Despite its perceived importance, the evidence suggests that community engagement in all sectors of humanitarian response is often limited and rarely monitored or evaluated. Sanitation projects may involve the community only in the construction phase as a paid labour force, or as a cash-for-work initiative.Interviews with key informants for this review often stated that some level of engagement is always possible, despite the pressure to act fast. A key element of success appears to be phasing: to start with basic community engagement and then develop and adapt over time. The challenge is that aid agencies appear to find it difficult to adopt a phased approach; practitioners lack guidance. Work needs to be done to create quick and simple methods to measure the extent to which communities engaged with project and with what effect. There needs to be a courageous redefinition of what community engagement can actually entail, and for what purpose, in the first few weeks of a rapid-onset emergency.