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From triggering behaviour change to sustaining it. Interview with Julia Rosenbaum

Published on: 29/06/2014

This week, the 5th WASH Sustainability Forum will bring together representatives from civil society, government, universities and the private sector eager to share ideas on how to make our investments and efforts in water sanitation and hygiene have sustainable results.

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene will each be explored as separate 'tracks' at the Forum. I spoke to Julia Rosenbaum, who leads the Handwashing/Hygiene track and is Senior Behaviour Change Advisor for WASHplus, a five-year project funded by USAID and managed by FHI 360 . At the Forum she will guide sector experts to take stock of what tools exist, and brainstorm the sort of tools that would be most helpful to support sustainable handwashing and household water safety. A panel discussion will bring in private sector expertise on behaviour change. 

What do we mean when we talk about sustainability in handwashing and hygiene?
The hygiene track focuses on handwashing with soap and household drinking water treatment, safe handling and storage. On these issues, sustainability is all about sustaining consistent and correct practice – or sustained behaviour change. Individual behaviours are actually the bottom line for all sustainable WASH improvements.

We need to think from the beginning about what needs to happen after the project ends, what elements would encourage sustainability. And build these in, from the start.

In order to plan and implement hygiene interventions with lasting impacts we need to better understand what triggers behaviour change and motivates people to sustain hygienic behaviours.There is limited conclusive evidence on hygiene behaviour change, but we do know that people are motivated by other factors than health or fear of disease, the things WASH and health practitioners often focus on.

For water treatment, people's estimation of their ability to do something different, costs related to the new behaviour and the taste of treated water are key drivers. Social aspects of behaviour change should not be underestimated either. Group norms and peer support such as regular house visits by community health workers to follow up have all been shown to be influential in getting people to treat their water. Besides social factors, knowledge and the hardware, sustained behaviour change requires a long-term commitment and resources beyond the project duration.

The Triple-S tools mapping study found that more sustainability tools have been developed for water supply than for sanitation and hygiene. Despite an extensive search and engagement with relevant networks, you have found very few tools that address sustainability in handwashing and hygiene. What tools are there?

"Currently there are a few tools that monitor sustainability in handwashing and hygiene, but it is an area that is open for development! We hope the Forum will be an opportunity for sharing ideas and generating enthusiasm to take up the challenge to help develop such tools."

It is critical to gather clear evidence of which elements support the consistent and correct practice of the behaviours over time. Beyond tools, a key challenge for the WASH sector as a whole is moving away from a project orientation: Interventions are donor driven and projects have a limited funding time frame, so funding to conduct any sort of sustainability assessment dries up before sustainability can be assessed. 

Civil society, governments and the private sector all have a key role to play in supporting individuals and households to practice safe hygiene.The kick-off event organised by RAIN on working with governments underscored the importance of engaging government and ensuring that there are financial commitments towards sustaining change after projects end. 

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