WASHable: Participatory design and community engagement Network on WASH in Lusophone and Francophone African Countries

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Inst for the Contemporary Arts


The deeply connected history of humans and water presents complex sustainable development challenges. Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene is recognised as an important human right. However, in countries in sub-Saharan Africa there are still large parts of the population who live in poverty without clean water, and even basic toilet facilities. Unsafe water, sanitation and lack of hygiene leads to a rise in infectious diseases and deaths, especially of young children.

French-speaking (Francophone) and Portuguese-speaking (Lusophone) countries in Africa, such as Cameroon and Angola, are affected the most as there are significant inequalities between people living in cities and the countryside and between the richest and poorest; and there has been very little research and investment.

Solutions developed for other sub-Saharan countries will not necessarily work in French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking, such as Angola and Cameroon, due the ethnic, social, cultural and language differences that are found in these. Yet, understanding of social, cultural and religious practices have a great impact on the development and adoption of any water, sanitation and hygiene solutions and interventions.

Engaging the local communities as well as the local government and other organisations such as NGOs in participating in the development of sustainable and acceptable by the wider community solutions is critical. Important is also the involvement of women and children in this process, as they are mainly responsible for management of household water supply, sanitation, hygiene and household wellbeing.

However, there is currently limited knowledge and capacity within African research institutions on how to support this type of positive engagement with communities and co-design solutions with them.

The WASHable project, a collaboration between Lancaster University (UK) and the University of Buea (Cameroon) and the Catholic University of Angola, will develop a research network that will provide knowledge exchange and capacity building, addressing the need for African academic organisations to open their doors and work with, in and for their communities.

This will be achieved through a series of training and knowledge exchange workshops on arts and humanities approaches held in the UK, Cameroon and Angola, that will focus on engaging communities, women and schoolchildren in water, sanitation and hygiene research. Furthermore, the project will engage policy makers and lead to the development of new research partnerships that will develop culturally-sensitive and gender-mainstreaming projects aimed at delivering safe water, sanitation and hygiene services for Africa.

In addition to this, the WASHable research network will, apart from engaging other Francophone (Ivory Coast, Benin, Senegal) and Lusophone countries (Mozambique, Cape Verde) of Africa, also establish an African-wide network through the pan-African experts (from countries in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia) attending the workshops in Cameroon and Angola.

This is the first community-based research network on water, sanitation and hygiene in sub-Saharan, and especially Francophone and Lusophone Africa, and is a steppingstone for longer and deeper research collaborations that will be strengthened and sustained even after the end of the project.

Planned Impact

This project represents the first community-based research network on water, sanitation and hygiene in sub-Saharan and especially Francophone and Lusophone African countries.

Generating meaningful impact for communities, researchers and policy-makers is a key driver of this research network. It will be maximised through a systematic approach to deliver three key impact objectives through several impact activities at various stages of the project lifespan:

1. To increase engagement with research, regulatory, policy and community stakeholders in Lusophone and Francophone African countries in WASH.
2. To increase the knowledge and capacity building of the use of community engagement and participatory design methods amongst the academic community providing a starting point for future impactful research in Africa LMICs and the UK.
3. To build new partnerships between institutions and communities in sub-Saharan African countries and in the UK.

Who might benefit from this research network?
The Cameroonian and Angolan institutes (Buea University and Catholic University of Angola) will benefit directly from this network in terms of capacity building, skills development and networking. UK research institutions will also benefit in the same way and further develop their understanding of WASH related challenges in sub-Saharan countries as well as through establishing a wider network in this field and new partnerships.

Also other stakeholders, such as NGOs, policy makers and business participating in the two workshops in Africa and engaging with the impact activities will benefit from new knowledge generated and capacity building activities.

The wider community and schools will also benefit both directly and indirectly from the community engagement and participatory methods the participating in the research network African institutes will be trained and be implementing in WASH related projects.

How might they benefit from this research network?
The proposed networking activities will lead to a better understanding of how Arts and Humanities led research, particularly participatory design and community engagement methods, can address development challenges in the under-researched area of clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in under-represented Francophone and Lusophone African countries. By engaging our collaborators and partners, this new understanding will help create a community of UK and African practitioners active in the domain of community engagement and WASH; and explore the opportunities for advancing the domain and building new equitable partnerships.

The proposed network and impact activities will help expand and sustain the WASHable research network through not only the Francophone and Lusophone but all the geopolitical and linguistic zones of Africa for a wider benefit. To this, plans beyond this research network is to establish an African wide network through the pan-African experts engaging in the workshops in Cameroon and Angola. Furthermore, a central part of the impact activities is the development of a minimum of two applications for a collaborative research grants that will help cement and extend the partnerships developed through this network.

We envisage this research network becoming a springboard for longer and deeper research collaborations that will be strengthened and sustained beyond the duration of the award.


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