Irstea exports its expertise to support sanitation in Senegal in a participatory initiative

Irstea and the NGO ACTED have joined forces in Senegal to participate in the Planissim project, helping residents take part in improving wastewater management in their regions. The project is build on participatory methods designed by Irstea to understand sanitation problems and collaboratively create sustainable sanitation plans consistent with local constraints.

The Senegalese budget for wastewater processing infrastructure is much smaller than that allocated to the distribution of drinking water. Moreover, it is unequally distributed between urban and rural areas, with the latter receiving only 1% of the invested amount. This imbalance explains why despite the fact that 60% of the population lives in rural areas, these remain underdeveloped with precarious sanitary conditions (40% of the population still practices open defecation). At a time when the sanitation sector is undergoing important changes following the decentralization of responsibility, local stakeholders who are already involved and civic organizations in particular must now more than ever play their part in improving wastewater management on a local scale.

In this context, the Planning Sanitation Using Participatory Modeling and Simulation (Planissim) project was started in 2017 by the French NGO ACTED and Irstea following a call for bids launched by the Senegalese government using European funding.1 Its aim is to reinforce the capacity of civic organizations (neighborhood associations, NGOs, etc.) to deal with the problem of domestic wastewater management so that they can design and lead relevant sanitation projects adapted to their regions.

Civic engagement a key tool

To help these organizations take on this responsibility, the project partners decided to make use of civic engagement. They therefore set up a partnership with civic organizations for the municipality of Rufisque near Dakar (suburban area) and the department of Ranérou-Ferlo (rural area in the Sahel).

Designed by Irstea researchers, the method is based on two areas of expertise specific to the institute: processing and recovering wastewater (REVERSAAL unit in Lyon) and participation engineering for water management (G-EAU unit in Montpellier). The project focused on creating a participatory modeling tool2 used to represent the components of a sanitation system (stakeholders involved, resources required, processing and recovery technologies, etc.), taking into account the specific nature of the region being studied (urban/rural, technical availability, etc.).

"We were inspired by the COOPLAAGE toolbox, especially the Wat-A-Game (WAG) platform developed at Irstea and already widely tested in supporting civic participation in quantitative management and water governance. We adapted the tool to the problem of wastewater processing and to the Senegalese context (household and municipality funding capacities, social practices, sanitary challenges, etc.)," comments Rémi Lombard Latune, Irstea project leader and an engineer at its Lyon center.

The centerpiece of the participatory workshops organized throughout the project was the WasteWAG board game tool, which was used to progressively create an approach with partner civic organizations and resident groups:

  • raising awareness of sanitation challenges among participants (around 500 people);
  • collectively creating sanitation projects adapted to local constraints and integrating both technical and social solutions that could be implemented to ensure sustainable operation of the sanitation system;
  • participant assessment of the most successful sanitation scenarios.


Consultation workshop attended by the technical service department, the mayor, the imam and neighborhood association representatives at the Rufisque Nord town hall. ©Irstea

A successful approach

With the project about to be completed in a few months, the first results are in. "The participatory approach combined with the WasteWAG consultation tool was particularly effective at transferring the technical knowledge required for citizen involvement and to encourage dialogue between the stakeholders. The relevance of the sanitation plans developed by the participants supports this," specifies Rémi Lombard Latune.

As a result of the project, our civic organization partners have a reusable tool that will allow them to develop road maps to promote their sanitation projects and particularly to ask for the funds necessary to complete them. Additionally, our social partner ACTED is planning to look for financial partners to support the effective implementation in 2019 of the sanitation plans resulting from this experiment. At Irstea, researchers are hoping to keep looking for ways to improve the process and measure its actual impact through the long-term assessment of changes in sanitation perceptions and practices in these populations. To be continued...

Project profile

  • Name: PLANISSIM - Sanitation Planning Using Participatory Simulation and Modeling
  • Dates: November 2017-November 2018
  • Partners: Irstea Lyon, Irstea Montpellier, ACTED
  • Budget: 230,000 euros, funded as part of the civic society engagement support program (European development funds in Senegal)
For more information

1- Call for projects: Increasing civic organizations’ capacity for analysis and expertise through joint research projects with research institutions.
2- Tool used to collectively build a shared representation of a situation, in this instance a management system for domestic wastewater.