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Lessons learned



Community-driven development: how can individuals, community-based workers (CBWs) and institutions work effectively in partnership?


Bradford Centre for International Development (BCID), Bradford (UK)


Background document providing these lessons learned:


BCID Research Briefing, December 2007



This article deals with community participation and community-based service-delivery. It reveals the complexity and difficulty of achieving effective participatory change and service delivery. Many policy initiatives emphasise community driven development (CDD) as a means of ensuring sustainable livelihoods, good governance and poverty alleviation. Pro-poor community driven development is both enabled and constrained by individual identities, the actions of community-based workers (CBWs) and the workings of institutions. The positive aspects can be enhanced through a greater understanding of individual motivations, institutional processes and improved monitoring techniques, but the limitations of community action must also be recognised.

Based on a methodology drawn from anthropology, this article was developed in partnership with local people. It outlines the potential and constraints of community driven management and service delivery in HIV/AIDS home-based care and the provision of drinking water supplies. It tracked the evolution and interaction of communities, community-based workers and institutions in 6 communities in Tanzania and South Africa over a period of 18 months. Multiple methods of data collection were used with the aims of generating data and increasing engagement and capacity of local researchers (much of the data collection was undertaken by local people acting in a variety of capacities).


Key lesson learned

1. Community participation in service delivery

The analysis of the approaches which promote local participation in service-delivery and management generated a picture of participation in local governance patterned by inequitable social structures: local collective action tends to be dominated by older, wealthier men and some influential women. Interestingly very wealthy people sometimes chose not to participate at all although some wealthy people originating in the community but absent in towns or abroad were able to exercise influence over local affairs through their ‘agents’. Additionally such patterns were not rigid; ‘norms’ of respect for elders are in some circumstances shifting, opening up opportunities for younger people (usually wealthier and more educated) to take leadership roles.

Thus, the approaches which promote local participation in service-delivery and management are not necessarily effective at promoting wide community ownership and empowerment of the poor. Wealthier, older men will tend to appropriate new participatory spaces unless there is external facilitation of the rights and abilities of excluded people to do so.

The implication of this analysis is that it raises questions about the efficacy of creating new spaces for participation. Given the interaction of structure and agency in shaping collective spaces, it is likely that the same individuals will tend to populate and appropriate new spaces unless there is external promotion and facilitation of the rights and abilities of others to do so.

2. Contribution of community based workers to participatory processes

According to a very basic definition, a CBW is a community member who delivers a service to other community members at a micro level. The prevalence of some sort of payment to the CBWs raises a question about the place of voluntarism in the definition of CBWs.

The research revealed considerable variation in ways of working, in the ability of individual CBWs to access resources and expertise and in their relationships with communities and supervising institutions. Despite this variability consistent themes did emerge from the data on CBW activities:

Autonomy/responsibility/accountability - CBWs are often highly dependent on external institutions for support so limiting their capacity to independently ‘represent’ communities.

Issues of motivation and reward - CBWs are not necessarily good champions of equity issues; personal motivations and interests, related to socio-political position in the local community often shape the relationships between CBW and beneficiary. CBWs may reflect a general prejudice (for example with regard to HIV positive people) which limits their effective functioning. Many CBWs are motivated by the hope of ultimately getting a paid job; if this does not materialise they may cease volunteering.

3. Getting institutions right

Much delivery of services in the community is embedded in existing institutional arrangements with complex lines of responsibility, accountability and authority. This may ensure social appropriateness and acceptability on the one hand or a lack of clarity and capacity on the other.

Furthermore, there is often a tension between community ownership and a shift towards professionalism in the interests of sustainability. This was particularly notable in the water case studies where the imperative to keep the infrastructure functioning, often through collection of fees tended to lead to increased professionalism and bureaucratisation of the water supply organisation. Thus, in trying to get institutions right for effective CDD there are dilemmas to be faced in balancing voluntarism and professionalism in delivering effective services. CDD can produce very complex arrangements of institutions which make strategic and co-ordinated action extremely difficult. The challenge for external agencies is to provide consistent and ongoing support and facilitation to community based organisations, without disengaging them from their local environment.

Finally, there was little evidence that local institutions necessarily prioritised equity concerns or designed measures to ensure access to the poor and marginalised. Local institutions (and the ranks of community based volunteers) were largely dominated by the more wealthy and literate members of the community; poorer members of the community were often catered for through patronage relationships. For example where fees were charged for water there was little consideration by the local institutions of ability to pay and access to water as a basic need. The apparent need for external championing of equity considerations (through advocacy, legal rights, regulation or subsidy) raises questions about which is the appropriate body - central government, strengthened local government, NGOs or donor agencies - to do this.



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