The wisdom of the rear view mirror – Part I

By Balaji Gopalan, Centre of Gravity

It is not unusual for several myths to be busted in the course of a project. One of my favourite examples of a myth is a film to promote handwashing with soap in rural India. It had this hand, signifying the hand of any villager, going through a normal day performing routine activities such as picking cow dung, working in the field and washing a child’s bottom. Watching that film, most urbanites would recoil in disgust, but for people in rural India, it didn’t evoke any feeling of disgust. Not surprising, since this was their life and they saw nothing wrong with the picture.

When a bunch of people who have grown up in cities try to design a campaign for rural audiences, it is a fertile ground for myths. The toilet campaign sure had its share of strange myths. In the initial days of the project, as we interacted with experts, officials and campaigners on the ground many myths were thrown at us about the nature of the problem and the solution.

Research of course, helps one walk this road from myth to reality. As we stayed and interacted with villagers in Davangere district, Karnataka over the 2-3 months of our research for this project, many of these myths were busted. In this series of blogs, I share a few of them.

Myth 1: ‘People don’t want toilets’
The biggest myth of them all and what seemed quite logical at first. If the government was providing the financial incentive and people were still not constructing toilets, it must be because they don’t want them. Rather obvious, isn’t it? Therefore, the campaign objective was defined as: ‘How do we create demand for toilets?’

Picture courtesy Ashutosh Wakankar, Centre of Gravity

Picture courtesy Ashutosh Wakankar, Centre of Gravity

However, in the first few days of our stay in the village, this logic began to crumble.

There were in fact many people in the village who wanted to construct a toilet. However, they were facing a few roadblocks in accessing the government scheme (the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan) – awareness of the scheme was low, their eligibility for the scheme was unclear and there were many who had constructed pits/toilets without receiving their incentive for months, not to mention the fact that they had to often bribe (about Rs. 1000-1500) to get the incentive. This made the enterprise uncertain for most, except for those with good connections in the Gram Panchayat (GP).

Procession in a village in Davangere. Picture courtesy Ashutosh Wakankar

Procession in a village in Davangere. Picture courtesy Ashutosh Wakankar

This risk is amplified by the financial situation of the beneficiaries of such a scheme. At an average annual income of around 40,000 to 50,000 rupees, to keep aside Rs. 10,000 for toilet construction is a high-risk decision. One has to make difficult choices, like choosing between a health issue or a religious festival and a toilet. With the uncertainty over the workings of the government scheme, even those who feel the need for toilets end up postponing it till they can risk it or build it with their own money.

In this climate, to launch a communication campaign promoting the government scheme could have been disastrous. As the saying goes, ‘Good advertising makes a bad product fail faster’. Therefore the campaign objective was redefined mid-way.

Objective 1: To reduce the barriers – reinvent the scheme to make it effective and build credibility for it. We worked closely with the government to quickly clear backlogs of subsidy payments, simplify the scheme and create communication around a central promise directly from the district CEO to the people.

Objective 2: To amplify the motivators – move toilet up the ladder of importance. For a significant majority who have not yet actively felt the need for toilets, it is important to move the toilet up the ladder of importance so that a latent motivation becomes an urgent one. Therefore, a separate campaign messaging was created around a central, powerful motivation for constructing toilets.

A myth like ‘people don’t want toilets’ is not formed in a day. It is based on the experience of people who have tried to promote toilets over the decades and have met with a wall of resistance. However, the problem with such myths is that it can stop one from seeing the present for what it is – the many changes in the village environment that has triggered a need for household toilets.

As you can see, busting a simple myth like that can dramatically alter the objective of the campaign itself and impact results significantly. What were the other myths?

More in the next blog.


Between the cup and the sip

By Balaji Gopalan, Centre of Gravity

In this post, Balaji Gopalan from Centre of Gravity (CoG) offers his reflections on partnering with government and executing a joint intervention. Centre of Gravity’s recommendations in the presentation will be discussed with the Davangere district administration and Arghyam, and a set of changes will be implemented in the second round of the intervention in another 25 Gram Panchayats. We expect that in the second round, the Government will take the lead role and Arghyam and CoG will play advisory roles.

