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Fostering sustainable and inclusive WASH marketing systems with informal settlements of the Pacific

The Sustainable Development Goals set the challenge to ensure all people have sustained use of safe water and sanitation and practice safe hygiene (WASH), to enable everyone to derive the associated health and wellbeing benefits. Increasingly, market-based approaches are being employed to generate demand for water and sanitation (WASH) services among impoverished communities, but these market approaches have been met with variable success across the globe. We undertook multidisciplinary and participatory action research to examine the possibility of WASH marketing systems as an approach to achieve WASH outcomes for Melanesian communities of the Pacific, in particular informal urban or peri-urban communities. We developed a WASH Marketing Exchange systems Framework, which describes the nature of WASH exchanges that should be leveraged in informal settlements, and the requirements of the enabling environment to foster and support these WASH exchanges.

Project Category: Applied Research

Key Areas of Work: Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Project Completion: January, 2017

WASH Program Partners

WASH Marketing - Hero Image

The approaches to fostering WASH marketing systems so they achieve WASH outcomes for Melanesian communities of the Pacific, in particular informal urban or peri-urban communities, was unknown.

Acquiring this knowledge required a multidisciplinary study of existing and emerging marketing systems in impoverished communities, and their enabling environment. This was underpinned by theories of marketing dynamics and executed through participatory action research methods. This research has generated guidance  for Pacific WASH practitioners and policy-makers wanting to foster WASH social action in communities. 

Key research questions

Through action research with informal communities in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, we addressed the following questions:

  • What are the main features and characteristics of established and emergent water and sanitation marketing systems in impoverished urban communities in the Pacific region?
  • What potential sustainable solutions exist within these markets? How can this potential be tapped and nurtured?
  • What role does the community and the local ecosystem play in contributing to the success of WASH initiatives?
  • How can WASH sector stakeholders develop and leverage established and emergent water and sanitation markets and experiences?
  • What can WASH sector stakeholders do differently in the Pacific region to deliver sustainable water and sanitation markets?


WASH in the Pacific 1This project delivered a number of outputs targeted to civil society organisations, communities, national and provincial governments, water and sanitation private sector actors, and other development partners (such as donors). These are designed to share the best approaches to fostering demand-led marketing strategies for achieving WASH outcomes for Melanesian communities of the Pacific. Outputs include:



WASH in the Pacific 2

Project benefits

Informal communities face unique challenges in establishing safe water sanitation and hygiene. These communities are typically impoverished, with low incomes, and with insecure land tenure; this means they have more limited options to connect with formal service providers.

They are also often located in challenging environments, for example, flood-prone lands or landslide-prone hillsides and gullies. In terms of WASH governance by national, provincial and local governments, informal communities also often fall in the cracks between formal urban and rural communities. Any WASH marketing system that is to be provide sustained wellbeing and health impacts, needs to consider these unique contextual factors.

This project explored different WASH marketing systems suited to local demand and conditions and the functions and roles of the enabling environment actors, both within and outside communities. We developed the following framework of WASH marketing exchange systems (further explained the Research Brief, and Guidebook).

WASH marketing exchange program


Figure 1: The WaSH marketing exchange system. WaSH marketing exchange systems are comprised of functions, performed by actors using rules, which creates assets that enable all types of WaSH marketing exchanges, which should generate not only access to WaSH, but also wellbeing impacts. Note, Command-based and Culturally-determined exchanges are also non-market-based exchanges; for the purposes of this communication ‘non-market’ refers to other types of non-market exchanges, such as donations and charitable exchanges. 


WASH in the Pacific

Frequently Asked Questions: WASH Marketing Exchange Systems

In recent years, many WASH practitioners have advocated for the use of market-based approaches to stimulate the demand for improved sanitation amongst buyers. There are many forms of WASH provision which may move seamlessly between formal and informal market-based transactions, but these approaches are not the only forms of WASH exchange present around the globe. It is important to consider the different models of WASH provision through the lens of marketing exchanges.

These Frequently Asked Questions provide an overview of the four different types of marketing exchange and explain how they occur in current and emerging WASH marketing systems.


The project team drew together researchers from Australia, the Pacific, and the United States from the fields of marketing systems, governance, environmental science and engineering. The project was led by Principal Investigator, Dr Dani Barrington (Monash University/IWC) and Project Manager, Dr Regina Souter (IWC) working with a team of academics: Prof Srinivas Sridharan and Dr Stephen Saunders (Monash University), Prof Jamie Bartram and Kate Shields (University of North Carolina), Professor Bill Aalbersberg and Semisi Meo (University of the South Pacific), Assoc Prof Iwona Kolodziejczyk (Divine Word University) and many staff of Live and Learn in Vanuatu, Fiji, and Solomon Islands.

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