As part of the humanitarian response to create an enabling environment for children at schools, and to contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 3, 4, and 6, UNICEF India envisages to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools. In 2019, UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Odisha rolled out a systems approach to WASH for 58,000 schools to improve equitable access to safe WASH facilities in schools and to address any gaps that may exist. Schools were assessed through a digital monitoring application and ranked on 39 benchmarks for WASH facilities and practices. Approximately 13,000 schools were ranked as 1 and 2 stars on a 5-star scale (with 5-star being the best), which necessitated structuring schedules for improvement throughout the year. The systems approach to strengthening key building blocks was followed through including advocacy for policy and planning, infrastructure improvement, leveraging finances, capacity building, behavior change, institutional strengthening, accountability, and monitoring. School Swachhata (cleanliness) Action Plans (SAPs) were developed for more than 5,000 schools, and necessary behavior change was encouraged by involving school management committees and by instituting child cabinets of student leaders as role models to promote positive WASH behaviors among others. The complex interconnection between stakeholders was assessed using the social network analysis to highlight the level of interaction and stakeholder roles that guided the success of the Odisha WASH program to guide future WASH in school programs in Odisha and other states in India. Overall, the study findings suggest that the Odisha WASH program's success is owed, in part, to a diverse and multi-layered coordination structure between the district, block, and community-level stakeholders.

  • A systems-level approach with evidence based planning was adopted to inform improvement plans for WASH in schools in Odisha, India.

  • A core focus of the program's success was capacity building and system strengthening at various levels.

  • Existing resources were also leveraged towards improvement in WASH access, practices, and functionality.

  • Social network analysis was used to study how stakeholder coordination influenced program success.

  • Findings revealed program success was bolstered by diverse and multilayered stakeholder coordination.

Graphical Abstract

Graphical Abstract
Graphical Abstract

Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) in schools aims to make a visible impact on the health of children through the improvement in their hygiene practices and those of their families and communities. It also aims to improve curriculum and teaching methods while promoting hygiene practices and community ownership of water and sanitation facilities in schools. It improves children's health, school enrollment, attendance, and retention and paves the way for a new generation of healthy children. Indeed, the societal implications of successful (or unsuccessful) provision of sanitation are far-reaching, and the detrimental impact of poor water and sanitation, especially on childhood health and the development of human capital, is well-documented (Chatterley et al. 2013; Spears et al. 2013; Dreibelbis et al. 2014). Interventions to alleviate issues with global access to WASH services are often inhibited by a complex tapestry of dynamic and interconnected factors and stakeholders engaging in service delivery programs ((Walters & Javernick-Will 2015; Liddle & Fenner 2017). Thus, the WASH sector is increasingly conferring on the notion that service provision is a complex or wicked problem (Casella et al. 2015; Walters et al. 2017) that requires the use of systems thinking and modeling to navigate the so-called ‘WASH systems approach’ (Zhang et al. 2016; Cannon et al. 2022; Walters et al. 2022).

India has had its fair share of challenges and accomplishments in providing WASH in schools. The Government of India's strong commitment to providing schools with adequate WASH facilities is supported by legislation and by the Right to Education Act (2009), which necessitates ensuring drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools (Right to Education Act India 2009). In the recent past, various national flagship programs – which often further translate to state flagship programs launched by Government to support this quest for safe and adequate water and sanitation for all. The most noteworthy of these is perhaps the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) or the Clean India Mission, which was launched in 2014 by the Government to support this quest for safe and adequate WASH for all, with government data indicating that over 110 million household toilets were constructed during the 2014–2019 period and all villages across the country declared themselves open-defecation free (ODF) (SBMG 2020). The Indian state of Odisha, which is home to a substantial proportion of the population belonging to socially marginalized groups, with 17% of its population belonging to scheduled castes (SCs) and 23% belonging to scheduled tribes (STs) (Roy 2018) achieved its ODF status in September 2019 (SBM 2019). However, the ODF status achieved was based only on the access to a toilet at the household level, but not the access to toilets in institutions such as schools, preschool centers, and health care facilities.

WASH improvement in any segment requires a systems approach. A systems approach is based on the concept that sustainable development is a result of interrelated and multi-dimensional technical and non-technical factors and associated complex network of stakeholders that engage within development programming (Hjorth & Bagheri 2006; Amadei 2016). A WASH systems approach requires curating an enabling environment for different building blocks (IRC 2018). As summarized by IRC (2018), these building blocks include advocacy, policy, and planning from the highest level to the lowest governance level, the financing mechanism for infrastructure improvement, access to WASH infrastructure (new construction, repair, and maintenance of existing infrastructure), capacity building and behavior change promotion, partnerships, and institutional accountability (to ensure role and participation of governing body/local self-governance, education and district administration, civil society organizations (CSOs), student cabinet, and school management committee (SMC) in the process) and monitoring on key aspects including planning, resource allocation, implementation, and quality assurance. We summarize these building blocks in more detail in Figure 1.

