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Chapter 4

The Forum process and case study discussions


The core of the SLA Forum was the two plus days of case study group discussion, with the minor case studies presented and discussed in plenary sessions. Before the Forum, participants chose a case study, having received the full text of the case and the case study discussion strategy notes (see Annex 3). It was pointed out that the strategy notes were only suggestions and that groups and their facilitators were free to modify the process, provided they stuck to the outcomes and the broad time slots, which would enable cross-group discussions and sharing in plenary sessions.

The Forum adopted an experiential learning "practicum" approach. Sessions were organized around a series of case studies in order to focus discussion on concrete issues related to operationalizing SLAs. The analytical framework was fairly straightforward. Each group had to (1) understand the project described in their case study as designed, apply the SL framework and assess what might have changed if SL principles had been used; (2) analyse how the project evolved during the course of implementation, then apply SL principles and discuss what difference this might have made to implementation; (3) examine project outcomes and consider whether the application of SL approaches would have resulted in substantially different outcomes; (4) suggest ways of redesigning the project in the light of SL approaches and identify constraints likely to emerge in implementing the "redesigned" project; and (5) draw lessons regarding the value added by SLAs and flag any issues needing further clarification.


The Forum took on a life of its own, driven by the participant's perceptions, expectations and priorities. The following paragraphs attempt to track the process as it unfolded.

The first day: diagnostics, design and the beginnings of a change in the process

The first day of discussions focused on understanding the project as designed. These discussions got off to a slow start. It took the participants some time to get to know one another, get comfortable and build momentum. Getting to know the projects, in spite of having read the summaries and the case material, proved a difficult task, and most groups resorted to questioning their resource persons in considerable detail. In hindsight, this should have been expected. Some of the projects had run for twenty years, and had gone through several reiterations. The resource persons added bits and pieces of the puzzle, enabling the picture to come together. As the day progressed there was concern that there might not be enough time to do justice to the objectives of the Forum. The organizers and facilitators were also becoming aware that some important cross-cutting issues were beginning to emerge from the case study discussions, and these would need time to be thought through.

In late afternoon of the first day, participants left their working groups to return to a plenary session on the first of the mini-case studies. During this session, Jock Campbell presented the experience of designing the DFID-supported FAO West Africa Artisanal Fisheries Project. This was the first SL project to be designed by FAO and DFID in the Fisheries sector. It promotes the introduction of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in 25 countries.

Immediately after was the first plenary, where the different case groups had an opportunity to share their thoughts. In this plenary, participants decided that the after-dinner mini-case study presentations and discussions should be moved to the following day to allow for more informal interaction and discussion. Second, to save time, each group agreed to display the outcomes of each day on posters in order to let interested participants walking about in the evening see what each case group had been doing that day. This did not work well, so it was decided the next day that each group should make summary presentations on the day's learning.

In spite of the concerns about sagging learning curves and long hours of discussion, participants continued freewheeling discussions and interactions well into the wee hours of the morning, fuelled by camaraderie and Chianti. It is important to point this out because the thought processes were no longer following a timetable, and it was necessary for the organizers and facilitators to ensure that the formal and informal parts came together into a seamless continuum.

The second day: an early wrapping-up of the case study discussions and the emergence of cross-cutting issues

The original intent was that on the second day, each group would think through the implementation phase of the project under study, discuss how SL approaches would have affected the process and attempt a redesign of all or part of the project using SLA. The following morning would be saved for covering issues of project/programme sustainability and institutionalization. However, as the morning's discussions progressed, it became clear that the cross-cutting issues were extremely important to the participants and that time would have to be made to provide opportunities to discuss them. The facilitator visited each case study group, polling them on how best to redo the programme. The groups agreed to wrap up the case study discussions by the evening of the second day in order to free up an entire morning to discuss the cross-cutting issues.

With the decision made, the case study groups accelerated their discussions, breaking just before lunch to hear short presentations of two mini-case studies. The first was on the DFID-supported DELIVERI project in Indonesia, presented by Dil Peeling, which highlighted how pilot experiences were used at the village level to enact policy changes within the national livestock services (see Annex 9 for a summary). In the other mini-case study, Marilee Kane highlighted how FAO's Participatory Upland Conservation and Development Project in Pakistan addressed gender issues.

