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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Regional Planning

Degree Type

Master of Regional Planning (M.R.P.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Approximately 2.5 billion people in the world currently lack access to adequate sanitation facilities. Improving sanitation access in the developing world is vitally important to public health, economies, and the environment. Non-governmental organizations and the private sector have played a significant role in increasing sanitation access through the construction of sanitation and hygiene systems. However, these projects have been plagued with sustainability problems with the rate of non-functional systems remaining consistently at 30 to 40 percent since the 1980s. Studies have found that meaningful community engagement and the consideration of community capacity during project development are vitally important to long-term project sustainability. However, development practitioners frequently undervalue the importance of these factors and fail to adequately employ them when developing sanitation projects.

This thesis examines the dominance and impact of one key influence that leads development practitioners to overlook community context and engagement – the prioritization and overvaluation of technological solutions to development problems. Through a case study of the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) Latrine built by three University of Massachusetts Amherst engineers in Nyakrom Ghana I demonstrate an example of the impact that a technocratic focus can have on the operation and maintenance sustainability of a sanitation project.

In this thesis I maintain that the technocratic focus of this project is not unique but is part of a larger trend toward technocracy among water, sanitation, and hygiene development donors and practitioners. These technological approaches can neglect the important role that political, social, economic, and cultural factors play in increasing sanitation access. This thesis reviews three frameworks that the MFC Latrine engineers and other practitioners could use to better understand and incorporate community capacity and participation into sanitation projects – Asset Based Community Development, the appropriate technology framework by the World Health Organization and IRC Water and Sanitation Centre, and the WASHTech Technology Applicability Framework.


First Advisor

Ellen J. Pader

Second Advisor

Brenda Bushouse

Third Advisor

Caitlyn Butler