Laura Korčulanin

Anthropology informing sustainable water management in toilet design: guidelines to surpass behavioral issues, diffuse technological innovation and promote social change


Prof. Dr. Ana Margarida Ferreira, IADE-Universidade Europeia
Prof. Dr. Rajko Muršic, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana,


Environmental and social crisis due to the population growth, climate change and unsustainable water infrastructures are expected to alter the water cycle and as such represent number one global risk based on impact to society. Development and implementation of combined sustainable innovative strategies focused on decreasing water pollution and wasteful consumption are imperative. With nearly thirty per cent of household use of drinkable water, western system of flushing toilet design represents unique opportunity for intervention and a prime opportunity for water reduction and conservation in our daily lives. Although sustainable technological innovation within toilet design already exists, their diffusion is being far slower. Taking in consideration that cultural bias, believes and habits as well as behavioral implemented attitudes of developed society are delaying adoption and dissemination of innovative sustainable toilet design, we create with help of this project research a design strategy based on written guidelines for easier and efficient implementation of sustainable innovation within toilet design.

Keywords: Design Anthropology Water Management Sustainable development Toilet Innovation

Project description

With understanding that we are dealing with a »wicked problem«, being difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are at the first place often difficult to recognize (Hippel, 2005) we decide to focus on a very pertinent niche, western system of flushing toilet design, which apart of aesthetical and comfort innovation remains the same for last 130 years (Korčulanin, Ferreira&Barbosa, 2015a). With design anthropology approach we are detecting and defining problems of technological and social lock in of toilet design within their socio-cultural context. To enable innovation and key integration of already existing solutions we apply interdisciplinary method of design anthropology where ethnography and insight into users and clients’ needs and understanding of their behavioural culturally differentiating habits on how they value their water and how they understand, use and perceive toilet design in their daily life, inform construction of guidelines.

The research project it’s structured from the three different moments of investigation; broad transdisciplinary literature review integrated into the state of art; quality research based on design anthropology combined with quantity data from international collaboration in Survey with SVU (UPPSALA); design strategy together with guidelines development.

So far, we did ethnography, participatory observation, data collection and quality interviews with different individuals in water related sectors: industry/companies (ROCA; EPAL; ADP); regulation and decision makers (EIP-Water; Camara Municipal de Lisboa; ADENE - Direção de Eficiência Hídrica; DGEG; ERSAR); specialists related to the water sector and toilets (LNEC; IST; BaurTechnology; independent architects and consultors) and various users constantly being included in the opus of the research (see IWA, 2016). To assure the quality data being supported with quantity data we are collaborating as Portuguese local representatives in the international project research "Consumer Perceptions to New Sanitation Systems" conducted within 15 institutions worldwide, with the Environmental Engineering Group, Department of Energy and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala. We are going to integrate and consider research results inside of the final proposal of guidelines. Results of surveys are going to feedback into our research and help us design socially-relevant technologies; technologies that people will actually end up using.

In the moment we are focusing on the active method workshops Aqua Labs – workshops on water in future cities, which are based on the outputs from the first momentum of already realized research, where we had identified five distinctive and cross related dimensions (5 D) representing characteristics of the problem identified and barriers which are stopping or delaying the sustainable innovation within toilet design. Five Dimensions we are addressing together with the focus group are– technological, economic, governmental, environmental and socio-cultural.

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