Aalto University, Chyambogo University, Makerere University, Swinburne University for UNICEF Finland National Committee
The tap mounts can be retro-fitted to most hand washing tanks using simple rubber adapters. Each lever push dispenses an economical 250ml of water, lasting approximately 30 seconds, after which it shuts off. This simple action conserves water, prevents hand re-contamination and passively teaches user the correct amount of time to wash their hands.
The tap is made from low tech parts, manufacturable in developing countries using local, mainly low tech methods that already are in use.
I like the fact that it is a co-creation product, a solution triangulated between NGO, community and kids. Its about growing local economies by investing money into skills-development in communities. – Ravi
It addresses problems around water including public health. – Heinrich
Clever solution to hygiene. Its a further take on water – this addresses availability and hygiene. A low-tech solution, using a high-tech concept to regulate the usage of water. – Porky
It does not set out to be a tap; rather, it is a clear solution and process in response to an issue. The end-product is a tap. – Y. Tsai
The Elephant tap is a hard-wearing, theft deterrent tap designed primarily for schools in developing countries. The tap mounts can be retro-fitted to most hand washing tanks using simple rubber adapters. Each lever push dispenses an economical 250ml of water, lasting approximately 30 seconds, after which it shuts off. This simple action conserves water, prevents hand re-contamination and passively teaches user the correct amount of time to wash their hands. The tap is made from low tech parts, manufacturable in developing countries using local, mainly low tech methods that already are in use.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The project was sponsored by the Finnish National Committee for UNICEF. Our original brief was to design methods to improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Schools in Gulu, Uganda in response to the UN Millennium Development Goals three, four, seven and eight; all which focus on the health and safety of children; and advocate for children’s rights as per the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Although the project focused on primary schools in Gulu, the design needed to be adaptable for any developing country, hence we collaborated with UNICEF Uganda and their Innovation Center which is a platform for developing and piloting products and their rollout into other countries. Our task was to create something that fit the local context, not just the status quo, that could be manufactured in the community, that educated users in hand washing, that was robust, that made the most of resources, that deterred thieves in some way and that was easy to learn to use. Although we talk about hand washing as related to hygiene and health, it also has massive widespread implications, particularly for young school children and their families. Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years. Not washing hands can cause serious illness, with consequences ranging from malnutrition and missing vital school time to infecting their family through to death. Yet In schools handwashing rates are just 31% although simply washing hands with soap can significantly cut the risk of diarrhea.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
During our research in Uganda we discovered some worrying things. Children were rote learning about hygiene, and could tell you in English exactly how you should wash your hands. However in practice children often didn’t wash their hands, unless they knew they were being watched. We found that children didn’t actually understand what they were being taught, so we took on the angle of education as a part of anything we designed. For us this meant creating something that was a physical and interactive learning tool to understand how to wash one’s hands, and how long for. During our visits to many schools in Northern Uganda in our research phase, we consistently found examples of stolen or damaged taps, and through our conversations with the community, we realised that simply not having a tap had a ripple effect on the entire community. Children couldn’t wash their hands, rainwater tanks were broken and empty, meaning children (almost always girls) had to travel often long distances to fetch small amounts of water, with an ever present risk of and sexual harassment rape missing time from education and playing. So another decision was to create a tap that was not just hard to steal but also unappealing to thieves. We also were astounded by the amount of aid funding that would be used to purchase products overseas, meaning the millions of dollars in aid funding was not being invested in the local economy and skill-building, but rather in quick-fix, cheapest-first, schemes.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The team, while experience with developing countries, were not familiar with the Ugandan context. A group of 16 from two different but related projects took part in a two week intensive research trip. This primarily involved observational and investigative research, but also a number of workshops with children to understand what they thought the problems facing them were. We did this often out of teacher supervision to prevent interference, and we were often surprised by the results. But we also needed to put ourselves in their shoes. We were particularly wary of imposing our cultural norms onto these communities. Even if a task was done differently and took longer, it often had a significant cultural or social aspect which could be destroyed. A number of us joined the children for their normal daily activities, both at school and in some cases in the community at home, to understand, as best we could, what it was like to live in their shoes. We also ran a number of workshops with local technical institutes to better understand