The afternoon was spent wrapping up the case study discussions and preparing presentations for the evening plenary session. The summaries of the eight major case studies are presented in Annex 8, and their complete versions in electronic form can be accessed from any of the cooperating agencies' focal points. While the report "Interagency Experiences and Lessons from the Forum" in Annex 11 pulls together the main lessons of the case discussions, to do justice to the case studies, the latter section of this chapter briefly looks at each case study in terms of its process and main conclusions.

The plenary session at the end of the second day provided an opportunity for each case study group to make their presentations, followed by discussion. The session spilled over into the next morning. Toward the end of the second day, each group was asked to identify the key cross-cutting issues that had come up in their discussions, which were later clustered into eight top issues:

SLAs and policy: supplementing the flow. After dinner, at a "voluntary" plenary session, Anne Thomson, a resource person and author of the Web/E-Conference review paper on SLAs and policy, made a short presentation and led a discussion on that topic. The overhead transparencies used in her presentation are included in Annex 10. The presentation emphasized that improving the policy-making process is as important as improving policy content. SL approaches have the potential to make the policy formulation process more bottom up, decentralized and pluralistic by empowering the poor to influence policy and by forging partnerships with actors outside government, such as the private sector, NGOs and civil-society organizations. A better understanding of the impact of policy on livelihood strategies and building a community's capacity to participate in the policy process both would lead to more relevant and improved policy. However, capacity-building for participation in the policy process at all levels needs more attention.

Policy is a political process, and the role of democratization and conflict-mediation is important. It may be necessary for the community and the project to form partnerships and coalitions with interest groups and the media in order to lobby and influence policy, increasing their leverage in the process. It was felt that a lot more thinking and research were needed to understand better the policy process and to identify critical points vulnerable to influence. Further, there was a need to look at what was different about policy impact on livelihoods, as opposed to policy impact on, say, poverty or food security.

The third day: cross-cutting issues and shifting focus to consider internalization

The case study groups' presentations continued during the early morning plenary. Afterward, the participants signed up for new groups on eight cross-cutting issues and spent the rest of the morning in animated and sometimes heated discussions. The "issues"groups prepared to present their findings and recommendations the next morning, the last day of the Forum.

After lunch, the participants changed gears to address the issue of internalizing SLAs in their own agencies. If SLAs add value, then the ways and means of mainstreaming them into agencies and changing the way development is practised becomes extremely important. The discussion on internalization is therefore covered extensively in Chapter 5, with the focus here on the process.

Mary Hobley got the ball rolling with a short presentation of a paper-in-progress she had been commissioned to prepare on internalization. The presentation did not say how SLAs ought to be internalized. Rather it led the participants through a questioning of how organizations changed and what factors either promoted or hindered that change. Immediately after the presentation, the participants regrouped, this time by agency, to reflect on why and how their particular agencies could benefit from SLAs and what needed to be done to facilitate the internalization process.

Supplementing the flow: how do we deal with complexity? After dinner on Friday another "voluntary" plenary came together to ponder complexity theory and whether it could have lessons for SLAs. The discussion was primed by a short presentation by Naresh Singh (Sustainable Livelihoods Programme, UNDP). The overhead transparencies used in this presentation are included in Annex 10.

Singh's contention was that ecological as well as social systems were usually complex. Livelihoods are derived from the interface of these, and, therefore, sustainable livelihood systems are complex systems in that the range of interconnections between causes and effects are so numerous that it would be difficult (if not impossible) to predict a specific outcome from a particular intervention. In other words, sometimes targeting the poor for poverty reduction may result in the poor becoming poorer and the rich richer! So what can we do? Complexity theory suggests that instead of trying to deconstruct a social system as a way of selecting interventions, there is a need to stand back and try to deduce "rules" within the complexity of a given system. In practical terms this could involve studying a range of projects and trying to discern the "meta-rules" that govern success. Unfortunately, social systems do not lend themselves to being reduced to a few generic rules, since people are aware and capable of making choices.

What complexity theory supports is not the identification of a set of golden rules but a process that encourages the articulation of a set of rules peculiar to each different social organization. Recent applications of conflict management and consensus-building processes to livelihoods projects seem to suggest that these processes can provide pathways to the formulation of such rules, illuminating our understanding of both micro-micro and micro-macro linkages.

