Site Selection

Choosing a site to build a community toilet is not an easy task, particularly in urban slum communities. But if special effort is made to choose a site well, this makes the process of obtaining official land clearance, constructing the facility, and gaining
community support for the project much smoother. In our experience, there are many factors to consider while deciding where to build a community toilet.

Technical constraints

  • Is there enough open space for construction?
  • Is there a proper access road to the site for construction vehicles?
  • Is the water table too high in the location, making construction and septic management a challenge?
  • Is there an existing community toilet facility that has to be demolished before construction for the new facility can start?

Administrative concerns

  • Is the land government or privately owned?
  • Is the site located near any local administrative boundaries (between two wards, or two hamlets)? Sites near these boundaries turn out to be problematic because local officials will not want to support or take ownership of a project that doesn’t clearly
    fall in their jurisdiction. It can also be hard to get communities on both sides of the administrative boundary to work together and support the project.

Informal land ownership

  • Official government land records are only one part of the picture when trying to understand the ownership of land in slum communities. Sometimes these official land details are out of date and community members may have more
    up-to-date information about land status. Also, local community members sometimes encroach or capture empty land in slums. That’s why, once you identify a few potential sites based on administrative records, it’s always
    a good idea to informally visit the slum and ask community leaders if they have any information about the status of the land.


  • How many households will likely use the facility?
  • If there are only very few households that don’t have a toilet, you may need only a small patch of land to build a small community toilet.
  • If expected demand is near zero, then it may not be worth it to build a community toilet in that site.
  • If expected demand is very high, you will need to find a large patch of land to build a large enough facility (or two patches of medium-sized land to build two separate facilities).


  • How far is the facility from where most of the expected users live? Will they have to cross any major roads of pass by public places in order to access the facility?
  • In addition to estimating the number of expected users in the community, you have to also consider the walking distance from these households to the potential facility site. Sometimes a site will seem very close to a household, but the walking route is
    quite far because there aren’t any direct routes between the two locations.

Community dynamics

  • While choosing a site for a community toilet, you have to consider the needs and relationships of the different communities living in the slum. Sometimes though two communities live in the same slum, they rarely interact with each other or have a bad
    relationship with one another. In this situation, if you build a single community toilet, it may be used by one community and not used by the other community.
  • Insights from site selection

Physical distance is less of a hinderance than the surroundings of the facility

People are willing to travel long distances to use a community toilet. What matters more, is the surroundings of the toilet itself. If the area is too isolated, people may not feel safe going there. If the location is too public and near a busy road,
people may feel uncomfortable to go to the facility because of a lack of privacy.

Just because a space looks open, doesn’t mean that the site is a good option

There may be many open spaces in a slum but you’ll have to look more carefully to figure out which ones might work. For instance, are there access roads for large vehicles? Is the site next to a place that the community sees as sacred (temple or a monument?)
Is the open space used for community events?

Start construction as soon as possible after selecting

We had several cases where community members started to encroached the finalized space with building materials, their possessions and other items as soon as they realized that something might be built there. The status of sites can change quickly, minimizing
the gap between identification and start of construction is key.

  • The Sammaan experience with site selection

The site selection factors mentioned in this section are a compilation of our learnings from having conducting multiple rounds of site selection to identify locations for Project Samaan facilities.

Our team visited hundreds of potential slums across Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in order to find sites that would meet these site selection criteria. Over 150 sites made it on the shortlist of sites that would be viable for the project. In the end, construction
was only possible in about 40 of these sites. Why did we face such a high rate of site drop out?

When we first started the site selection process in 2013, we were still learning about the factors that should be considered during site selection. So while some sites initially seemed like good options based on technical and administrative assessments, we later had to drop these sites when unforeseen issues related to disputed land ownership or community conflict came up. On top of that, due to various project delays, there was a long gap between identification of sites and the actual start of construction. During this gap, many sites became inviable for the project due to encroachment of the space, eviction of the community etc. Also, because of the impact evaluation study, we had limited scope to consult communities fully before selecting sites. All of these factors combined led to a high rate of site dropout.

  • Resources

Check out our resources to see more details about the process involved to get official land approved and more insights and case studies related to the site selection from sammaan. we’ve also included a site selection checklists and tips on how to decide
what technology to build.

Process for obtaining land approvals

Case studies of site selection

Site selection checklist

Deciding which typology to build