Thursday, 18 December 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre and several of the Centre’s members, opened the third and final day of the CLTS Conference with a session giving some insights on CLTS and the key issues going forward from a STEPS perspective. Photo: Gerry Bloom / Julia Day

STEPS has been interacting with the CLTS research team here at the Institute of Development Studies for the past couple of years, thinking about how water and sanitation issues interact with dynamic environments and how diverse people in different settings on the ground, as well as policy-makers, think about and understand the different systems at play.

“CLTS is an example of a successful approach, but as a system it is a complex one,” said Prof. Leach. “So we need to think hard about what uncertainties might be around the corner and what perspectives are being overlooked that might not be apparent in some of the success stories we have heard about over the past two days… As this fantastic idea beds down what are some of the unintended consequences?

Lyla Mehta is the lead researcher on CLTS at IDS and also the STEPS Centre water and sanitation convenor – a role that puts her in an ideal position to cross-pollinate ideas. Dr. Mehta said within the worlds of water and sanitation it is now considered mainstream to look at issues of culture, politics, power and history. A lot of disciplines come together to make that disciplinary convergence happen. But although a rich body of work on the role and understanding of institutions exists, this aspect is often much neglected, she said, as are the interlocking systems between how technology and society co-evolve and produce different pathways.

“The on-going process of reflection has been the key strength of what CLTS has done. Going back to communities after research and seeing exactly what is happening on the ground,” said Dr Mehta. “But there are a whole host of unknowns, and we may have been a bit glib about that.” She also floated the idea that the framing of sanitation may be grounded too solidly in CLTS researchers and practitioners’ own framing of the issues, rather than taking on board other people’s framings: “We are coming with a certain knowledge, but are we sensitive enough about people’s own framings of problems?”

Synne Movik, a STEPS Centre post-doctoral fellow, presented an overview of her new STEPS Centre working paper, Dynamics, Sustainability and Governance of CLTS: Some Perspectives (available soon on the website). There has been a tendency in policy circles to ignore the fact that social, ecology and technological systems are inherently dynamic. And the assumption is that everybody knows what sustainability is about. However it is important to highlight STEPS notion of Sustainability, said Movik, that it is a normative concept dependent on individual perception of what functions, structures and goals are important which alters according to who you talk to. There is a need to be explicit about this in describing CLTS and its successes, she said.

To apply dynamic system concept to CLTS we need to highlight how social, technological and ecological systems are dynamic and how they dynamically interact to produce particular pathways, according to Movik. In a lot of CLTS literature it is very evident that favourable conditions to help the implementation of CLTS include communities that are quite small, homogenous and where no ethnic conflict exists, she said.

But issue of culture and religious norms also shape dynamics – such as, in sanitation, religious notions of pollution and purity – and it is important to be aware of how norms and practices shape social dynamics. In the realm of ecological dynamics, one debate in CLTS is that a visibly filthy environment makes it easier to trigger the sense of shame and disgust that CLTS is dependent on. In technological dynamics, might CLTS’ emphasis on shame and disgust actually be an obstacle for adopting other technological options, Movik asked? Might it go against other technologies that look at shit not as waste but as a resource? There are questions she believed should be explored.

A notion not explored so far over the course of the past two days, said Movik, is idea of resilience, which is very much associated with sustainability because it looks at how systems copes with internal and external disturbances, short and long-terms shocks and stresses. “The key of CLTS is the focus on social change and triggering behavioural change,” said Movik, “Which is related to how to make systems durable and stable - that lasts and endures. But it is important to look at technological and ecological resilience and sustainability issues. The notion of uncertainty and risk – how do we deal with the things that we do not know? – has not been fully explored yet. “There are risks for CLTS that we do not know about – how it is going to impact on ecological environment in the short and long term - so we need to devise strategies for those unknowns.”

Movik concluded: “If there is one word that sums up last couple of days it is diversity. The simple and understandable CLTS approach has evolved into range of different packages and approaches dependent on settings. One of the key challenges is to devise institutional frameworks – at local, district and national levels that help us exchange knowledge and learning from different settings and engage with other approaches. Emphasis must be on accommodating uncertainties so that CLTS becomes a flexible approach that works in different settings and complex environments.”

Gerry Bloom, IDS fellow and STEPS Centre health convenor, took over from Movik to give his take on the challenges ahead for CLTS, from his experience working on health issues.