The fourth day: sharing of lessons on cross-cutting issues and agency reflections on internalization of SLAs

During the concluding morning of the Forum there were brief presentations from the previous day's group discussions, first on cross-cutting issues and "grey areas" needing further clarification, and second, on the recommendations of the agency groups on internalization of SLAs within their organizations.

The presentations of the nine cross-cutting issue groups generated a lively discussion, dealing as they did with unresolved and sometimes controversial issues. The presentations, included in Annex 8, are also dealt with in considerable detail in the report "Interagency Experiences and Lessons from the Forum" (Annex 11).

Consensus was achieved on several cross-cutting issues. It was agreed that although livelihood analysis needs to be multisectoral, initial entry points for projects can be sectoral and gradually widen into complementary sectors as needed. The value added at the implementation stage is not specific to SLA (with little concrete experience to evaluate in any case) but derives from the application of good practices associated with participatory- and systems-oriented approaches that have preceded SLA. All projects need to consider micro-macro policy linkages. Use of SL approaches upstream can add value, provided they are adequately grounded in micro-level experiences. A minimum of SL diagnosis is always needed, although overinvestment in initial diagnosis should be avoided by putting more reliance on secondary data coupled with monitoring of pilot activities. Nonetheless, several unresolved issues remain regarding (1) the type of entry points, (2) the leveraging of policy change, (3) the ability of SL approaches to reach the poorest, (4) the adaptability of SL concepts to French- and Spanish-speaking contexts and (5) perceived omissions or inadequacies in the DFID SL framework. There was substantial agreement on what the unresolved issues were but no consensus on the answers.

The presentations of the agencies' reflections on internalization followed, and here there was a lot of convergence and optimism. The reflections and specific recommendations of the agency groups are further elaborated in Chapter 5.

The formal work of the Forum ended with these two interesting plenary sessions. In her closing remarks, Jane Clark, head of DFID's Sustainable Livelihoods Support Office, thanked the participants for sharing and being open in the spirit of learning. She expressed her confidence that with the enthusiasm and momentum generated, the Forum would lead to concrete efforts not only in the work of the participants but also of their agencies.


To increase the likelihood of follow-up on recommendations, the organizers of the Forum invited managers and senior technical staff from the five cooperating agencies to sit down immediately after the Forum and make decisions on how the follow-up would go forward and who would be responsible for which aspects of the task. The meeting was short, but it generated some clear directives and goals statements (for the minutes of the gathering, see Annex 12). The outcome of the meeting is briefly summarized in Chapter 5.

Thus ended a memorable and unusual Forum, where many came together with different perceptions and expectations and left with a sense of direction, convergence and hope.



The strength of the Mongolia case study was that, in comparison with the other cases, it contained the least number of elements that would be considered characteristic of SL approaches. Instead it examined a rather conventional, well-designed project that was of measurable benefit to its target beneficiaries, therefore being an excellent vehicle for exploring "what if" questions to see what value could be added by applying different aspects of an SL approach.

The case study group work focused on diagnostics and design aspects, partly because the group were drawn to this and partly because they were concerned that in looking at implementation they would drift into the realm of speculation and guesswork, and because, after reading the case study, they immediately expected major differences in project design from applying an SLA. The differences were analysed by reworking through the project diagnostic and design process, including early stages of implementation, and comparing this original process with the hypothetical diagnostic and design phase of the project using SLAs.

The group conclusions and lessons were:

1. Some of the advantages of conventional project design are the opposite of the disadvantages of SLAs: conventional design is quicker, cheaper, more predictable, easier for donors and governments, easier to get approved and budgeted and more acceptable to recipient governments; it has less risk of failure; it perpetuates the old boy network; and it can be executed by traditional designers of projects without any need for special capabilities.

2. Other advantages of SLAs as compared with the conventional project design are that they produce process projects able to reach the poor better and respond to their needs; consider options longer and are possibly more sustainable; cater for shock survival measures and institutionalize risk management; may lead to more appropriate interventions; actively encourage partnerships; are demand driven and negotiated; lead to more informed decision making; are better at establishing macro-micro linkages; identify opportunities; institutionalize good development practice; require capacity-building.

