The wicked problem of sanitation

By Alok Gangaramany, Final Mile

Wicked problems are problems where defining the problem itself is a challenge. As a result there is a high degree of subjectivity in everyone’s perspective of the problem as well as the solution.

Sanitation practices we know have evolved over years. The behavior is a consequence of multiple environmental factors such as infrastructure, education, lifestyles, social norms. The history associated with the problem also leads to multiple beliefs. For example, we could argue that defecating in the open is a natural activity and using toilets is more a modern and unnatural act. On the other hand, we also know that the practice even though done individually negatively impacts the collective.

With such varied arguments for the same problem, its good to have multiple perspectives in tackling the issue. There may not be a right or wrong solution to the problem. Depending on how we measure the impact, solutions may simply be better or worse. While it may be hard to determine the most optimal solution, we need to look at solutions that are practically feasible to implement and scale.

As part of the project, we have recently implemented a few behavioral experiments in the villages in / around Gulbarga district. The interventions are designed on behavioral science principles that target the non-rational mind. While not ruling out the approach entirely, we have stayed away from using monetary or infrastructural incentives to change behavior. That said, we do recognize that the final package may require both. These experiments are being tested for both impact and feasibility. With the help of on-ground support, we have developed a system of monitoring and feedback.

Final Mile's door intervention

While the results are still awaited, the philosophy is to use a non-linear, iterative experimental approach of problem solving.


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