The story of Project Sammaan began in late 2011.

We started with the idea that improving sanitation services in low-income urban communities could have the potential to substantially improve the health of the residents of these communities. We also knew that the situation in urban areas was particularly complicated because of factors such as limited space, poor infrastructure, and the temporary nature of many urban communities.

In these areas, most households did not have enough space or strong enough property rights to build their own toilets, but local government could provide land and construct shared toilets for communities. Along with the municipal corporations of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, we set out to design a model that would address some of the common issues faced while implementing community toilet models.

This included figuring out how to improve the existing design for shared facilities to create more user-centric spaces with ventilation, ample space to move, and more privacy, to name a few of our goals. For operations, we also looked to design practical protocols for maintenance and a business model to ensure quality and sustainability of operations. Even after building better quality infrastructure and ensuring proper maintenance, we wanted to figure out if people were actually using these facilities and the type of strategies that may be effective to encourage use.

Though seemingly straightforward, this process took time. We learned that finding suitable locations for these facilities — spaces that were large enough, under the correct administrative ownership, and close to communities — was a challenge. Because the infrastructure designs were innovative and varied, finding a construction agency to take on the work required multiple rounds of proposals. Even once construction started, we faced hurdles in getting construction to start in sites that were initially cleared — due to issues like encroachments and hold outs.

To design the management model, we consulted communities and maintenance agencies and developed our own pricing model to design a system that could be scaled to many locations and had potential to provide better quality services than the status quo. Here we became concerned about the profitability of facilities and whether a management system could independently run operations at all sites. To minimize these concerns, we created a provision for grant funding from the municipalities, ensured through a formal contract between the municipalities and each community management committee.

On top of all of this, a team of researchers designed a set of four behavioral interventions aimed at increasing improved toilet usage and tested the impact using the randomized control trial methodology. The first intervention was community-level mobilization based on Community Led Total Sanitation. Other interventions aimed at households and individuals tried to build a new habit through a trigger (attractive and free calendars designed to remind households about Sammaan toilets), reward (hand sprayers in some facilities to provide a heightened sense of personal hygiene, and repetition (vouchers to make the toilets free to use for 45 days).

Many years have passed since the project began, but the innovations we have implemented are still relevant for sanitation projects today:

  • Building facilities with design elements and amenities to suit user requirements and preferences
  • Instituting a formal business model for community management at scale, including collecting actual data on facility usage through a tablet-based application
  • Implementing a combination of behavioral change strategies to better understand sanitation behavior

This toolkit contains details of these innovations as well as our learnings from implementing these on-the-ground at scale. We hope that you will find some useful information and resources here to help inform your own sanitation initiatives, or to at least provide you an idea of where to start and how to think about designing community sanitation programs.