3. The consensus in the group on whether SLAs add value was positive and the reasons for such an agreement were that SLAs:

4. The group also discussed two points of concern, which need more work to resolve and clarify. The Mongolia project narrowed its intervention options and agreed with the Government on livestock before the actual project design took place. An SLA-based design would have delayed decisions about options until the later stages. This, however, would have created uncertainty about where the project would lead and whether the final outcome would still fit the mandate of the implementing agency. Questions and considerations for "specific mandate agencies" are therefore:


The Zambia case study group began by evolving a working definition of SLA, which to them was a combination of a planning approach, a form of development cooperation and an empowerment process.

1. The Zambia project was already SLA-ish, in the sense that it had a holistic approach, being participatory and people centred. Therefore, in terms of the overall design and approach of the project, not much would have been different if the project had used an SLA approach. However, in thinking through the larger development context, the group concluded that SLA would have added value because:

SLAs allow the redesign of interventions at any stage of a project.

2. In looking at the SL framework, the group expressed concern that "people" were not visible in the framework. They also pointed out that the framework did not encourage disaggregation of people in a community by age, gender and wealth in the diagnosis, so it was never quite clear to whose capital pentagon the framework referred. However, the group felt that the framework articulated the interlinkages well and helped in the understanding of complex contexts, which in turn would lead to more holistic design.

3. The group concluded by identifying three grey areas that needed more resolution and clarification:


The Honduras case study group, in following and analysing a project that spanned a 12-year period, saw the project's evolution from basically a sectoral non-SL design to an increasingly SL-type implementation. The group, based on its discussions and reflection, provided guidance (which also emphasized the ways in which SLAs added value) and raised issues (which needed to be clarified and resolved) in each of three aspects they addressed: (1) operationalizing SLAs, (2) do SLAs add value? and (3) institutionalizing SLAs.


1. SLAs provide a useful framework for the continual process of learning and analysis throughout the life of a development intervention and this increases SLAs' capacity to react and adapt to new needs and changing conditions.

2. Within the SLA framework, sustainability should be looked at holistically, with economic, institutional, human, social, environmental and agro-ecological sustainability taken into account.

3. Participatory approaches are essential for operationalizing sustainable livelihood approaches.

4. Agencies involved in promoting and implementing SLAs are likely to have to adopt a dual role, as actors and stakeholders in the sector or area where they are working, and as facilitators of holistic development, building linkages and networks with other agencies.

5. SLAs can provide a common framework for different development agencies, greatly facilitating cooperation between them.

6. The use of SLAs encourages the design of open-ended, flexible development interventions. It also encourages longer-term planning in development because it forces agencies to focus on sustainability, transforming structures and processes (institutions, policies and processes) and capacity-building.

7. SLAs can lead to a better identification and understanding of poverty, and the development of diverse strategies to address it, although these strategies may not necessarily involve working directly or exclusively with the poor.

8. Decentralization is a necessary condition for creating effective linkages among institutions, communities and civil society and for properly institutionalizing SLAs.

9. Politics is a part of livelihoods and must be engaged.

10. Developing a coherent exit strategy for outside interventions is a fundamental element of SLAs.

11. To influence the policy environment and make it supportive of sustainable livelihoods, the feedback mechanisms from the grassroots need to be scaled up to reach policy- and decision-making levels of institutions and administrations. The impacts of policy need to be monitored so their effects on livelihood strategies can be understood.

12. Livelihood strategies are complex and diverse. Understanding them fully during a preliminary diagnosis would require long and expensive research. They are more easily and better understood through action research in the field. Therefore, SLAs are likely to depend on identifying limited entry points that allow work to commence, followed by dynamic analysis and learning through interaction with local people.


1. How should an agency balance the distribution of resources within a project or programme between initial diagnosis work and the setting up of mechanisms for dynamic and iterative diagnosis during project implementation?

2. While the SL framework can make a significant contribution to development programmes, it is not a panacea:

3. The discussion of SLA has been largely dominated by English-speaking development agencies. Greater efforts are needed to incorporate relevant experience from Latin America and French-speaking Africa.

