If you travel to rural India, you can find wall paintings near bus stands or compound walls of schools or walls of a Panchayat office adorned with messages. These paintings explain government schemes, motivate people to adopt best practices, and some even highlight scheme performance. Wall paintings are considered a crucial part of any awareness or outreach strategy of both government and non-government programs. But, in an era where public attention is dominated by television shows and smartphones, this vital mode of communication is slowly and literally fading into irrelevance.
To keep up with the times, wall paintings can be transformed to become speaking walls - with Suno (listen) & Bolo (hear) components. Enabling this can help in two-way communication between those who manage programs or services for e.g. government department/NGO/CSO and the community to trigger behaviour change for the intended action.
Reimagining traditional wall paintings: The speaking wall as a digital age IEC innovation
INREM Foundation has designed and deployed speaking walls to create awareness on fluoride contamination in water amongst the local communities and got them connected to the problem of drinking water quality and helped them raise their concerns. This would in turn lead to creating a mechanism towards solving the problem.
Check out the video at the link below to understand how wall paintings are converted to speaking wall.
During 2018, about 8-10 speaking walls were implemented in the districts of Dungarpur in Rajasthan, Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, Balasore in Odisha, Chikkaballapur in Karnataka, Nalgonda in Telangana. These were painted on the walls of houses, panchayat offices or anganwadi centres - at an appropriate location suitable for public viewing.
Based on the learnings from these experiences, the speaking wall has evolved into a laminated poster. In 2021, about 100+ such posters were deployed in about 38 villages in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. These posters were put on the walls of important institutions in the village i.e. schools, anganwadis, and panchayat offices which provide spaces for larger community engagement.
Case of Chakulia Baharda - Voices of the community for better safe water access
In Balasore district, the fluoride issue gained prominence with the setting up of the District Fluoride Management Committee (DFMC), in which INREM Foundation is a member. This platform provides an opportunity for discussion and planning activity for action on fluorosis mitigation with support from different government departments. In October 2018, a speaking wall was implemented in Chakulia Adiwasi Sahi, of Patripal Gram Panchayat, which, as the name suggests, is predominantly a tribal habitation.
A program was organised in Chakulia Bharda for responding to people’s complaints, and the speaking wall was used for this. Suno-bolo was integrated within the speaking wall through QR codes. A few community members scanned QR codes to listen to suno clips. These audio messages explained the results of the water and health assessment done in the habitation in the local language.
To respond, they scanned bolo QR code on the painting and submitted their recorded audio clip with their concerns and complaints. One person had registered a complaint about the poor drinking water quality in the hand pumps of the village.
This audio clip was played during the regular District Fluoride Mitigation Committee (DFMC) meeting where fluoride issues are taken up. This clip was heard by the Sub-collector who chaired the meeting and instructed the Rural Water Supply department to check the relevant water sources and status of the Defluoridation Units (DFUs) in Chakulia.
As a result of this, most of the DFUs which are used to remove high fluoride from drinking water sources were repaired. In this case, the speaking wall enabled the community to ask for better service of treatment plants which led to improving the community's access to safe water.
Similar speaking wall posters are currently implemented in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. By enabling two-way communication, there is a huge opportunity for triggering behaviour change within the community and monitoring of the services from the departments.
People participate by contributing data and accessing data about their village about safe water sources in the map section of the speaking wall and interact with it through suno-bolo for deeper insights on water and heath and share their voices.
Please refer to the videos below to understand how people from different villages are sharing their concerns which will be recorded into the suno-bolo
Who can make speaking walls?
Anyone can, we detail a very simple process flow
Please see this video to see how the speaking wall is deployed.
While many were fascinated with the visual appeal of the wall painting, the components for enabling suno-bolo i.e. the QR codes were not used immediately. This requires sustained interaction and explanation in the initial stages.
Lack of access to smartphones and levels of digital literacy also influence how the communities respond to a speaking wall. One way to tackle this challenge would be to train one person from each village - for e.g. a Village Water Sanitation Committee member on this concept. This person can then support her community in listening, speaking and organize discussions around water issues.
Once people share their voices on water quality issues which generally have multiple linkages, if it concerns the government - then identifying which department or who is responsible to respond is a challenge. Getting them to work on the issue requires sustained coordination from the host organisation’s end.
Critical learning for the water sector has been that nothing is possible if communities don’t get involved. Participation and sustainability of outcomes are intertwined so tightly that mere awareness creation is fast losing meaning as a method of community engagement. Tools like the speaking wall that allow for two-way communication and continuous knowledge transfer - both from and to the community and experts is the way forward in building participatory programs.
Authors: Kiran Kumar Sen works as Lead, Technology Integration at INREM Foundation. Neha Pawar works as Officer Operations at Arghyam.