Examining the methodology of participatory design to create innovative sanitation technologies in rural Malawi

Top-down sanitation programs that promote a specific sanitation technology based on the presumptions of ‘outside experts’ have been criticised for endorsing unsustainable, expensive and inappropriate technologies. In response to these failings, a new era of demand-led sanitation programs (including community-led total sanitation and sanitation marketing) encourage greater participation of users to create appropriate sanitation technologies. This paper examines the use of participatory design sessions with local builders and householders in three rural districts in Malawi. The paper provides an account of the participatory design methodology and critically reflects on the processes and challenges in relation to power, creativity and ownership. The designs created during the sessions are presented with recommendations for further testing and structural refinement.