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III. Major Lessons Learned from the Case Studies

The approaches

Although three of the projects started as blueprint or target-oriented interventions (Pakistan (Malakand), Nepal and Senegal), by the time these case studies were carried out all nine were process-oriented in approach, with emphasis on participation and sustainability. RRA and PRA tools as well as focused case studies were used effectively as instruments to obtain an understanding of local realities, to define project interventions and to enhance the empowerment of local people.

For project staff, the development, reorientation or verification of methods and tools functions as a permanent learning process. This process stimulates internal discussion, self-evaluation, feedback and analysis, contributing in turn to the further development of technical menus or "baskets of technical options". It leads to a more comprehensive understanding of community forestry and participatory resource management, generating an approach that integrates socio-economic, political, cultural, gender, technical and ecological aspects. Previous field experiences of local or international staff and the exchange of experiences among colleagues have been very useful in strengthening this process of reorientation, adjustment and verification. In all cases, conceptual and methodological issues have a high priority on the agenda of project staff.

The PUCD interregional project was designed on the basis of a process-oriented approach. Unlike some of the projects in this study, the PUCD projects started with a participatory assessment of needs, constraints and opportunities. They then promoted the formation of functional groups around the planning and implementation of specific activities. The explicit objective is to facilitate people's participation by promoting and facilitating local projects that can be identified,

planned and implemented by the people themselves. The PUCD project provides technical and financial support to these local activities. One of the major challenges faced by these projects is to establish functional relationships between short-term activities for quick benefits and long-term sustainable management of natural resources. The PUCD case studies show that this long-term perspective cannot be developed properly with a project duration of only two years. The project experiences in Pakistan (Malakand), Senegal, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Nepal indicate that an initial period of at least five years is needed.

The viability of the process approach for community forestry projects depends on the existence of an institutional infrastructure in the project area. However, the cases of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Senegal, Burundi and Rwanda demonstrate that even in the absence of such infrastructure, innovative and creative mechanisms can be developed to mobilize complementary services from other institutions. These can satisfy the need for training, research and technical or financial support. In order to ensure that these mechanisms function effectively, financial and human resources must be put to work to develop active institutional networking. In addition, some of the studies indicate the usefulness of credit facilities (Nicaragua, Burundi, Rwanda, Pakistan). Access to credit can help establish the financial conditions to create local development initiatives, which lead to new income generating and employment opportunities.

Methods and tools

In most of the projects, RRAs were conducted as a take-off activity by an interdisciplinary project team for the collection of basic information on the target villages and the region. These appraisals used various instruments, such as observation, interviews, meetings and secondary sources. The scope and length of the appraisal phase are the subject of differing opinions. The most common approach is to start with a concentrated effort of data collection over a few weeks, so that a first assessment can be made of the general opportunities and constraints. As soon as a working relationship has been established between the community and the project, complementary information is collected as part of the responsibilities of the field staff. Simultaneously, participatory assessments are conducted in specific problem areas, such as land use management, farming systems or forestry resources. In other words, the rapid appraisal in most projects collects general information using "traditional" research tools. The participatory assessment is problem-focused and actionoriented, conducted by the project and the concerned interest group and using more "didactic" tools of data collection in order to elaborate project plans.

There are, however, some important differences that can be illustrated when comparing the PUCD project (Quetta) and the community forestry project (Malakand) in Pakistan. In Quetta, map building, timeline and daily time exercises, semi-structured individual interviews and other RRA tools are used to collect general village data. This process takes several months. In the Malakand project, rapid appraisals are carried out in approximately eight days, with a clear focus on land use issues. On the basis of the results, general village management plans and specific land use unit management plans are developed by Management Committees with support from the project. During the elaboration of these plans, specific RRA tools are brought to bear on particular issues, such as map building (land use, land control, land management), timeline and daily time profile exercises for different interest groups, or the elaboration of agricultural or cultural/religious calendars.

