Context specific and adaptive approaches

Nuanced, tailored and adaptive approaches are essential to successfully support everyone, everywhere claim their right to safely managed sanitation. National and sub-national contexts shift and vary, and societies comprise diverse individuals and households with different needs, capacities and priorities. Experience has shown that a single, static approach at scale over long periods does not always work: they do not reach everyone and often struggle to achieve sustainability and movement up the sanitation ladder.

As well as being nuanced, tailored and adaptive, programmes must also be area-wide, aiming to reach everyone across entire administrative areas. This is essential in the drive to leave no one behind as well as to realise the health benefits of improved sanitation and environmental cleanliness.

Area-wide approaches will require local (and national) governments to take the lead, display political leadership and match commitments with the necessary human and financial resources. More learning and thinking is needed to understand how to operationalise systems strengthening to enable this commitment.

To enable programmes to be designed to reach and meet the needs of everyone across entire areas, a thorough understanding of the context(s) is essential. Based on context analyses, appropriate implementation approaches and partners can be selected: it is likely that multiple approaches and partners will be required in any one area, and that these will need to be adapted and combined in different ways.

This evidence-based approach will also help identify communities and individuals at risk of being left behind. We have much to learn about how best to do this and programmes must remain flexible so that they can be adapted based on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) as well as changing contexts.

Building strong MEL systems and rapid action learning (RAL) processes into programmes will support this process, helping to identify what works and what does not throughout every stage of the programme, and enabling adaptation and course correction. Investing in staff and institutional capacity to pivot, adapt and work with multiple approaches and partners is also key.

Learning approaches

Learning is at the heart of a context-specific and adaptive approach. Programmes need to be informed by context and learn to adapt and combine sanitation approaches based on what works. Sanitation and Hygiene (S&H) programming operates in a complex and dynamic environment, with evolving ground realities.

To respond effectively to the uncertainty that this brings, programmes need to build in learning and adaptation loops to enable programmes to reflect and change course. There are many timely, relevant and actionable learning approaches that can be used and adapted creatively by implementers to shape evidence-based approaches.

The approaches outlined in this section aim to uncover ground realities, identify people who are at risk of being left behind and the challenges they face in accessing safely managed sanitation. This enables their voices to be heard and then fed into policy and practice. Evidence gathered through these approaches should then be used to inform programme design.

Historically, there have been many barriers to learning in the S&H sector, with it perceived as an ‘add on’, something good in theory but in practice falls by the wayside with heavy workloads, restrictive budgets or donor reporting models. Turning this around, and building learning into every element of programming is integral to the success of a context-specific and adaptive approach.

Sanitation approaches

Over time, the sector has developed a range of approaches to tackling S&H challenges. These are intended to guide the design and implementation of policies and programmes, enabling policy-makers and practitioners to build on others’ work rather than reinventing the wheel.

Approaches evolve over time as learning and evidence is generated from their use in different contexts. This enables typologies to be developed, with broad characteristics and common challenges identified. Certain approaches remain more or less suitable for specific typologies and tackling specific challenges than others.

This section aims to provide an overview of different approaches that can be employed to tackle S&H challenges in both urban and rural settings, where the challenges people face are often distinct.

In the drive to reach everyone across whole areas or cities to maximise the benefits of improved S&H, it has become clear that no one approach is sufficient. Urban and rural areas are not homogenous and can be further split into more specific typologies, considering factors such as population density and space, connectivity, poverty and social norms.

To reach and support everyone overcome the barriers they face in realising their right to improved S&H across an area or city, it is essential that these variations are understood and implementation approaches selected and combined accordingly.

Rural Sanitation

Urban Sanitation