Can We Know Better?: Reflections for Development. Robert Chambers, Practical Action, June 2017.
This book is intended for all who are committed to human wellbeing and who want to make our world fairer, safer and more fulfilling for everyone, especially those who are ‘last’. It argues that to do better we need to know better. It provides evidence that what we believe we know in international development is often distorted or unbalanced by errors, myths, biases and blind spots.
Undue weight has been attached to standardised methodologies such as randomized control trials, systematic reviews, and competitive bidding: these are shown to have huge transaction costs which are rarely if ever recognized in their enormity. To confront the challenges of complex and emergent realities requires a revolutionary new professionalism. Promising developments include rapid innovations in participatory ICTs, participatory statistics, and the Reality Check Approach with its up-to-date and rigorously grounded insights.
An excerpt – Beginning on page 37, Chambers discusses Out of the closet: blind spots of WASH. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is a source of examples of past and present (though diminishing) blind spots and biases.
Infant poo. Andres Hueso has called infant poo the blind spot of blind spots (pers. comm.). Explanations can be sought in terms of biases: cleaning children’s faeces is overwhelmingly women’s work and women often lack time and resources to deal with it hygienically; it is less smelly and disgusting than adults’; it is widely regarded as harmless, although it carries a heavier pathogen load than that of adults. So in rural areas where there is open defecation, it is common practice to leave infant poo in the
open near dwellings or to throw it on rubbish heaps together with rags or other material used for wiping bottoms. For many it would be too expensive or time consuming to do anything else.
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This was the first time I have been to the annual four and a half day conference of the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina. Like the annual WEDC conference, there was a huge, almost overwhelming, harvest of information and learning. Here are some bullets of things that struck me:
Inequality is big, big now, with the post-2015 agenda. It will be picked up and reported in the JMP. We are entering a new space. Good.
Ash. Soap or ash for handwashing. A JMP committee was unwilling to mention ash because there has been no study of the health effects, only those of soap, although there is no question that microbiologically it is nearly as good as soap. Let us hope that research will be funded – there are people willing to carry it out. But the big money for HW research comes, I suppose, from Unilever and Proctor and Gamble. There is scope here for funding from others. Ash is poor-friendly – widely available, costless, can be left outside without being stolen or taken by teachers, and is not eaten by goats. But the deeply rooted refrain is ‘handwashing with soap’. Again and again one has to argue for including ash – ‘handwashing with soap or ash’ or for that matter, soil, depending on the soil.
Behaviour change. This came up repeatedly. Far too much to absorb or report but some snippets:
- Signing a pledge can be effective
- When someone has invested (e.g in building their own toilet) they may feel they have to keep up appearances and justify it by using it
- Frequent rewards can reinforce behaviour
- Special times can be picked as opportunities for change – e.g. a marriage or funeral
- New behaviours can piggy-back on one another through linking
- ‘Choice is the enemy of behaviour change’.
- People infer motives from observing their own behaviour (linked with dissonance reduction)
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School-Led Total Sanitation: Reflections on the Potential of the Shebedino Pilot, March 2011.
This note is based on two field visits, in November 2010 and 23 February 2011, discussions with Berhanu Tunsisa and others in Plan Ethiopia, and with Government staff and others in Shebedino, and the findings of the February 2011 Assessment Report on School-led Total Sanitation: Shebedino Program Unit, by Fisseha Atalie. This report is timely and a useful source of insight and ideas. It includes a comparison of CLTS and SLTS carried out by the Regional Health Bureau and Plan Ethiopia staff.
From an international perspective this innovation is unique. To my knowledge, this is the first time anywhere in the world that teachers have been systematically engaged in triggering CLTS. This began only in October 2010 and has already been applied to achieve 100 per cent coverage in 6 kebeles. If it continues to work well, it may provide a means for going to scale faster with CLTS in Ethiopia.