Right at the beginning, we knew that a lot gets lost between the design and delivery of rural communication campaigns. We were also aware that it would be all the more difficult to minimise this transmission loss, since we were working within the Government system for this project. Naturally, we took many precautionary steps.

When people understand why a certain activity is done, participation tends to be more. We held several presentations with government officials at different levels to give them an idea of not just the campaign flow, but also the logic behind it.

Feedback was taken from the government team at each stage and some of it incorporated.

Quality Checks
Quality checks were done through auditions of promoters and Swachchata Doots, checking of technical equipment and production quality of communication materials.

Training programmes were conducted for all the people involved in the campaign – Promoters, Assistant Campaign Managers, Taluk Coordinators and Swachchata Doots.

The CEO also addressed the Executive Officers (EOs) and Panchayat Development Officers (PDOs) to inspire them to give their best to the campaign.

Hand holding them from the thinking to the execution process.

Despite all these precautions, there were still many slips between design and delivery. Here are some reflections on what could have been done better.

The flow of command
The campaign was largely planned at the Zilla Panchayat (ZP) level and executed at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level. The Taluk Panchayat (TP), while kept informed, did not have an active role to play in the campaign, and thus felt no ownership over it. It is probably a good idea to include the TP officials at the planning and execution stage.

The Art of Compromise
There was always a tension between accepting the government system for what it is, and inspiring them to change for the better. For instance, punctuality. In most meetings, including training programmes, it was normal for participants turn in late. Should one accept this or push them to change? Accepting it would mean sending a signal that it is alright to not be punctual. And that would have a direct implication on the campaign – promoters would feel that it was alright to start the campaign late. Or conducting a campaign in a village where backlogs of payments were not yet cleared, sends a signal that it was alright to not clear backlogs. On the other hand, pushing them can cause resentment, which would have its own effect on the entire campaign. We need to reflect back to see if we made the right compromises in the first round of the pilot.

Inclusivity without losing coherence
During the course of the campaign’s development, we had to overlook some suggestions from the district staff, as they would have affected the design of the campaign or added to the costs without adding to the impact. For instance, the district had requested for more promoters, which would have significantly added to the cost of the overall campaign without really improving impact.This probably left the District campaign management team with the feeling that they were not heard enough.

Simplifying Campaign Logic
The professional, corporate way of thinking through a campaign is alien to people in the government system – even those who are in charge of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) for government programmes like the Nirmal Bharat Ahiyan (NBA). While the message of the campaign was understood, the finer points of communication such as sticking to the core messaging and how social norms can create behavioural change was a bit lost on the people who were implementing the campaign on the ground. This will only become more important as they begin to implement the campaign on their own. We need to find a way to communicate these finer points in a way that they are easily understood.

Inspiration that cuts through indifference
Participation of government officials in the campaign was inconsistent. We had used traditional means like the distrct CEO addressing everyone, in an effort to inspire. What is perhaps needed is an unconventional approach that would cut through the overall indifference that seems to exist.

The good news is that despite some of these delivery issues, the campaign has still delivered immediate impact on the ground. Some of these improvements can help us take it to the next level and can be experimented with as we do the next 25 GPs.

Please refer to this presentation: Reflections and Recommendations for a more detailed overview of reflections and recommendations for the campaign going forward. These reflections are for the demand generation portion of the communication campaign.

Our experiences in Davangere during the baseline survey

By Lokesh Gujarappa, Manager – Projects, Public Affairs Foundation

Never in my working life of 14 years did I imagine that I would be barging into so many rural households to inspect toilets in the span of 2 months. The credit for this goes primarily to Arghyam!

Scoping for the Survey 

As a first step towards the quantitative assessment of the demand generation campaign in Davangere district, Karnataka, Ravishankar Rao, Sita Sekhar and I carried out a scoping exercise from 21st to 23rd August 2013. This involved visiting Davangere district, collecting background data from the Zilla Panchayat office, gaining an understanding of how the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) works on the ground through discussions with officials at all levels as well as through Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) with villagers.

