Engaging users

Creating formal forums for users to learn about facility operations and to voice their concerns is an important part of making sure the community toilet facility is actually addressing sanitation needs in the community. Facility staff will be interacting with users daily, and managers may also be communicating with users as well as issues come up day-to-day, but a more structured conversations are still required.

User Training (1 week before facility opening)

Right before the facility opens, a user training meeting should be held to go over the rules and regulations of the facility, to officially introduce the management and staff and to provide users training on how to properly use the facility. Participants should majorly be potential users of the facility.

Main topics would include:

The user fee structure and necessity of user fees

Decided operational hours for the facility – at this point, if users have suggested changes, these should be considered by the managers and caretakers

Responsibilities of managers and staff

The proper way to use the different elements of the facility – i.e. using a flush tank, how to use the menstrual waste disposal, how to turn off taps properly so that water is not wasted and taps are not broken.

The procedure for users to lodge complaints

Part of this meeting should be held at the facility itself so that live demonstrations can be conducted to show how to use facility elements properly. This also builds excitement for facility opening.

At the end of this meeting, you can ask for people who would want to be in the standing committee for the facility so that some potential users will be involved in the management system from the beginning.

FGDs with facility users (4 months after facility opening)

After the managers and facility staff have had a few months to settle into operations and gain some practical experience running the facility, focus group discussions (FGDs) should be held in the community with facility users. This should include people currently using the facility, and those who used to use and are not using any more.

These FGDs should broadly cover:

Feedback on facility design (both positive and negative)

Feedback on the facility staff and overall operations (both positive and negative)

Knowledge of users about facility management

Any major suggested changes

Some points to remember:

Arranging this meeting will take effort, but it will be worth it.It’s essential that participants are actual users (or former users) of the facility. Special effort will need to be made by the coordinating team to identify these individuals and call them to the meeting. Otherwise, the conversations may be dominated by active members of the community who already have their own toilet – which is not useful for collating user feedback.

These conversations will need to be facilitated. If managers or staff are directly asking these questions of users, the conversation may soon turn unproductive. For the first set of conversations, managers should be briefed about the purpose of the FGDs and told to sit in on the conversations and listen to users.

The FGDs should be conducted in small groups – If 30 users show up for the meeting, the group should be divided into three – with one facilitator per group. Keeping the groups small helps to make sure that more users are heard. The aim is to identify commonly held opinions, and not the opinions of a few louder individuals. In large meetings, it’s usually only these few loud voices that are heard.

Any urgent feedback from users that comes up in the initial days should definitely be acted on, but having managers take all feedback coming from users too early on may be too overwhelming. That’s why we recommend waiting a few months to conduct this meeting. If possible, a follow-up FGD can be set up a few months after the first one to see whether user feedback has changed/improved.

User engagement sessions (6 months after facility opening)

One of our main learnings from the FGDs with users, is that they didn’t know very much about how the facility was actually being managed. Most felt that the caretaker had full responsibility for the toilet. Very few users knew what their user fees were being used for, or about their responsibilities as users. This was despite the fact that we had already held many meetings in the community where some of these users were present.

To help change this, we decided to hold user engagement sessions in each site. These covered the following topics:

Roles and responsibilities of facility managers and standing committee, and who these individuals are

Roles and responsibilities of users in facility operations

Common issues that come up at the facility

How the user fees are spent, and what happens if user fees are not paid

The main change we implemented in these meetings was to make the entire session activity-based, encouraging active participation throughout while communicating key concepts and information. We realized that a typical meeting set up was perhaps not the best way to get people to engage with the content.


To help users understand their responsibility in keeping the facility clean, we conducted a skit showing a “good” user, and a messy user and how the “good” user could help convince the messy user to be more considerate.

For the user fee exercise, we used balloons and large cash notes to show the different payments that need to be to keep the facility running. In the scenario where a few people don’t pay user fees, the facilitator is left empty handed and not able to hand any balloons over to the electricity company.

  • Resources

Guide for conducting user training

Process and questions for FGDs with users

Learnings from FGDs with users

Guide for conducted user engagement sessions