the local perspective. In addition we were collaborating with UNICEF Uganda’s education and WASH teams, both office and field workers, understanding from their point of view, what the problems and possible solutions might be. We ran a number of workshops with the UNICEF staff to better understand what they were seeing in the field. During our research trip we assessed materials and manufacturing processes available, and while we didn’t restrict ourselves to these, we kept them in mind throughout the project. Our Ugandan team members also did extensive research into technologies that would be suitable and appropriate for use in the intended installation environment. During the entire project we were constantly prototyping. We made a second trip as a summer implementation project, during which we made the most progress, spending a lot longer looking into what the challenges of local manufacture and how we could work around these as well as testing the almost finished concepts and working on producing them 100% locally, which we managed to achieve. It was during this implementation project that we installed a tap in a school and a community centre for testing purposes with positive and constructive feedback for further modifications. During a second trip to Uganda, focusing on implementation, we worked with local manufacturers, both large and small scale, as well as UNICEF Uganda and Finnish National Committee to understand the best way forward in local production. The original rollout plan involved a number of producers in various regions producing these taps from open source plans, from whom UNICEF Uganda would purchase and distribute, ensuring quality taps are acquired. Currently more work is being done to refine this system to its most workable form.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
For us and from our observation during testing the Elephant Tap’s value proved to be in improving hygiene, adding to health education, encouraging local economic development and providing a sustainable supply network. First and foremost we found during testing and remote observation (i.e. hiding from the children’s view so they wouldn’t pretend they liked it) that after quickly being shown how the tap worked, the children were more interested in washing their hands and were washing their hands for the full 30 seconds of water, surely improving the schools hygiene. This constant use of the tap, as well as talking with students in their native language (instead of english that was barely understood beyond rote learning) taught the children through practical learning how long they should be washing their hands and most importantly why, in a simple way they could understand. Local economies are very small, and local small business is a key part of every community. As a result we saw an opportunity to redirect some of the millions of dollars spent on aid every year buying products for these communities straight back into these communities by creating a network of small scale producers that can directly serve their communities whilst injecting the financial gain into the community.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
To ensure our work was relevant and respectful, we never took one person’s word as gospel, no matter how experienced or highly placed. Often there was a tendency to treat us as a group to be lobbied, which wasn’t the case. We saw many examples of ‘good intentions gone wrong’, the results of a typical ‘guns-blazing’ approach to aid-based projects. Avoiding this common trap in many ways was our biggest challenge. We wanted something that in 10 years or more would still be working smoothly. We took a more educational approach. We created a number of designs (of which the elephant tap is one) that work together to educate and change user and also aid funding behaviour. We got involved with the community at many points and in many ways; via schools, communities, NGOs, UNICEF and others. We asked what they saw as the major issues that needed to be addressed. We also asked children through proxies (such as slightly older children, or teenagers they trusted) to get a more realistic impression of what children found as an issue. We found the less teachers and parents and the more youth there were, the more realistic and interesting the feedback we were given. After processing this information we found that the impact of having a broken tap at school was tremendous, and when putting this to the community and discussing the problems it would potentially solve, it was realised that this would got a long way in solving some hygiene problems.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
In order to keep the project viable in the long term we saw a number of opportunities. Firstly the need for taps in schools and the continued importance of Millenium Development Goal funding means that there will still be aid investment in this area for a number of years at least. By making the taps locally, either community or at least country specific, the money will stay in the country’s economy at least in the short term, providing flow on effects and a hopefully a modest boost to the economy and skills development. Sustainable business, manufacturing, distribution and maintenance models were also created as blueprints off which to base real-world scenarios, which would add to the continued production of the taps and a network of manufacturer-maintainers of the taps. This was augmented by the involvement of technical institutes to further refine, develop and add to the design, and the intent that the design could and should be improved by anyone to better fit local requirements or limitations, such as material access. The use of aluminium also meant damaged taps could be recycled into new taps, a concept which in itself creates a starting point for a service based tap business, much like the way Xerox’s business model works, taps could also be leased, removing a financial burden that upfront investment would require.