A systems approach for WASH in schools, therefore, is composed of related and dependent WASH components, which in interaction in schools, form a unitary whole (Casella et al. 2015). The systems approach for strengthening WASH facilities in schools in Odisha started with a baseline assessment covering the key elements like water supply, sanitation, hand hygiene, operation and maintenance, the Capacity building of key stakeholders, and learning and behavior change/practices. The systems, building blocks from policy advocacy, planning, capacity building, financing, monitoring, and institutional accountability were prioritized as part of the systemic approach. Participatory planning requires the involvement of concerned stakeholders. This includes identifying public concerns and values and developing a broad consensus on planned initiatives. It is also about utilizing the vast amount of information and knowledge that stakeholders hold to find workable, efficient, and sustainable solutions (CAP-NET 2008).

This paper highlights a state-level programming approach where an approach: ‘Swachhata Action Plans’ (SAPs) was applied, a key part of The Odisha Swachh Vidayalaya Puraskar (Odisha Clean School Award) program, in Odisha, India. Within this study, we sought to gain insight into the interconnected and complementary aspects of the WASH program through a systems lens to learn about the aspects of the program, and the stakeholders that supported and executed this successful program.

Strengthening WASH facilities in schools has always been a cross-cutting subject that involves various institutions and diversified stakeholders. The level of interaction among the stakeholders is an essential parameter to influence the outcome. Each stakeholder has an important and distinguished role that affects the outcome of the program.

This study utilized our team's intimate case knowledge of the Odisha WASH program to perform a social network analysis (SNA) to gain insight into the complex underlying elements of successful (or unsuccessful) planning, stakeholder coordination, and action for sustainable WASH school programs within the Odisha WASH program in India.

The overarching research questions (RQs) that guided this study are:

  • RQ1: How did the Odisha WASH program structure and the interaction of stakeholders within this structure affect the success of WASH in school programs in Odisha, India?

  • RQ2: What do the beneficial and suboptimal aspects of the program and the supporting stakeholder network inform for future WASH programming in Odisha in particular and India in general?

In the next section, we provide a detailed summary of recent national efforts for WASH in schools in India with a focus on the Odisha WASH program in the State of Odisha. Then, we describe the mixed-method research approach, centered on SNA, that was used to explore the systemic aspects of the Odisha WASH program and program stakeholders, focusing on the structural aspects of the social network that appeared to contribute to the Odisha WASH program outcomes, whether positive or negative. We use the findings from these analyses to point to future recommendations for future research and practice in India and beyond focusing on WASH in schools.

WASH in schools refers to a combination of technical and human development components that are necessary to produce a healthy school environment and to develop or support appropriate health and hygiene behaviors. The technical components include facilities for drinking water, hand-washing, toilet, and soap in the school compound for use by children and teachers. Access to adequate toilets not only reduced the rate of school dropout, especially for girls but also the chances of the transmission of diseases (UNICEF 2012a). The provision of WASH facilities in school secures a healthy school environment and protects children from illness and exclusion. It is the first step towards a healthy physical learning environment, benefiting both learning and health. Children who are healthy and well-nourished can fully participate in school and get the most from their education. Hygiene education in schools helps promote those practices that would prevent water and sanitation-related diseases as well as encourage healthy behavior in future generations of adults. Facilities for menstrual hygiene management at the school level ensure reduced absenteeism, especially for adolescent girls (SBSV 2015). In 2014, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now the Ministry of Education), the Government of India launched ‘Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya’ (SBSV), or Clean India, Clean School, complementing the ongoing national SBM, to promote improved and better access to water and sanitation facilities in all government schools of India. A key feature of the campaign was to ensure that every school has a set of functioning and well-maintained WASH facilities.

To further motivate well performing schools across the country, the Government of India, in the 2016–2017 financial year, launched a national initiative called the Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar (Clean School Award). The explicit purpose of the award was to honor schools that have undertaken significant steps towards fulfilling the mandate of the Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya (Clean India, Clean School) program. The key indicators for the selection were based on school scores obtained in five subcategories shown in Table 1,Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar (Clean School Award). In 2018, 52 schools across the nation were awarded nationally based on a series of validation exercises at various levels viz District, State and National level (through internal as well as external agencies). National awardees were selected among the schools, which secured 90–100% of the total scores, using the weighted criterion shown in Table 1.

