How can we stop the people from doing this?

I asked the participants of our Net-Map workshop in Bolgatanga, Ghana, what pressing issues out of their own work they would like to explore. This was a group of regional and district level government officials and representatives from NGOs, all somehow related to the water sector, concerned with drinking water, agricultural water use and nature conservation respectively.

One participant proposed: “I would like to talk about how we can improve the sanitation behavior in our communities. How can we teach people not to defecate around their houses and not to throw rubbish everywhere?”

Once I had introduced the basic steps of drawing the map, the group went head-first into a vivid discussion. As one participant told me later: “Eva, if you hadn’t pushed us to keep the time, we would have continued our discussion until late in the evening…”

Now what was the most remarkable thing that happened through the discussion? You can see that the group started with a question that puts all the blame on the individual who is showing wrong sanitation behaviour. But in Bolgatanga, though it’s a regional capital, about 75% of the population live in buildings without toilets or running water. And you can walk through the whole town without seeing any public dustbin.

After drawing a network of everyone who can influence the sanitation behaviour of the individual and putting them on influence towers, the discussion took a completely different direction:

  • “The district assembly should be on their toes. They should start planning 5-10 years ahead and implement sanitation strategies when new town development areas come up.”
  • “We have to sort out the issue of rubbish dumps. At the moment the districts like to dump their rubbish at un-registered sites in their neighbour district. We have to propperly set aside land for this and make sure the environmental impact assessment is done.”
  • “We have to take the building code more seriously and not allow people to build any new houses without toilets.”

Drawing a Net-Map led to a re-framing of the issue. The participants understood that this is not an individual but a structural problem; that it is not enough to teach and punish people into correct behaviour but that proper planning and infrastructure development are needed to provide opportunities and incentives for the desired behaviour. If there are no toilets, what is the individual supposed to do?

The most exciting experience for me was that this learning process happened with very minimal facilitation. I only gave them the most basic instructions, as in: “Write down all the actors who can influence the process” or “Put influence towers next to the actors.” Just by following these steps and discussing each move as they went along, the participants understood something crucial about the nature of this problem and developed concrete strategies to put this shift in thinking into action.

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