In the WASH sector’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we have traditionally focussed on whether individual households have ‘access’ to improved WASH services. However, immediate access to such services does not ensure effective use, and even short term effective use does not ensure sustainable use. There has been an impetus in recent years to explore how such sustainable use can be achieved through market mechanisms. Our research investigates WASH marketplaces in several nations of Melanesia. We have adopted a participatory action research methodology; working in partnership with the civil society organisation (CSO) Live & Learn and communities themselves. Live & Learn have piloted, and are continuing to develop, sanitation marketing projects in peri-urban and urban island communities. However, it is likely that even without the intervention of governments and CSOs, autonomous market practices have evolved. We need to better understand what WASH market structures looks like, and what transactions and behaviours they spawn. Our research investigates WASH market structures from three theoretical lenses. Through the lens of transformative consumer research we are assuming that consumers are not passive, they do not simply accept or reject WASH services, but are shaping markets to better match their own needs. The lens of market agency and capabilities is allowing us to investigate how consumers act within markets according to their own wellbeing and empowerment, and to study broader notions of utility than just access to WASH. The lens of market exchange systems then offers us an opportunity to examine the greater WASH marketplace, including its subsystems. This can include externalities not intended or expected to arise from marketplace activities. We are also investigating the enabling environment surrounding the market, and how actors within and around the system impact on WASH outcomes.
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