Put the Poo in the New Loos

Project Samman, over the past 3 years, has been putting in immeasurable effort towards a single, immense goal: building great new community toilets. At some point in the not-too-distant future, 57 brand new, gleaming toilet blocks will come into existence, and it will be a major accomplishment for the project.

But then what?

What happens next? Just because the new toilets exist, will people use them?

This is not as easy of a question to consider as it might seem at first glance. We might think, “Why (more…)

Pre-Construction Activities

There are a series of interrelated activities that must occur prior to the commencement of construction on the Sammaan facilities in order to ensure the project is as effective as possible. The challenge is that these activities cannot begin until after the contractors have been selected and a clearly defined construction timeline created as they need to be completed as close to the commencement of building the facilities as can be afforded.

Naturally, the extensive delays in the tendering process and, ultimately, in finding suitable contractors for facility construction has put the timelines for the pre-construction activities in a (more…)

Vox Populi Video

In the spring of 2013, members of the Project Sammaan team from CFAR and Quicksand spent the day visiting one of the bastis (i.e., slums) in Bhubaneswar. The purpose of this visit, as I wrote about in a previous post, was to provide a platform for community members to discuss any aspects of their lives that they wished to, irrespective of its relevance to Sammaan.

We intentionally kept the questions vague and open-ended to encourage interviewees to share as much as possible. Queries such as, “What is it like living here?” and “What do you like and dislike about your community?” led to some great insights.


Census Completion!

The main field milestone in August has been the completion of the census data collection. As I write this update, the team is gearing up for what will be their last census field session. We follow a rule of a site-wide first-pass followed by two revisits for each unfinished household. Today the field team is preparing for a second revisit at the last remaining site.

With the completion of this last batch of 10 sites in Bhubaneswar, what has been nearly a 11-month long exercise draws to a close. In this time, we have, in total, surveyed 32 sites in Cuttack, and about a 100 sites in Bhubaneswar, covering over 20,000 households in Bhubaneswar and 7,000 households in Cuttack. The overall completion rates in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack stand at around 87% and 90%, respectively.


Community Census

As part of Project Sammaan, J-PAL is studying how improved community sanitation models impact open defecation rates in urban slums in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. J-PAL is currently conducting large scale surveys in the communities Project Sammaan works in.

As a first step, J-PAL defines the communities using maps. Based on these maps the J-PAL’s survey team conducts a door to door census survey. This census survey provides the basis for a more in-depth baseline study.


Sammaan and India’s Future

The future of sanitation in urban slums in India will continue to be a challenge. While government policy clearly mandates individual housing for slum-dwellers in the future, it clearly is a huge challenge that will probably take eons to take shape, due to ever-increasing patterns of migration within the country. Community sanitation has forever been neglected as an area of focus for policy and innovation, while it continues to be the only real alternative to several people living in urban slums in India. Because of this, it needs single-minded focus both from policymakers as well as stakeholders in the sector to ensure that there can be sustainable and well-designed solutions.

Project Sammaan should surely make an impact on thousands of lives in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. But I also hope that, through this “experiment”, we will be able to create a model for replicable innovation that can be adapted to various contexts and can bring better sanitation to the lives of slum-dwellers elsewhere as well.


Q&A: Selva Swetha

Briefly explain your role within the Project Sammaan team. (e.g., What do you do? What is a typical day like for you?)

I am a Research Associate (RA) with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). J-PAL constitutes the research arm within Project Sammaan, where we’re testing and scientifically evaluating the project and its various experiments using a randomised-controlled-trial methodology.

Along with my co-RA Anustubh, I am based out of Bhubaneswar, where we’re responsible for coordinating the research study on the ground. Currently, we are in the midst of conducting a detailed census across more than a hundred study slums in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, collecting basic information on demographics and sanitation practices. This would also serve as a sampling frame for the baseline activities.


Vox Populi

On a recent trip to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, members of the Project Sammaan team from Quicksand and CFAR visited slums with the intention of recording a series of interviews with community members. These conversations are part of an initiative to build off of the user-experience theme that governed Potty Project in the past and guides Project Sammaan both today and going forward.

Whereas previous visits to these communities and interactions with those living within them were focused around gaining insights that will help drive specific aspects of Project Sammaan, these visits were intentionally devoid of such parameters. These conversations were intended to afford people a platform in which they could share thoughts and opinions on their daily lives, their communities, and their aspirations for the future.



Operations & Maintenance (O&M) is one of the four pillars of innovation, primarily due to the fact that shortcomings and failures within this largely determines the success of the facilities.

Given the importance of this workstream, a great deal of time and effort has gone into understanding the current models that are employed, while exploring practical changes that can be made to operating and maintaining these facilities while improving the quality of life of the caretakers themselves, both through their perceived value and position within the communities they serve and by addressing unfair business practices that put an undue financial strain on them.


CFAR’s Role in Project Sammaan

CFAR’s role in Project Sammaan is to actively engage in facilitating community interactions in the field for: social mapping of each slum, community engagement and dialogue during design and construction phases, and facility management training for community members to help ensure the endeavour’s sustainability.

Presently, we are working on developing a strategy and implementation action plan for community intervention. A communication framework was developed that identified the specific issues that might affect Project Sammaan at the community level, which included strengthening the capacity of staff on specific inputs needed for individual slums, and developing activity checklists for specific project deliverables. Apart from this, CFAR is supporting Quicksand and J-PAL when required at the community level for the project.