages of a project. It provides a simple means to help structure a systematic analysis at each stage of the process. By disaggregating participants and trace their changing experience at each key stage of the project cycle a more nuanced analysis is possible.
Source: Author's own
The ‘who’ dimension of the participation cube enables a disaggregation of distinct actors. Who gets to participate in any project, whose voice is heard, who has decision-making power, and who remains relatively excluded, has been discussed extensively in the participation literature. Like the other dimensions of the participation cube, the ‘who’ dimension needs to be re-calibrated anew for each project to make it relevant to the actual project actors. There may be more or less than four types of (non)participant and so the cube will need to be drawn and labelled afresh for each project.
The stages of participation dimension of the cube will also need to be recalibrated for each new application to reflect the specificity of each project. There may be more or less than four stages and more or less than four levels. Arnstein had eight levels of participation in three groups in her popular ‘ladder of participation’. In Figure 1 only four of these were selected for the purposed of illustration. Users of the participation cube will need to calibrate their cube with the appropriate number of levels and label it accordingly.
The process of using the participation cube involves tracing the level of participation, in each stage of the project, for each type of participant. This will show that each participant has different levels of participation over the project life cycle. One way of doing this would be as illustrated in the figure below.
Source: Author's own
The participation cube was originally designed as a tool for retrospective participation analysis. A forthcoming journal article applies it productively to projects in Zambia and Uganda to generate insights not originally visible about levels of participation. It is a limitation of this method that it has only been used in retrospective analysis when it would seem to have value as a participation planning tool in project design. Further research is necessary to assess the value of the participation cube as a participatory workshop tool to engage diverse actors in analysing their own experience of participation at different stages of the process, and as a means to identify barriers and opportunities to improve project participation.
The chapter provided an overview of the introduction of digital technologies into participatory methods. Five case studies were used to illustrate the positive and negative implications of the use of digital technologies on levels of participation. It was argued that given the on-going increase is digital use this area has been under-theorised and under-analysed. The concept of digital affordances of participation provides a new mechanism for thinking through how and why the specific digital technologies has particular positive or negative effects on levels of participation. The participation cube is offered as a simple model for tracing the experience of distinct participants in each stage of process to analyse their level of participation. More research is necessary to apply the concept of digital affordances for participation and the participation cube on order assess it utility in practice.
Roberts, T. (editor) Digital Technologies in Participatory Research (six chapter section) in Burns, D., Howard, J. and Ospina S. (2021) The SAGE Handbook of Participatory Research and Inquiry, London, SAGE.
Roberts, T. (2021) Digital Affordances in Participatory Research Methods, in Burns, D., Howard, J. and Ospina S. (2021) The SAGE Handbook of Participatory Research and Inquiry, London, SAGE