Within Odisha, only one school qualified for the national level award from the 21,511 schools who have participated, only 197 out of the 21,511 of the state's schools assessed were even moderately ranked. According to the Odisha School Education Program Authority (a state-level government body), there are over 66,765 schools in Odisha, of which 54,911 are government-run (OSEPA 2019). While the Government of Odisha has a well-functioning state-level educational dashboard to monitor the education-related activities for all schools, the dashboard does not adequately track access to gender-segregated water and sanitation services, hand hygiene, and operation and maintenance, and behavior change components. Access to gender-segregated WASH facilities is important to ensure safety and privacy and make a crucial difference in the continued education of girls. Girls need clean water to wash themselves and/or their menstrual cloths and a place to dispose of their menstrual pads. If girls do not have access to these facilities at school, they often stay at home while they are menstruating. In fact, gender-segregated toilets that are located in convenient, safe locations at school can protect girls from violence and assault (Levy & Houston 2017). Well-maintained and gender-segregated toilets not only ensure a reduction in dropouts particularly for girls from schools but also create a better learning environment (UNICEF 2012b).

Sustainability of WASH in school was a big factor to try systems approach for WASH in school, the government has invested a lot in the infrastructure, capacity building and behavior change promotion, despite investment, poor operation and maintenance and other factors has led to slippage in WASH compliance in schools. It led to exploring the systems thinking approach for WASH in school.

There was a clear need to improve the existing WASH facilities to create an enabling environment for school children in Odisha. The motive was not just to construct toilets, but to create child-friendly and gender-segregated sanitation facilities and strengthen the system for regular upkeep to sustain WASH services.

In 2019, to accelerate the progress of WASH compliance in schools, the state launched the ‘Odisha Swachh Vidayalaya Puraskar’ (Odisha Clean School Award) to benchmark all schools on WASH through the School WASH rating tool – 39-point checklist – (Ministry of Human Resource Development 2017) (Supplementary Material, Information-SI-1). UNICEF supported the government as a technical partner in this initiative. The benchmarking allowed to assess schools on the existing WASH access and in addressing the existing gaps. The application of this tool effectively demonstrated how evidence-based data can improve service delivery and budget allocations across the schools.

With support from UNICEF India, the state department overseeing education, adapted from the School WASH rating tool in the state context that covered the following five main thematic areas of WASH relevant to schools: water supply, toilets, handwashing with soap, operations and maintenance, and behavior change and capacity building. Application of this checklist took place within the five-step process as shown in Figure 2. The last thematic area also assessed awareness of menstrual hygiene. The responses against the weighted indicators ranked from 1 star to 5 stars on the basis of WASH facilities available in the schools, where 5 stars were granted to schools scoring 90% or above (Table 2).

The benchmarking for the Odisha Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar in 2019 was done in approximately 58,000 schools across the state and from all 30 districts. This benchmarking and stratification of schools on a scale of 1 star- to 5 stars was done for all government and government-aided schools. This assessment process was used within a larger program structure as shown in Figure 2.

There was effective utilization of information technology to capture the real-time information related to WASH infrastructure. Data for each school was collected through a website and an android-based mobile application called Odisha Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar app, developed with technical assistance and expertise from UNICEF (GoO letter 6829 4.9.2019 and OSVP SOP). The authorized users, the school-level stakeholders, had access to this android-based application and website, wherein they could key in the status of WASH compliance of the allotted schools. The schools registered themselves against their unique UDISE (Unified district information system for education) code and submitted the information as per the prescribed format (See Supplementary Material, SI-2), covering information on key parameters as categorized in Table 1.

On the basis of the score, schools were ranked on a scale of 1–5 stars as mentioned in Table 1. After the benchmarking was done, 3,296 schools were ranked in the category of 1 star, which meant that 3,296 schools were ranked poor in terms of WASH compliance and needed significant improvement. Additionally, 10,173 schools were ranked under the category of 2-star schools, which meant they had fair compliance with the WASH facilities but still needed significant improvements. The schools with the most need or those with the most significant gaps (ranked under the 1- and 2-star category) were shortlisted and funded within SAPs (Cleanliness Action Plan) (Supplementary Material, SI-3). The administration of these identified schools was facilitated in preparing their action plans, which now also sought to bridge the existing gaps in WASH facilities. These action plans also helped schools in exploring different sources of funds mobilization and resource mapping.

