How to use HCD to build prototypes for WASH

By Monte Achenbach, Chief of Party, USAID Transform WASH

This post is part of a series on PSI’s TransformWASH design summit in Ethiopia. Click on these links to learn about Day 1 and Day 2.

It’s the final day of the design summit, and we’re all a bit weary, but energized to see the fruits of all this labor.  When we started our 10-day journey with MIT, it felt like a long time to spend in a workshop.  But as the summit progressed, I realized that we could easily spend a month gathering information, fleshing out concepts, prototyping ideas and testing them out with community members.  Even so, it was impressive to see what could be done in the time we’d set aside.

Over the last two and a half days, our six design teams were back at it, hammering away in the workshop and constructing prototypes of products that they had selected for their potential to address identified challenges and to succeed in the market:

Latrine superstructure group

This team created an actual model latrine structure, each wall made of different locally available, inexpensive but durable materials.  One side consisted of empty plastic water bottles, knit together to create a solid wall.  A piece of blue plastic sheeting slid under the bottles ensured privacy while maintaining a bright interior.  The second wall was made of a bamboo matt weave, also protecting privacy with flexible material well-known to the community.  For a stronger structure, the third side consisted of split bamboo poles connected with wire.

On top of it all, the team created a slanted roof from corrugated metal, which allowed rainwater to be captured in a trough that ran the width of the structure and funneled to a bucket below.

A toilet prototype.

Women and WASH construction group

This topic challenged the group to be ultra-creative.  How could we help women do more latrine construction on their own?  Female community members complained that they couldn’t always get men to commit to the work, but they didn’t feel capable of doing demanding physical tasks on their own, like digging pits.  The solution?  Simply make it easier.  The team crafted a boring tool, like a big metal fork, that could be twisted into the ground by two people, merry-go-round style, each grasping opposite sides of a rod connected to the top of the device: much easier than ejecting packed soil with a shovel.

Sanitation for toddlers and small children groups

The range of sanitation options available to households is narrow as it is, let alone consideration of facilities that work better for children.  So, these two co-design teams came up with product prototypes adapted specifically to children’s needs.  The toddler group created a wooden training potty, which featured a locally available plastic container that could be slid in and out for cleaning.  The small children’s sanitation group designed a miniature version of a toilet, on which a child could squat comfortably, and which could be installed next to the adult toilet for easy cleaning into the pit hole.

Hand washing group

Fewer than 10 percent of households in Ethiopia have a dedicated facility for hand washing.  This team took up the design challenge by creating a hand washing station made of a tall, sturdy wooden base, a plastic bucket with a faucet at the bottom, and a plastic bottle attached to the side to dispense soap.  This sounds simple, but the unique feature of this design was a small, metal-lined hole at the bottom of the bucket, which prevented excessive use of water and was sealed with a spring mechanism that snapped a long handle, made of a metal rod, back into the closed position without requiring manipulation with clean hands. The lower arm would do the trick.

Transportation group

This group started out exploring transport options for heavy WASH construction materials to rural communities, but they ended up addressing a second critical problem as well.  While looking at ways to decrease the weight of commonly used cement slabs for latrine construction, the team realized that they could also decrease costs, which have nearly doubled recently due to price hikes in reinforcement bars following the devaluation of the Ethiopian currency.  So, to make the slabs cheaper and lighter, the team turned once again to bamboo as a replacement for a metal reinforcement bar, redesigned the support structure and cast two models with cement, one with half and one with full replacement of metal, which could then be tested for structural integrity.

What next?

The summit concluded in style with a fair-like community showcase of all of the above prototypes, to which we invited regional government officials and friends and colleagues of summiteers.  Each group created a 30-second ‘ad’ for their product to “show off” what benefits it could offer households.  And “show off” they did, complete with demonstrations, colorful graphics posted on the walls, and sample pricing, just like a real market.

The nostalgia among all participants was palpable after such an intense experience, but the summit won’t end here. Three possible fates await the work completed at the summit (and even for good ideas that weren’t prototyped):

  • Summit participants, especially business operators, can take the designs forward, hone them further, and market them to consumers.  USAID Transform WASH will work closely with its partners to help them succeed;
  • For ideas that could use industrial design for potential manufacturing, MIT can propose the ideas for inclusion in courses that can take the prototypes to the next level;
  • The design process itself can be replicated by summit participants, including the Transform WASH team and community members, to keep the ideas flowing by applying user-centered design to more design challenges that can be solved with innovative products and services that enrich the Ethiopian market.

Ultimately, all of these outcomes will be part of the transformation of WASH in Ethiopia if (when) they offer consumers convenience, better functionality, a good price and something they want to use.

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