Using internal group members to activate a new social norm of using toilets

by Sonia Saraf, Final Mile

Based on extensive research and experiments, FinalMile has come up with a couple of pilot ideas to tackle the wicked problem of open defecation. In the next few months, these pilot ideas will be implemented in Davangere district, Karnataka and their effectiveness will be measured.

One of the two ideas looks at activating a new social norm of toilet usage in villages through the influence of internal group members, as opposed to people from outside the village.

Open defecation is the current social norm in villages, especially in those that do not have space constraints. This is primarily because open defecation is engaging and is the natural thing to do. As per FinalMile’s findings, people built toilets not with the intention of using them, but due to a number of external factors such as increasing peer pressure, utilizing subsidies and building new assets.

FinalMile’s approach focuses on using children within the village as a conduit to generate social conversations around toilet use. Children in schools will be encouraged to use toilets through empirical learning, making toilet use more visible and using cues as reminders. These children, in turn will encourage the adults in the village to use toilets.

The very famous and effective fly experiment from Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) will be used as a means of adding disgust to open defecation. Children will first be shown a poster of a fly sitting on food. The same poster will have a flap, which will be lifted to show that the same fly was sitting on fecal matter before it came and sat on the food. Both these sights are a very common occurrence in villages, but people are not able to make the connection between them. This story will enable children to make the connection and trigger them to think about the benefits of toilet use.


Encouragement will be derived from the story of a relatable person. This is the real life story of a 13-year-old boy named Omkar from an Indian village that did not have any toilets. Omkar realized how it was extremely difficult to defecate in the open during the monsoon, and became determined to make his parents get a toilet at home. He made his family save up money and forced them into building a toilet at home. After that, he even got his school to build toilets. He then started advocating the benefits of toilet use in his village and committed himself to the cause. This encouraged lots of people in his village to construct and use toilets. Omkar’s story has also been showcased on CNN-IBN, a national news channel.

Apart from that, the story of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, shall also be narrated. Mahatma Gandhi realized the importance of toilet use and encouraged people to start constructing and using toilets. He even got toilets built in his ashrams.

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After narrating these stories, 4-5 children will be selected by the teacher to re-narrate the stories to their classmates. This acts as a means of reinforcement by friends.

Reminders shall be provided in the form of stickers of the fly poster, which will be stuck on the front and back cover pages of children’s notebooks. Apart from this their time tables shall also be updated to reflect “toilet and water breaks”, wherein it will be compulsory for all children to drink water and use their school toilets for urination in the breaks. There will be four such breaks in a day, at a regular interval of two hours. An updated copy of the timetables shall be posted in common areas as reminders. Directional arrows, pointing towards school toilets shall also be pasted in common areas to act as additional reminders.


In order for the children to encourage toilet use by adults, teachers will hand out homework surveys to the children, which will have a set of questions addressing the parents and other adults in the village. The children will have to go to the adults in the villages, ask them a set of questions regarding toilet use, fill up the surveys and hand them back to the teacher the next day. The questions will be designed such that they make the adults aware that open defecation causes a number of diseases such as diarrhea, etc., especially amongst children. The adults will be asked if they are willing to change their habits for the health of their children. Coming from the children themselves, this could be a very effective strategy to activate new social norms of toilet use within the village.