“Why is CLTS so exciting for me? Because a little idea has spread rapidly and triggered lot of action in very short time,” said Bloom. “When lot of pessimism around, this is an exciting thing to see – how a little idea has a big impact. But will the idea keep spreading? And how does the idea and its expressions change as it spreads? What happens to it in different places?”

And he posed another interesting question for CLTS practitioners to consider: “Do we accept that many different ideas will come out of CLTS as it evolves and that it is no longer pure? The originators may not like where the idea goes. So how do you keep influencing where the idea goes?”

And he sounded a note of caution about the CLTS method of creating natural leaders for the within communities based on his experience of training village doctors in Zimbabwe in the 1980s. “Something very disappointing can happen,” said Bloom. “The main outcome of training village doctors was that new markets were opened up for western drugs and the people we trained became drug traders. So a very good idea can have unintended consequences.”

More food for thought came from Bloom’s experience in other health arenas. He said that increasing focus on chronic disease have brought a deluge of many sources of knowledge and information and attempts to influence peoples’ decisions. Where does CLTS fit in and what other messages are people getting about shit, he asked? It would be good to situate CLTS within this larger context, he suggests, particularly as the issues around CLTS and sanitation are are very powerful.

“On work we have done, we have radically underestimated the amount of information going to people – importance of markets, advertising, village doctors. But it is difficult to get sustainable solutions going if governments don’t take responsibility. So we need to work towards different kinds of partnerships for taking responsibility in sanitation.

A lot of papers on CLTS talk about success and good things happening. But if an idea is to be really powerful and important it must make mistakes and big ones. No ideas only have had good outcomes, but how do we look for bad outcomes and how do start to think critically about the pathways CLTS is taking. The next step might be not just to promote the idea of CLTS, but to influence its evolution,” Bloom concluded.

In the question and answer session Kamal Kar said Movik’s paper was very exciting and added that macro social, technological and ecological issues need to now be engaged with now in order for CLTS to survive.

Ingrid Nyborg added that the ideas in Movik’ paper could shift CLTS from achieving a sanitation ‘goal’ to a way of thinking about using a framework to encourage institutions to be able to manage diversity and dynamics. “This STEPS perspective could lead to a very important shift for CLTS,” she said.

Nisheeth Kumar agreed that more work needed to be done to understand CLTS in respect to other approaches, adding that CLTS is a technology and that there are other triggers to the process, apart from disgust and shame, that needed to be looked at.
Read more

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Have a look at photos from the CLTS conference on our Flickr photostream

Read more



From 29 November to 2 December 2008, we went to two villages in Tianmen county, Hubei province, in the middle of China. The aim was to revisit the field site of the STEPS Centre Rethinking Regulation project, to check the preliminary findings from the first visit in July, and to explore issues more closely with some further questions. Photo: piles of cotton, Hubei / Adrian Ely

Driving on the village road, we saw the remains of harvested cotton on the road sides, villagers picking cotton in the fields, and balls drying in the sun. A female farmer, around 45 years old, told us that when last year she planted 2.7 mu (1Ha=15mu) of cotton and earned 3800 RMB yuan (1GBP currently equals about 10 RMB yuan), she had been very happy. This year she enlarged the area and planted 4.2 mu of cotton, but only earned 3200 RMB yuan, rather than an expected 7000 RMB yuan.

This situation is very common in the two villages where our project has been based. The villagers said one reason had been too much rain (flooding) in summer, which caused the amount of cotton to decline, and the other reason was the price decreasing due to the global financial turmoil: according to villagers the cotton price in the last year had been 3.1 RMB yuan per 500 gram, but this year it could be as low as 2.1 RMB yuan.

We were also surprised to see a number of younger people in the village. Usually we would expect migrant workers working in urban China to come home just several days before the lunar new year (January 26th this year) in order to spend the Spring festival with their families.

A farmer named Li told us about his two sons, both of them migrant workers in Southern China. The younger one, 23 years old, worked in a bulb factory in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, and came back home this October. The older one, 27 years old, had been employed in a housing decoration company in Fuzhou city of Fujian province, but had come back home this November. They said that there had not been work for them in their previous positions, and that they could not find any other job. They talked about the global financial turmoil, and said that many migrant workers around them had also come back to their home towns and villages.

