Communication as a tool to enforce behaviour change

It is widely accepted that one the major challenges of the 21st century is to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for all. And yet governments continue investing a lot into research and implementation in the WASH sector and at both district and sub county level. The big question then arises ‘Why ain’t we making any progress?’ A Water Aid report reveals that countries like Uganda has achieved only 34 per cent access to basic sanitation compared to the required 72 per cent by 2015. This means that more than half of the Ugandan population lack access to basic sanitation facilities.

In many of the African countries like Uganda there is still big challenge to harmonize culture and the new ideas that keep cropping up each and every day. You realize that each of these new ideas is aiming at ensuring better and sustainable improved ways of living. For example the idea of mobile phones for WASH seems always manipulating, according to some communities and yet it looks at promoting effective communication, CLTs is the other initiative which has worked in many communities to eradicate ODF and still yet  many feel it hasn’t been successful.  Everything comes down to communication. When we communicate we use a lot more than just the verbal message that we want to get across. Often we don’t pay attention to the way we present ourselves, just as important as the verbal message is the non-verbal communication. Behavioural change is always the most important goal of our communication. Therefore before coming up with any community initiative, one has to design behaviour change strategy which should include:

  • Research and proper planning
  • Knowing the needs of the population

Different target groups will require different approaches. Therefore, when making decisions about which target groups and which factors to address, it is necessary to consider:

  • which target groups are most vulnerable;
  • which risk / vulnerability factors are most important;
  • which factors may be related to the impact of conflict and displacement;
  • which target groups and risk / vulnerability factors the community wants to address;
  • what could be motivators for behavior change;
  • what could be barriers to behavior change;
  • what type of messages will be meaningful to each target group;
  • which communication media would best reach the target group;
  • which services/resources are accessible to the target group;
  • which target groups and risk / vulnerability factors are feasible in terms of  expertise, resources and time.

Why Behaviour Change Communication(BCC) has miserably failed in the WASH sector and what needs to be done?

Behaviour Change has more to do with peoples understanding of their selves, their thinking and beliefs at a deeper social and societal level – and not as an individual atomised consumers. BCC campaigns in WASH programmes, treat people as consumers who can made to buy/change behaviours using slick marketing techniques.

At the Mumbai WSSCC International Sanitation Meeting in Aug 2011, Behaviour Change in Hygoene was identified as a WSSCC Knowledge Networking Priority, based on a popular voting process. A Group was formed and met for its first meeting to discuss the agenda and focus of Behaviour Change Communication COP during the WSSCC meeting. A very useful first report was prepared and shared with the partipants. The Group had raised the need for understanding BCC not as a social marketing approach of advertsising and communication agencies as is being done presently in WASH and Health Sectors. But to develop our understanding of the theory of social and political change that is at the root of peoples WASH behaviours.Unfortunately this could not be sustained.

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The inevitable mark in WASH governance

Time vs priority

Ensuring good practices in WASH governance can sometimes be challenging, especially if there isn’t a good strategy and guidance to ensure that services reach those people that need them. I recently conducted an action learning exercise in lomule, a village parish in Bombo town council. This was aimed at monitoring the promises made by the service providers, water user committees and the community during a citizen report card exercise that was conducted three month ago.

Just like most learning meetings, your expectations are on the big picture where people strike on the head and leave no stone unturned. The other question that probably strikes is where  should we focus our priorities?   The action learning meeting tasked people (service providers, water users and the committees)  to report on progress with regards to commitments made. These will  further trigger action on the priority areas which would invoke immediate response.

During the two day learning sessions, two things kept on springing up; repairing of a spring and buying more pipes for the borehole. I guess like many of the WASH projects its quite hard to tell where a priority should be put unless invoked by community voices. People asked for immediate repair of the spring at lomule south  which according to the water quality test report  contained a lot of Ecoli and other things but seemed cheaper to use. Other few members of the community felt it was necessary to start with the borehole since it was clean and had easy access. At the end of it all they agreed to start with the lomule spring.

The inevitable mark in all this is having proper WASH governance structures where community members are aware of their roles and responsibilities and community voices are of impact in WASH governance.

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