Changing the village, changing the country

Changing the village, changing the country

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?

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.’

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.

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.

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