research institute for compassionate economics

More media using SQUAT to push for attitude change

Written by Payal Hathi on July 5th, 2014

Two new articles came out this week, both urging the government to focus on the right problem – the one of changing attitudes to eliminate open defecation in India.

Using data from the SQUAT survey, Yamini Aiyer and Avani Kapur of the Accountability Initiative push the new government to focus on behavior change and motivating toilet use, rather than merely increasing construction. Check the Live Mint piece out here. They explore some of the steps the government can take starting now:

So how can the new government avoid the mistakes of the past? There is little argument that total sanitation can only be achieved through collective behaviour change. But engineering shifts in social behaviour is not something that governments, even efficient ones, are good at. Doing this right would require a nuanced approach—one that understands the reasons behind user preferences, and develops awareness campaigns and solutions linked to that. This is something that advertising firms might be better at than bureaucrats trained to move files.

Even as India’s policymakers grapple with finding the best solution, there are a few small steps that the new government must take. First, start measuring the right problem. Appropriate measurement will serve two purposes.

One, it will send a clear message that the goal of sanitation policy is “usage” and not construction. Two, if done innovatively by reaching out to communities to get involved in data collection, it can also be an awareness creation strategy.

Second, incentivize innovation and experimentation. Rather than developing a tightly controlled, Delhi-centric scheme, the Swachh Bharat Mission should be designed as an innovation fund, which allows states and local governments to develop appropriate strategies. Funds to states should be tied to cost of state-specific innovations and achievements against outcome indicators. A message from the Prime Minister that the goal is to promote toilet usage and not toilet construction will ensure that this fund doesn’t fall into the NGP construction trap.

Also, in a Millennium Post article, KV Venkatasubramanian writes about the growing urgency around addressing problems of sanitation in India. He highlights many of the issues that r.i.c.e. has researched, including the negative impacts of open defecation on health, cognition, and adult productivity. Further, he uses SQUAT data to argue that latrine ownership does not necessarily translate into latrine usage, and quotes Diane about the need to address beliefs and norms around latrine use. See the piece here.