The results of the rapid appraisal are often used for the selection of villages, as in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Pakistan. In the PUCD projects, the first three months were generally assumed to be sufficient for these exercises, after which implementation could start. Rapid appraisals were part of the project formulation exercise, which was to define the region of project interventions. This experience indicates that these exercises should not be seen as take-off activities, but as tools to be used throughout the life of the project. The period of three months may be sufficient for project take-off, but the use of RRA and PRA tools should continue, improving and adapting the project through experience to achieve specific objectives.

In general, all the projects follow a similar phasing of activities: (1) preparation, (2) data collection, (3) data processing, (4) analysis and restitution, (5) organization, (6) planning, (7) implementation and monitoring, and (8) evaluation. Some of the methods and tools are used for each of the phases, such as group meetings and working groups. Others, more specific to data collection, analysis and restitution, are used for the planning phase, such as the problem census, the transect walk, map building, timeline and daily time exercises, and so on. Similar methods and tools are often used for the PRA and the planning exercise. The experiences in Pakistan have shown that diagramming and visual sharing are effective tools to facilitate group discussion and analysis, and also that visual recording (video, slides and photos) can be an effective tool for restitution of appraisal results and further analysis and decision-making.

In all the projects examined, methods and tools for participatory assessment and planning are tried, verified and subjected to discussion and adaptation. In this way, existing toolboxes developed by others are used effectively as inputs. Manuals for PRA have been developed in most of the projects, often by modifying and adapting existing materials. They are used for the preparation of the field exercises and as training material for the field staff. It takes time to adapt these materials to the local setting and to verify their effectiveness in the field. The project experiences show that field staff should be involved in this process of adaptation, since this will help to develop their conceptual and methodological orientations.

Although there is not always evidence of systematic use of the different tools, the methodological orientation of the different projects is similar. The underlying intention is to create the conditions for an open dialogue between the local people and the project staff, in order to strengthen the people's capacity to orient their own development. Using the principles of self-help, the participants analyse the situation, identify priority needs, plan actions and mobilize local resources for implementation. This orientation is clearly focused on local-level planning within the context of village, group or private land use management systems.

Thus the case studies show that different RRA and PRA tools are frequently used in the field. It is also important to consider how they are being used, and in some cases, detailed records have been kept of the process. From the perspective of the outsiders (the RRA perspective), the use of these tools has been effective in familiarizing project staff with the rural realities. From the PRA perspective, their use has also helped enable local people to play an active role in problem analysis, identification and planning of priority activities and implementation. Ideally, the use of these tools is gradually appropriated by the local people, as well as being institutionalized within existing government agencies, and the project staff assumes a facilitating role. In the case of the community forestry projects, two observations can be made in this respect. First, many of the tools have been incorporated into the community forestry extension methodology (see below). Second, use of the tools has contributed to positive changes of behaviour and attitudes of field staff and technical support staff, facilitating listening, learning and sharing of information.

All the cases have shown that the use of RRA and PRA methods and tools have had a positive effect on developing participatory extension approaches in the field. Participatory and rapid rural appraisal tools have proven to be instrumental in extension approaches of both the established community forestry projects and the PUCD projects. In particular in the case of the established projects, these tools are important instruments for the extension staff. They constitute not only operational instruments (what to do), but also conceptual orientations (how to do it) regarding the role of the extension worker as facilitator. In this context, it is clear that both field staff and technical support staff should jointly participate in appraisal exercises, particularly at the initial stages.

For example, in the guidelines for participatory extension prepared by the project in Nicaragua, rural appraisal and participatory assessment are considered integral components of a system of participatory extension. In the Bolivian community forestry project, the focus of the extension approach is to support the villages in the formulation and implementation of their Community Forestry Plans, following the same steps as the appraisal exercises: needs assessment, organization, planning, implementation and evaluation.

