Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How is “Open Defecation Free” Helping to Define Progress?

Post By: Lauren Yamagata, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Associate, Plan International USA

An important part of project implementation is monitoring and measuring how we achieve our goals.

One of the two main goals of the Cambodia Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Program (CR-SHIP) is to increase access to improved sanitation in communities where the current level of sanitation is below 50 percent of the population.  Plan is working to implement this program (funded by the Global Sanitation Fund of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council) through other local and international NGOs, as well as the government in Cambodia.  Plan promotes “Community-led Total Sanitation,” which encourages communities to take ownership of their behaviors and recognize the positive benefits of adopting improved sanitation. 

So what does achievement look like in this situation?
Staff from Plan and its partner organization CESVI,
meeting with a local village chief and
Village Development Committee
members to discuss their challenges.

The key target for the project is “Open Defecation Free” (ODF), which means that a village or community has over a certain percent of the population using toilets instead of pooping out in the open. With this type of target, you either “are” or you “aren’t.”  So, until villages hit the threshold where they can be certified as achieving ODF status, they are still considered non-ODF, despite any progress that has been made.  This leaves a large gap in our understanding of how villages are making gains in access prior to their reaching the target.

Plan recognizes the importance of using research to improve its programs.  We developed a survey tool for partners to increase the detail in data that is collected, particularly on the villages that have not yet achieved ODF status.  With the new data, we can compare the sanitation access currently, to the level at the start of the project.  We can look for trends in the villages that achieved ODF quickly, we can learn about the characteristics of how villages adopt the approach and how that impacts their success at ODF achievement, and ultimately we can start to adjust and target villages with additional support to reach the goal.


The project approach involves activities that help set the stage for introducing it in communities and follows the communities on the path as they adopt improved sanitation. Project partners armed with this new data and understanding can focus their follow-up activities on villages that are close to achieving ODF and on those that are lagging behind with activities tailored to their specific needs.

When I visited the project last September I was able to accompany Plan Cambodia staff as they joined with one of their local project partners, CESVI, in a follow-up visit to a village.  Upon arrival, our group was met by the Village Chief, as well as two members of the Village Development Committee (VDC).  The project staff encouraged them to openly discuss challenges they were facing and successes they had achieved.  I was particularly interested when they discussed the challenge they had noticed regarding a lack of respect from other villagers when it came to sanitation knowledge.  They felt that the villagers preferred to see the NGO staff as an authority on the topic and that when the project staff members were there in person to support the VDC, this increased the VDC’s legitimacy in the eyes of the other villagers.  Since the project is often reliant upon local community volunteers such as these VDC members to facilitate progress, it is important to recognize and address these issues.

Facilitating change, village by village, household by household, is difficult work.  The realization derived from our monitoring and evaluation challenges will improve this project in the long run.  Increasing the real-time, on-the-ground information as communities are engaged, helps us understand how to continue to improve our work and better serve the communities we are reaching.

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