Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The ties that bind? Some ideas on functionality, assets, behaviour, and perceptions

As I near the end of my placement I have finished my BSF programme study. To elucidate, my work has focused on the impact of Biosand Filters on households and how their functionality is influenced by assets, behaviours, and perceptions within households and communities. Looking at how intervention projects, such as the BSF programme, influence assets, behaviours, and perceptions was a secondary focus.

When I began this study I was naive and ignorant, and in many ways I still am. I had never read much development literature nor had I thoroughly explored appropriate technology in any great depth. To this day the bulk of my 'development' knowledge is pulled from case studies, papers, and the odd chapter of a book. While there is something to be said for hands on learning I think I should also begin to read more of the lit. As I conducted this study I constantly referred to similar work done in other countries, frameworks for semi structured interviews, and of course my own learning being done explicitly and implicitly in the environment around me. I feel as though much of development is hard to express on paper form and is in fact tacit - that is, to truly understand certain aspects of development perhaps it must be experienced. With that being said I want to toss out some ideas (so much for being tacit) I've come up with while finishing my final report. They aren't based on any essays or books; just a few thoughts derived from the placement thus far.

Assets, Behaviours, and Perceptions - a muddy cycle
ABP - Assets, behaviours, and perceptions. I'll call them collectively household aspects (for lack of a better word).
Perceptions shape behaviours... Behaviours shape perceptions..., they both shape which assets are used, or more importantly are not. Assets in turn impact the evolution of behaviour and perceptions
. It's a muddy cycle - it's hard to tell which area sparked the other. Intervention functionality is directly impacted by these three aspects of a individual and its environment. I like to express them in the following way:

(note each area should say Why/why not, how/ how it isn't, what/what isn't... Out of room. Remember the contra is important too!)

This triple Venn shows each aspect and how they overlap. Two ideas I draw from it:
1) Each aspect can be affected by one another and they all have overlapping areas (ie behaviours based on perceptions, perceptions based on behaviours, and so on).
2) The functionality of a intervention will also be impacted by how these three aspects interact.
To clarify: in the case of the BSF (an asset) in is important to know what other assets (ie: a well) will be used with it, why all assets are used, and how they are used. In order for an intervention to change or impact any one aspect it is important to consider the repercussions such a change will have on the others. Or on the flip side: what changes in perceptions will lead to changes in behaviour? If suddenly an NGO decided to fill in unsafe wells what would the resulting behaviour and perception changes be? (no, I am not advocating this.)

An example based on several households I have interviewed:

assets: BSF, buckets, shallow well, jerry can

-a household states that good water is clear, clean and cold. The filter renders water that is clean, clear, and cold so it may be perceived as a provider of good water.
-However the household doesn't perceive the need to clean the filter and does not.
-the household strongly believes that the Jerrycan is the only container which can be used with the filter

-the household uses the filter for all drinking water by pouring the water through the top and drinking it
-the household never cleans the filter
- the household stores water in the Jerrycan.

The following are some scenarios are based on the household above. I hope will articulate the three aspect framework:
(I have experienced them all multiple times)

Scenario: Jerrycan is lost
Since the household perceives the Jerrycan is the only container to be used with the filter the household may discontinue use. This is an example of how related assets and perceptions can impact behaviour.

Scenario: the filter is never cleaned and flow rate becomes very slow
Since the flow rate is very slow the household begins to perceive the filter as more of a chore and gradually stops using it. Perceptions have influenced behaviour which has changed perceptions, which have in turn influenced assets.

Scenario: The household doesn't have hygiene behaviour
There is a lack of behaviour, such as hand washing and as a result continues to suffer from diarrhea disease. Gradually their perception of the filter changes as they lose faith based on their behaviour. This is an example of behaviour influencing perceptions.

There is capacity for any one of the aspects to influence the others, or for any two to influence the remaining one.

Functionality? What's the function...
Another concept I have been thinking about is "what is functionality?" - in the case of the BSF I have begun to see a functional BSF as a BSF which is completely integrated into a household approach for water, hygiene, and sanitation. As I pointed out in an earlier post, even a technically functional filter can be dysfunctional if it does not have positive perceptions and behaviours... such as safe water storage!

I see the BSF "system" as a three step process. Of course each of the steps is made of of many other steps. All steps, big or small, noted or otherwise, are influenced by assets, perceptions, and behaviours. The BSF system revolved around using the BSF to accomplish what it should: provide households with clean water to reduce waterborne illness. When trying to define functionality I looked back to the the function that the intervention was trying to serve, what a system for this function be successful may look like, and what might hinder it.

Basic functionality seems to be influenced by these three steps or areas:
1) Obviously "bad" water must be present or there is no need to filter, no?
- Certain sources can kill the bio layer rendering it useless (ie Kafubo water and sewerage or prechlorinated water may have chlorine concentrations which hinder filtration)

2) Operation and Maintenance practices are key. If the filter isn't used right (and despite having a design North Americans consider "simple" I have seen all kinds of divergent behaviours. Everything from food storage to removing the diffuser plate) then it wont be able to functionally give water.
-If the filter isn't maintained (ie cleaned) then eventually the flow rate will reach a point of frustration where it takes hours upon hours to filter even a little water. Eventually it may become too clogged or the household may give up
-Alternatively, consistent use is required or the filter will dry up rendering it dysfunctional.

3) I found lack of safe water storage is the leading cause of filter dysfunction (with the second leading cause being lack of cleaning knowledge/practices). Even if filters can clean the water, if the water is not stored safely (ie in a container with a spout and lid. No dipping allowed.) the household can still get sick.

Each of these "steps" can be derailed by assets, behaviour, or perceptions! When training for the functional use of an intervention it is essential to take into account the assets, behaviours, and perceptions within the community. Which ones are compatible with functionality? Which are needed to be shared? Do some need to changed? Por exemplo: if a new behaviour is introduced what will the impact be on assets (maybe the environment.)? It is also important to look at how the filter relates to the rest of the water and sanitation behaviours, perceptions, and assets in the house. If people are not washing their hands what is the impact on their health? Can the filter truly generate a marked decrease in disease?

Of course these ideas are really "rough" - they are just based on a few months of field experience. Take them with a grain of salt, or perhaps probably a few pinches. I am sorry about the vague nature of some of the descriptions - I can elaborate upon request! (or I may go back through and edit this post... as I do with many others)

1 comment:

  1. Hey Patrick;

    I'm this just before a meeting with James (from UBC) and we are trying to develop good ways (and simple) ways to desribe our work overseas. Your BSF use diagram is PREFECT FOR US and MUCH appreciated!!! The post as a whole was a great communication of the issues that are faced when trying to implement a BSF system. So again, thanks SO MUCH, ad keep up the great work!!! :)

    Thanks, Ben