In spite of universal previous experience with top-down approaches, the use of these tools has established relations based on mutual trust and respect between outsiders and local communities. However, the importance of explaining and evaluating the objectives of the "exercises" with the community emerged repeatedly. For example, conducting a transect walk with one or two farmers, without an adequate explanation at community level beforehand, can easily lead to misinterpretations by others. Initially, the women of the Quetta project were suspicious of the fact that individual interviews were proposed by the project team. The farmers of Pakistan (Malakand), on the other hand, complained about the general meetings conducted by the project because they saw nothing come out of these gatherings.

A lesson that can be learned is that the use of each of these tools has to be properly prepared, discussed, agreed upon and evaluated with the local people. One of challenges for further improvement is to develop adequate combinations and sequences of the different tools, such as linking mapping exercises with transect walks, or social mapping with identification of key informants and interest groups for group interviews. However, little has been done in this direction in the present case studies.

The case studies have shown that in the PRA process, particular attention must be paid to the issues of empowerment and equity. In all cases, but particularly in Pakistan and Nepal, it was difficult to involve equally the different interest groups; the disadvantaged groups tend to be excluded. Here, the challenge is to select those combinations and sequences of tools that facilitate the identification of these groups and permit them to express themselves freely. Although in some projects (e.g. Quetta), serious efforts have been made in this respect with promising results, there is still much to be done.

One of the major constraints to effective use of innovative tools is the training required to develop field staff capacity in the use of these tools. Much attention has been given to preparatory and in-service training of the field staff, though this is not always easy. A specific obstacle that emerged in some cases, for example, was the language problem, which prevents international (and sometimes even local) consultants from following group dynamics during the exercises in the field. As a consequence, field examples of tool use for feedback to field staff during training are only partially absorbed.

Interesting experiences have emerged from the innovative use and adaptation of the various tools, such as the case of the women's groups in Pakistan (Quetta). For the majority of these women, interacting with people from outside was an unfamiliar experience, as was getting together in groups to discover issues of common interest and discuss them. These were major changes in their lives, which needed to be processed and worked out. Project staff decided to use pictures taken by the women for the project album as a visual record of the new activities. However, some of the women were punished by their husbands because they had been photographed and their photos could be shown outside the village. In other cases photographs did not generate problems at all. Thus, an important result of the use of this tool with women was the emergence of significant differences between the villages in the area of gender relations. This led to identification of other intervillage differences, such as the daily time profiles of the women and their specific tasks.

Participatory planning as a learning process

Local-level participatory planning constitutes an iterative learning process (in which each step feeds into the next) for all parties involved. Appraisal and assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation are steps in a learning experience, and each is used as an input for the subsequent steps. This is true for both insiders and outsiders. In this context, project planning procedures and project management styles are important aspects of participatory planning intervention strategies.

At the project management level, some of the study projects demonstrate variations in internal management styles regarding participation of the project staff in project planning. In the PUCD projects, for example, one of the obstacles to putting a participatory approach into practice is the fact that this methodological orientation has been insufficiently internalized by the project staff. The elaboration of annual workplans can be used as an important learning experience in this context, involving the participation of all levels of the project staff. Appropriate mechanisms have been established in some cases to make maximum use of field experiences and increased understanding of the different realities among the field staff. Three-monthly evaluation and planning workshops have proven to be exceptionally useful in developing a common understanding among the project team of the conceptual and methodological orientation of the project.

At the local level, participatory planning clearly has contributed to a strengthening of group self-confidence and capacity, particularly for disadvantaged groups such as the landless, women or the lowest castes. In many cases, training activities or study tours are organized by the project to support planning and decision-making. Study tours to other groups or villages where similar projects are being carried out can be a very effective training method. Aspects such as feasibility, pricing, marketing and investment are part of this learning process of assessing the opportunities and constraints involved in achieving certain objectives.

At government institution level, field experiences contribute to a better understanding of the need to adjust internal organization and to develop planning procedures in line with the institutions' new roles as service agencies. Instead of "selling" development packages as development agents in order to achieve centrally established targets, the institutions are gradually redefining their role in terms of providing support services that respond to locally identified needs and opportunities, as in Burundi, Pakistan (Malakand), Nicaragua and Bolivia.

