How small and regular design tweaks can make a big difference to latrine use

Tanya Glanville-Wallis Emergencies, Humanitarian, Refugees and IDPs, Violence Against Women and Girls, WASH Impact Series, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Communications Advisor, Tanya Glanville-Wallis, talks us through the process of developing Sani Tweaksa series of communications tools for technical staff, promoting best practices in sanitation.

Visiting the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, I reflected on just how few women use emergency latrines. Having worked in the humanitarian sector for years, using camp latrines is nothing new to me. Yet I found myself starting to question whether I actually felt safe.

For me, this unease was short-lived. However, for the women and girls who call these camps home, discomfort, and sometimes terror, is a daily reality. As we recently learnt, the truth is that they often simply avoid using the latrines altogether, resorting instead to unsanitary alternatives.

Identifying our goal and how to achieve it

Our goal is behaviour change, both in the people who use the latrines, and our technical staff who build them.
To design latrines that meet the needs of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, we need to change our approach. Users—especially women and girls—must be consulted and involved throughout the design process. Our goal is behaviour change, both in the people who use the latrines, and our technical staff who build them.

But how do we change the career-long habits of such staff, who are so often fatigued, burdened by time constraints, and bogged down by technical lingo and lengthy documents? A crucial first step is to improve the way we communicate with them; bridging the gap between theory and practice, to inspire new ways of working.

Understanding our target audience

Even with limited capacity and resources, it is essential that the materials we produce are appropriate for their target audience. Last summer, we sought to deepen our understanding of how water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) staff like to learn. We conducted a survey, asking questions such as: how do you prefer to receive new information? What sort of communications are likely to be memorable?

The results were not surprising, identifying that technical staff learn best through human interaction—workshops, conferences, and on-the-job learning—and recognising the  greatest barriers to their learning as a lack of internet connectivity, time constraints, and an overabundance of wordy documents.

Repackaging information

Traditionally, we tend to produce academic communications that technical staff find exhausting, and struggle to engage with. We learned that we need to repackage that information to cut through the noise, and appeal to the hearts and minds of those who can make a practical difference. These three principles guided our work:

  • We can’t always provide direct interaction, but can we make our learning tools more human, relatable and engaging?
  • When time constraints and connectivity are an issue, we must simplify resources to make them catchy and bite size.
  • A combined and varied approach—with a range of products, all carrying the same core messages—is more likely to appeal to different senses, and guarantee success.

Introducing Sani Tweaks

Consult the user, regularly and repeatedly.
In January, we launched Sani Tweaks—a series of communications tools designed to promote best practices in sanitation, and encourage staff to retain one central idea: to consult the user, regularly and repeatedly.

What started as a basic checklist has grown into a range of visual resources for technical staff. Each outlines a series of design ‘tweaks’—minor adjustments based on community dialogue, that will ultimately determine whether a woman uses the latrine or not.

Sani Tweaks five-minute animation, outlining key considerations to help people feel safer using latrines.

Our aim is to overcome communication barriers. The series re-packages and presents existing best practices in a variety of new ways. This offers technical staff a range of options to choose from, according to their individual preferences.

The available tools include:

  • A checklist. Simple, practical and printable, for people who respond well to bullet points;
  • An illustrated booklet. With three central characters to bring a story-telling element for visual learners;
  • An animation. A five-minute video that brings the illustrations to life, designed for staff to watch when they are tired and have limited time;
  • Ask Andy’ videos. Short clips that provide simple solutions to practical obstacles, presented by Andy Bastable, Oxfam’s Head of Water and Sanitation.

‘Ask Andy’ episode 1, showing how to easily create durable locking mechanisms for a latrine.

Next steps

Behaviour change takes time. We are asking technical staff to consult users, regularly and repeatedly, and  as communicators, we must make the same efforts to continuously seek staff feedback, listen and adapt. Are the tools we provide engaging and user-friendly? Are they making a difference to user satisfaction, and ultimately, are they driving increased latrine use?

Whether these new tools make a difference remains to be seen. We will disseminate them throughout the humanitarian WASH sector, and closely monitor how they are used. Knowledge and awareness alone rarely bring about behaviour change. But we feel that making information more accessible is a first step in the right direction, as we strive to place women and girls at the very heart of our emergency response.

Browse and use Sani Tweaks resources

Sani Tweaks resources are available in English and French. Arabic versions to follow soon.


Tanya Glanville-Wallis