Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?


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  • DavidAlan
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  • David Crosweller
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Re: Introduction to theme 1: Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?

Personally, we need to act promptly on this, but it has to be done properly so we have to take as much time as we need.

We are working on our trial inner city sanitation (ICS) system and have circa 4,000 people within two catchment areas of Cuddalore and Pondicherry in India. The plan is to move into 'proper' slums in the next phase. The reason we opted for slums is because the need is greatest with the poorest people; it is like working from the bottom of the chain upwards. We have worked closely with Chennai City Council for this next stage and collected data from the three broad areas in which they want us to work. I have mentioned previously the results of our initial baseline survey in the current areas. They would be quite significant if we can replicate them in Chennai.

If you want to see a very broad overview you can look here, but it is in need of updating: www.sanitationfirst.org

I think systematic is great, and it is important to engage the relevant authorities from stage one, but we need to start somewhere and to try and solve everything from day one could be very daunting. The scale of the problem is so large.
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  • cmaredkar
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Re: Introduction to theme 1: Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?

Sanitation problem is huge and thou we need systematic approach it needs to be flexible as per the demand of the community.The roles of different stakeholder also keep changing and need which need to be modified.But finally a good leadership who can create a revolution within the existing system.
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  • dorothee.spuhler
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  • Developing methods and tools to support strategic planning for sustainable sanitation. Particular interested in novel technologies contributing to more inclusive and circular sanitation. Co-Lead of WG1
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Re: Introduction to theme 1: Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?

Hi Cor

Thank you for launching this discussion!

First a comment on the Figure: I am missing the "containment", "collection" and the "transportation" (lower left edge in the red circle).
Even though these elements are only a part of the sanitation chain, they are crucial to have control on that part in order to guide how the disposal/reuse can or cannot take place.

To react on your guiding questions:

First, I do agree that a for a strategic planning level, a systematic view and planning approach is required in order to support more integrated and potentially more sustainable sanitation plans.

  • Systematic approaches to my experience are often larger projects and it is difficult, to implement such approaches incremental. Thus the institutional arrangements need to be prepared for a systematic planning allowing for cross-sectoral dialogue and providing human and financial resources to follow such a rather "heavy" projects.
  • As broached above, change has to take place simultaneously at different level from the individual to the organisation and it is not easy to break down systematic approaches to the impact level of an individual. Thus, this might also leads to a piecemeal solutions even though initially not thought as such.
  • As much as a systematic approach have to be brought down to the individual level within an organisation (assuming it has been taken up by at the organisational level) it has also to be linked to the communities in order to ensure participation of all stakeholders and ownership and uptake. That means, systematic approaches need to be flexible enough to adapte to different needs of communities overs space and time.

Cheers, Dorothee
WG1 Co-lead
Developing methods and tools to support strategic planning for sustainable sanitation. Particular interested in novel technologies contributing to more inclusive and circular sanitation. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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  • dietvorst
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Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?

Sustainable urban sanitation – moving forward

This thematic discussion focuses on how to move towards more sustainable urban sanitation. The discussions will be organised around two areas: 1) addressing the entire sanitation chain and the need to embrace systemic change; and 2) the role (or lack of) of local governments and its leaders to drive the required change.

Week 1, topic 1:

Holistic Comprehensive Systemic Change or Piecemeal Solutions?

The guiding questions for this week’s topic are:
  1. What are your views on using the systemic change approach for addressing the (urban) sanitation challenges?
  2. Is it justifiable to continue focusing on onsite containment of human faeces and thereby ignoring all the other links of the sanitation chain?
  3. How can we balance the need for systemic long-time change with addressing some of the immediate urgent needs?

In a world where the urbanisation rate is increasing, many more organisations are redirecting their attention and energy towards improving sanitation and hygiene conditions in urban areas. This may not be a bad idea considering the huge problems at hand. Consider for example that right now some 700 million urban dwellers worldwide still lack access to improved sanitation (1). These numbers hide the fact that the current JMP definition for improved sanitation (a facility which hygienically separates human excreta from human contact) does not address the subsequent management of faecal waste. This means that the health risks and environmental burden associated with unsafely managed faecal matter are still there.

The problem is complex and there are no simple solutions

Urban sanitation is a complex challenge. Factors contributing to these challenges are numerous and varied. For example, weak government leadership, lack of institutional clarity, limited capacities of public officials and other sector actors, limited public financing with increased inequality as a result, weak policy and regulatory framework and lack of enforcement of norms and standards, inadequate containment by onsite systems resulting in toilets discharging in drains or open water bodies, lack of adequately services to safely remove, transport, treat and dispose or reuse human waste resulting in indiscriminate dumping of human waste, etc.

Is it therefore enough to focus only on one or two elements of this complex system or do we need to come up with solutions for all the non-functioning elements in the chain?

Systemic change versus piece meal solutions

In a recent blog ‘But what is it that you actually do?’ IRC’s CEO Patrick Moriarty explains what has to change to ensure that everyone, everywhere will be able to enjoy access to water, sanitation and hygiene services that last forever. The blog includes a slide deck that provides a simple visualisation of what is required to achieve universal and sustained services by focusing on changing the entire system. Patrick’s blog can be accessed at http://www.ircwash.org/blog/but-what-is-it-that-you-actually-do

What are we talking about? Systemic change is change that encompasses all parts of a system, taking into account the interrelationships and interdependencies among those parts whereas piecemeal change focuses on one or several parts of a system and thereby addresses only pieces of the urban sanitation problem.

Systemic change means that we need to 1) improve (sanitation) conditions in an entire geographic or administrative area (e.g. municipality) and not in one or two small pockets (e.g. slums), 2) assess and address all the relevant (weak) parts by considering all parts of a system, 3) involve and work with all the stakeholders, and 4) be consciously systematic in what we do. The figure below provides a simple framework which includes most if not all the elements of this system thinking.

Figure: System thinking and all the parts that may need to be addressed

The earlier mentioned slide deck in Patrick's blog shows that it may take up to ten years to work painstakingly through the different phases to achieve systemic change. Do we have that much time? A more detailed overview of the different phases is provided on page 24 of the following paper http://www.ircwash.org/resources/towards-systemic-change-urban-sanitation

(1) This figure of 700 million is estimated on the basis of the information provided in the latest JMP
Cor Dietvorst
Information Manager
Programme Officer | IRC
+31 70 304 4014 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | www.ircwash.org
Skype cor.dietvorst | Twitter @dietvorst

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