Ironically, it is more complicated to achieve decentralized, bottom-up planning in the institutions than to strengthen local planning capacities at village level. The case studies illustrate that institutional reorientation requires a lot of time, and that it is one of the most complex challenges. At the same time, a number of the studies demonstrate that progress is possible in this area. One efficient tool used by some case study projects was to establish from the beginning a permanent dialogue with the institutions. This requires efficient and timely feedback during project implementation, to ensure that the effectiveness of participatory approaches and local planning can be clearly demonstrated. Systematic monitoring of the process and evaluation of the results in the field is indispensable to support the learning process at institutional level.

Local planning and empowerment

The case studies show that the issue of local planning is closely related to organization. In all projects, questions have been raised regarding how to approach traditional power structures and, simultaneously, how to prevent monopolization of decision-making.

Community forestry and resource management projects are dealing with scarce natural resources such as land, water and trees. These resources are owned and/or exploited by the better off and are frequently the cause of disputes and conflicts. Organizational structures and decision-making mechanisms are generally dominated by the local elite.

In most of the case studies, this issue has been the subject of serious discussion and analysis. In Nepal it was decided to focus on "community development conservation committees" (relatively small functional groups) instead of the village development committees. In Nicaragua, the project menu has been developed in such a way as to respond to the specific needs and constraints of disadvantaged groups, such as landless fuelwood collectors. In Pakistan, the approval of the community development plan in a village-wide meeting represents a kind of political backing for the land use management plans of specific user groups. Separate women's activities are carried out in both the PUCD and the non-PUCD projects in Pakistan. In Bolivia, an anthropological study on the traditional organizational structures of local Indian communities (Ayllus) was carried out. The results of this study have been extremely important in relating local planning to the functioning of the Ayllu system, in such a way as to reach all community members. In Senegal, strong traditions of local organization have permitted the development of intervillage farmers' organizations.

In spite of the efforts to promote broad-based participation in local planning, the experiences discussed lead to the conclusion that there are some constraints that are difficult or impossible to overcome. Strong local organizations are not automatically an effective instrument for participation in planning. At times, on the contrary, they can be major obstacles. Therefore, in many cases the most active "counterparts" of project staff in the field are the members of relatively small groups with shared interests, such as management committees, working groups or women's groups. These functional groups can, if necessary, mobilize other villagers to attend meetings, give their opinions or collaborate with them in all kinds of activities.

The case studies demonstrate that these functional groups play an important role in local project planning and implementation. In the PUCD projects, these groups are established based on the results of the appraisal phase of data collection and analysis. The groups define their own rules and elaborate their plan of activities with support from the project. In the established projects, various mechanisms have been developed. In the Bolivian case, these groups, with support from the project, are responsible for the appraisal and assessment phase. In Nicaragua, the Fuelwood Collectors' Associations have developed their own mechanisms and calendar for their members to present their management plans. In Senegal, the project starts with awareness raising activities, followed by identification and selection of priority actions. Organization and programming of these priority actions is done by the villagers themselves through the Reforestation Committee, assigning specific tasks to different groups. In the Malakand project in Pakistan, general appraisal and assessment by the project is followed by specific data collection by each of the land use management units, comprising several families. Thus, a wide variety of organizational systems have been found in the field, corresponding to the opportunities and constraints of the specific situations.

By preferring to establish working relations with local functional groups, most of the projects have not worked much with the community as a whole. In Rwanda and Burundi this is because local communities do not exist as clear social or spatial organizations. In most of the other cases, local conflicting interests are so strong (class, ethnicity, gender, caste) that a community-wide participatory approach to planning is not feasible (Nepal, Pakistan, Nicaragua and to a certain extent Senegal). In spite of this situation, part of the planning process can be oriented towards the elaboration of a "community development plan" (Pakistan/Malakand). Although these community development plans do not have a direct operational significance, they do constitute an important political framework at local level for the implementation of the land use management plans of individual groups. This strategy has proven to be effective in creating opportunities for participation in the planning exercise by more disadvantaged groups, such as small farmers and the landless.