4. SLAs have several implications for existing institutional cultures, including that the facilitating role of development institutions and agencies needs to be developed, that institutions and agencies need to adapt to the longer timeframes required for building capacity in governance, and that they need to adopt more flexible planning approaches that can adapt to new developments in the field.


In considering the evolution of what was basically a watershed management project into a project that brought in participation, community development and local governance aspects, the Bolivia case study raised several issues and implications for SLA design, with particular focus on possibilities for redesign to bring in an explicit livelihoods approach and means to ensure sustainability beyond the project period. An overall conclusion was that natural resource management projects that have as their objective the public good, especially where direct benefits trickle down, need to be reconciled with private interests (e.g. what's in it for me?). In particular, natural resource and environmental management (NRM) projects may exclude vulnerable groups by focusing on land-based interventions. SLAs can help agencies think about alternative project components that respond to the specific needs of the poor.

The main issues and conclusions reached on the design of SLA projects/programmes.

1. The entry point of a project should not be predetermined but rather it should evolve from the participatory livelihood analysis (including stakeholder and gender analysis). The entry point can be sectoral and then widen to include other sectors as necessary.

2. A thorough understanding of social differentiation in access to assets needs to be undertaken early on in diagnostics in order to ensure effective targeting. A rights-based approach may need to be negotiated with the communities to ensure that the most marginalized and poorest groups benefit (as they may get left out of a process that focuses primarily on natural resource management).

3. In SLA, the choice of partners is crucial. While partnership with local-level institutions (particularly those that have been empowered through decentralization) is extremely important, care needs to be taken that agencies seek partners also at higher policy levels. Partnership with line ministries at the national level may be necessary for leveraging macro policy changes.

4. In difficult, non-supportive policy environments it may be necessary to create manoeuvring room, first by focusing on specific basic needs to build trust with the population and the government in order eventually to direct institutions and policy in a positive direction.

5. SLAs require a lot of orientation and training among partners carrying them out in the field, not only on the conceptual framework and the building blocks such as participatory rural appraisal (PRA).

The main issues and implications on the redesign of projects.

1. A longer timeframe is required for serious redesign using an SLA. If the original timeframe cannot be extended, then a realistic exit strategy or new project should be developed. This issue came up because at the time of redesign, the Bolivia project had just 18 months to finish.

2. Rather than "impose" a complete SLA on an existing project, it may be more acceptable to introduce different aspects of an SLA in a phased and reasonable manner, as needed.

3. It is vital carefully to orient and negotiate with partners to ensure that they buy into an SLA before venturing into project redesign.

4. In undertaking redesign, existing diagnostic information should be used as much as possible, with additional multidisciplinary analysis carried out only to fill in the gaps.

5. Problem analysis, goal-setting and prioritization should be carried out with the full participation of the communities, striving for adequate representation of the poor and women.

6. Screens, which help in the selection and sequencing of potential interventions/actions, should be used to identify those actions that do not meet:

The main issues relating to ensuring sustainability beyond the project period.

1. There is a need for a preparatory phase, prior to the end of the project, to build the capacity of partner agencies, local institutions and communities to take responsibility for project activities, adjust them as necessary over time and bring in new partners to address changing priorities.

2. An SLA project/programme needs a monitoring-and-evaluation system built in from the start to assess:


The Bangladesh case study described a project that set out to improve livelihoods through the use of farmer field schools. Using integrated pest management around the rice-fish-vegetable production system as an entry point, the field schools build social as well as human capital. The project was not designed using SLAs but, in practice, contained SLA aspects. In attempting to redesign the project using DFID's SLA framework, the group concluded that not all aspects of SLA were appropriate for this project.

The case study group came up with five major conclusions:

1. A minimum of diagnostics is needed at the beginning. The diagnostics should be participatory but make maximum use of secondary information. They should be interdisciplinary, identify potential partners and have a policy dimension. A short minimum diagnostic can identify an entry point and can then be supplemented by an iterative monitoring-and-evaluation system, which generates diagnostic information along the way. SLA diagnostics should give primacy to building the capacities of target groups in order to analyse their livelihoods and opportunities: "How people solve a problem is as important as knowing about the solution itself."

2. The entry point is not the end point. The criteria for selection of an entry point should be that it address a major livelihood constraint of the poor, be known to have proven and quick results and lead to community empowerment over the development process. The entry point sets out a provisional programme path, which should be refined through an ongoing diagnostic as the project evolves.