While the media in the West have focused on the problems in Wall Street and Main Street, China’s now globally-engaged economy is also suffering at all levels. In China, many white collar workers are suffering from the risk of unemployment. However villagers, which account for 57% of the whole Chinese population, are also facing with the severe challenge of the global financial turmoil.

The Financial Times recently featured an article pointing to one of the central government’s responses to the crisis: building confidence through the media. The world will be watching the success of this and other strategies to reassure rural China.

Read more


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

An astounding story of success - and the potential of CLTS - came courtesy of Peter Harvey, chief, water and environmental sanitation, Unicef in Zambia. Photo: A Natural Leader from Ndeke B, Zambia, explains the village CLTS action plan / Petra Bongartz

Mr Harvey said he was initially very sceptical about CLTS, but results over the past year in Zambia have completely changed his mind. Since April 2008 - so less than a year - 517 of 812 villages have been 'triggered' by CLTS (see the CLTS website to find out more about this triggering approach) with 402 villages becoming Open Defectation Free (ODF). For some villages coverage - access to latrines - has gone from 0% to 100% within a month and overall coverage has risen from 38% to 93%. A toal of 90,000 have gained access to sanitation.

Maybe the most impressive figure of all is the total cost - US$14 per household, or US$2.3 per capita. And this figure is likely to fall as CLTS triggering takes place, said Mr Harvey, as the training has already been done.

"I have worked in water and sanitation all my professional life and this goes well beyond water and sanitation. This is a very, very powerful tool. I've been surprised how much community-ownership there is," Mr Harvey added.

You can read more about ending open defectation, including a piece by Mr Harvey in an id21 special report on sanitation. And the country reports from Zambia - and many other countries - will be available imminently on the new CLTS site.

Read more


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

We move to the Africa this morning, where CLTS exists in 22 countries but is relatively new compared to the approach's history in Asia. Amsalu Negussie, Water and Sanitation Advisor, Plan International, East and Southern Africa, gave us an overview of the sanitation situation in this very diverse continent of a billion people. More than 300million people in Africa do not have access to sanitation facilities, and in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Photo: African panel / Julia Day

Mr Negussie said different methodologies to address sanitation issues have been tried in the past, but it has been difficult to achieve what was required as the systems were very slow and with little progress it became obvious that a different, more effective method was required. Over the last two years Plan, Water Aid, WSP, Unicef have all conducted training on CLTS, which at this stage is a capacity-building process at a regional level – mobilising political will and collaborating to work together.

There are some favourable situations for CLTS on the continent - most countries have a sanitation policy and CLTS has been favourably-received by most organisations, he believes. After struggling in the past to bring sanitation on to the political agenda, with this year being declared the International Year of Sanitation, the issue was propelled to top of the agenda - good new for CLTS.

“But we cannot achieve our objectives unless all organisations collaborate together,” said Mr Negussie. “Challenges exist, but they are challenges to be addressed and not to be shied away from. “Among the challenges mentioned are how to adopt CLTS experiences from Asia to Africa, with CLTS being a young concept? Action research is needed on this, he said. There is also a lack of one institution willing to take on responsibility for CLTS and to lead the knowledge and process around it.

The training and retention of facilitators is another key area. Of a group of 40 people at facilitator training, there might be four or five that are good at the role, but what is the best way to keep them? Particularly as CLTS is just one part of their job. CLTS is about creating leaders but how can they be empowered to move forward? And sanitation in schools remains an area for work.

But the potential of the approach was demonstrated by Sammy Musyoki of Plan International in Kenya, where CLTS is just one year old. “Within a year CLTS has been spreading fast, it’s becoming like a bush-fire,” said Mr Musyoki.

In May 70 delegates from government and other organisations like Unicef took part in training on CLTS, said Mr Muyoki. So far 25 villages have ‘CLTS status’ but 200 villages have been 'triggered' (see the CLTS website for more about this 'triggering' process), and 500 facilitators have been trained. Meanwhile the political environment in Kenya is looking favourable - a Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation has been created, a great opportunity for CLTS to work with officials.

You can read more about Kenya's growing CLTS movement in a piece written by Mr Musyoki for World Toilet Day last month.
Read more

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Robert Chambers, research associate at Institute of Development Studies, opened the conference by saying it was an opportunity for insights, ideas and for maximising learning.

