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What was the challenge?

Following a WASH Gap Analysis in 2013, both sanitation and effective community engagement were identified as priority working areas for the HIF in the coming years. In recent years, increasing efforts have been made to better understand not only the physical and safety needs of those affected by a rapid-onset emergency, but also their cultural and religious contexts and how these shape sanitation practices and needs. However, these efforts remain isolated, with experiences not well recorded, reflected upon or communicated in a way that can inform and guide sanitation decision-making in rapid-onset emergencies which makes it hard to learn from and replicate across new emergencies.

There are several partners as part of the HIF’s User-Centred Sanitation Design through Rapid Community Engagement challenge: Oxfam, the Research & Evaluation (R&E) partner; partners who will implement rapid community engagement projects; and 1 dissemination partner (to be confirmed).

What is the final objective of the challenge as R&E Partner?

It is hoped that through working in both rapid onset and protracted crisis contexts across different partners, we will be able to document best practice and lessons learned through the different methodologies, tools and approaches to community engagement in user-centred latrine design. The learnings will be collated and a framework will be developed to guide and support all WASH organisations in implementing Community Engagement for Sanitation in humanitarian emergencies.

How will we do it?

The partners implementing rapid community engagement projects will work across one Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework, to help measure the same indicators across all locations. Additionally, the partners will each contribute to a global methodological framework, which allows us to match similarities and identify differences in modalities for community engagement and user-centred-design so that we can track what has been successful and why, as well as what we would recommend doing better or avoiding in future.

How are we getting started? The Landscape Review:

To date, Oxfam has completed a Landscape Review to find out what already exists on community engagement (CE) and Sanitation. The review found that, despite some agencies having their own processes in engaging the community and the widely-used Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process, none use a specifically designed method to engage communities for the first stage of a rapid-onset emergency. The review identifies that poor practice comes from the absence of community engagement rather than weaknesses in those who do practice it, but the methods used within the 12-week period go little further than conversations with groups of men and women.

The Landscape Review further highlights the lack of data which limits its own outcome; whilst rapid-onset emergencies are defined as the first 12 weeks following a crisis, most evidence refers to longer-term development contexts and is collected through semi-structured interviews rather than more robust data gathering. There are some successes of engagement; for example, in the Nepal earthquake response, community engagement led to an increase in women using the latrines by adding a hook whereby they could hang their purses rather than put on the floor. There are also examples of issues risen from non-engagement; for example, in Jordan; the latrines built for Syrian refugees were widely vandalised as they did not meet cultural needs.

Understanding context is a key component of Community Engagement. This can be done during community meetings and workshops as shown here in Ninewa, Iraq. Credit: Simone Carter

What will make a difference?

The review highlights the need for the development of minimum standards and/or basic principles for guiding engagement that are simple and portable and can be adapted to different contexts and summarises the following approaches that will make a difference:

Always engage: even a few hours of rapid community engagement (including with children) can make a significant difference to the appropriateness and acceptance of sanitation facilities
• Start with simple community engagement objectives and proposed sanitation designs
• Create a short list of the critical information about the affected people’s sanitation practices and beliefs that must be understood before facilities are designed
• Identify effective and accepted community leaders as early as possible
• Identify the skills available in the affected communities – don’t assume outsiders are needed
• Consult with the community about maintenance and cleaning early in the response


When are people needing access to latrines? Are we considering how they have access to sanitation while trying to set up or manage their work/ livelihoods in an emergency? Often we think about sanitation only for camps or communities (families) but markets are where many people spend their days. Credit: Simone Carter

• Prepare. Invest in pre-crisis skills and an understanding of the community
Leadership: from the WASH Cluster or government on community engagement in sanitation
Communicate honestly with the communities about the constraints and compromises that the context may dictate (technical constraints, space, funding etc)
• Assume nothing about community needs and preferences. Designs will usually need to be revisited and redesigned over time
Plan for a process: start simple and adapt and deepen as time and context permits

What’s next?

Oxfam is working to develop an M&E framework to evaluate community engagement methodologies. The hypothesis being tested is that greater community engagement (including empowerment, trust and mutual respect) leads to improved latrine construction that is timely, appropriate, consistently used and community-owned.


Top image: Nepalese woman with a radio

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