To sensitize key stakeholders, a series of capacity-building activities were organized at different levels, namely state, district, block, and school levels. Teachers, head teachers, and School Management Committee (SMC) members were capacitated on WASH, and on developing evidence-based school WASH improvement plans, i.e., School SAP, and regular school-based activities were initiated to promote the WASH behavior among children. Special focus was given to the operation and maintenance of WASH facilities for sustainability and long-term usage.

UNICEF and state-level monitoring partners – civil cell (a civil engineering wing supporting infrastructural development within the Education department) at state, and District administration and CSOs – implementation partners at districts, then instituted a real-time progress reporting mechanism on a monthly basis, to which assigned focal points for each school had to target, focal points include CSO volunteers, cluster coordinators, and technical consultants. This included regularly assessing both infrastructural investments, as well as behavioral practices on the school campus and updating the monthly status on WASH improvement on key indicators as per the WASH benchmarking.

The implementation of SAP at the school level was continuously monitored and evaluated against a monthly progress tracking format. The progress of each NGO partner against the implementation of SAP was tracked on a regular basis through monitoring reports. Continuous feedback (shown in Figure 2) on the implementation of SAP was ensured through regular interactions with stakeholders and field visits to schools. The feedback collected was effectively utilized in the improvement of the SAP process and issuing guidance for corrective action in planning from the state level. The feedback and observations from practitioners and NGOs were also used in establishing linkages on the influence of key stakeholders in the process through SNA.

To encourage long-term safe sanitation practices, SMCs, comprising of parents, teachers, and child role models were educated on the importance of WASH practices and were assigned responsibilities to take care of WASH infrastructures and create awareness about the same. Complementarily, during the SAP preparation process, teachers, headmasters, and government education officers were trained on how to maintain sanitation facilities. Furthermore, to ensure the effectiveness in the implementation of action plans prepared, a cohort of stakeholders was further trained on the implementation part. Local champions, including School Cabinet, (SMC), Mid-Day Meal Cook cum helpers and janitors, etc. were identified and trained at each school as well, with a total of 9,655 stakeholders trained, including government officials. The capacity-building efforts were done in a cascading manner, with master trainers further training grassroot-level implementers.

Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) members (Elected community representatives) are the nodal points through which the local self-government of rural areas is realized. It is a three-tier system of rural governance via PRIs at the district, block, and village levels. The involvement of PRIs is important to ensure the equal distribution of different services and resources for rural development and to maintain sustainability. In the SAP process, the role of PRIs is highly realized as a key stakeholder leveraging resources.

While the SAPs were based on credible analysis of the existing situation, gap assessment, and prioritization of interventions for better outcomes, mapping and leveraging of resources, a limited share from Annual Composite School Grant was available to the schools as a resource, schools were provided only a 10% earmarked grant from the Annual Composite School Grant (between 25,000 and 100,000 INR, based on the number of students in school) for WASH activities under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (A National Education Program in India). This amount would not be sufficient to ensure WASH improvement in the case of 1- and 2-star category schools where the WASH infrastructure gaps were larger and required resources to ensure safe WASH conditions of schools.

Given this gap in funding, the tied and untied grants available in Panchayats were identified as an opportunity to address the gaps. The 15th Finance Commission (FC) India has recommended that 60% of rural local bodies' grants from the central divisive tax pool be spent on water conservation, drinking water provisions, and managing household waste and excreta management, including maintaining the ODF status achieved under the SBM in 2019. The grant has both tied and untied components. The tied grant – 60% of the total – has to be spent on water and sanitation-related activities. The remaining 40% is untied: Local bodies are free to choose how to spend it, as per the priorities and Panchayat responsibilities mandated in schedule 11 of the Constitution of India. (Government of India 2020).

The planning and utilization of the grants are dependent on the decision at the Gram Sabha/Local self-governance level. For inclusion of school-level WASH improvement action points in Panchayat planning, the SAP process was followed with situational analysis, priorities, and plan with the estimate, and then it was presented to the local self-governance body – i.e., Panchayat or Gram Panchayat (GP) to consider and include in Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP). (‘Panchayat’ means an institution of self-government constituted under article 243B (Article 243(b) in The Constitution of India 1949), for the rural areas – it is the lowest governing institution for rural areas in India), it acts as the executive committee of the village general body (i.e., Gram Sabha). The Gram Sabha means a body consisting of persons registered in the electoral rolls relating to a village comprised within the area of Panchayat at the village level. The Gram Sabha is the fulcrum and general body of the Panchayati Raj and village development. People use the forum of the Gram Sabha to discuss local governance and development and make need-based plans for the village.