The three stages of participatory methodologies come in to play when talking about CLTS, said Robert. The first stage is excitement and a huge upsurge in enthusiasm that the method is happening and that it works.

Then realism, the second stage, kicks in, when initial excitement is tempered by the realisation that all is not quite as wonderful as it initially seemed. Research and deliberation about second and third generation problems becomes very important at this stage. And it is when people who are very committed to the methodology start to issue stark warnings, he said. But it is the time for great learning from diversities of practice which enables proponents to see what does and what does not work. Robert stressed that this stage is no time to be defensive but instead to maximise learning.

The third final stage is evolution – when there is a merging with other methodologies. “It’s not either/ or,” said Robert: “In Zambia, for instance, hand-washing has always been very important. It is about complementarities and we hope ideas about this in terms of CLTS come out of this conference.”

Robert summed up the importance of this conference: “We are at a tipping point in sanitation, and for CLTS. Will we look back at this moment in time and say it was when the penny dropped and good practice spreads? Or will we look back and say we missed the boat? Let’s try hard so that in three years time we don’t look back and say ‘if only’. Let’s use the opportunities that we have got.”
Read more


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Eight years after the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach for mobilising communitites to build their own toilets was pioneered, over 60 delegates have gathered together to discuss how much progress has been made in stopping open defecation. It is the last major event of the International Year of Sanitation, held here in the UK at the Institute of Development Studies. Photo: CLTS conference / Julia Day

The CLTS approach is that treasured thing in development, a success story. First trialled in Bangladesh, it has now spread across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
In the past, money invested in toilet programmes was wasted as people continued to defecate in the open, which continued the spread of disease. But with the CLTS approach, communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation (OD) and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation free).

At the heart of CLTS lies the recognition that merely providing toilets does not guarantee their use, nor result in improved sanitation and hygiene. Earlier approaches to sanitation prescribed high initial standards and offered subsidies as an incentive. But this often led to uneven adoption, problems with long-term sustainability and only partial use. It also created a culture of dependence on subsidies. Open defecation and the cycle of fecal–oral contamination continued to spread disease.

In contrast, CLTS focuses on the behavioural change needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements – investing in community mobilisation instead of hardware, and shifting the focus from toilet construction for individual households to the creation of “open defecation-free” villages. By raising awareness that as long as even a minority continues to defecate in the open everyone is at risk of disease, CLTS triggers the community’s desire for change, propels them into action and encourages innovation, mutual support and appropriate local solutions, thus leading to greater ownership and sustainability.

CLTS was pioneered by Kamal Kar (a development consultant from India) together with
VERC (Village Education Resource Centre), a partner of WaterAid Bangladesh, in 2000 in Mosmoil, a village in the Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, whilst evaluating a traditionally subsidised sanitation programme. Find out more about the approach on the shiny new CLTS website.

Read more

Thursday, 4 December 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

Uncontrolled outbreaks of disease have always had the power to terrify. In recent years, such fears have grown to include the spectre of pandemic influenza, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and virulent hemorrhagic fevers. Globally, changes in land use, migration, food production, and human/animal interaction are contributing to a startling rise in emerging infectious diseases. At the same time, diseases such as HIV/AIDS and obesity are entering endemic phases in many settings. Photo credit: Sean Warren, iStockphoto

The STEPS Centre Epidemics Project seeks to analyze the nature and meaning of epidemic disease in broad terms, including both infectious and non-infectious diseases, newly emerging and long-standing, or even endemic, diseases, and diseases of the past as well as those of the future.

Through a series of disease-specific case studies on HIV/AIDS, Ebola, obesity, avian influenza, SARS, and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, the project seeks in particular to understand better the interplay between social, technological and environmental factors that help produce epidemics.

The complex dynamics of infectious diseases means that there is often deep uncertainty surrounding likely outcomes and their consequences. Nonetheless, much policy remains predicated on notions of risk management and assessment that presume linear and predictable disease models. The implicit narratives, or framings, inherent in such policies privilege certain types of knowledge while others narratives remain invisible or ignored.

