In 2017, Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) launched a call for innovative projects that use rapid community engagement to understand the sanitation needs of communities affected by emergencies and to ensure these are adequately reflected in early-stage sanitation provision.

Eclipse Experience and Save the Children UK partnered to bring together user-centred research expertise and extensive humanitarian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experience. The team developed a user-centred engagement methodology that involves children and their primary caregivers in the design of sanitation facilities and piloted it in two displacement camps in Bangladesh and Iraq.


Need for user-centred community engagement in rapid-onset emergencies

As of June 2018, an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18 (UNHCR).

If children do not feel safe or comfortable using latrines that have been designed for adults, children often resort to practicing open defecation. In displacement camps open defecation brings significant health risks to the entire camp population. This results in a serious public health issue, as young children’s excreta is more dangerous than adults’ due to a higher pathogen load. This, in turn, dramatically affects children under 5 who have weaker immune systems and are at much higher risk of mortality due to diarrhoea.

Rapid-onset emergency responses, including responses to displacement, often focus on scale and speed of delivery with scarce resources. To deliver lifesaving aid, organisations tend to prioritise standardisation over community engagement. Currently, affected adults, let alone children, are rarely consulted about their preferences regarding services in rapid-onset emergencies. If they are consulted, this can often be superficial and focussed on quantitative measures. This can result in services, including latrines, that are not appropriate for the needs and preferences of disaster-affected children and adults.

Engaging the displaced community in a user-centred way leads to deeper understanding of the issues facing an affected population and fosters empathy within the field team. This can be achieved relatively quickly and with little impact on the scarce resources available in a rapid-onset emergency. The gained understanding of the affected population’s needs can form the basis for well-informed child-friendly sanitation facilities that can significantly impact the health of displaced populations.

In addition, user-centred community engagement also has the potential to:

  • Reduce costs in the long-term by designing facilities or a programme that meets the needs of the affected population.
  • Increase ownership of facilities and services within the affected population by involving them in the design.
  • Build trust between affected people and humanitarian agencies by demonstrating how the feedback of affected people can translate to action and improved services.
  • Facilitate adaptive programmes by making user-centred engagement an integral part and involving communities in the early stages.

What can you find on this site?

While the practice of involving affected people in the design of sanitation facilities is not new in humanitarian settings, there is little recorded evidence of methods used and the effectiveness, or impact, of such approaches. This website introduces user-centred community engagement, our learnings from the development process and the two pilots.


Developing the methodology

This page illustrates how Save the Children UK and Eclipse Experience developed the community engagement methodology in following a collaborative and iterative process.


Pilot methodology

This section details the two components of user-centred community engagement and the methodology trialled in displacement camps in Bangladesh and Iraq.

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Bangladesh pilot

Here you can read about the outcome of the pilot we conducted with the Rohingya community in the Jadimura Displacement Camp in Bangladesh.

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Iraq pilot

Here you can read about the outcome of the pilot we conducted with with the Yazidi community in the Sharia Displacement Camp in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq.


What we learnt

On this page we share what we learnt from the pilots in Bangladesh and Iraq based on our observations and experiences, and feedback from the field teams involved in implementation.

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Project resources

As part of project we are sharing all resources produced during the project. All resources can be used freely with credit given to Eclipse Experience and Save the Children UK.