Evaluating usage: a visit to Davangere

By Radhika Viswanathan, Arghyam

An important part of the behavioural change communication in Davangere is Final Mile’s work on toilet usage and behaviour (more here and here). Here the intervention focuses on households who already have toilets, but have a discernible usage problem. The intervention is designed around a series of subtle behavioural nudges that will help people understand and use their toilets better. In order to understand the impact and effectiveness of the intervention, Arghyam is partnering with an external agency, Catalyst Management Services (CMS), who will measure and evaluate the outcomes of the project. They will conduct a baseline survey before the intervention and an endline survey shortly after.

The surveys have been designed keeping two respondents from each household in mind – one male and one female. Only households with toilets are targeted. The survey has been designed quite elegantly; it’s a neat, tight set of questions focussing on usage. We’re trying to gauge toilet behaviours of every member in the household and trying to see if there are patterns – so, who all use the toilet regularly? For what purpose? Is toilet usage seasonal? Do people know how to use and maintain the toilet? What do people do when they’re not at home – where do they go? Why did they build a toilet? Where does the toilet rank in terms of financial prioritisation within the household?

Apart from these questions, the investigators also examine the toilet. This gives us an indication as to whether the toilet is actually being used (irrespective of the answers people may give) and this will also hopefully get a more truthful answer from the respondents.

Along with some colleagues from CMS, we recently went to visit some of the villages in Davangere district where the baseline surveys were being conducted. As we cross Chitradurga and drive towards Davangere, the landscape quickly changes – the hills around Chitradurga give way to the flat plains of Davangere. Dusty roads cut straight through the Earth and everything has a brownish tinge, even the trees are covered with a film of dust. But as we cover the fifteen odd kilometres between Davangere and Harihar, the landscape undergoes another transformation. The dry flat plains give way to verdant green paddy and areca. This greenery is due to the Bhadra canal, which has brought irrigation to this side of the district. Farmers who used to grow ragi and other produce now grow paddy. It’s the kharif season, and the fields are full of fresh shoots, and it’s a lively bright green as far as the eye can see.

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A social map of the village

We visited Budhihal, a village in Harihar taluka to check in on the household surveys. It’s a fairly affluent village, with a large number of pucca houses. The field investigators (FIs) are a bright bunch hired from in and around Davangere. They start their day by splitting up the list of households they have to visit. A social map of the village – drawn up with the help of some villagers, helps map the village, the key common public spaces, identify the different communities and where they live, and the geographical spread of households having toilets. They split up the clusters of households amongst themselves. Armed with stacks of surveys they set off into the village.

It’s a difficult task. Most surveys ask fairly objective questions but since this survey looks at usage, questions can be unexpected or sensitive. I tagged along with the women investigators, who were interviewing women only. The trick here is to put the interviewee at ease, and to conduct more of a discussion or conversation rather than a formal interview. I was impressed with the way in which the FIs, young girls, were able to strike a rapport almost immediately with the respondents. At times when people didn’t understand the question, they were good at explaining the question to the respondent without leading them towards the answer. It’s a difficult yet important job really, going from house to house in the hot sun, asking the same questions over and over again, but they did it cheerfully and enthusiastically.

Baseline and endline surveys will provide data on ‘before’ and ‘after’ the intervention – they are snapshots in time. What they don’t capture are changes in human behaviour that may not adhere to our time bound interventions. So it’s also important to capture the narratives, thought processes and other experiences that the intervention may trigger off. A series of focus group discussions (FGDs) with closed groups of men, women, and adolescents have also been organised to try and understand the dynamics around sanitation and toilet usage in the village. The day we visited Davangere, we dropped into a womens’ FGD that was organised in the local Anganwadi.

The idea is not to only talk about one’s own experience, but to discuss the various narratives within the village. An FGD led by a good facilitator can bring out various themes from participants without stigmatising or enforcing a majoritarian view on them.

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A focus group discussion underway

Many interesting stories emerged from the FGD. Only some communities in the village have toilets. Women spoke about how these toilets have affected their daily routine, how it’s a burden if there isn’t enough water. Men, it turns out, seem to prefer to go to the fields when the irrigation canals are full – around 8 months of the year – rather than go at home. At the same time with irrigation fuelling agriculture in and around the village, there are fewer places women can go to defecate in the open.

Narratives like this bring out the variety of experiences and thought processes going on. We begin to understand the complexity of the problem, the interconnectivity of water supply, groundwater, sanitation, irrigation, education, development (etc) through qualitative exercises such as this one. It’s easy to measure an intervention by defined outcomes that are captured through quantitative surveys. But equally important – and even more so since we’re talking about behavioural changes – are the processes and experiences that are influenced by the intervention.

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