Improving HABIT: households, attitudes, and behaviours to increase toilet use

This study tests the impact of a behaviourally-informed intervention in increasing toilet use amongst toilet-owning households in rural Bihar.


  • Vinaya Padmanabhan

Despite the large-scale sanitation subsidy programmes of the last two decades, rates of open defecation (OD) in India remain high even compared to other countries with similar socio-economic characteristics.


Within India, Bihar has some of the highest rates of OD, with 70% of people in rural Bihar defecating in the open (Swacchta Status Report, 2015). Furthermore, the SQUAT report finds that at least one member continues to openly defecate in 44% of households with a latrine.

Our approach

The intervention aims to change behaviour at both the household and community levels by shifting norms related to the acceptability of OD.

The community meeting targets behavioural barriers such as overestimation of pit filling rates, a lack of clarity about the benefits of latrine use, and ambiguity around pit decomposition and emptying. The community meetings are supplemented and reinforced by a set of nudges, commitments, and pledges during ongoing household-level visits.

This study posits that key barriers to reduced toilet use in rural Bihar revolve around incorrect perceptions around pit filling and anxiety about pit cleaning (tied to caste prejudices). In targeted community meetings and household visits, we have designed behavioural games which will aim to:

  • correct misconceptions about pit filling;
  • address reasons for latrine aversion;
  • address anxiety about pit emptying; and,
  • create commitment to latrine use.

We provide specific services, including:

  • intervention design, in conjunction with partners;
  • evaluation of the intervention; and,
  • policy recommendations based on the above.


Given Bihar's status as the country's second-most populous state, these figures suggest firstly that progress on eliminating OD in India depends critically on progress made in Bihar, and secondly that progress in Bihar (as elsewhere) will involve bridging the gap between latrine ownership and latrine use.

Read more about how behavioural insights can help design more impactful programmes here

World Toilet Day Webinar

On World Toilet Day (November 19), we organised a webinar with experts discussing key barriers that come in the way of habitual toilet use in rural areas including inadequate knowledge about the sanitation cycle, poor toilet infrastructure and aversion to pit emptying.

Webinar topic - Toilet use habits: what it takes to sustain them

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