Applying Human-Centred Design to Facilitate Hand-washing in Indonesia

This story was originally published by Asia P3 Hub. To view the original article, click here.

By James Bourne

I turned up in Indonesia not knowing what to expect, slightly daunted by the expectations of being the ‘expert engineer from England’. The project was innovative for all involved: for me, it was a first to be applying my design skills at the “front line” — in a community in a developing country; for the small community-based World Vision team, it was a first to take on a skilled volunteer like me; and for the Kohler Innovation for Good initiative it was a first to support an associate (employee) on an expedition like this.

The adventure began last February with World Vision’s Asia P3 Hub, an innovative partnership hub that brings together government, business and civil society like NGOs and universities to tackle development challenges together. The Asia P3 Hub team provided me with an orientation that included participation in a Jakarta multi-stakeholder co-creation workshop for water and sanitation challenges in Indonesia, as well as an introduction to Jakarta street fruit (and, memorably, my first — and last — durian!).

Then it was off to Ende, Flores Island, about 1,600 km. east of Jakarta. World Vision International in Indonesia’s local partner, — Wahana Visi Indonesia — set before me this challenge: to design and construct handwashing facilities at a local school, and to train the local community on the design processes and techniques required. My approach included building local capability in human-centred design approaches that they could continue to use in the future. I would be using the Design Kit process with the local team and community, tackling the handwashing design challenge as a live case study through which to learn.

Looking around one of the target villages when I first arrived, it was quickly apparent they already had materials available to construct a cheap DIY “Tippy Tap”: bamboo, jerry cans and rope. They had access to water, and most households had soap. This would be easy, I thought.

In my day job as a design engineer for Kohler, I follow the standard design process to bring products to market: Identify the problem to solve, generate ideas, refine these ideas, prototype, test, and iterate until we have a robust design to bring in to production.

The human-centred design process follows these same steps, but places a much bigger emphasis on keeping the end user at the heart of the process.

The Wahana Visi Indonesia Area Program Ende team, and of course, the community members themselves, have the best understanding of the end user requirements. It was important that they were involved with every step of the design process and that the ideas originated from them, so that the final solution would be adopted and embraced by them — critical for a sustainable solution. We became a team. My job was to guide them through the design process, to add detail to their ideas, and then together to produce a solution.

Our first task as a design team was to redefine the original challenge statement from:

‘Design and assist the construction of a complete hand washing facility with soap.’


How might we change hygiene behaviour for children at school and at home, and facilitate handwashing with soap at critical times?’

It became clear that our challenge was much bigger than just building a handwashing facility. Behaviour was also an issue. Just because soap and water is available doesn’t mean people are doing what is best for themselves (washing with soap). A combination of physical facilities and advocacy were needed to bring about desired hygiene behaviour change. We started off with an initial workshop in Ende with Wahana Visi Indonesia team in Ende to introduce the human-centred design process, and to explore the problems and understand the priorities.

I realized I needed to learn more deeply about these people — their needs and desires. I spent a few weeks trying to get to know them, to discover as much as I could about the challenges of the community we were designing for. I spoke to teachers, children, parents, village government officials and health experts.

The Wahana Visi Indonesia team and members of the community came together again for a second workshop to pore over the insights gathered and vote on the top 5 challenge statements to solve:

  1. How might we facilitate hand-washing directly after visiting the latrines?
  2. How might we encourage and enable children to wash their hands more regularly?
  3. How might we ensure sufficient access to soap at hand-washing stations in schools?
  4. How might we increase water supply at the school for hygiene purposes?
  5. How might we build sustainable facilities that will last?

Faced with a degree of scepticism, it took some time for the team to unleash their creative confidence to brainstorm design ideas and create concepts, looking at all aspects of the challenge from the water supply through to the support, encouragement and advocacy that would be needed.

After testing a prototype and detailing the designs and we set to work at one of the target schools. The community, teachers and pupils all pitched in by digging trenches, mixing concrete, laying pipe, and drilling holes. The design was beginning to come together!!

Final Workshop

The purpose of our pilot site was to learn. In my final week in Ende, we held a final workshop with all the stakeholders, identifying key learnings from the implementation so far, and discussed ongoing monitoring and feedback to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. Our aim is for the solution to be iterated and implemented at more schools across Indonesia, continually learning from experience and improving the design of each installation.

As the facilities came together and the water started flowing, there was much excitement as the team could see the benefits of following a human-centred design process.

The final outcome was far better than I could have expected! Our team efforts produced substantial results in a short time:

  1. We built robust group handwashing facilities outside each classroom, sufficient for the whole school (about 60 students) to wash their hands at the same time
  2. Outside the latrines we created cloth soap bags and installed water points, and focused on environmental clues to influence the hygiene behaviour of children
  3. To improve water access, we brought piped water to where it was needed and built a rainwater harvesting system to increase the supply

I was sad to say goodbye to the community before I had chance to see the facilities fully in use, but I was confident the project was in safe hands as key staff from World Vision and the school joined me for a handover meeting at the school in the final week. As a final but crucial step, the project sponsors from Singapore visited the school. They joined the effort in painting the hygiene messaging and ‘nudges’, and took part in the school’s new hygiene education course.

The project was far from easy. Simple things became not so simple but critically important:

  • Communicating across technical and language barriers
  • Adapting to limited tools and basic materials
  • Making corrections to design details, with accompanying occasional frustration at the speed of progress

I learnt a humbling lesson of how little I really knew prior to speaking to the people we were designing for, and the importance of engaging with the target community. ‘Designing for’ became ‘designing with’ — an important distinction! This short but valuable experience has inspired me to pursue my career within Kohler to work with the Innovation for Good team to develop products that bring about sustainable change in the international development market. Combining the design and manufacturing expertise of a private organisation with the knowledge and participation of both an end user and an expert NGO partner/intermediary can produce a powerful impact.

I hope that the World Vision International in Indonesia and Wahana Visi Indonesia team can continue using a human-centred design process to solve more challenges they are faced with, and I hope that the facilities that we built together will help change the hygiene behaviour of the children so that they can lead healthier and successful lives.

Missed out on parts one and two of James’ journey? Click on the respective links to check them out!

About the Author: James Bourne

James Bourne is a Design Engineer at Kohler Mira in Gloucestershire, UK. He specialises in Product design, design engineering, manufacturing processes, rapid prototyping, and Computer-Aided Design (CAD).

Reach out to him via LinkedIn.