Sanitation marketing: A systematic review and theoretical critique using the capability approach

D. J. Barrington, S. Sridharan, K. F. Shields, S. G. Saunders, R. T. Souter, J. Bartram

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Sanitation is a human right that benefits health. As such, technical and behavioural interventions are widely implemented to increase the number of people using sanitation facilities. These include sanitation marketing interventions (SMIs), in which external support agencies (ESAs) use a hybrid of commercial and social marketing tools to increase supply of, and demand for, sanitation products and services. However, there is little critical discourse on SMIs, or independent rigorous analysis on whether they increase or reduce well-being. Most available information is from ESAs about their own SMI implementation. We systematically reviewed the grey and peer-reviewed literature on sanitation marketing, including qualitatively analysing and calculating descriptive statistics for the parameters measured, or intended to be measured, in publications reporting on 33 SMIs. Guided by the capability approach to development we identified that publications for most SMIs (n = 31, 94%) reported on commodities, whilst fewer reported on parameters related to impacts on well-being (i.e., functionings, n = 22, 67%, and capabilities, n = 20, 61%). When evaluating future SMIs, it may be useful to develop a list of contextualised well-being indicators for the particular SMI's location, taking into account local cultural norms, with this list ideally co-produced with local stakeholders. We identified two common practices in SMIs that can reduce well-being and widen well-being inequalities; namely, the promotion of conspicuous consumption and assaults on dignity, and we discuss the mechanisms by which such impacts occur. We recommend that ESAs understand sanitation marketing's potential to reduce well-being and design SMIs to minimize such detrimental impacts. Throughout the implementation phase ESAs should continuously monitor for well-being impacts and adapt practices to optimise well-being outcomes for all involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-134
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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