This example also demonstrates that a differentiated strategy and approach is needed to achieve empowerment of disadvantaged groups and equitable distribution of benefits.

One of the assumptions of the study is that participatory planning enhances the integration of indigenous knowledge and management systems in the local planning process. The most evident argument to support this assumption is the fact that local groups prepare plans themselves, making decisions based on their own collective reflection and analysis of their needs, opportunities and constraints. This process of collective reflection through exercises such as timelines, daily profiles and transects stimulates them to express their own perceptions and to share their knowledge and practical experiences.

In the case studies, however, it is difficult to assess the extent to which local knowledge systems are actually being integrated into the technical components of local plans. In general, no explicit attention seems to be given at project level to systematically explore and record specific local knowledge systems for natural resource management. It appears that the elaboration of local plans makes use of "common local knowledge" regarding such areas as tree species, soils, water sources, sites, seasons, or crop calendars. On the other hand, local organizational structures and decision-making systems do constitute the framework for approval and implementation of the local plans, integrating local management skills and organizational expertise.

Institutional support and decentralized planning

The issue of institutional support and decentralized planning must be examined at two levels: the project level and the institutional level. Participatory planning activities may refer to different moments in the project cycle and to different levels. The case studies show that local people usually have not been directly involved in the identification and formulation of the projects. This is common practice and does not necessarily have negative consequences for project implementation afterwards. During the identification phase, planning of project implementation is part of the project plan of operations and covers the expected lifetime of the project. The project document and this global plan of operations constitute the framework for project implementation, and this framework needs to be highly flexible for participatory approaches in the field to be possible. This is clearly demonstrated in the PUCD cases, as well as in some of the other community forestry projects.

During project implementation, annual workplans are prepared, specifying which activities will be carried out and what kind of results can be expected. For these exercises "participatory planning" is central, since its outcome must be carried into the project plan. Most of the cases illustrate a growing capacity at project level to develop mechanisms for preparing annual workplans on the basis of the local plans. Three important points should be noted here. First, the preparation of "bottom-up" annual workplans should be seen as a participatory process at project, level, facilitating inputs from both field staff and technical support staff during planning workshops. Second, a systematic analysis of the results obtained so far (monitoring and evaluation data) constitutes a fundamental tool for the further improvement (technical, methodological and operational) of project interventions. Finally, for participatory planning processes at project level to function effectively, project management must incorporate (1) the ability to delegate project management tasks, (2) smooth channels for internal communication and (3) the creation of opportunities for reflection, analysis and sharing of experiences.

At field level, operational project planning is carried out on a weekly or monthly basis in the form of individual workplans of the field staff. It is at this level that fine tuning should take place between the local (village) plan of activities and the individual workplans of the field staff. A "common agenda" between the two should appear and become operational. However, it is at this level that serious constraints with far-reaching consequences can occur. The identification of adequate opportunities in time and space to schedule work with the respective local groups requires careful listening, observation and planning, as well as a high level of flexibility and commitment on the part of field staff. Unfortunately, these conditions are not easy to satisfy, and the high turnover rate of field staff, which is typical in most of the projects, affects the achievement of progressive results.

In general, the case studies have shown that institutional development has been rather limited in terms of establishing mechanisms for decentralized planning. This will eventually jeopardize the institutional sustainability of the participatory approach. Apparently, as noted above, it is much more difficult to establish and consolidate interinstitutional linkages for coordination, collaboration and support than to establish and consolidate working relationships with local communities. On the other hand, in most of the countries where the case studies were carried out, processes of decentralization and privatization are under way in the context of structural adjustment programmes, with far-reaching consequences for the institutional framework in terms of decision-making, policy formulation and planning. The case studies from Nicaragua, Bolivia, Senegal, Rwanda and Burundi contain examples of institutional networking between regional, provincial and municipal governmental and non-governmental organizations, clearly demonstrating that abundant new opportunities exist in this context.

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