Viewing Behavior Change Through Another Lens

As is well known and well covered in the media, there is a sanitation crisis in India, with over half the population (roughly 600 million people) forced to open-defecate every day due to a lack of adequate facilities, infrastructure, and even a basic understanding of the importance of healthy sanitation habits. This makes India the world’s biggest culprit in terms of open-defecation, with more than double the amount of the next 11 countries combined.

Additionally, the country loses over US$50 billion dollars per year (roughly 6% of GDP) due to sanitation-related illnesses, one child under the age of 5 dies every 20-seconds from diarrhea stemming from water-borne illnesses, safety of women and girls remains one of the primary concerns in settings where they are forced into the (more…)

Letters, Meetings, and a Whole Lot of Patience

Maintaining a website and a as-real-time-as-possible blog for Project Sammaan has been extremely challenging for several reasons. The most basic challenge is simply getting people from the various organizations working on the project to contribute. This is certainly understandable, to a certain degree, considering that many of these people have no background, or even interest, in writing. The problem inherent in this recalcitrance though is the mandate to capture the Project Sammaan experience for inclusion in the end-deliverable of a toolkit that will help guide the efforts of others interested in replicating the project. After all, only you can share your story; no one else can know or adequately capture what your experience has been like.

This is well and truly an ancillary concern though, and one that we’ve taken great strides in addressing through various strategies, whether it be creating questionnaires for people to fill out and then work with me to structure the answers into some cogent and coherent narrative or simply me chasing after and threatening people to get them to contribute. The real issue (more…)

A Tale of Two Cities

We have written extensively about the challenges that have been faced over the past 2+ years working on Project Sammaan. Whether it’s managing the efforts and interests of multiple stakeholders, revising architectural drawings based on ground realities, navigating the complexities of working with urban local bodies in India, or “simply” keeping the initiative within its budget, the hurdles have been many, and significant.

One additional challenge that we’ve been remiss in discussing, though, involves accounting for the different working styles and protocols of the partners based in the pilot cities and those based elsewhere. As one of the only foreigners working on the project, and in the Indian context for the first time, adjusting to different working styles was a given. However, I was largely unprepared for just how divergent, even seemingly antithetical, the office dynamics can be from one city to the next.


Lessons from Sammaan

I spent the past 20 months with Sammaan both as a full-time project manager and a part-time consultant, and have just disengaged from the initiative.

This time has helped me to understand the challenges in implementing large-scale innovations in government organisations while getting the firsthand experience of looking at the state of sanitation facilities in Indian slums.


Sammaan’s Architectural Design Principles

Building off of site visits and research work shared by our partners, we observed that, in the current scenario, the toilets were considered as a zone of filth. As such they were misused, making it unsafe, particularly for women and children. There was a major need to upgrade the experience of visiting a Public/ Community toilet.

Therefore, our designs were formulated on the basis of following principles:


Designing an Appropriate Sewage System for Odisha

Odisha’s specific environmental considerations, as well as other factors, such as increasing population and large proportion of people living in slums without regular access to water and sanitation, necessitates the design of a sanitation solution that is customised to these constraints.

For Project Sammaan, particularly, it is vital that the sanitation infrastructure designed and deployed as part of the pilot project exemplifies the principles and design ideologies that best meet the needs of the people and the geography of the cities.


A Designer’s Perspective on Sammaan

I am part of the design team and coordinate a lot of Quicksand’s input with the architecture team at Anagram Architects (AA). This includes feedback on designs, coordination of various submissions to the BMC and CMC, and managing updates to the same. I also assist in overall project management, while coordinating inputs to J-PAL on several aspects of software.

A typical day for me consists of several phone calls with Siva and AA and other partners to facilitate various aspects of the project. It also involves writing a few emails about design perspectives to share with partners, as well as writing for, and reviewing, various communication deliverables on the project.


CTRAN’s Achievements

CTRAN is the project partner interfacing with the Government and has been instrumental in ensuring smooth progress of the project since its commencement. We have facilitated close liaison with the Government and other project partners, and have been actively involved in all activities from site selection to validation of layouts and designs, tendering process, branding, coordinating exposure visits, and taking feedback from the Government.

In short, CTRAN has been the interfacing tool between Project Sammaan and the Government.


The Future of Sanitation in India

With an aspiring and young population, there is a growing demand from the citizens and government officials alike to provide quality basic services like sanitation. India is rapidly urbanizing and this is putting a huge strain on the existing sanitation facilities, especially in urban slums.

The future of sanitation in India involves making a paradigm shift in thinking and leapfrogging in creating sanitation infrastructure like toilets and supporting sewerage systems. This requires driving initiatives like Project Sammaan and scaling them up rapidly to benefit millions of Indians who don’t have access to toilets.


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.