Incentivising Self-Help Groups to Influence Improved Sanitation Behaviors: Evidence from Rural Tamil Nadu

This study aims to understand and unpack the complex factors that influence latrine use in among rural households in India.

Recent evidence suggests that sanitation practices involving latrine use in rural India are likely more behaviour-led and demand-oriented than previously understood. Government of India’s Swach Bharat Mission-Gramin presents a renewed opportunity to tackle the open defecation challenge in rural India. This will require a shift in historical policy and programmatic focus from latrine construction to latrine use as a key sanitation outcome and the pursuit of collective strategies that tackle the complex, multi-determined contextual factors influencing latrine use. To this end, this formative study aims to understand knowledge/attitude/practices around latrine use among rural households in Tamil Nadu. It also involves piloting an intervention that aims to promote latrine use among households in rural India and could be potentially designed to be followed up with a large-scale experimental study.
The study employed a mixed-methods approach towards data collection during the formative and pilot phases to develop and test the intervention. The intervention targeted women’s self-help groups supported by the Government of Tamil Nadu and explored their role in promoting improved sanitation behaviors among their households. Surveys were conducted with 150 SHG member households, covering a total sample of 550 household members. Qualitative interviews were conducted with select participants as well as other stakeholders critical to the success of the sanitation interventions in rural Tamil Nadu.
SBM-G envisions a strong role for community-based organisations in promoting improved sanitation practices within their communities. Results from this study will contribute to and fill gaps in existing sanitation literature, particularly around the role of community groups in promoting behavior change around latrine use, the effectiveness of System 1 drivers and tactics in redefining social norms, and shaping open defecation behaviour. The intervention holds potential for revising sanitation incentive policies in Tamil Nadu as well as inform national policies on potential ways to engage community/women’s groups in encouraging improved sanitation behaviours.

Thematic Area

Institutions and Society

Project Leads

Sujatha Srinivasan, Ajay Tannirkulam


Tamil Nadu