Understanding slippage #3 : Communities and behaviour change

Date: 8th February 2017

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Many sanitation and hygiene programmes are confronted with slippage, which refers to a return to unhygienic behaviour, or the inability of community members to continue to meet all open defecation free (ODF) criteria.

In the previous article, we discussed the nuances of slippage and its impact on communities.This week, in the third of a seven-part series for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practitioners, WSSCC explores community learning trajectories within the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process, and how they relate to slippage. The article is based on a 2016 Global Sanitation Fund reflection paper on slippage and sustainability.

A triggered community in Nigeria. The journey towards mature ODF status is a community-driven process. Credit:WSSCC/Patrick England

When identifying slippage patterns and addressing their behavioural variations, we must remember that the journey towards mature ODF status is a community-driven process. Throughout this process, the community continuously tests and consolidates new behaviour.

Sanitation and hygiene behaviour change is a non-linear process where it seems that becoming ODF is just the first step in a community learning process to reach behaviour change maturity. A common trend seems to be that the more often interventions are repeated and follow-up support is provided, the less dramatic the slippage will be, until the community eventually reaches behaviour change maturity. Furthermore, in the initial phases of a community trajectory from open defecation to ODF, and eventually behaviour change maturity, the engagement of external actors is intense.

As the community advances towards maturity, external actors – such as GSF Sub-grantee facilitators – gradually withdraw to transfer the leadership and responsibility for sanitation to internal actors. These actors include Natural Leaders (activists and enthusiasts who emerge and take the lead during CLTS processes), local politicians and other community representatives.

In order to reach the stage where sanitation and hygiene behaviours are sustained and become habitual, even in the face of threats, it is important that this shift from external to community facilitation takes place. In addition, the facilitators (internal and external) need to be aware of the regression factors to which a given community is most prone, in order to preempt how the community will react in the event that these factors occur.

All of these factors are at play when discerning how lasting the sustainability of the behaviour change is. The illustration below highlights the advancement and regression factors influencing a community’s journey to behaviour change maturity and sustained ODF status.

Source: Eugène de Ligori Rasamoelina, Executive Director of the NGO Mirantosa, one of the over 40 Sub-grantees implementing the GSF-supported programme in Madagascar.

An alternative way to demonstrate the gradual movement from open defecation to ODF status to behaviour change maturity is the ‘bouncing ball’ illustration below. As shown, every bounce becomes shorter and the ball eventually straightens out and rolls on evenly, unless major obstacles are faced and the ball stops moving.

The ‘bouncing ball’ analogy for slippage

The behaviour change journey

This community learning trajectory leads us to the concept of a sanitation behaviour change ladder. Behaviour change in sanitation and hygiene is progressive.  Similar to the sanitation ladder, primarily portrayed as an infrastructure and technology-focused, we need a comparable way of articulating sanitation improvements in terms of behaviour change. With the behaviour change ladder, real, sustained behaviour change would be the proverbial ‘top of the ladder’.

Changes in behaviour do not happen overnight, but are reinforced over time. What strategies and tools do we have to empower people to take further steps on the behaviour change ladder? How can we assess the depth of the behaviour change?

Continuing the theoretical argument based on research in this field, an important element of behaviour is habit.  It is estimated that 45 per cent of our daily lives is habitual. Changing behaviours such as open defecation and handwashing involves changing or creating new habits. Once new habits are created, there are many ways in which these new habits can be made to ‘stick’ more easily. A deeper understanding of how CLTS changes habits could have positive implications on the sustainability of the sanitation behaviour change achieved through GSF-supported programmes.

Behaviour change maturity can also be characterized by how a community uses the energy and collective sense of responsibility triggered through CLTS to improve other aspects of community life beyond sanitation.

In Madagascar for example, the GSF-supported programme has seen the energy unleashed through CLTS transform into a willingness and conviction to find local solutions to a range of community issues, as opposed to waiting for handouts or subsidies. Such solutions have included improving agricultural productivity, enhancing income-generating activities, and improving education and health. With high-quality, dynamic CLTS facilitation, ODF becomes a state of mind as opposed to being attributed to physical, visual or infrastructural aspects only. There is a clear distinction in mentality between an ‘ODF state of mind’ community, a ‘basic’ ODF community, and a community that is still practicing open defecation.

Communities that demonstrate the ‘ODF state of mind’ are more prone to steadily advance towards maturity than a community that displays a superficial internalization of ODF. When visiting a community where open defecation is still common practice, not only will there be faeces in the open, but it is also more common for community members to ask for financial or other forms of support.

In an ‘ODF state of mind’ community however, it is more common that community members will proudly demonstrate what they have accomplished of their own accord, without external financial support. It is therefore less likely that community members would overtly request money.

The GSF’s experience suggests that when a community uses the energy mobilized through CLTS to cater for needs other than sanitation, it is usually a sign that the behaviour change is not only more mature, but also sustainable. All of this goes a long way in preventing and mitigating slippage.

In next week’s article number 4 we will be identifying slippage patterns. 

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