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Diving in deep

Gathering insights on sanitation from rural Ghana


We sat with them on the ground under a low wooden shelter, necessary shade for dealing with the blazing sun and 40-degree-Celsius temperature. Three Ghanaian mothers, dressed in free-flowing embroidered dresses of bright blues and yellows, told us about their lives, how they cook and care for their children, and what they needed for their households. In particular, we wanted to know their cleaning routines: when they felt it was proper to wash their hands, how they used soap, and what kinds of washing and toilet facilities they had in or near their homes.

iDE Hero Ghana Diving In Deep

Ghanaian mothers participating in iDE’s human-centered design process. 

This is called a Deep Dive, and it’s part of iDE’s human-centered design (HCD) methodology. 

Over 91 percent of rural Ghanaians do not have access to improved sanitation (e.g., a toilet that hygienically separates human excreta from human contact) in their homes. Poor sanitation is a leading cause of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, leading to malnutrition, increased healthcare costs, and even death. Before iDE identifies an approach that could improve this kind of situation, we first seek to understand the current behaviors in the population, as well as issues that might hinder behavioral changes.

The afternoon described above is just one of many such days where iDE’s team members talk one-on-one and in groups with future toilet customers. Mothers such as these are particularly useful sources of information, as they are the “front line” in their homes, practicing and teaching good sanitation to their families. 

What we learned over the course of those afternoons was that these mothers already knew about the importance of handwashing before eating. What they lacked were sanitary toilet facilities and easy, convenient, and affordable ways to wash.

A wall of sticky notes contains insights and observations from the deep dive.

After gathering information from stakeholders such as these, our team of product designers, local market experts, and sanitation experts began ideation and discussion. Over the course of several weeks, this team brainstormed products, services, and business models to overcome the barriers to adequate sanitation for rural Ghanaians. iDE has designed prototype sanitation solutions for these customers based on the HCD assessments, and we will continue iterating possibilities until we find the most successful option.

While this is only the first step to building markets for sanitation in Ghana, iDE’s approach has been tested and proven in Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Because every market and culture is different, we take the time to listen to people in every place that we work to ensure that the solution we promote will be desirable, feasible, and viable for them. This is how we will make a difference in the families of the three Ghanaian mothers who spoke to us that bright afternoon.

Expected results

This four-year project began in September 2015, and is intended to increase the supply and demand of household toilets in Ghana’s three northern regions. In collaboration with our in-house HCD team, Amplify (for sanitation financing), and the Whitten Roy Partnership (WRP; for training sales agents), the project will reach over 300,000 individuals before 2020.


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