Challenge: User-centred sanitation design through rapid community engagement

To understand how to design, implement, and evaluate approaches to user-centred sanitation that incorporate rapid community engagement and are appropriate for the first stage of rapid-onset emergencies



The Problem

The provision of appropriate sanitation facilities in humanitarian emergencies is vital for minimising health risks and preserving people’s privacy, safety and dignity. An important aspect of such provision is to separate humans from their waste in a safe, sustainable and culturally acceptable way.

Because of limited time and resources available in emergencies, particularly rapid-onset disasters, the design, selection, and implementation of sanitation facilities is often done without adequate consultation or engagement with local communities. This often leads to the implementation of facilities that are not in line with people’s needs or preferences. This misalignment can ultimately lead to increased risk of health and social problems for those affected by the emergency.

From the moment an emergency strikes, sanitation teams usually have between 4 and 12 weeks to make decisions and implement the first basic sanitation infrastructure. Designing a community engagement process that can generate valuable insights and support decision-making in this short timeframe is a real challenge.

 Using community engagement to help decision-making in emergencies is not new. However, examples are isolated, with experiences not well recorded or reflected upon. There is also little recorded evidence of the effectiveness of community engagement approaches or their impact on decisions made. This makes it difficult to learn from mistakes, share good practice and encourage a change in practice.

Definitions of Key Terms

The Challenge

The aim of the Challenge is to create good practice guidance for rapid engagement with affected communities as end users to generate actionable and practical solutions for user-centred sanitation in emergencies. The guidance should be appropriate for the design of sanitation in the first stage (typically 12 weeks) of a rapid-onset emergency, but will be applicable to a range of humanitarian contexts, including protracted settings where rapid decision-making in sanitation design is necessary.

The aim of the Challenge is to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Understand existing community engagement practice and relevant approaches across a range of fields, as well as their strengths and limitations, and their applicability in an emergency;
  2. Develop and test innovative community engagement approaches and tools that can be used in a rapid-onset emergency;
  3. Develop a robust methodology to monitor and evaluate the impact of community engagement approaches on the overall satisfaction and use of sanitation facilities in emergency situations;
  4. Build a body of evidence around the effectiveness and impact of rapid community engagement in making sanitation decisions in humanitarian emergencies;
  5. Change existing practice by sharing evidence and learning around designing, implementing and evaluating rapid community engagement in emergencies.


Funding Calls

In order to meet these objectives we are looking to fund…



Deadline for applications: 10 March 2017
Funding of up to £200,000 is available




Deadline for applications: 31 May 2017
Funding of up to £100,000





Deadline for applications: 7 April 2017
Funding of up to £40,000



Innovation Process


1: Landscape Review of Relevant Community Engagement Practice and Approaches

In January 2017 we will launch a Call for a Research and Evaluation Partner (R&E Partner) to conduct a comprehensive review of relevant community engagement practice and approaches that could be adapted to a rapid-onset emergency. As part of this review, the R&E Partner is expected to engage with humanitarian practitioners and engineers making sanitation design decisions in emergencies. This should help them an accurate understanding of existing community engagement approaches and practice, as well as their strengths and limitations.

2: Rapid Community Engagement Projects Shortlisted

As part of this Challenge, we’re also looking to fund up to 5 Rapid Community Engagement projects that focus on informing and guiding sanitation design decisions in rapid-onset emergencies. The Call for project proposals will launch late February 2017. The R&E Partner is expected to support the HIF with shortlisting up to 10 projects to attend a 2-day Innovation Workshop in July 2017, in the UK. Shortlisting will take place in mid May 2017.

3: Innovation Workshop with Shortlisted Rapid Community Engagement Projects

Between 11-12 July 2017 the HIF will host an Innovation Workshop with up to 10 shortlisted Rapid Community Engagement projects. During this workshop, the R&E Partner will present findings from the Review of current practice, as well as share an initial monitoring and evaluation framework for community engagement projects in emergencies. The aim of this framework is to start a conversation around how to gather evidence on the effectiveness and impact of community engagement projects in rapid-onset emergencies.

The shortlisted Community Engagement teams attending will receive feedback on their proposals, as well as general and tailored advice from members of the HIF’s WASH Technical Working Group, and experts on topics such as participatory and user-driven design, monitoring and evaluation in emergency contexts, data collection, and ethics.

4: Rapid Community Engagement Projects Implemented in Humanitarian Emergencies

Up to 5 Community Engagement Projects will be selected to be implemented in rapid-onset emergencies. Funding of up to £100,000 will be made available for each chosen project. The kick-off period for the projects will be October 2017, with teams having up to 10 months for implementation and any relevant data collection. Teams are expected to liaise with the R&E Partner throughout this period, and in the subsequent months.

The R&E Partner will be responsible for developing a monitoring and evaluation framework that will allow the Community Engagement teams to collect relevant data on the evolution and impact of their projects. The R&E Partner will coordinate and support the teams to ensure data collection is consistent.

5: Data from Projects is Collated and Analysed

After the completion of the Community Engagement Projects, the R&E Partner will collate and analyse the data produced by the teams. Their main goal is to produce good practice guidance on how to carry out rapid community engagement projects to inform sanitation design decisions in emergencies. The guidance should also include a section on key ethical considerations, and one on how to effectively monitor and evaluate community engagement projects in emergency contexts. The R&E Partner will be expected to work together with a Dissemination Partner to identify the most relevant format for the guidance so that it brings the most value to its intended users and supports sanitation decision-making in emergencies.

6: Good Practice Guidance Shared with the Humanitarian Community

In February 2017 we will put out a call for a Dissemination Partner. Their role will be to work together with the R&E Partner to identify the most relevant format for the good practice guidance, as well as produce and disseminate it. Funding of up to £40,000 will be made available for the successful applicant.


In 2013, we commissioned a Gap Analysis to identify key challenges in emergency WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene). Improving satisfaction and use of sanitation facilities available in humanitarian emergencies was highlighted as a key area in need of innovation. Specifically, the focus was on the need to improve the way in which local communities are consulted and engaged in the process of designing, selecting, implementing, managing and maintaining sanitation solutions in a humanitarian crisis.

In designing the current Rapid User-Driven Sanitation Design Challenge, we collaborated with research and design agency Science Practice. They created a first version of the Challenge which was then tested and refined through in depth interviews with members of the HIF’s Technical Working Group and at a workshop with the Global WASH Cluster Meeting in 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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