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Changing the village, changing the country

Robin van Kippersluis's picture
How do you persuade people to use a toilet? This is an urgent question across rural India: somewhere near half a billion people are still defecating in the open, and the Swachh Bharat Mission is urging them to stop by 2019.

India has about 650,000 villages. Many have tried different techniques - some successfully, some not. What if there were a “Google of sanitation”, where you could search for success stories of others who have faced the same situation, and a “LinkedIn of Sanitation” where you could reach out to peers with questions?
Pictures: Left: Ms Lunga Devi from Pawa, Pali is interviewed by Government officials in Rajasthan on how she became a natural leader on ODF in her village and helped it transform, as part of the ‘World Bank - Capturing Local Sanitation Solutions’ training.  Right: Villagers from Muzzafarpur district in the State of Bihar talking about local sanitation solutions.
India’s government and the World Bank are together creating a platform for this, using systematic knowledge-sharing and learning as an approach to support the Swachh Bharat Mission and change behaviors. The approach is based on the belief that many excellent local sanitation solutions exist and can be replicated across the country.

In the district of Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, for example, local officials came up with the concept of the ‘war room’, an idea adapted from political campaigns. Located in the district administration office, with high-level decision-makers close at hand, staff and volunteers in the war room use tools such as WhatsApp to keep in touch and support teams that go from village to village, discussing with villagers to the benefits of installing, and using, a toilet at home, and identifying the most in need of a subsidy.

Officials in Bijnor have written down lessons from the war room, creating a simple knowledge resource which their colleagues in other districts can consult for ideas to use. It includes practical recommendations on matters such as which equipment is needed and how to incentivize volunteers. A video version on these lessons will follow soon.

A National Window for Local Solutions

Lessons are generated locally and brought together nationally. Using methodologies on ‘organizational knowledge sharing’, more than 200 local community facilitators and sanitation officials from 75 districts in four states with high levels of open defecation (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana) were trained in creating and packaging local sanitation solutions and lessons (Figure 1) in a user-friendly way. Sometimes they do this in writing, but mostly on video using smartphones and free editing software – a technique which has proved inspirational as well as cost-effective. Building on existing practices to communicate local lessons, a story-telling approach is used, to emphasize not only ‘what’ has been achieved on sanitation, but also ‘how.’
Figure 1: Five-step approach to get sharable solutions

Three states have embraced the systematic process of knowledge capture and sharing. In nine months, approximately 400 local sanitation lessons and solutions have been documented. This is expected to grow exponentially as more and more communities, partners, and states are included.

The Bank team developed a knowledge platform called Swachh Sangraha with the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to make these local solutions accessible and enable the resource people and experts behind them to connect with each other (Figure 2). To help users to find experiences of others who have faced similar challenges, Swachh Sangraha breaks down solutions per state and per topic, including ‘children and youth’, ‘leadership’, ‘hygiene and handwashing’, ‘toilet technology’, and ‘behavior change communication’. Users are able to rank and comment on the solutions, helping the most compelling to command wider attention. The Ministry’s ownership of the platform is a crucial factor in motivating districts to share, discuss, and replicate good practices, creating a sense of healthy competition, momentum, and a source of pride for those sharing a local success story – such as that of Lunga Devi, who was inspired by a community “triggering” session to build a group of women volunteers to promote toilet use. In a video interview on Swachh Sangraha, she tells how she persistently persuaded female friends, and eventually succeeded in mobilizing the support of the village head, after feeling motivated by her religious faith to take up the cause of sanitation as a public service.
Figure 2: Swachh Sangraha portal’

Changing Behavior Through Sharing and Curating Lessons

Most behavior change approaches involve local communities in taking ownership of the change process.  It matters that the solutions shared on Swachh Sangraha are local solutions by local people for local people, and not the pronouncements of outside experts.

The next challenge is to ensure a continuous flow of new, inspiring stories and solutions on the portal and to complement these with more rigorous evaluations of what works and what does not. Curating lessons from an ever growing base of local experiences will be a priority for the Ministry, so that proven practices can be replicated, fine-tuned, and scaled up. Already, local solutions are spreading within states as videos are shared via WhatsApp groups, and knowledge exchanges are held to help more widely replicable solutions – such as the war room – to pass between states. Practical, concise ‘how-to’ examples are starting to become an important source of learning that local officials can act upon – changing the country, many villages at a time.


Submitted by Roby on

This is a very good example of how technical solutions need to be strengthened with non-traditional approaches when helping countries address difficult development challenges. Well designed Knowledge Capturing and Sharing Systems along with effective Collaborative Leadership interventions can play a role in capitalizing on local solutions and modifying behaviors for sustainable change.