The full range of multiple, and often competing, narratives represents a wide variety of perspectives on the relative importance of social, technological and environmental dynamics in both the threat of epidemics and appropriate interventions. Such diverse perspectives on the importance of short-term shocks versus long-term stresses, for example, or relatively narrow geographical factors versus global-scale changes, may provide for valuable resilience in the face of potentially devastating new epidemics as well as epidemics with an already established burden.

STEPS case studies demonstrate, in particular disease examples, how certain narratives, and the framing assumptions they embody, can become dominant in a particular setting, setting parameters by which risks and benefits come to be understood and interventions are conceived and implemented.

Three new STEPS Working Papers have just been published as part of this project - Epdemics, Ebola and Avian flu - and are available to download for free. And the case studies on HIV/AIDS, obesity, SARS, and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis will be available shortly.

The STEPS Centre is convening an Epidemics project workshop on December 8-9 to provide an opportunity for lively discussion of the current STEPS Epidemics case studies. The workshop is intended to be a forum for developing a comparative framework for the case studies as well as identifying ideas, strategies and collaborations for future interdisciplinary research and publication.
Read more



At a recent workshop in Delhi, academics and civil society groups discussed the STEPS Centre peri-urban sustainability project, as part of a joint workshop with LSEs climate change research centre, in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Growth supported by the Indian Council of Social Science Research and with funding from the ESRC. The project team sought critical review of the project so far and further networking and engagement with interested parties.

Following presentations from members of the project team, an excellent panel of discussants composed of Amita Bhaviskar (Institute of Economic Growth), KT Ravindran (Delhi School of Planning), Usha Ramanathan (Environmental lawyer IELRC), Ravi Agrawal (Toxics Link) and Marie Helene Zerah (Centre de Science Humaines). provided a thought provoking basis for wider discussion.

One key area of debate concerned the rationale for focussing specifically on the peri-urban. As urban poverty, social injustice and environmental degradation are widespread, do we fail to address core and pressing challenges of urban ecosystems management, by focussing on what is often seen as the urban fringe? This question goes to the heart of the issues about framings of the peri-urban.

Peri-urban is variously cited in terms of a place a process or a concept. These different framings of the peri-urban situation by those involved in city planning and management can have far reaching implications for the poor.

When regarded as a place, the peri urban becomes a site of expulsion from the city to make way for visions of a modernity, but can also become seen as a threatening urban fringe, where communities become associated with health and environmental hazards which require some form of control. When regarded as a process it can be seen as a transition zone, where for example the retirement of rural activities are inevitable and therefore require little attention.

In the context of our current work we see the peri-urban as a condition which encompasses aspects of rural and urban activities and institutions, where there is influence of rapid social, environmental and technological change and increasing marginalisation. As K T Ravindran pointed out – Delhi has many centres and many peripheries embedded in the morphology of the city. Thus, as Amitabh Kundu, one of our partners in this project, described in the context of the ongoing process of exclusionary urbanisation in India, periphery in this sense is a sociological rather than and geographical term.

We would propose that greater insight into these peripheries which are subject to ambiguity, informality and illegality in the context of formal planning processes can illucidate alternatives to dominant planning and management trajectories.
It is well recognised that environmental degradation, natural resource conflicts, health concerns and social injustice are particularly acute in the peri-urban situation, but the implications of not addressing them are far reaching.

Failure to address these apparently peripheral issues, not only results in a plethora of missed opportunities to benefit from rural-urban synergies, for example in waste management; affordable and nutritious fresh produce, but also fails to address a key flash point in undermining the the ability to improve environmental integrity and social equity and poverty in growing cities. Read more

Monday, 1 December 2008


By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

HIV and AIDS is one of the greatest health and development challenges of our time. We have known about HIV, and how to prevent onward transmission, for a quarter of a century, but there are almost 40 million people living with HIV and many more families and communities affected by the disease.

There have been diverse and creative responses to the pandemic and many lessons have been learned. But unproductive and over simplistic debate about poverty, gender and AIDS still dominate popular discourse.

At the STEPS Centre, we are working with partners who believe in the power of evidence in challenging simplistic HIV orthodoxies that often obscure complex and dynamic personal, organisational and political interactions.

HIV is mutable in its ability to exploit biological and structural weaknesses. Our research follows the path of the pandemic to highlight successful pockets of resistance and resilience, particularly pertinent on today, World Aids Day.

Find out more about our work on HIV and development and also have a look at our project on epidemics.

Read more