The visit to Anaji and Anaburu villages in Davangere Taluka, where the scoping was done, began with an FGD with Gram Panchayat (GP) officials. We then started out on a transect walk to observe the status of toilets in the village as well as to conduct FGDs with men and women separately. While Sita did the FGDs with women, Ravi and I spoke to the men. It was found that while men were generally unwilling to build toilets, they sometimes didn’t even feel the need for them; women on the other hand, were unanimous in extolling the virtues of having a toilet in their homes!


GP officials pondering on answers to our questions


Women share their concerns on toilets in the FGDs with Sita


Men talk about what they think toilets are useful for with Ravi and myself


GP officials show off one swanky toilet built under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan


Pit stop at a sub-centre: the Auxilliary Nurse and Midwife (ANM) and Health Inspector with Ravi and Sita


Private parking for a cycle!

Sampling Design

In consultation with Arghyam, the sampling was done in such a way that all six talukas were covered and the sample was reflective of the population of Davangere based on many indicators. Proportionate samples were selected from each taluka to make the sample representative – 800 households from 25 GPs selected in the intervention area and 500 from the 20 GPs selected in the non intervention area.

Pilot of questionnaire in Kaidale and Kyatanahalli

After the scoping and discussions with Arghyam on their requirements, the questionnaire for the baseline survey was designed. This questionnaire was piloted in Kaidale (Kaidale GP) and Kyatanahalli (Huchavvanahalli GP) villages in Davangere Taluka by Sita and me on 9th and 10th of December 2013. The purpose of the pilot was to check for comprehensiveness, length, and flow of the questionnaire.

Training of the Team and conducting the Baseline Survey

A team of 23 able enumerators and 4 supervisors (most of them from Davangere) were trained at the ZP office in Davangere over two days in the month of December by Sita, Tibin Jose and I.


Training session in progress under the watchful eyes of Lokesh, Sita and Tibin

The first day was largely spent going over each question carefully till everyone understood it. Some time was spent in carrying out mock interviews. The mock interviews took the enumerators down memory lane about their own villages and how there were hardly any toilets there!

Half a day was spent in Honnuru in Davangere taluka, where each team member was asked to carry out an interview. Most of the enumerators built a rapport with the respondents by speaking in their own dialect of Kannada. The team was put through a debriefing session in the latter half of the day for them to seek any clarifications they needed and for us to understand how they carried out the task. Another session of mock interviews was held as well.


Dry run – Honnuru Village, Davangere Taluk

On 18th December the smaller teams set off to the different Talukas to start the baseline survey. The survey was carried out between 19th and 31st of December 2013. Lalita, Tibin and I monitored the interviews for quality assurance twice during the survey period.


Data collection in Honnali Taluk during the baseline survey


An enumerator observes a toilet in Honnali Taluk during the baseline survey

Stories from the field

PAF’s youngest team member Tibin came across some interesting situations.


A sign in Kannada reads, “Before prayers toilet, armour for a long life”

“In one of the villages, as we went along with the enumerators, we met a lady near a house and asked her if the house had a toilet. She said it did. At our request she proceeded to give us a tour of the toilet and gave us all details of the family as well. While the enumerator was furiously noting down all details in the questionnaire, and asked her how far she has to go to fetch water for the household, it turned out that she was only a neighbor of that household and not a resident of that house!

In another village, I started taking pictures of a ration shop. some curious bystanders asked me who I was, to which I replied ‘Sowchalaya survey‘. After this, they were very forthcoming in giving information, even posed for some pictures and addressing me as Sir!”

In yet another village we found a strange sight: a toilet with no walls and the seat covered with stones! Unable to contain our curiosity, we asked people about it and they said it used to be a functional toilet and was used as well for a while,  but suddenly the household realized that the toilet faced the temple nearby, decided it was ‘unholy’ to use it, and demolished it promptly!


Unholy mess! Temple nearby leads to destroyed and abandoned toilet

Where we are now

After the survey was completed, every questionnaire was scrutinised by the supervisors and then run through a quality check by the PAF team. The quality cleared questionnaires were then given for data entry. The entered data was checked, cleaned, and then analysed at PAF. The baseline report is now being prepared and we will be sharing the findings with everyone soon.

