Designing New Tools for Mapping Open Defecation

November 01, 2012

Open Source Meets Open Defecation

Molly Norris and her team kick off a new project designing a "crap map" that adapts the Community Led Total Sanitation approach to the urban context. Her team is getting help along the way from some great project partners and two hackathons in the Bay Area. is kicking off a new project to map instances of open defecation in Kumasi, Ghana. Yes, literally, a “crap map”. The idea behind this USAID-funded project is create a prototype using existing open source tools to digitally represent instances of open defecation at scale in the community. With this tool, community members will be able to stimulate collective action to improve community-wide behavior and pressure the public sector and others to make investments in improved sanitation solutions. This approach builds on an evidence-based practice developed by UNICEF and others called Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLS). Once we’ve built the first crap-mapping prototype here in San Francisco, our team will be traveling to Ghana to work with the local community to conduct human-centered design research to determine how this crap map might work in Kumasi.

Access to toilets is a privilege not available to many people living in informal urban settlements, forcing them to defecate in the open, or poop in plastic bags or buckets and dump them wherever they can. Fact: this unfortunate situation leads to a thin layer of fecal matter covering everything from food to homes in some areas. And in worse case scenarios, we get poisoned water sources resulting in deaths from diarrhea and cholera, hitting poor children the hardest.

Lots of organizations and communities are tackling the safe disposal of human waste, one of the world’s biggest challenges, and probably the least glamorous one. In’s short history, we’ve been passionate about water sanitation and have grounded this work in urban Ghana (Clean Team) and Kenya (Smart Life and our upcoming Innovation Fund project with Sanergy). We’re back at it again. And we’re not alone.

We’re convening the likes of Ushahidi, Social Coding 4 Good, VMware, HiDef and long-time friend, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). With both big technology players and local partners in Ghana, we’ll be hacking together our “crap map” using existing open source tools and software paired with meaningful offline facilitation around behavior change in sanitation. We’re also hopeful that the crap map we create as part of this project will have applicability to broader contexts beyond open defecation.

We’re bringing open source software to bear against open defecation. We’re prototyping online-offline interactions at the community-level. And we’re starting this process by hosting two hackathons here in the Bay Area over the next two weeks (Friday, November 2 and Friday, November 9). Stay tuned for updates and get ready!

Our team is me (Molly Norris), Robin Bigio, and John Won.

***This project is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this story are the responsibility of and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Contributed By
Molly2 Molly Norris
Interactive Specialist