Monday, November 24, 2008

A development practitioner's diary #2: what room do we have?

Recently I have been involved in a multidonor-funded sanitation project in East Java, in addition to my ongoing donor-related work, which has been more analytical. There are many non-technical issues that I think are too important to miss. In real world, those non-technical issuses are important, sometimes very important, for the success or failure of a research or an intervention program. I am going to share some of the experience in this 'Field diary' series. Earlier I have shared a first story; hence this post is the second one... (a.p.).

My friend -- that dumbfounded psychologist in Australia -- and I were chatting about the sanitation project. We talked about the background and objectives of the study, and how the intervention will (or is expected) to work. After exchanging several lines, he raised an important point. Here's an excerpt of the conversation.
DP: "Do you know what makes the villagers don't build their own toilets?

AP: "They said they don't have money. But looks that it's not the case as they can afford to buy cellphones, and some of the houses have ceramic floors or permanent walls. So looks like cultural aspects or lack of information matter."

DP: "Does the project try to find out what is the main reason for not having toilets?"

AP: "No -- the intervention aims to create or trigger demand for proper sanitation."

DP: "But how do you know that intervention works if you don't find out the real reason first?"

AP: "I'll tell you what. This is a development project, not a pure academic research... If you know what I mean, or try to read between the lines..."

DP: "Ah yes, got it... I should have thought more pragmatically...."
Moral of the story: in most cases, if we're running a development project, the constraints for what activities to do or what information to look for have already been set. Although sometimes we can play around with the constraints, or piggyback with an existing project, to do other activities or look for other information. I'll tell you in other posts.


  1. ap, I have a pressing question: Do you really think not having an in-house toilet will make you dull? Or sick?

    Because our fellows in East Java apparently don't think so. And maybe they are right.

  2. I don't know.. and that's why we're doing an impact evaluation study on it... :-)