Innovation and Learning

Innovative activities have been undertaken to develop a sustainable and scalable model of operation that delivers cost-effective sanitation services and technology. BRAC WASH looks into new horizons and focuses on innovation and development of learning tools to further improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its activities. Thus, the programme has taken on several different action research projects in this regard.

Reuse of faecal sludge as organic fertiliser
All over Bangladesh pit latrines are filling up, and the waste is being dumped unsystematically. BRAC WASH has taken on this challenge in order to avert a probable environmental issue resulting from it. A team from the programme has been exploring various ways to solve this matter. The most reasonable solution is reusing the pit content as organic fertiliser. The study has covered seven climatic zones of Bangladesh, and field trials have been conducted with vegetables and rice paddy to see if it is suitable for human consumption.

Microbiological analysis of the organic fertiliser was conducted in the laboratory to minimise risk of cross-contamination. In addition, essential nutrient elements have been tested in the laboratory to determine its quality and standard. Due to lack of laboratory facilities in Bangladesh, the research team developed the testing protocol and overcame the challenges by meeting both national and WHO standards.

The key objective of this project is to identify and develop micro-entrepreneurship skills for the marketing of organic fertiliser from human faecal waste as a business model. To develop the compost business model, the project conducted surveys for market analysis to assess the entrepreneurial skills of people in rural areas and the demand for compost, in order to sell them to local farmers. Since national and WHO standards have been met, the project is going to start entrepreneurship following the national fertiliser legislation policy. This project aims to ensure proper waste management which leads to meet the Millennium Development Goal of environmental sustainability.

Feasibility study on the bioenergy project
Bioenergy project (Action research on commercially viable biogas system using faecal sludge and other agricultural residues in Bangladesh) is an action research of BRAC WASH which is being carried out by Biosol Energy Ltd. The objective of the research is to produce biogas and organic fertiliser from faecal sludge in a large scale and it focuses on collection of faecal sludge as well as agricultural waste and poultry manure. Ensuring safe sanitation through proper faecal sludge management is the motivation of this research.. At a time it is also analysing the appropriate digestion process for those wastes and capacity of production of gas/electricity and fertiliser. Along with the technical aspects, investment and business data analysis is a major part of this project.

Supply chain
To ensure that customers have access to low-cost, good quality sanitation products in rural areas, especially the more remote ones, BRAC WASH undertook supply chain management. The main purpose of this chain is to facilitate better functioning of the RSCs. These are usually the primary sources of sanitation materials in rural Bangladesh. Sanitation entrepreneurs are provided with training, which emphasises on the quality of production, as well as building their capacity by focusing on book keeping, administration and marketing skills. Beyond that, much effort is taken to strengthen linkages between communities and RSCs as well as the local government institutions (LGIs).  

The availability of sanitation entrepreneurs is crucial for an effective and sustainable programme. Thus supply chain analysis has been put in place to identify gaps, and to test current and future demands. It is a mechanism to check if the supply meets demands and therefore prepare policies accordingly.

Qualitative information system
In order to see the real impact that WASH has been having on the lives of millions of people, BRAC and IRC  have jointly developed and applied the qualitative information system (QIS) to measure the progress achieved in terms of outcomes. QIS quantifies qualitative process indicators, such as participation and inclusiveness, and outcome indicators, such as behavioural change, with the help of progressive scales (or ‘ladders’). Each step on the ladder has a short description, called a mini-scenario, which describes the situation for a particular score. The data is collected on smartphones by trained quality controllers. Further information on QIS is available here. This monitoring system has been piloted in 50 sub-districts, and is currently being scaled up.

SenseMaker® is a software that allows an alternative approach to quantifying the qualitative. Stories are collected from the field regarding a specific topic, for example members of the VWC are asked to relate stories about their experience working for the committee, and clients of the WASH programme are asked to share stories about changing behaviours as a result of their latrine usage. Once it is written, the story is analysed by the researcher and the subject together through a series of triads. The information is then entered into the software and analysed. Further information on SenseMaker® is available here.

WASHCost is a way for WASH to analyse expenditures, service delivery, and the outcomes achieved as a result of those services. It allows for a financial sustainability check by taking into account all aspects of a service, from initial construction to ongoing maintenance and eventual replacement. This approach helps to improve targeting future investments by assessing past performances. Moreover, it is a way to monitor the services delivered over time, thus resulting in a better value for money. Life cycle cost approach (LCCA) is a part of WASHCost project; it helps to calculate the life span of each service and gives a better understanding.

The WASHCost study is now focusing on its other component which is water. The other two key components, sanitation and hygiene are being done by BRAC WASH for last two years. Identifying the sustainable and affordable water source(s) is one of the main objectives of this study. Water collection is one of the major challenges due to the distance of water source. Since rural areas are rapidly adopting urban setup, the necessity of safe drinking water is also increasing, Therefore, it has become an urgent need to understand the true costs (capital expenditure, recurrent expenditure, capital maintenance expenditure) of existing water sources.

Salinity intrusion forecast and water quality monitoring
Salinity intrusion has become a challenging issue in terms of drinking water supply in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. A study is being carried out for forecasting the extent of salinity intrusion in the deep tube wells of these regions. A software model has been developed with recent data, and will be tuned with the latest data. There will be a monitoring system in place where salinity will be monitored with smartphones. Relevant stakeholders will be trained for the purpose. The data will then be shared with the concerned organisations. For safety of drinking water, the water safety plan will also be adjusted with necessary modifications with reference to salinity contamination.

Other action research areas
The WASH programme is undertaking action research on several other long outstanding issues, such as low-cost sanitation for areas with high water tables, such as floating latrines for haor areas; water technologies for areas with saline intrusion, such as solar desalination panels which purify water using a vaporisation-condensation cycle; safe and final disposal of human waste; and hygiene promotion for men. These projects are currently underway and more information will be provided as results are obtained.