The Panchayat implements development programs under the overarching mandate, supervision, and monitoring of the Gram Sabha. All decisions of the Panchayat are taken through the Gram Sabha (Village Meeting) and no decision is official and valid without the consent of the Gram Sabha. The members of the GP are elected by the Gram Sabha. The School SAP were placed before GP to consider and include in GPDP. Furthermore, UNICEF helped in mobilizing funds for the SAPs from various government partners, CSOs, and through corporate social responsibility (CSR). Government funding, such as that for local community schemes example Tribal area development funds, District Mineral funds, etc., was also leveraged. The latter funding mechanism, overseen by rural governance bodies, was often allocated for operations and maintenance of school WASH structures in each school, in order to make it a priority for communities.

Overall, school-based WASH interventions variously aim to: (i) reduce the incidence of diarrhea and other hygiene-related diseases; (ii) improve school enrollment, school performance, and attendance; and (iii) influence hygiene practices of parents and siblings whereby children act as agents of change in their households and communities (McMichael 2019). With similar objectives, and to provide an impetus to schools to fortify WASH facilities, the Government of Odisha announced the Odisha Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar to acknowledge and support WASH compliance in schools. After the state announced the award initiative in mid-2019, altogether, 58,553 schools enrolled themselves in the self-reported assessment. As per baseline findings, 13,491 schools earned 1- and 2-stars (OSEPA 2019). Five thousand of these 1- and 2-star schools were supported in developing SAPs for the year, with the aim of having each school meet higher benchmarks by the end-of-year assessment.

To ensure the continuous and effective monitoring for the implementation of SAPs by the field implementation partners like CSO and schools, a monthly monitoring tool was developed to track the progress of action plans. The partners have used the school network of teachers, and cluster coordinators and coordinated with block officials to track the periodic progress. The SNA analysis of key stakeholders has highlighted that community representatives and school-level stakeholders have a prime role in the success of the entire process followed by support from the cluster, block, and district-level stakeholders in the overall planning, Implementation, and monitoring of the program. Based on the partner's report, tracked on a monthly basis, over 4,000 schools with SAPs have gained improved access to WASH, thereby moving from 1- and 2-star to 3-star and greater (Figure 3). One thousand schools were unable to leverage necessary resources to progress forward in the ranking system, even with SAPs in place, as limited resource availability at local self-governance level on other development priorities.

The pace of the progress was also depending on the perception and interest of the local community and school staff. Financing was an important factor, the short term, and midterm improvements were managed by leveraging resources available within schools and Panchayats, but for major infrastructure upgrades (long-term plan) the budget proposal was proposed in the annual state education plan for approval from state/national government and it took time in approval as a one-time annual event. GP-level stakeholder's role and action was also an underlying cause in funding allocation, which was guided by the local priorities, if community-level water supply issues were pending then Panchayat's first priority was fund allocation and improving water supply, the institutional WASH issues moved to secondary priority list on other priorities due to overall limitation of funds.

Currently, regular support is being ensured through cluster resource coordinators, SMCs, and technical field partners, to support planning at the local self-governance and district levels to leverage resources locally.

In this section, we describe the SNA approach used to identify stakeholders (also called ‘nodes’ in the social network), to create the social network within which these stakeholders are interconnected (called ‘edges’ in the social network), and the metrics used to structurally evaluate the core stakeholders influencing Odisha WASH program success. We begin by describing how the data were collected, followed by the SNA metrics used to measure salient aspects of stakeholder interconnectivity (addressing RQ1). We then provide an overview of the Odisha WASH program stakeholders considered in this analysis. Finally, we conclude with a description of the qualitative rationale through which the SNA metrics are evaluated to highlight key stakeholders in the Odisha WASH program network (addressing RQ2).

Data collection

The identification of stakeholders to include in the SNA, as well as the connections between these stakeholders, were derived based on the cognitive social structures perceived by the members of the research team (Krackhardt 1987). Many of the research team members currently work directly within the Odisha WASH program to support the entire process of intervention and reporting of case studies for evaluating and disseminating success and lessons learned throughout the program. This approach to data collection was used in light of the challenges in performing a survey – the process typically used to collect social network data from a larger pool of stakeholders (Wasserman & Galaskiewicz 1994). The process for identifying stakeholders and their interaction based on the cognitive social structures of the research team entailed a robust and lengthy synchronous and asynchronous discussion, whereby key stakeholders were systematically and iteratively identified, and the directed pairwise connections (from → to) were used to develop a network edge list (Table A1 in the Supplementary Material) Odisha WASH program.

