Using transdisciplinary research to “people” the enabling environment for water, sanitation and hygiene exchanges

Authors: Kate Shields*, University of Oregon, Dani J Barrington, School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds, Semisi Meo, Institute of Applied Sciences, University of the South Pacific, Srinivas Sridharan, Department of Marketing, Monash University, Stephen G Saunders, Department of Marketing, Monash University, Jamie Bartram, The Water Institute, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Regina T Souter, International WaterCentre
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Pacific Islands, Development
Keywords: public engagement, transdisciplinary, pacific islands, water, sanitation, hygiene, enabling environment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

With the entry of systems-level thinking into the area of water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) research in the past decade, the concept of “enabling environment”, defined variously as a set of conditions, institutions, or functions necessary for WaSH service delivery, has become an often-cited prerequisite for successful development projects. However, the enabling environment is often conceived of as a static and people-less entity. Recent work suggests a systems strengthening approach to the enabling environment, but these discussions are stifled by the conceptual lack of actors within the enabling environment to affect change.

As part of a larger transdisciplinary participatory action research project working to foster marketing exchanges for WaSH in informal settlement settlement communities in the four Melanesian countries of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, we worked with enabling environment stakeholders to “people” the enabling environment. As co-researchers we exploded the concept of enabling environment, mapping out relationships, functional roles, priorities and opportunities. Through this process we have approached collaborative research with stakeholders as an iterative process rather than using previously identified frameworks that predetermines roles of stakeholders and identifies a recipe of success. In this paper we describe both our approach to transdisciplinary research, and the impacts of this project to date, including the establishment of an Informal Settlement WASH Forum in Fiji. We suggest that an iterative and flexible approach which contextualizes both stakeholders and researchers and embraces the tensions that emerge between different goals and views can foster relevance, and even transformation.

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