Thanks Roby; you are correct that collaborative leadership approaches complement knowledge sharing work. Our team in fact supported such an approach in Chittorgarh district in Rajasthan where the Bank worked with the district magistrate and his team to improve effectiveness of SBM implementation. Some incredible lessons - these will also be shared on the Swachh Sangraha portal – worth another blog!

Submitted by Jennifer E. on

Nothing beats local communities taking ownership! Great initiative. Hope other rural communities would copy and adapt it as deem fit.

Submitted by Steffen on

Thanks for sharing Robin. This is a great example for people getting inspired by local solutions to induce behavior change. It is heartening to see systematic knowledge capturing and sharing getting used at scale to address such a critical issue. Also impressive how national and local governments alike are owning this process and actively promote local experiences and solutions.

Thanks for your kind words Steffen. These are modest beginnings … and we would love to see still more validation and replication at scale. But with local ownership and solid approaches, at least there is an important push in the right direction.

Submitted by Thankappan V K on

Villagers,once accustomed or got used to toilet friendly have to train others too.Awareness of hygenic life of society has necessarily be created in them.Wherever there is water scarcities people have to be taught to use tissue paper in toilet and reduce water to the minimum quantity.

Submitted by Mukhtar Lawal Abdullahi on

We would like to partake in this very important campaign as the issue at stake is mind blowing. I have been doing similar work in one community close to me named Saji in Rano local government of Kano state Nigeria, calling them to understand the negative effects of such an act (open defecations) theirs is even the worse, as its on top of one plain rock at the center of the town in front of the ward head house. So it gets dry quickly and spreads within the shortest time possible. Thanks

Many thanks for sharing your local experience from Kano State in Nigeria and for your commitment to fight open defecation – do you have more information on what drove the success in your country? Anything that may be useful for the context in India?

Submitted by ajitjhangiani on

Fabulous effort, very much needed. Change from the bottom up through the telling of stories, a national pastime. However this gives the inputs only. Have you set up a system of measurement to see output, whether there is indeed change and if so how much? I am not talking about calculating impact for that would be more difficult, just behavior change.

You raise an important point Ajit. Curating and replicating local solutions will be critical and the MDWS is taking this role seriously. Measurement is complicated. You do not just want to count toilets, but verify if they are being used (over time). That has the focus under this program.

Submitted by Astrid Scholz on

Would love to learn more about the platform, but the web links in the article don't work. We are building global infrastructure for solutions sharing, and would like to explore syndication of data.

Thanks for your interest Astrid and sorry to hear some links did not work properly. The platform is under constant development but should of course work perfectly J so I will ask the team to investigate. The search engine is based on Alfresco (open source) and we are happy to provide more background and align where helpful. The platform is managed by MDWS. If you send me an email at we can perhaps align further.

Submitted by Joy Jacob on

One of the main factors compelling the village folk to continue open defecation is inadequate availability of water to maintain cleanliness of the toilets.

Sincere thanks. Water scarcity is indeed a big problem, Joy. Still even with water available, there are many places and people that struggle unfortunately with cleanliness. We hope that sharing lessons on dealing better with sanitation – also in areas of water scarcity – can help others change behavior.

Submitted by Achim on

Behavior change is the hardest, but also the most important and sustainable part of development. We need to learn from your work, and promote for more local learning in other countries as well.

Submitted by Ekadashi Nandi on

Even after construction of toilets, people in rural area prefer to open space in most of the rural areas. The main cause as I have found, is shortage of water for flushing. We can think of less expensive structures like opening a whole for toileting and covering with soil for a specific period of one or two months, replace for another whole and after few months planting a tree on the same hole.

Submitted by dr shukla acharjee on

In assam water scarcity is not an issues but when my students visited the village for behavioural change communication some unique issues they noticed.
If the toilet is used by mensurating women folk then other member dont use that toilet.
Some feel good in defecating in open because toilet room is small.
A few thinks the water seal as non functional toilet and they dont use it.
Some feels that our ancentors defecated in open and nothing happened to them why should they construct toilet.

Submitted by Shobha Kumar on

Great to see such positive outcomes from all the effort Robin! Crowdsourcing local solutions and making them available to others in the same community or other districts and states in India who are struggling with similar challenges is indeed a very practical, cost effective and powerful way to scale up sanitation solutions. The scale and scope of the issue requires that we quickly get the practical lessons and knowledge nuggets out to the right people who can then build on what others have done, and not spend their time reinventing the wheel. Going forward, the power of this tool lies in the lessons from customization and implementation repeatedly being fed back in the “solutions” database and keeping track of the solutions that are showing high potential for scale up. You may also want to look into the use of “positive deviance” approaches for supporting behavior change as a complement to this very good work.

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