Involving communities

Ideally, efforts should be made to engage the entire community throughout the community toilet like cycle. If the community surrounding the facility is very diverse and/or many household already have access to their own toilet facility, encouraging continued interest throughout the process may be difficult. For the sake of using your team’s resources wisely, we’ve identified a few key points where it is essential to put in the effort to involve the entire community.

Pre-construction dialogue (1-month before construction starts)

We conducted this process in two different stages.

Pre-construction dialogue is a consultation with an identified community where the community toilet project is introduced. For most places, you would want to conduct these dialogues one month before you would want to start construction. If there is a long gap between this dialogue and the start of construction, community support for the project may wane or the identified site may become encroached. This is something we experienced in many sites.

We conducted this process in two different stages.

  • Consultation with local leaders to introduce the important elements of the project to them and gauge their level of interest.
  • A larger community-wide meeting arranged with the help of local leaders.

During this community meeting, we asked participants about their views on the current sanitation situation of the community, introduced the Sammaan user fee structure, and the proposed location for the facility. At the end of the meeting, we would ask for a consensus on whether they agree to the project so that construction could start. The common issues voiced by participants were:

Reluctance to pay user fees

Preferences or information on the location – Sometimes participants would object to the location because it seemed too far, or too close to a public road. Other times, participants would inform us that the parch of land was sacred or that it was captured by a local powerful leader.

Strong preferences about who will manage the facility – when we were conducting these dialogues, we had not yet decided to implement community management everywhere. A few communities strongly mentioned that they would manage the facility, while some wanted the municipalities to manage it.

The facilitators would try to convince participants of the importance of user fees, or suitability of the land during the same meeting, or through subsequent meetings. In some cases, we were able to resolve the issues by finding an alternative location to build the facility. In other cases, were we weren’t able to build consensus, we ended up not pursuing construction in those sites.

In addition to gaining consent for the project, the pre-construction dialogue can also help you identify people who can help be the champions for the project in the community. At the end of these meetings, we collected names of volunteers who would look check-in on toilet construction and want to be involved in the project.

Construction check-in (1.5 months after start of construction)

Creating a formal forum for discussing the process of construction and any feedback or concerns that community members have is an important part of the community engagement process. Contractors will usually be external to the community, so there may be issues that come up as they interact day-to-day with community residents. Some community members may have questions about the quality of construction, or the contractor may require community support to minimize vandalism of the construction site. These types of conversations will be more effective if they are facilitated by a third party who can understand both sides.

The most common finding from these check-in conversations, is that most individuals who had volunteered to monitor construction during the pre-construction dialogue meeting mentioned that they hadn’t visited the construction site even once. Some mentioned they didn’t have the time, or did not know where the construction site was. Learning this, our team then made it a point to take all participants to the construction site at the end of each of these meetings.

Handover and phase-out (12 months after facility opening)

In most cases, it’s not possible for an organization to provide handholding support to a community for an indefinite amount of time. At some point, the handholding organization will usually phase out and exit the community – hopefully at a point when the management committee is mostly able to operate independently.

Before conducting the handover process, it’s important to ensure that all groups in the community are aware of the current status of the facility, what support might be required from them, and the minimum protocols that are supposed to be followed. You should also have a clear and simple list of minimum protocols for the facility that should be followed going forward. This will help simplify the messaging strategy.

The intensity of the handover process will depend on how functional and representative the facility management structure is.

If there are representatives from all the groups in the community in either the management or standing committee, and the two committees communicate with each other well, your handover process may involve just having a few conversations with these groups and then holding one large meeting to signal the handover with the entire community.

If the management structure is less representative, or less functional, the handover process will require more effort. You may have to map out the different communities and identify influential local community groups (SHGs, youth clubs) that could be brought into the management structure. After multiple consultations with these groups, you may identify people willing to take some responsibility for the facility. After this, could hold a final meeting to signal the handover.

In addition to community level dialogues, you should discuss the handover process with local government representatives or with external organizations that are active in the community. These could be important sources of support in case the facility faces major issues in the future. If possible, these individuals should be present in the final handover meeting.

The key to handover is to ensure that everyone knows who is responsible for facility management, the basic protocols that have to be followed, and the system of monitoring operations going forward.

  • Resources

Guidelines for conducting pre-construction dialogue

Process for construction check-in meeting

Learnings from the contractor and community perspective on the construction process

Framework for handover and phase-out