Rising to the challenge for new evidence on inclusive WASH

A group of Indonesian women seated cross-legged on the floor attaching pieces of paper to an aerial picture of an urban area and with stacked blocks representing buildings and infratructure in the foreground. They are participating in a PANRITA design workshop in an informal settlement in Makassar, Indonesia.

Women from an informal settlement in Makassar, Indonesia, participate in a design workshop as part of the RISE project to plan water and sanitation infrastructure for their neighbourhood (Monash University)


Although research recommends bolstering social capital to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project outcomes, few studies provide empirical evidence on the effect of intervention activities on social capital.

Supported by Australia through Water for Women, this study by Monash University and Emory University researchers aimed to evaluate the effect of participatory design and community engagement activities on social capital in urban informal settlements in Makassar, Indonesia, and Suva, Fiji, as part of the Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) project.

In Indonesia, approximately one-third of the urban population lives in urban informal settlements, and in Fiji, this proportion is around 11%. Informal settlements are areas where residents lack secure housing, lack access to basic services and infrastructure, and hazards exist due to housing structure, geography, or environment.

People living in informal settlements face many challenges, but none more than people living with a disability and other marginalised community mmbers. According to the 2017 Census, approximately 14.3% of the population of Fiji lives with a disability, while Indonesia has the highest disability prevalence rate in Southeast Asia, officially recorded as 8.6% but widely believed underrepresentative due to data collection contraints and differing definitions,

The lack of access to safe water and sanitation makes those living in informal settlements more vulnerable to infectious and noncommunicable diseases, malnutrition, poor mental health, injury, and violence than people living in urban areas. But in these settings, although some improvements to water access can be made at the household level, effective sanitation improvements require collective community action.

Partnering with researchers from Universitas Hasanuddin, Fiji National University and the University of the South Pacific, the RISE team drew on established research which has shown that communities with higher levels of social capital perform better in community-based WASH interventions and have better health outcomes. This includes being more likely to participate in decision-making, planning, and construction of community-based piped water systems and toilets, and more likely to take up latrine use and hygiene behaviors.


"Since RISE has been here, we have come to know each other, we meet often, so there is more mutual cooperation. We have been helping each other out.”

A woman from an informal settlement in Indonesia


Through this study, the RISE team aimed to address an evidence gap by evaluating the effect of participatory design and community engagement activities on social capital. Activities included:

  • Establishment of committees comprising existing and emerging leaders with lived experience and/or employment related to water and sanitation, health, and built environment who were elected or nominated in each settlement to serve as liaisons between the project and residents.
  • Participatory design workshops, which aimed to inform residents about the program and capture residents’ needs and preferences for the design and location of infrastructure.
  • In-depth, household-level consultations and observations, which were gender and socially inclusive and aimed to understand the specific needs of women, children, people living with disabilities, and other marginalised groups in the settlement.


“We started to see what we did not expect before: People are now working together for a common good.”

A man from an informal settlement in Fiji


The study found that participatory design and community engagement had a positive relationship with social capital in Indonesian informal settlement communities participating in the RISE project. But there was a surprising negative relationship in Fiji, which underscores the fact that intervention activities can have unintended consequences.

This study has important implications for participatory WASH programming and measurement of social capital and other social constructs that may facilitate collective action. The findings suggest that participatory design and community engagement can influence social capital in various country contexts. 

Access the full research paper:

"People are now working together for a common good”: The effect on social capital of participatory design for community-level sanitation infrastructure in urban informal settlements


The RISE project, which concluded at the end of 2022, also generated extensive evidence on a gender and socially inclusive co-design approach to WASH, including a toolkit and other resources that are now available for wide use.



December 3rd is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

This year's theme, 'United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities' conveys the solidarity and accelerated efforts needed now in order to get many of the Sustainable Development Goals back on track for 2030 - especially those for persons with disabilities that are lagging even further behind.

Across Asia and the Pacfic, Water for Women partners are united in action for SDG 6 - safe water and sanitation for all - upon which all 17 goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rely.

Working in partnership with Organisations of Persons for and with Disabilities, rights holder groups, communities, sector stakeholders and governments, our partners are accelerating access to climate-resilient, gender equitable and disability inclusive WASH services for all.

With a core focus on systems strengthening and commitment to leave no one behind, partners are also helping to build resiience within the networks and infrastructure that underpin these services. 

Together, we have reached more than 3.4 million people in 16 countries so far, including almost 70,000 people living with disabilities and more than 1.7 million women and girls.

Inclusive communities are resilient communites.



*Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) project baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate.


Contact Us