Generating demand for sanitation infrastructure

How to steer conversations and processes that help boost the motivation of community leaders to encourage better sanitation behaviour?
Project Nirmal uses appropriate communication inputs that help generate awareness about the impact of poor containment, collection, transportation and treatment systems on the environment among all stakeholders. (Image: SCI-FI, CPR)
Project Nirmal uses appropriate communication inputs that help generate awareness about the impact of poor containment, collection, transportation and treatment systems on the environment among all stakeholders. (Image: SCI-FI, CPR)

Radharamanpada is an unauthorised slum in Angul with 300 houses. The president of the slum sanitation committee Janaki Sahu, a 28-year-old mother of four, runs a street food stall on the main road. There are seven women in the committee of eleven, working on sanitation solution for populations that remain underserved. Janaki is vocal about the committee’s early successes in this high-density settlement.

Talking about sanitation, Janaki says she goes house to house to speak about making and using toilets from the point of view of health, safety and convenience during the monsoons. Because of this, and out of necessity, since a bus stand has come up in their erstwhile open defecation space, people have made toilets. Half of the households have unsanitary latrines while the others have made sanitary latrines with subsidies from Swacch Bharat Mission. Janaki’s experience is that creating demand for sanitation infrastructure for poor families and facilitating their use and continued maintenance is a huge task.

Sanitation advocacy and communication 

Given that usage and adequate maintenance of sanitation infrastructure is a learned and imbibed behaviour – a practice developed over time – it is crucial to aid this process through appropriate communication inputs that help generate awareness about the impact of poor containment, collection, transportation and treatment systems on the environment among all stakeholders.

Project Nirmal, which worked on the demonstration of appropriate, low-cost, decentralized, inclusive and sustainable sanitation service delivery solutions for two small towns (Angul and Dhenkanal) worked on developing appropriate communication inputs. The communication inputs were aimed at ensuring that the project achieves its overall objective of “demonstrating the feasibility of town-wide low-cost decentralized sanitation systems for small and medium towns, strongly incorporating faecal sludge management (FSM) techniques for on-site sanitation (OSS) systems”.

Specifically, the project aimed at spreading awareness on the need for FSM and its linkages with health, economic well-being and the environment. Further, the project was committed to building an understanding and knowledge about the various processes (technical, institutional and financial) to be implemented in order to ensure safe, scientific and sustainable management of faecal waste (including safe containment, collection, transportation, treatment, disposal and reuse).

The target audiences for the communication inputs were all stakeholders along the FSM value chain including households, institutions (schools and health institutions), private service providers (including desludging operators, masons, etc.), and urban local bodies (ULBs).

Assessment of existing knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAPs) along the FSM value chain

Research and stakeholder interactions brought to light that the existing knowledge attitudes and practices related to the management of faecal waste were very poor in both towns (Angul and Dhenkanal).

Figure: Lacunae/gaps related to knowledge, attitudes and practices along the FSSM value chain in Angul and Dhenkanal

Lacunae with respect to awareness, knowledge and practices along the FSM value chain were observed for all stakeholders. The assessment also revealed that slum communities were not aware of the proper design of toilets/OSS systems as well as sources of funding available for construction of toilets (schemes and programs of Government of India and Government of Odisha).

Further, the assessment also brought to light the fact that poor awareness on sanitation and FSM was not just limited to slum communities but was also a huge challenge in non-slum communities. In fact, non-slum communities found it even harder to establish a connection between improper FSM and their health and environmental pollution.

Given the rigid personal boundaries in non-slum communities and the fact that households have very limited time and avenues for community bonding and collective action, it was extremely challenging to design appropriate communication channels for them communities.

The details of negative behaviours and practices of stakeholders along the FSM value chain in Angul and Dhenkanal were identified under Project Nirmal. The aspect to be addressed by communication inputs were –

  • Awareness about proper design and construction of toilets and OSS systems (septic tanks and pits)
  • Awareness of safe disposal mechanism
  • Awareness about the need for timely desludging/emptying of OSS systems (including septic tanks and pits)
  • Advocacy measures to address the supply side concerns of limited desludging/emptying services being provided by the Municipality
  • Create adequate linkages between the community and private service providers
  • Awareness on proper/safe method of collection and transportation of faecal sludge and ensuring adoption of safe hygiene practices among service providers (Municipal and private)
  • Generating awareness and knowledge on safe and scientific methods for the treatment of faecal waste
  • Addressing the negative behaviour of disposing the untreated sludge into the water bodies/open space/drains
  • Creating awareness on the end-use of treated faecal waste

Guiding principles of communication strategy

Communication strategy: Project Nirmal

A communication strategy was developed under Project Nirmal to (a) address the negative behaviours and practices being followed by different stakeholders along the sanitation value chain and (b) address supply-side constraints in order to ensure adequate provision of sanitation-related services (including collection, transportation, treatment, reuse and disposal related services).

