Getting Honest Answers
Sanitation is a tough topic to discuss – it’s taboo, private, and a generally distasteful thing to ask about. At the same time, it’s done behind walls, in the dark, or at least out of the public eye, so it’s not something one can easily observe. This makes design research quite difficult.
As we’ve been asking people (especially those without toilets in their own homes) about their urination and defecation behaviors, they’ve tended to give the types of answers I give when I visit the dentist. “Yes, of course I floss my teeth everyday.” And just as my dentist discounts my answer, so do we when people tell us they exclusively use the public latrine - which they pay $.07 – $.15 to use each time. This would mean some large families are paying $1.50 – $3 per day for toilet usage.
We know that people in urban areas are defecating in plastic bags and throwing them outside their houses or into the public toilets. We also know that the men almost exclusively urinate outside, that the children never pay to use the public toilets and defecate outside, and that most people use the chamber pots in their homes at night and throw the waste outside in the morning. However, it’s nearly impossible to get people to tell us any of those things.
This is a situation in which asking lots of people the same questions, reading between the lines, asking what negative behaviors their neighbors might employ, and keeping ones eyes open and focused on what is lying on the ground, are critical. Understanding the meaning behind the words is everything here, and it’s a slow process of gaining the understanding that will allow us to design for this context.
- Jocelyn, Co-Lead of IDEO.org