On the Centre of Gravity campaign trail

By Dr. Sita Sekhar, Consultant, Public Affairs Foundation

As most of you are aware, Public Affairs Foundation has been assigned the task of monitoring the demand generation campaign to encourage people to build toilets in Davangere. I am sharing here some interesting experiences and observations during the monitoring.

A day of training in Davangere and off we go to Avaragolla for on-field training! 


A blend of the modern and the traditional? Avaragolla village in Davangere

After a half day training of the 16-member strong monitoring team (most of who belong to Davangere district) on 26th January 2014, we set out the next day at 5.30 am to Avaragolla village in Avaragolla Gram Panchayat (GP), Davangere Taluk. As we drove to the village, in the semi darkness of the chilly early morning, we sighted a few men sitting along the road engaged in early morning ablutions, and women heading out with their ubiquitous Chomboos or ‘lotas‘ (mugs) to do their morning business away from prying eyes. We even met some teenage girls giggling in embarrassment when we saw them heading out with their chomboos!

We reached the village at 6.25 am, arriving at the GP office where the artists were getting ready despite the challenges of having no electricity or water. To their credit, in spite of the many unexpected hurdles, the team managed to start the announcements in the vehicle at 6.40 am. The artists were making announcements while the driver drove around and managed the audio system well (though there were a few glitches). All lanes in the village were covered; the announcements began a bit hesitantly but ended up being called out with full-throated gusto! The 18 of us (16 monitors, myself and my very curious and socially conscious driver) following the van were assailed with the scent of cow dung from cowsheds and freshly cooking nashtha from the kitchens.

We trudged along the village lanes behind the vehicle, stopping when they did – observing, talking to men, women, and children along the way. Some of our team members educated me on how the song ‘nadedalo….’  was in fact based on the tune of a folk song. Many people as well as team members said the song was ‘Sakkathagide‘, the Kannada word for fantastic!

On the way, as we observed toilets and spoke to villagers, I came upon one particular toilet that was intriguing – it looked swanky from the rear so I went to take a closer look at the entrance – only to be sorely disappointed. There was no door and there were sacks full of stuff stored inside. I tried to find out why a family wouldn’t use a toilet right in their front yard by speaking to the residents of the house and was told that the toilet was built but the door wasn’t fixed, as they were awaiting the government subsidy to complete it!


Toilet or store room?

Another household I came across did not have a toilet while the neighbour had a half-built one. When I gave the lady gyaan on who gets a toilet or how to go about getting one, I discovered that the lady know what an MGNREGA job card was. She showed me an MGNREGA passbook which had entries in it, but I was told that no money had been paid so far to her.


MGNREGA passbook with entries – the owner has not received any of the amounts listed

The school rally and the evening programme

The school rally in the afternoon was not as enthusiastic as the one we had seen during the pilot. The children were running along the lanes and there was no coordination among them as they shouted the slogans.

The evening function was held in front of a temple opposite the GP office. Despite a long wait, a sizeable crowd gathered on the tarpaulins that had been laid out. The driver-cum-technician had no clue about the programme but managed to show the films with some assistance from our team as well as the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO). I was told that many of the women in the crowd were from houses that had toilets, which meant the point of the event would have been lost on them.

The group song and skit performed at the evening event were enjoyed thoroughly by the audience.


Who is the performer here?! A cool kid from the village grooving to the group song!

After the skit, most women got up to leave saying  they had to go cook dinner. They were made to stay with a threat from the GP officials that they won’t be given the toilet subsidy if they left, which fortunately or unfortunately seemed to work! I was unsure, however if this was part of the programme, and whether or not it was the right thing to do, misinforming the audience that they wouldn’t be given the subsidy unless they saw the whole programme!

Another interesting thing in this village was that a large part of the village has been provided with an underground drainage (UGD) system (not functional as yet) using MGNREGA funds. So the toilets that are built do not need pits to be dug. Therefore they cost less and the subsidy given is only that from the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA); the portion from MGNREGA is taken as “given”. It will be interesting to see how the UGD helps.

