Public Health Engineering with Dr Dani Barrington (#24)

We talk about water and sanitation systems, WASH Failures, and pantomime.

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Dr Dani Barrington uses interactive methods to understand people’s experiences with toilets, menstrual health and hygiene, incontinence and water, with a focus on low-middle income countries. Her participatory research and teaching focuses on ensuring that everyone has access to the services that they want to use, regardless of their income or the country they call home. She’s also a Co-founder of the ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Failures’ (@FSM_Fail) initiative, encouraging WASH professionals to be more honest about when things don’t work out.

Dani is a Lecturer in the School of Population and Global Health at The University of Western Australia and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also a Visiting Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health within the School of Civil Engineering at The University of Leeds and an Honorary Fellow within the School of Public Health at The University of Queensland.

In our conversation, we talk about water and sanitation systems, WASH Failures, and pantomime.

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Show Notes

[00:55] Dani’s beginnings in environmental chemistry and environmental systems engineering.
[01:02] Dani’s love of the ocean and her interest in environmental science.
[01:33] Volunteering for conservation work.
[02:39] Understanding the context of systems.
[03:09] People are the goal.
[03:45] Public health engineering is complex and involves many factors.
[05:09] Choosing where Dani felt she would make an impact.
[05:21] Dani’s early challenges at school.
[05:51] Finding her tribe at university.
[06:13] Developing an interest in initiatives by organisations like UNICEF.
[06:43] Why a PhD?
[07:17] Algal blooms at wastewater treatment plants.
[08:58] Wanting to work in international development.
[10:07] Learning more about international development, capacity building, colonialism.
[10:29] Engineering and social justice.
[11:30] What is Engineers Without Borders (EWB)?
[11:59] Support for low-to-middle income countries and remote indigenous communities.
[12:37] EWB and Cambodia.
[13:28] EWB educational programs and initiatives.
[14:23] Working in Nepal with EWB.
[14:43] Working on risk assessment of water supply and sanitation systems.
[15:16] Applying preventative measures used in supply to wastewater treatment.
[15:46] Developing community managed water safety plans.
[16:13] The paradigm of engineer focussed plans vs community oriented ones.
[16:55] Engineering and community.
[19:18] Pantomime as part of your professional skillset.
[20:07] The program structure in Nepal.
[20:57] Understanding the diverse range of contexts between different communities.
[21:56] Water utilities in the Pacific Islands.
[23:37] Priorities vs geographical, social, and political limitations.
[26:56] Land tenure factors and perceived vs actual risk.
[28:32] The factors that contribute to a ‘rational decision’.
[29:22] Everyone has their own objectives and wants favourable outcomes.
[30:32] Informing to the best of your ability, but respect others’ priorities.
[32:48] WASH Failures.
[33:59] ‘We weren’t learning from our mistakes’.
[35:03] The reluctance to document or discuss failures.
[35:21] “Blunders, Bloopers and Foul-Ups”
[36:00] Sanitary pads or Kindling?
[36:30] The Nakuru Accord.
[37:51] Surveying front-line WASH-workers about the issues.
[39:26] The need for community engagement and stakeholder relationships.
[40:05] The flexibility to pivot and be open about it.
[41:32] The source of the reluctance to communicate failures.
[43:20] Consequences and the blame game.
[45:27] Failures impact the communities and can erode trust.
[46:40] Moral and ethical work.
[48:34] Dani’s motto for life. [language warning]
[48:58] Period poverty.
[50:18] ‘Share the Dignity’.
[51:26] The stigma behind menstrual health and its impact.
[54:30] You can’t just engineer away behavioural factors. Talk to the social scientists.
[56:54] Project Management: The Tyre Swing Problem
[57:53] ‘PlayPumps’: Failed aid interventions.
[59:54] It’s more efficient to consider problems from a wholistic view.
[01:00:52] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[01:00:59] Geocaching.
[01:03:08] Why pantomime?
[01:05:37] The serious state of some of the communities.
[01:06:37] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[01:08:11] Guilty pleasures.
[01:09:01] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[01:09:27] ‘The Sidekick Manifesto’.
[01:10:27] You don’t have to save the world to make a difference.
[01:12:07] Reaching out to Dani.

Topics/Resources/People Mentioned

Additional Resources

  • WASH Failures Twitter: @FSM_Fail
  • Barrington, D. J., Robinson, H., Wilson, E., & Hennegan, J. (2021, March 13). Experiences of menstruation in high income countries: a systematic review, qualitative meta-synthesis and comparison to low- and middle-income countries. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/tajkp

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