Sunday, April 19, 2009
Long time, no blog. My apologies. I’ll here give a recap of the last few weeks and then I’ll go into more detail in some subsequent posts. . .
The first four weeks of the project were focused on user research and resulted in the research summary document to which I’d posted a link at the end of February. Coming out of the research phase, we transitioned into trying to come up with latrine ideas that met the needs and desires of the Cambodian villagers. We started with a day-long ‘deep dive’ with the project’s core and advisory teams. We then took some of the ideas from the workshop and some supplemental ideas and spent a week and a half building scaled prototypes of existing latrine components (and a few new ones) and generating some posters which illustrated simple upgrade paths. Coming out of the early research, we weren’t highly convinced about the notion of upgradeability—whether people fully understood it or would be willing to engage in it. Upgradeability was one of the premises of the project, so it seemed worth it to doublecheck.
The field visit was only one two-hour group session in Kandal province--we were trying to be efficient—but it wasn’t highly inspiring (more detail to follow). So we decided to take the same protos to Svey Rieng for a longer, more in-depth visit to include one-on-ones with villagers and masons. That was much better. We also started to build full-scale prototypes of rings, pans and slabs and have just taken those to the field this past week. During the last few weeks, the IDE office also had a weeklong offsite to Mondulkiri (which I hear was a great time, though I couldn’t attend), I went to New Zealand for a bit of a holiday and this particular week is Khmer New Year. I think it’s now the year of the cow. Khmer New Year’s a big holiday, so the IDE office shut down except for me and Olaf (a Norwegian gent who’s leading up IDE’s water filter business). In fact, pretty much the whole city shut down because all the Khmer have gone out to the provinces to visit family and the expats have gone on holiday. I haven’t biked on such peaceful streets in a very long time.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
My last two days of field work were about a week and a half ago in Kandal—a province about a half hour outside Phnom Penh. All villagers this time. Three each day. We tried to reach dry latrine, wet latrine and non-latrine households in order to better understand the motivations of each. I won’t go into it in much detail now, but did want to share more of my photos to give you a better sense of the people and the environment.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Participant recruiting (normally the bane of any researcher) is remarkably simple here. We just walk around the villages until we see someone with a latrine that looks interesting then go up to their house and ask if they want to talk. Everyone spends 98% of their time outside, so they’re easy to find. And everyone has been ridiculously generous with their time, very open to talking about defecation (something with a pretty strong taboo back west) and really funny and enjoyable to interact with. Physically, the people are amazingly beautiful and have great character, especially the elderly and the children. My photography doesn’t do them great justice, but here are some of the people we met:
The interviews mostly last an hour and are almost completely out of my hands. They happen all in Khmer and for every 5 minutes of talking, I get about 30 seconds of translation. I’m not getting a lot of the nuance, but I am getting something. I’m counting on the rest of the team to bring out the nuanced insights during the discussions this week.
Some of the latrines we saw. . .
Saturday, February 14, 2009
End of last week I learned about Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). It’s a movement that’s swept through the sanitation development sector in the last three or four years. It emerged in response to the realization that the decades of subsidizing latrine building was not going to solve the sanitation issue. There wasn’t enough money to build latrines for everyone, and those that were built were often left unused, locked or ended up broken. People who’d been defecating in the bush for generations weren’t going to completely change their behaviors just because there was now a latrine. In most cases, the villagers didn’t believe in the need for having a latrine. If there’s no belief, there will be no behavior change.
CLTS was pioneered in Bangladesh by Kamal Kar. If you want to see a video about it, watch this. It’s pretty interesting. In short, CLTS is a behavior change model based on generating disgust and shame. It’s about getting people to come to the realization that they are eating and drinking shit—their own shit and other people’s shit. Only later in the process is health brought up—in terms of diarrheal illness that the community experiences and health costs related to them. But primarily, it’s about eating shit. The language used is coarse--shit, shit, shit. Embarrassing people is encouraged.
Interestingly for us, CLTS is repeatedly adamant about not explicitly advocating for the construction of latrines or for specific latrine models—people are supposed to come to the realization on their own that latrines will help them stop eating shit. People are supposed to come up with their own solutions and designs to building latrines. Note, however, that CLTS is not completely consistent with this because during a CLTS event, CLTS moderators draw a simple latrine as an example (albeit late in the day during the CLTS event). And the CLTS training manual mentions that moderators can “share and explain about low and moderate cost latrine options. . . including the sources of their availability. . .” I think that the CLTS theorists just don’t want to lead the whole effort with latrine designs and latrine advocacy.
Anyhow, CLTS is the big buzz amongst the Cambodian Ministry for Rural Development and the NGOs. Though it has a few rules, CLTS is mostly open source, so each government and each NGO in each country has freedom to adapt it to more closely match their target populace and their own ideals. I’m pretty certain the Ministry for Rural Development has made a few changes to the methodology, but I’m still tracking them down. Not sure how major they are. One thing I’m fairly certain of is that the resistance of CLTS to advocate for certain latrine designs is leading to some problems in Cambodia. Amazingly enough, it turns out that if you don’t know how to properly built something, you usually do a pretty crappy job the first time. And the second time. And the third time. Ever tried to build a chair? How do you think your first one would come out?
The CLTS insistence that villagers develop their own latrine designs and constructions is, in my opinion, flawed. Most villagers are building dirt pit dry latrines. They’re cost-free (minus self-labor) but they’re far from ideal for many reasons that I’ll get to in a later post. But for now, it’s enough to know that a significant number of the dry pits built as a result of CLTS efforts have been collapsing due to soil instability during the wet season. The villagers affected are left without proper sanitation for the rest of that wet season and have to redig a new pit the following year. Often, the pit isn’t redug and the villagers return to open defecation. When it is redug, it often collapses again the next wet season. It’s not a sustainable sanitation approach here in Cambodia. I’m not sure how to marry the IDE technology solutions with the agnosticism of CLTS, but I am sure that it needs to be done.
By wanting a $10-20 initial price-point, are we fighting the CLTS efforts? How do we say that our $10-20 latrine is the first step when CLTS is saying that a hand-made dry pit is the first step? Do we need a zero price-point (or $2-$5) design included in our material (i.e., a dry pit design with a dirt pit—maybe lined with local free bamboo—covered with a bamboo and clay slab with a thatch superstructure—cash expenditure only for nails and for a pipe for pit ventilation)?
I also wonder how this might affect the IDE marketing effort. How closely will IDE work with CLTS? Will IDE be in the villages at the same time as CLTS folks or shortly after? When will IDE share its designs and how will that fit in with the CLTS philosophy? Should IDE’s marketing efforts echo the same coarse language and push some of the same buttons as CLTS (disgust and shame)? Given our premise of an upgradeable latrine (a stair-step model, if you will), is the first big step about not eating shit?