Project Sammaan : Tackling Urban India’s Sanitation Crisis

Project Brief

Project Sammaan was a large-scale infrastructure and research initiative to improve the end-user experience in India’s urban slum community sanitation ecosystem by providing facilities designed to take into consideration end-user needs and habits, and feature business models, pricing, and Operations & Maintenance practices to help ensure long-term desirability, use, viability, and sustainability. This piloting-at-scale initiative involves the construction of over 100 facilities in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack and a multi-year quantitative research component will validate the interventions being experimented with, prior to expanding the initiative to other Indian cities, and beyond. Learnings from the project will be captured and shared in a toolkit.


The sanitation crisis in India affects hundreds of millions of people, and no other country faces such an immense challenge with open defecation related to inadequate sanitation infrastructure with over half the population lacking access to viable options. The existing sanitation options, when available, are inadequate in terms of amenities, frequently fail due to shortcomings in operations and maintenance, and often fail to provide even the most basic treatment of waste before discharge. Beyond this, there is very little capacity for innovation within the government ranks due to a low appetite for changing systems combined with incredibly complex approval processes. In addition, there is also a need for greater understanding of the impact of unhealthy sanitation practices amongst those most directly affected by the sanitation crisis.


Project Sammaan was essentially the implementation phase of Quicksand’s in-depth, design research engagement the Potty Project, which was a year-long qualitative analysis of the sanitation ecosystem in India’s urban slums. Learnings and insights from this study directed the design efforts of the proposed facilities, as well as provided the foundation for engaging with end-users to account for their preferences and perceptions around sanitation practices.

Quicksand carried out the role of day-to-day project management and directed the efforts of the Hardware design teams. This included interfacing with government officials to obtain land and necessary approvals, working with an architectural firm to design the facilities themselves, directing the efforts of a community engagement organization for behavioral change activities, and engaging with a branding and communications firm to develop the identity and signage for the facilities, all while ensuring that activities were predicated on human-centered design principles.

Additionally, there was a considerable communications mandate within the grant that Quicksand had ownership of. A dedicated website and blog shared learnings and experiences nearly in real time, a series of films were produced to further share project milestones, the team presented the work at conferences and other forums, and we also engaged with a team from Yale University to document the initiative for use by its business school as an innovation case study.


Despite delays related to numerous challenges within the project, the Quicksand team was successful in advocating for design-led interventions in the sanitation space, and in acquiring the land and approvals required for constructing the Sammaan facilities. We did multiple design typologies, prepared tender-ready documents, assisted the government with the tendering process, provided inputs into the O&M and business modelling parts, and developed the communication strategy including detailed signage instructions. The initiative replaced nearly half of the existing community sanitation infrastructure in Cuttack, and over 50,000 people in Bhubaneswar will have access to safe and reliable sanitation solutions due to our efforts.

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