Participatory District Planning

Planning with and for your People

More and more countries decentralize decision-making from national to sub-national level. While the capital still develops the overall policies for a country, it’s the districts that formulate and implement targeted interventions to reduce food insecurity, vulnerability and poverty. Every region in a country may have different needs and priorities. Public officers, based in a specific region, are familiar with the context of this area and are thus better placed to identify the most appropriate measures to target the most vulnerable and food insecure. Civil society in turn has a better chance to interact with public officials and participate in decision-making processes. Local governments are easier accessible which facilitates participation in decision-making by civil society, NGOs and the private sector.

The problem though is that local government is often understaffed, has huge staff turn-over and low technical capacity. The available budget is far too low and essential equipment to govern a district are missing. Civil society is often unaware of public processes and wouldn’t know how to make their voice heard.

Convinced that a huge potential is laying dormant, the Right to Food Team set out to support district development planning. The goal was to improve the plans (the content) and how they are produced (the process). A special focus was on the right to food.

Given the immense constraints (see annex) at district level in a poor country, improvements take time and can evolve only gradually. The Kambia district in Sierra Leone, for instance, has incrementally improved the planning process:

Sequential improvements in district development planning process
(example of Kambia)




No Media Sensitization

No Media Sensitization

Sustained Media Sensitization

Weak Situation Analysis in District Development Plan due to inadequate data

Weak Situation Analysis in District Development Plan due to inadequate data

Improved Situation Analysis due to available data for District Development Plan

Needs Assessment at chiefdom level, Converging Ward Development Committee (WDC) Members at chiefdom headquarter level

Limited Local Technical Planning Meeting and no Development Coordination Forum (Limited Consultations)

Optimal Consultations: Local Technical Planning Committee Meeting, Development Coordination Forum and Ward Meetings

Sustained  Consultations: Council Ordinary Meetings, Local Technical Planning Committee Meeting, Development Coordination Forum and Ward Meetings

Participatory Poverty Analysis (PPA) was used as a tool (focus group discussion and Budget Game only) in the collection of data

Participatory Poverty Analysis was used as tool (Focus Group Discussion, Semi-Structure Interview and Budget Game) for the collection of data

The Participatory Rural Appraisal method was used in data collection (Focus group discussion, Semi–structured interview, Social/Ward mapping, Budget game and Ward Profile)

12 Ward Development Committee members for focus group discussions

17 participants (12 WDC and 5 other Community Members) for Ward Level Consultations

25 participants: 12 WDC and 13 other Community Members for Ward Level Consultations

Centralized validation of the draft Development Plan by Councilors and MDAs
(No representation from ward level except the Councilors)

Centralized (District) Validation with a cross section of WDC
(3 representatives from
each ward)

Post validation at FAO country office with RtF Implementing Partners and Administrative staff of Moyamba District Council

Decentralized (chiefdom) Validation with a cross section of WDC (7 representatives from each ward), Civil Society, Development Partners and Council staff

A consultant was hired for the Review of the District Development Plan to increase quality of document and validate the process

No Public Hearing and distribution of the Approved and Adopted District Development Plan

No Public Hearing and distribution of the Approved and Adopted District Development Plan

Public Hearing and distribution of the Approved and Adopted District Development Plan to WDC and Development Partners

No printing of the Approved and Adopted District Development Plan

Printing of some copies of the District Development Plan

Printing of 80 copies of the District Development Plan

1 The Local Government Act 2004 mandates Councils to review the District Development Plan (DDP) as and when necessary (minimum every three years). In 2011, the district didn’t review the DDP.


In a nutshell, planning in Kambia became more and more participatory. It involved more civil society representatives, ensured that all wards (sub-districts) were included even if located in places that are difficult to access, printing more copies of the plan for the perusal of all interested and invited feedback in public hearings.

In addition to a better process, the relevance of the district plan has improved considerably.
In the past, funds from development partners were not reflected and their activities not aligned with the plan. This has changed. Thanks to a functioning food security and nutrition committee and an active involvement of all stakeholders in planning processes, the plan did become what it should be: a plan that reflects all activities in the district and that can guide new organizations where to invest and in what.

This is not trivial. According to many donors, the main reason for not investing at district or community level, is that the priorities are similar to a “shopping list” and not the basis of a rigid analysis and with the involvement of civil society. If the process is proper, donors show more interest. This link can be shown in the case of Zanzibar: the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF) invested in action plans at shehia level (sub-district level). For instance, Kizimkazi Dimbani, South district, Zanzibar, received funds for its vegetable production.

More of the same is expected in Uganda, Sierra Leone and Zanzibar. All district plans supported by FAO are new more solid plans, which better reflect the specific needs of the districts. Further, local government is supported in preparing simple investment plans and communicating their needs to potential donors.

Annex: Common constraints in integrating food security and the right to food into district plans

Lack of or non-functional Food Security Committees

In many countries, districts do not have food security committees and even where similar committees exist their functionality could not be established. A major focus of these committees tends to be on short term emergency responses informed by rapid assessments of the food situation rather than longer-term solutions to the problem.

Financing of Local Government (LG) Plans

The major challenge to the decentralisation policy is the inability of local government to raise adequate revenue to finance service delivery. LGs continue to depend on grants from the central government to finance their budgets or from development partners. Typically, intergovernmental transfers are highly conditional and limit the ability of LGs to apply flexibility in order to tailor expenditure to circumstances which are peculiar to their localities.

Staffing shortages in local governments

The inability of local governments, particularly in remote areas, to attract and retain enough staff is a serious constraint to effective service delivery.

Inadequacy of food security information

Local governments often do not have the human and financial resources to obtain necessary food security and nutrition information that can form the basis for identifying the necessary activities to tackle the underlying reasons for food insecurity. In addition, the lack of information and knowledge who the vulnerable groups are, where they are located and why they are food insecure present a serious constraint for implementing targeted interventions.

Inadequate participation by civil society

Challenges exist in making planning and budgeting sufficiently participatory and all-inclusive especially with regard to inclusion of lower local councils. In some districts with high density of NGOs, a consultation fatigue can be found, resulting in an expectation to be paid for participating in government planning.

Difficulty in holding governments accountable

Individuals do not appreciate their right to hold their government to account. In addition, civil society often has no knowledge of government policies, plans and budgets and lacks tools to monitor government. Lastly, accountability and complaint mechanisms often do not exist or are not easily accessible.

© FlickrCC/Ricki Melchior