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Understanding demand and fostering sustainable WASH marketplaces in the Pacific: a participatory approach

IWC, Monash University, University of North Carolina, University of the South Pacific, Live & Learn: Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands & PNG, communities and stakeholders have joined forces to improve WASH marketplaces in the Pacific.

Project Manager, Dr Regina Souter, and Principal Investigator, Dr Dani Barrington recently presented progress on this research project at the WASH 2014 Conference.

This project is based on the philosophy that community members and external (enabling) organisations have valuable knowledge and are active players in designing solutions in WASH marketplaces. It emphasises community empowerment and action, together with the empowerment of enabling actors.

The project aims to identify how sustainable WASH markets can be fostered in Pacific communities, through answering the following questions:

  • What are the key features of established and emergent WASH markets in impoverished urban, peri‐urban and rural communities in the Pacific region?
  • What potential sustainable solutions exist within these markets? How can this potential be tapped and nurtured?
  • What roles can the community and the local ecosystem (external enablers) play in contributing to the success of WASH initiatives?

Is Participatory Action Research Necessary?

Fostering sustainable WASH marketplacesFostering and sustaining WASH markets requires collective social action; social actions require engagement and empowerment of people, which is supported by participatory approaches.

Past traditional research approaches have not been well‐accepted in communities; they are often perceived as one-way with the researchers being the ones to benefit and with little sharing of new knowledge with the community. The participatory approach is instantly recognised as being more equitable and valuable a process to communities.

In addition, there are many participants within and around the market, who affect the outcomes of WASH programs; involving them in designing actions and solutions to problems increases the likely success of those actions.

Finally, A participatory approach allows us to gain unexpected insights through conversations and open discussions with communities and external actors. This is, allowing us to gain a more genuine understanding of situations, needs and wants, which will lead to:

  • Solutions which are context specific
  • Creation of ownership of problems and solutions, critical for sustainability
  • Empowering communities and external actors.


Rigorous and reflective action research (learning by doing) builds evidence for improved practice.

However, a participatory approach is a slow process, which can be costly and cause frustrations shout slow progress. And It requires resetting community expectations about research and about interventions, and specialist research skills to ensure a healthy participatory process is achieved.

But the values of participatory approaches outweigh these challenges:

  • Community members are enthusiastic about being more involved in designing solutions.
  • Valuable community knowledge and insights are not always reflected by external parties.
  • External actors are also enthusiastic about an action research approach that might identify innovative solutions.


The presentation of this research is available at www.watercentre.org/events/wash2014/attachments/presentations/d3.-regina-souter_dani-barrington

 

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