The overarching theme was ensuring implementation of safe and scientific sanitation practices along the entire sanitation value chain with FSM as an integral component.

Inter-Personal Communication (IPC) was identified as the primary communication tool for enhancing awareness levels and building knowledge/capacities of all stakeholders on issues related to sanitation in general and FSM in particular.

Change in behaviour needs to be preceded by various stakeholder groups thinking and acting differently than before. Sanitation and FSM do not have a single, monolithic audience; instead, it has many audiences each perceiving a different set of benefits/risks arising from behaviour change and each responding differently to various types of communication inputs.

The stakeholder mapping exercise undertaken as a part of the formative research identified students, women and sanitation service providers as active stakeholders. The communication inputs for this group were aimed at building upon their existing motivation and enabling them to act as change agents and disseminators of information in their respective communities as well as to undertake advocacy and networking.

Adult males, masons, plumbers and sanitary material suppliers were identified as passive stakeholders who required intensive and targeted communication inputs in order to develop their understanding of sanitation and FSM related processes. The third category of stakeholders was those that although had a significant stake/voice but had till now not been targeted by communication inputs and could potentially play the role of either audiences or change-makers, these included sanitation workers, ward councillors and ULB officials.

Lessons learnt

  • Since knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviours related to sanitation and specifically those pertaining to creating a demand for sanitation services, their usage and proper maintenance are strongly influenced by personal beliefs and emotions it becomes imperative to understand these beliefs and emotions for all stakeholders along the sanitation value chain. Through appropriately designed communication inputs sanitation-related initiatives can address the negative behaviour patterns and reinforce positive ones.

The development of communication inputs needs a scientific approach in order to ensure that current behaviours and practices which are impediments for realizing the optimal benefits of improved sanitation access are appropriately addressed. Under Project Nirmal, the communication strategy and inputs were developed based on the findings of a rigorous assessment which included formative research and consultations with all stakeholders. This process ensured that the local context and nuances were well understood and communication inputs were designed accordingly.

  • The strategy of leveraging community engagement structures created under Project Nirmal, namely, slum sanitation committees (SSCs) and ward sanitation committees (WSCs), has stood in good stead as the motivation and enthusiasm of the leaders and members of these community structures has been effectively channelized for awareness generation and information dissemination at the community and ward level as well as for undertaking advocacy and networking to ensure the provision of adequate sanitation related services.

The project recognizes women, children and sanitation service providers as active stakeholders. Women and youth have been trained and their capacities strengthened on issues related to the design of toilets and OSS systems. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the project doesn’t overburden these population groups with responsibilities related to communication, networking and advocacy.

  • Community members, especially those who are a part of the SSCs have been trying to spread awareness among uninitiated members on better sanitation behaviour. At times, there is a breakdown of IPC as people want change but feel that they cannot convince others. This needs to be addressed through appropriate training inputs on how to steer conversations and processes that help boost the motivation of community leaders/volunteers despite the negative response from communities.
  • The issues related to poor sanitation related awareness are not just limited to slum communities and there are also significant challenges in non-slum communities. Two key challenges encountered in non-slum communities are (a) inability of households to relate to the linkages between poor management of faecal sludge and their health as well as the microenvironment of their colonies and (b) lack of spaces, platforms and opportunities for engaging effectively with these communities. This is something which needs to be addressed in order to ensure city-wide implementation of sanitation-related awareness generation and communication.


The research learning note 'Project Nirmal: Creating Demand, Ensuring Usage and Adequate Maintenance Of Urban Sanitation Infrastructure Through Communication Inputs’ deals with these aspects in details.

The project was completed in 2020 and was implemented by Centre for Policy Research and Practical Action with support from Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationArghyamHousing and Urban Development, Government of Odisha; and Municipalities of Angul and Dhenkanal.

The article is a part of the series demonstrating learning and outcomes of the Project Nirmal based on Scaling City Institution for India (SCI-FI)’s research on water and sanitation. More on the series:

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