Identification of key program stakeholders entailed a lengthy discussion on how these stakeholders communicate and coordinate within the hierarchical structures present in the Odisha WASH program. Proper execution of the Odisha WASH program relied on the communication and coordination between stakeholders at the state-, district-, block-, and community levels. State-level stakeholders are the policy and decision makers who drive the entire program, including the planning, resource allocation by the state government and monitoring, and administration. State-level stakeholders that were included in the SNA were the Secretaries, Project Director, and State focal points from development partners like UNICEF. District-level stakeholders are executive managers of the program for the district and ensure the execution of the program in line with state/national flagship programs and circulars. District-level stakeholders included in the SNA were District Collectors, District Education Officers, and District Project Coordinators. Consultants, Senior Technical Consultants, and Engineers, Block-level stakeholders are executive managers to ensure quality program implementation including basic infrastructure development and ensuring academic works. Block-level stakeholders included in the SNA were Cluster-level Coordinators, Block Education Officers, and Block Development Officers. Finally, community-level stakeholders are key implementers and frontline for ensuring service delivery to the community and children. Community-level stakeholders included in the SNA were SMCs, School Cabinet, Community Representatives, Parents, Students, and Head Master and Teachers. A summary of these stakeholders and their roles and responsibilities is shown in Table 3. The stakeholder groups were identified by the authors of this paper, having extensive experience and connection with Odisha WASH program activities.

Given the service-level at which the research team engage within the overall SAP system context, communication and coordination between the different stakeholders at this level were prioritized highly to map the key agents within the Odisha WASH program in order to learn about the structural characteristics driving coordination and communication of the many stakeholders involved towards sustainable WASH service provision in Odisha schools. Thus, the connections (edges) between stakeholders in the resulting social network were considered to qualitatively represent the presence (or in the case of no connection, absence) of communication and/or coordination between stakeholders to execute Odisha WASH program activities.

SNA metrics – nodal centrality

SNA is a diagramming methodology based on graph theory used to understand structural interaction and process-based relationships between network nodes (Freeman 1978; Wasserman & Galaskiewicz 1994; Borgatti 2005). Nodes represent a stakeholder in the network, and ‘edges’ represent links or relationships between nodes (Wasserman & Galaskiewicz 1994). Node centrality analysis is a quantitative process used to evaluate key players in communication and coordination. Three distinct node centrality evaluations were conducted in this study to provide unique structural insights into the key stakeholders within the SAP network: (i) degree centrality, (ii) betweenness centrality, and (iii) eigenvector centrality. Degree centrality measures the number of incident edges that pass into (degree-in) or out (degree-out) of a node. It measures how directly connected a particular stakeholder is with other stakeholders, providing insight into which stakeholders are local hubs for communication and coordination. For the purposes of evaluating key actors in the Odisha WASH program network, degree centrality was calculated as a combination (sum) of degree-in and degree-out scores. Betweenness centrality measures a stakeholder's ability to ‘bridge’, within shortest (or geodesic) paths, between other stakeholders and thus measures a stakeholder's control of information and coordination through a network, and their ability to efficiently share this information (Freeman 1978; Borgatti 2005). Finally, eigenvector centrality is a modified measurement of degree centrality that considers a stakeholder's direct connection with other highly connected nodes. In so doing, eigenvector centrality measures a stakeholder's overall influence or leadership within the entire social network. Calculation of eigenvector centrality, especially for large networks, is a complex and iterative process, whereby solutions on centrality scores are arrived at using eigenvectors, and often, an associated eigenvector algorithm is used to find the dominant eigenvector solution that represents the eigenvector centrality scores for each node. Readers who are interested in knowing more about this metric can refer to Wasserman & Galaskiewicz (1994). All centrality analyses and SNA visualizations presented in this paper were performed in the online and open-source Kumu platform (Kumu.oi).

Interpretation of findings

Degree, betweenness, and eigenvector centrality scores each tell unique stories on how social network structure, and the relative location of stakeholders within that structure, influence communication, and information transfer. These SNA metrics were compared and contrasted for the Odisha WASH program stakeholder, both visually and quantitatively, to guide discussion on the structural characteristics of stakeholder interaction and the influence on SAP process outcomes. Specifically, degree centrality was used to inform which stakeholders serve as communication and coordination hubs within their local networks. Betweenness centrality was used to identify the stakeholders that facilitate information transfer and program coordination across the state, district, block, and community levels. Finally, eigenvector centrality informed which stakeholders are the overall leader's information transfer and coordination. Stakeholders with the highest degree, betweenness, and eigenvector centrality were considered the greatest overall influencers on SAP planning and execution. This discussion is supported by authors' intimate knowledge of the WASH and SAP process and is used to inform recommendations for future WASH in school programming using the SAP process in Odisha in particular and in other states in general. The SNA results and discussion are presented in the subsequent section.

