The rapid road to ODF

Date: 9th September 2015

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A “rapid action learning and sharing workshop” organised by the Government of India, WSSCC and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) has highlighted a number of best practices and innovations aimed at accelerating India’s Swachh Bharat Gramin campaign for universal sanitation coverage by 2019 – the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.

Nearly 100 participants, including senior policy-makers from India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation and state governments, practitioners, “champions” and representatives from 19 development partners came together for the two-day workshop in Bhopal last month (August 18-19) with a fourfold agenda:

  1. To learn from experiences and provide space for sharing promising innovations, methods, processes and approaches;
  2. To collect and make available case studies of what has worked, and to reflect on challenges and lessons learnt;
  3. To enable states to assess the potential of rapid action learning and decide on potential follow-up actions;
  4. To learn through the workshop process itself more about how innovations and learning can be identified, harvested and shared.

According to the organisers, Getting to Swachh Bharat Gramin Faster Through Rapid Action Learning and Sharing was, “conceived against a backdrop of enormous scale, diversity, complexity, obstinacy and urgency of the problem of rural sanitation and poor hygiene behaviour, and the failures of earlier programmes”.

The workshop included brainstorming sessions, presentations of case studies, group learning on methods, approaches and innovations, a demonstration of triggering for collective behaviour change, knowledge sharing by Natural Leaders, presentations by seven innovating champion District Collector/Magistrate/ZP CEOs and contributions via various group activities from a range of civil society representatives, federal and state government agencies and development partners, including UNICEF, WSP, World Bank, Plan-international, WaterAid, Save the Children, FANSA and the CLTS Foundation.

Designed to be participatory, the workshop was an informative, lively and constructive response to emerging priorities and opportunities. Thanks to the participants’ input, several factors were identified as essential to achieving an open defecation free (ODF) India:

  • Focusing on sustainable behaviour change
  • Triggering different primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders, keeping in mind local and cultural sensitivities
  • Planning and preparation pre-triggering
  • Rewards and recognition for good performance
  • Government and community level worker capacity development
  • Making materials available for quality construction
  • Linkages with other government schemes
  • Transparency and efficiency in disbursement of incentives
  • Consistent information, education and communication (IEC) material
  • One on one interaction for behaviour change
  • Regular and systematic follow-up and visits with consistent IEC material
  • Use of local knowledge and local adaptability

Likewise, the participants identified a number of key challenges India faces in its quest for sustainable ODF, namely:

  • Keeping the sense of unity alive in the community
  • Incentive – transparency and flow of funds
  • Availability of masons and supply of material
  • Collective behaviour change – lack of homogenisation of different stakeholder groups
  • Achieving full coverage: how to include both APL and BPL?
  • What to do with defunct toilets?
  • How to institute legal/social regulation to maintain ODF?
  • Finding champions who can sustain activities needed
  • How to create new champions to take Swachh Bharat Gramin to scale?
  • How to unlearn what will not work: coverage first, use and maintenance later is a failed approach
  • Solid waste management is a linked challenge that must be

By the end of the workshop, eight key themes emerged with the consensus being they must serve as priorities for development:

  • Celebrating learning processes
  • IEC related to local culture, sensitivities and priorities
  • Collective behaviour change
  • Champions for capacity building
  • The key role of the District Administration
  • Campaigns with multi-stakeholder engagement and many initiatives
  • Creative uses of the incentive
  • Golden principles

In a pedagogic sense, the workshop was also an education in the art of rapid action workshops.

Four priorities for future proactive action learning, innovation and documentation stood out from the event, namely: capacity building and how to inspire, multiply, support and ensure continuity of champions at all levels; finding, developing and spreading more approaches and methods to take to scale beyond the “islands of success” represented at the workshop; recruiting and capacity building for committed and competent knowledge management staff to support and promote action learning and sharing; and Rapid Action Learning Units (RALUs) as an option for states and Districts to take rapid action learning into their own hands

Giving their feedback, almost all participants said that they had learnt new ideas and innovations from the workshop and planned to share these. They also reported that many other innovations are being tried and tested across India, which were not all mentioned or represented in the workshop but need to be identified, documented and shared. Rapid action learning and sharing on a much wider scale will thus form part of the on-going follow up.

A full report capturing the workshop’s processes, discussions and consolidated outputs (innovation and learning), and inputs from several development partners, is available at:


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