Understanding slippage #5: How should it be monitored?


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. Join us as we explore this phenomenon in a seven-part series for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practitioners.

In last week’s article, we explored slippage patterns. This week, we discuss monitoring slippage. The article is based on a chapter in a Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) reflection paper on slippage and sustainability.

Monitoring slippage can be a strong tool for WASH programmes and the communities they serve, so long as it goes beyond the numbers to truly understand behaviour change and community dynamics. Furthermore, methodologies must be harmonized, holistic and adapted to the complex nature of slippage and behaviour change.

Understanding community dynamics

When monitoring and verifying slippage, verifiers that are unaware of the full community context often overlook the community behaviour change journey from open defecation to ODF. They simply classify slippage as any deviation from strict ODF criteria. Using such a static measurement undermines the dynamic nature of behaviour change, as well as community sanitation and hygiene achievements. Take these two communities, for example:

Community A was incredibly unsanitary. After undergoing a highly powerful triggering process, it completely abolished the habit of open defecation in a short period of time and gradually took on new development challenges to improve community life. However, slippage was determined during a verification exercise as a result of one misplaced drop-hole cover caused by playing children.

Community B had many badly used and maintained latrines and thus high rates of open defecation. Even after the triggering process it struggled to become ODF over a drawn-out period of time and finally achieved ODF status by applying strict sanctions imposed by the Chief. However, few community members fully appreciate why eliminating open defecation is essential.

Although visually observed slippage was determined in Community A, the positive behaviour change has been generally maintained.  Community B, on the other hand, might be ODF at verification, but it is unlikely that the behaviour change will last over time, leading to slippage that could have more severe consequences.

In monitoring and verifying slippage, these community experiences must be understood, incorporated and valued.

To adequately measure slippage, it is recommended that verifiers closely consider three pillars of ODF verification: visual indicators, community perceptions and health impacts.

Many verification exercises exclusively rely on the first pillar – visual indicators. However, to truly understand the impact of slippage verifiers must consider all three pillars and understand the interlinkages between them.

The growing experience of GSF-supported programmes in monitoring and evaluation shows that a community’s adherence to ODF status over time is often not linear, but rather a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ type of process. Slippage should therefore be monitored in this context, and not at one-off events but periodically.

Verification and reporting methodologies

In WASH programmes, different verification processes undertaken by different actors can lead to significant discrepancies in reported results. This leads to inconsistent and misrepresented data and undermines learning for programme improvement. Ensuring that verification methodologies are harmonized among sector partners is essential.

In addition, programmes need to reflect on the purpose of monitoring and verification. Is it aimed at donor reporting or enhancing learning for programme staff?

Ideally, monitoring and verification exercises should include multiple objectives, primarily benefiting the communities themselves, but also the programmes and other stakeholders concerned.

Furthermore, gathering quantitative data is not sufficient, if we truly want to understand slippage. It is important to explore underlying questions through qualitative approaches. For example, an underlying question could be: are slippage rates higher among certain groups in the community, such as marginalized groups?

To truly capture the intricacies of slippage, monitoring and verification, exercises should:

  • Be continuous and not one-offs
  • Focus on the three pillars of ODF verification (visual, community perceptions and health impacts)
  • Combine quantitative and qualitative data to understand trends and patterns
  • Harmonize methodologies among all actors involved
  • Factor in slippage when reporting on programme results

To fully capture the intricacies of slippage, monitoring and verification needs to be flexible and appropriate for the dynamic and fast-paced nature of behaviour change. Furthermore, if we invest in monitoring and verification that is integrated within the wider Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) facilitation process, we are more likely to safeguard the people-centred approach that is central to CLTS. All of this will go a long way in ensuring that programmes contribute to sustainable sanitation and hygiene improvement.

Join us next time as we cover innovative strategies and approaches for tackling slippage.