This research combines perspectives from behavioral science and engineering to 1) describe the decision-making process of rural latrine owners and pit emptiers in low-income communities, with the goal of 2) improving engineered products and services for rural fecal sludge management (FSM) towards safely managed sanitation.  This research focuses on rural household pit latrines, which have finite storage capacities and thus require 2.7 billion people globally to empty their pits regularly. Frequently without guidance from standards or regulation, rural latrine owners choose how to manage their own fecal sludge. However, how they make this decision and what they prefer are poorly understood, inhibiting the development of safe FSM solutions and deteriorating public and environmental health.   James Harper is conducting the reseearch in collaboration with iDE.

Context and Intentions in Cambodia

Using survey data commonly measured by development practitioners, we analyze response frequencies and their associations with contextual factors, such as location, month that the survey was administered, and poverty level. We also use binomial logistic regression to determine if contextual factors can be used to predict the intentions of rural Cambodian latrine owners when pits fill. We found that four in ten rural latrine owners intend to manage their fecal sludge unsafely (41%), and one in six did not have a plan (16%). Desirable FSM intentions increased markedly after rice harvest and varied markedly across provinces. Many predictors of desirable FSM intentions, such as location and satisfaction with the household's latrine, were also identified. Associations between FSM intentions and contextual factors can be used to help predict FSM behaviors and improve FSM service delivery, behavior change campaigns, and product design. However, future work should seek to characterize the complete decision-making processes of rural latrine owners when pits fill.

This study was published in Feb 2020 in the Journal for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Developement here.

Household Valuation of Rural FSM Services

Safe FSM requires that the pathogens stored within pits be kept away from people.  This can be accomplished by either emptying a pit or installing a new pit, both of which should be performed by trained professionals (FSM services).  Each type of service can be provided using different methods.  For emptying services, manual emptying (emptying a pit with a bucket, shovel or other manual tool), mechanical emptying (emptying a pit with a submersible pump or other small powered mechanism), and vacuum-truck emptying (emptying a pit using a vacuum truck) are possible.  For new-pit services, a new pit could be installed alone (i.e., creating a new pit latrine), in series with the existing pit, or in parallel with the existing pit (i.e., creating an alternating dual pit system).

When considering how to manage their FS and maintain latrine functionality, latrine owners must chose one of these methods.  This decision-making process can be described using Random Utility Theory, which states that a latrine owner will tend to select the method that provides their household with the most utility (the subjective usefulness to the household).  In deciding which method to choose, a latrine owner performs a cost-benefit analysis (typically only mentally) that weighs the utilities of the available methods.  However, the utility of a given method is defined as the sum of the marginal utilities of the attributes that describe that method.  These marginal utilities are typically based on various behavioral determinants (e.g., attitudes, beliefs, social norms) that a latrine owner will have about specific FSM-service attributes.  The number of attributes considered by an individual is typically limited to six or fewer due to the cognitive load required to weigh the marginal utilities of many attributes.

This study investigates the preferences of rural Cambodian latrine owners for different FSM-service attributes.  Using a discrete choice experiment (DCE) and survey questions, we aim to answer the following reserach questions:

1. Which attributes of FSM services do rural households prefer?

a. What are they willing to pay for these attributes?

2. How do preferences for service- and non-service options vary?

3. How do preferences for FSM-service attributes and service/non-service options vary by province?

Data has been collected for this study and is currently being analyzed.  Preliminary results were presented in an oral presentation at the CU Boulder WASH Symposium in Mar 2020 and are available here.

The FSM Survey in Cambodia

This study comprehensively describes how rural Cambodian households make decisions about fecal sludge management.  Data has been collected using The FSM Survey and is currently being analyzed.

Pit Emptiers in Bangladesh

This study investigates the decision-making process, practices and business models of pit emptiers in rural Bangladesh.  Semi-structured interviews and focus groups have been performed, and the recordings of these interactions are currently being translated into English for analysis.