This section presents results obtained through the SNA of Odisha WASH program stakeholders and discusses the core structural aspects – as analyzed using the aforementioned nodal centrality measures – of the SAP social network driving service delivery strategies. We conclude this section with a summary of the study learning that can be applied to the WASH in the school sector in the other Indian States. Figure 4 shows the SAP social network derived based on our group's combined cognitive social structure, with nodes divided by the four Odisha WASH program institutional levels. Table 4 summarizes the degree, betweenness and eigenvector scores of SAP Odisha program stakeholders.

Findings from degree centrality

Degree centrality evaluates the top local influencers. Figure 5 shows the SAP Odisha program social network with node sizing based on degree centrality scores. The local influencers within the Odisha WASH program, based on degree centrality scoring were Community Representatives (21), Senior Technical Consultants (14), Headmaster & Teachers (14), and Cluster-level Coordinators (14). These results make sense, as the SAP approach is formed around evidence-based planning at the community (school) level for WASH improvement through for better learning environment led by the school and community-level stakeholders. These evidence-based planning activities are the responsibilities of the Head Master & Teachers, who are supported and supervised by the Cluster Coordinator periodically. Among other important tasks, Community Representative (PRI institutions) also engage in the infrastructural and operation and maintenance action and development plan with technical guidance from Engineers within the wing of civil construction led by Senior Technical Consultants at the district level.

Findings from betweenness centrality

Betweenness centrality identifies the stakeholders who serve as brokers for information and coordination between the state, district, block, and community levels. Figure 6 shows the SAP Odisha program social network with node sizing based on betweenness centrality scores. The top-three most central stakeholders based on betweenness centrality scoring were Community Representatives (0.197), Cluster-level Coordinators (0.112), and Block Education Officers (0.110). Indeed, block-level officials support the allocation of resources and approval from the Block development office for GP and the timely planning of the capacity building for better execution of the SAP approach in their blocks. Community Representatives are deeply engaged in school plans in GPDP. Block Education Officers have an important role in issuing approval for development works and resource allocation. In the SAP approach, all of these stakeholders prioritize WASH actions guided by the sensitization created by the state- and district-level stakeholders for the implementation of the SAP approach.

Findings from eigenvector centrality

Eigenvector centrality reveals the leaders of the network, regardless of their level of influence. Figure 7 shows the SAP Odisha program social network with node sizing based on eigenvector centrality scores. The top-three leaders within the Odisha WASH program network in Odisha based on eigenvector centrality scoring were Block Development Officers (0.089), Community Representatives (0.086), and Head Masters and Teachers (0.080). Within the Odisha WASH program, each school is a separate unit and many aspects of WASH programming depend on the motivation of teachers and school administration to prioritize and sustain efforts. The motivation of Head Masters and Teachers has helped in the development of evidence-based action plans, and their interaction with Community Representatives (PRIs) and Block-level stakeholder, which has helped in timely approvals and implementation. While these three stakeholders are highlighted as the leader of information flow and coordination within the Odisha WASH program, it is important to note that the role of each stakeholder is equally important in the SAP approach. Overall, eigenvector centrality indicates that the leaders of the Odisha WASH program coordination network are district, block, and community-level stakeholders.

Overall, the structural analyses of the SAP social network, using degree, betweenness, and eigenvector centrality, suggest that the success of the Odisha WASH program success are owed, in part, to a diverse and multi-layered coordination structure between the district, block, and community-level stakeholders. Indeed, the SAP school initiative clearly motivated a state-wide movement for achieving greater WASH access and coverage in schools. State, district officials, and school-level stakeholders felt motivated and empowered for action. The greater potential was captured to translate the systems approach inputs into results for better WASH programming for schools. The school-level stakeholders' involvement and accountability ensured the effective SAP process and its role in WASH improvement and practices promotion and O&M. These interactions with community representatives helped in leveraging resources and improved monitoring of WinS.

