What is inclusive participatory design and how does RISE use it?

The Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) program’s innovative and collaborative approach is achieving better and broader results for people and the environment.

RISE isn’t just helping the Fijian and Indonesian communities it’s working with, but now the program’s outcomes can help similar Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects across the globe, through The Reflecting on Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Toolkit.

RISE builds innovative and sustainable infrastructure where it’s desperately needed, while its inclusive and participatory approach ensures that people are healthy, empowered, and more resilient to climate change as a result.

Collaborating with communities in Indonesia and Fiji, RISE builds co-designed, nature-based, water and sanitation infrastructure that improves the environment and is more ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.

Yes, [RISE Program will succeed] because they really want to improve the facilities here because they can work and visit other people’s homes. So they really want to fix our houses. RISE is different from other organisations that only come to the [Site] to check the condition but they don’t repair the facilities.”

– Female resident, RISE Makassar site, The Reflecting on Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Toolkit, p.44.

RISE is led by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute in partnership with communities, governments, local leaders and partner institutions. The program brings expertise from across six Monash faculties: Art, Design and Architecture; Science ; Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences; Engineering; Business and Economics; and Law.

A toolkit to share the learnings

As part of the RISE program, the sub-project that published the toolkit looked at how WASH practitioners can deliver gender and socially inclusive and participatory design in water and sanitation infrastructure in urban informal settlements, so that no-one gets left behind. Through 35 tools divided into four categories, the project provides suggested methods for planning and implementing participatory design approach in WASH projects.

When WASH projects use inclusive participatory design methods for water and sanitation infrastructure the outcomes contribute simultaneously to four social and environmental Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the Agenda 2030 action plan. Those goals are SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities and SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

In short, projects can achieve more results and better outcomes for people and the environment. But while extremely valuable, inclusive participatory design can be hard to do.

That is why RISE program partners Monash University, Emory University, Hasanuddin University and the University of the South Pacific are sharing their findings in a free, practical and digital toolkit, to support WASH practitioners to apply the inclusive participatory design approach in their projects.

“By examining our own values, prejudices and our vulnerabilities, we’re better able to respond to the values, prejudices and vulnerabilities that we encounter in the communities we’re working in,” says Dr Becky Batagol, one of the toolkit’s authors.

The Reflecting on Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Toolkit is available in English and Indonesian.

The toolkit provides the opportunity for these conversations so that everyone gets on that GESI journey and we continue to work towards Gender Equality and Social Inclusion.”

– Shirleen Ali, Pacific Gender and Inclusion Senior Advisor, Fiji, CARE Australia.

The document has four clear tool categories to improve project design and implementation; Understanding context, Water and Sanitation Infrastructure, Design Process, and Team Composition and Dynamics.

The toolkit includes a Booklet, a Card Deck, and an Online Library. You can download the toolkit and the card deck separately. The card deck is interactive, allowing WASH teams to use it together to create inclusive participatory design strategies for their projects.

The Booklet tells stories, even revealing mistakes made, to illustrate how RISE adapted creatively to find solutions that worked in different communities and contexts.

In Fiji, people wrote a song about a wastewater pump! Children studied the workbook and then developed an informed and funny skit that they performed in a community workshop. Their performance demonstrated their ability to grasp technical concepts but also presented the use of the systems in a fun and less confronting way.”

– The Reflecting on Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Toolkit, p.41.

A policy brief to scale up inclusion

The toolkit is accompanied by a policy brief, ‘Promoting Inclusive Participatory Design of Water and Sanitation Infrastructure in Urban Informal Settlements: 4 steps to improve project design and implementation’ to support donors, funders, governments and policy-makers and residents of urban communities where a water and sanitation project is underway.

The policy brief provides concise guidance, recommendations, and links to additional resources, and is also available in English and Indonesian.

In our changing climate, it is imperative to shut down inequalities where we find them. The decisions and practices of WASH practitioners, donors, funders, governments and policymakers around gender equality and social inclusion strongly influence the success and sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure projects.

RISE’s research and experience in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically Indonesia and Fiji, have shown that participatory design can facilitate effective gender and social inclusion (GESI) practices in water and sanitation infrastructure projects in urban informal settlements.

As all the RISE communities and partners continue to create space for different voices to reflect on their experiences and share their learnings, not only will it improve water and sanitation infrastructure and the environment, the outcomes will also contribute to a more equal, engaged and resilient society.

Download the free toolkit and policy brief.

Read more about RISE