The lady Swatchata Doot, the NBA sanitation field worker was running around from the morning trying to paste stickers on the front doors of households, and give out invitations. There was some confusion over whether the stickers were to be affixed on the doors of houses with or without toilets. Finally, I was told later, that all houses got them. In the evening she had a tough time collecting the chits – the GP office was offered as a place to sit and collect the tear off slips and people started crowding there.

After the evening programme ended at 9 pm the team gathered at another temple nearby and we went through the day’s experiences and discussed the strategy for completing the monitoring in the best possible way. The team got a fairly good idea of the campaign and got into the swing of things after spending the day in Avaragolla.

The team was instructed to observe the proceedings quietly without interfering in the work of the campaign teams during their monitoring that would begin the next day. I cajoled all of them to do a good job of the monitoring and provide practical information for the campaign to be modified to make the best impact when it was scaled up.


The boy hero who thought his pushing made the campaign vehicle run!

Monitoring the monitoring

On January 28th, I set out at 6 am for Doddaghatta village in Navelehalu GP, Channageri Taluk. This time there weren’t too many sightings of open defecation on the way. The two-member monitoring team had started work at 7 am along with the campaign team. We went along with the vehicle all around Doddaghatta and another village nearby called Ramagondanahalli as well.  It was quite amusing to see the campaign coordinator hog the mike seeing us around, trying to impress us! The artists were waiting for a turn to follow their scripts; the lady artist didn’t speak for quite some time as she was ill with fever and a sore throat. Initially the vehicle zoomed through the lanes, making the announcements difficult to follow or comprehend. However the vehicle slowed down eventually. We got a bit of a fright in Ramagondanahalli, when some small children held on to the bumper of the vehicle and ran alongside it.

A short film showing kids from the village trying to push the campaign vehicle

After breakfast graciously hosted by one of the large hearted Panchayat Members (from his own pocket despite my protests), I set out to Appartunga village in H Kadadakatte GP in Honnali Taluk. I followed a reasonably good road for about 15 kilometers and passed by a scenic and seemingly popular Dodda kere (big lake). When I finally reached Appartunga, the monitoring team there was observing the GP office. I joined them and was shocked to find that there was no toilet in the office! I had a quick discussion with the Taluk Coordinator and set out for Doddaghatta in an effort to reach in time for the school rally. Fortunately the ride back was guided by the GP official who belonged to Channagiri and was not as uncomfortable. The school rally in Doddaghatta began at 3.45 pm with preparations at the school. The artist was quite deft at holding the children’s attention and training them on what they had to do. I couldn’t follow the rally along the lanes of the village as the school authorities insisted on herding me off to a room to have ‘elanir‘ and bajji! (so much for my attempts at calorie counting!) However, the monitors did go along. The rally was rather short and the children returned quite quickly.

In the evening there was again a long wait for crowds to gather at the school. The president of the panchayat was a strong, authoritative lady who quickly got all arrangements done at the school. However, the power cut was a dampener and the generator refused to start up for quite some time. Finally around 7.30 the program began and the skit was again received very well. There were no women in the audience this time – nobody from the smaller villages nearby came, only some children and old men were around. The only women around were the President, Anganwadi worker, Asha worker and the female artist! Despite her illness the female artist performed well. The male artist was more experienced and was able to make the program lively. No tear-off slips were collected, however and people were asked to come to the GP office the next day.

I returned to Davangere with mixed feelings. What was cheering was that, on the whole, despite the technical glitches the campaign teams did an excellent job. The interest level among GP officials was varied in the different villages and left something to be desired in some cases.

While I was back in my cozy home the next day, the monitoring team continued their monitoring of the campaign in the other GPs. They have now completed the monitoring in 25 villages in all the 25 GPs covered in round 1 and 10 villages of those covered in round 2 of the campaign. The team had a tough time doing the work, but are satisfied, at the end of it all, that they have been able to make their own little contribution to an important cause that will help improve the lives of people in their part of the world – a heartening note to end on.