Wider implications for WASH systems

The Odisha WASH program involves various stakeholders interacting in complex networks across different institutional levels, as shown in the SNA analysis. As per SNA analysis for Degree, Betweenness, and Eigenvector, we see that community representative have the highest overall influence on network flow and coordination activities followed by Teachers & Headmasters and then Cluster-Level Coordinators. These findings highlight the decentralized bottom-up planning with supportive supervision and monitoring of cluster coordinators. As the process is related to infrastructural development, the role of Senior Technical Consultants (Engineers) also emerged as integral to Odisha WASH programming by providing important technical guidance in estimation planning and implementation. The continued interaction and follow-up with different stakeholders WASH in school helped in increasing the motivation level of schoolteachers and students to prioritize WASH-related actions, and the ongoing dialogue with community representatives helped in leveraging the resources available under different GP-level schemes. It also helped in resource allocation for the operation and maintenance of WASH. The SAP approach included interaction and involvement of stakeholders from state, district, block, and GP level (community-level). The SNA showed that policy level stakeholders in the state-level played an inceptual and supporting role in implementing the approach in different districts with the administrative decision and resource allocation. The community-level stakeholders played a vital role in the entire process as a bottom approach starting with the school level and promoting evidence-based planning, mapping, and leveraging resources and implementation. The monitoring and feedback and actions from the district and block-level stakeholders with systematic and timely coordination for leveraging resources and technical expertise emerged within the SNA analysis as ways these stakeholders can address the gaps related to capacity and resources.

The year-long monitoring exercise within SAP was effectively able to demonstrate how fundamental planning efforts, such as making budgets based on evidence-based infrastructural assessments, can significantly improve facilities at schools. Evidence-based budgets are based on validated gaps and priority action as identified by the SMC and GPs. In addition, the SAPs were able to demonstrate to the government the importance of prioritizing and converging resources for WASH. However, the SAPs would not have been as effective without significant investment in the capacity building of key role models – from students in child cabinets to teacher and parent champions, all found to be central to the network of key stakeholders. Regular monitoring and follow-up through cluster resource coordinators also served as consistent reminders to teachers and other champions in schools. In the end, the critical activity that supported the Odisha WASH program's success was data collected through the monthly progress reports from CSO partners, which were used to maintain track of the status of the key WASH indicators in schools and identify weak areas to shore up with community action.

Study limitations

This study, like any study of this kind, has limitations the reader must be aware of. First, the small sample size of individuals (i.e., six of the seven authors) providing their cognitive interpretation of the social network, potentially limits the generalizability of the study findings. Second, it is not unlikely that the position of authors in the SAP network potentially influences their perception of the network – imposing or omitting stakeholders or links between stakeholders (Krackhardt 1987). However, despite these study limitations, we believe the application of the SNA approach, based on the intimate case knowledge of the authors, improves understanding of the core players and roles within the Odisha WASH program and offers salient insights for how to continue promoting the program's success, and offers insights for similar programs in India and beyond.

This paper aimed to highlight a systems approach to WASH in schools performed in the Odisha state through a process and systems-centric evaluation of stakeholder communication and engagement. SNA enabled us to evaluate the core stakeholders driving SAP approach operations, and demonstrated, through various social network metrics, the importance of a diverse, bottom-up structure for providing access to WASH infrastructure in schools.

Making schools WASH compliant is not a one-time activity. Not all the Odisha schools were found to move forward at the same pace and scope. Constant monitoring, evaluation, and overall, advocacy, is necessary to ensure all schools have adequate WASH services. For example, the 1,000 schools in Odisha state that have not progressed are now being prioritized for allocation of resources through including in the Annual Budget plan of state to ensure meeting the resource gaps, further they are prioritized for the next round of assessments and refresher training. Constant follow-up meetings to encourage GP planning is being done to ensure resource mobilization to address the priority areas. The tapping of resources available from different corpora like mineral funds, CSR, and tribal area development funds are being advocated. Regular operations and maintenance investment remain an important focus area to avoid any slip-backs. The CSR funds were largely leveraged for the construction of toilet facilities with running water supply provision. For other WASH infrastructure improvements largely government resources were used from GP or other schemes. Continued advocacy for dedicated resources for operation and maintenance is required. The evidence-based planning at the lowest level and support from program structure on key building blocks of the systems approach can ensure the success and sustainability of the WinS program. The decentralized planning and interaction with key stakeholders created ownership for WASH improvement.

The SAP school initiative clearly motivated a state-wide movement for achieving greater WASH access and coverage in schools. Through regular reporting on progress, state and district officials, and school-level stakeholders felt motivated. There is now greater potential than ever to capture that momentum and translate this learning into sustained investment in WASH programming for schools going forward.

The monitoring exercise is ongoing; progress in and of schools is being tracked on the key WASH parameters and rankings are currently being generated to provide constant feedback and guidance through the help of technical partners supporting the intervention in the field. Overall, the key to these efforts was, and will continue to be, a data-driven systems approach to target entrenched and complex issues to WASH service provision in schools; an effort that is only possible through a well-coordinated network of stakeholders at various institutional levels.

Data cannot be made publicly available; readers should contact the corresponding author for details.

The authors declare there is no conflict.

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Supplementary data