Sanitation behavior change is a notoriously complex intervention. In the harsh, remote environment of the Ethiopian lowlands, this is particularly so. Community-Led Total Sanitation and Hygiene (CLTSH) interventions, while successful in Ethiopia's densely populated highland areas, have never been implemented at scale in the lowlands. We learned that in these communities, dominated by (semi-) pastoralist groups, that the operating conditions for effective, sustained behavior change are highly variable. A Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) approach helped the program team define, pivot and re-design activities that addressed project effectiveness.
Our experience is drawn from the USAID/Ethiopia-funded Lowland Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Activity that works to accelerate access to improved WASH in three rural lowland regions: Afar, Somali, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP). Mid-activity data review highlighted several disappointing results that prompted a program team rethink. With both the implementing team and USAID/Ethiopia interested in critical feedback to adapt their approaches, USAID Lowland WASH Activity adopted the CLA framework to address these challenges. Utilizing pause and reflect, strategic collaboration, adaptive management and M&E for learning, an intentional CLA process allowed for a virtuous cycle of learning to occur.
While still too early to determine the full effect of the CLA approach on development outcomes, encouraging results have emerged. A stronger set of 'performance envelope' criteria allowed for better targeting and sustainable CLTSH interventions; adaptation of the communication strategy led to effective storytelling practices in local languages, and project insights led to the refinement of Open Defecation Free (ODF) certification in Somali to a more manageable village- instead of Kebele-level definition.