3. A flexible implementation strategy is essential for SLAs. The empowerment dimension of SLAs requires flexibility in implementation. The way to make projects flexible and accountable is to use a long-term programme approach with a sequence of discrete projects and by mainstreaming participatory M&E into the management information system.

4. A strong participatory monitoring-and-evaluation system must be linked to a dynamic and ongoing diagnostic, which is both quantitative and qualitative. The participatory M&E should begin at the design stage of the project, with stakeholders helping to select the indicators. By using participatory M&E "SLA can help facilate people's taking control over their development process". However, this requires greater transparency and accounting between donors (who want results) and agencies (who cannot control results).

5. Policy linkages should be an explicit objective of the programme, informed by insights and needs from the field and propelled by a multiplicity of tactical elements.


In discussing the 20-year experience of the Segou Village Development Fund project, the Mali case group went through several steps. First, members tried to understand the project as designed. Second, they documented how the project had evolved during implementation and they assessed project outcomes. After completing the analysis of all stages of the project cycle, the group went back and suggested how the project design might have changed if SL approaches had been used, and what value this might have added. The group then assessed what might have changed if SL approaches had been used during implementation, highlighting the risks as well as the value added, and assessed whether the adoption of SL approaches would have improved project outcomes and sustainability. Finally, it identified a series of perceived weaknesses in the SL framework and grey areas needing further clarification.

Diagnosis and design. Because the case study group had strong case resource people but was weak on SLA, the facilitator suggested a number of exercises to familiarize group members with SL approaches. The main exercises undertaken were:

Project implementation and outcomes

Issues needing further clarification


The Ethiopia case study concerned a project that has evolved over 20 years from a technically oriented soil and water conservation project with a strong humanitarian component to a project that has incorporated participatory approaches and is moving towards community empowerment. The project was designed in 1980 based on a diagnosis limited to technical aspects of land degradation with little socio-economic analysis.

Any value added to the diagnosis? The Ethiopia case study group, in reconsidering the project through an SLA lens, found that, yes, the project would have benefited had it had a more complex and deeper understanding of:

All of these would have enabled a better, more holistic design of the project.

Some of the important issues that emerged from the group's analysis concerned the limitations of applying SLAs beyond the diagnosis stage when the country was being governed by an authoritarian regime. In such a political environment, the constraints on transforming institutions and policies are so large that whether there should be an intervention (or not) can be questioned.

Implementation. The group felt that by incorporating SLA principles, the project would have:

The group noted that although there had not been an SLA earlier in the project, the project did change and evolve. There were critical moments in which the project took advantage of the changing political context to become more responsive and participatory in its approach.

It was agreed that if the project were to be redesigned or retrofitted based on SL there would be a questioning of the basic assumption that land degradation was the main cause of food insecurity. The process of re-diagnosis of the causes of food insecurity should include the different stakeholders (government staff, project staff, development committees, community members, etc.).

The expected outcome of the diagnosis would be a clearer understanding of the main causes of food insecurity (for different livelihood typologies), taking into account the role of policies, markets, tenure, population pressure, land degradation, etc. and the relative importance of and linkages between these causal factors. With a better understanding of the causes, then possible entry points and sequencing of interventions could be determined.

The group concluded by raising several important issues relating to SLA that it felt required further clarification:


The Malawi case study concerned UNDP's involvement with the first programme to institutionalize SLAs within the government system, in which FAO was given responsibility to design the food security component (group members included a New York-based UNDP officer, the national programme officer and a member of the FAO team). The Malawi case study group reviewed the Malawi case study and offered a diversity of ideas and experiences from other projects. The group looked at design and implementation of SLAs in Malawi and elsewhere and tried to learn lessons from this. DFID's experience with incorporating SL was shared and discussed with the group. In so doing, the group were conscious of the three objectives of the workshop:

1. How do we get SLAs to work in the field?
2. How do we make SLAs a part of the way we do things in our organizations?
3. Why use SLAs? Do they have the potential to add value?

How do we get SLAs to work in the field?

How do we make SLA a part of the way we do things in our organizations?

Why use SLAs. Do they have the potential to add value?

Issues that need further clarification

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