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Asian Development Bank

Chapter 6.4 Communities and participation

Facilitating CBDRM

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CBDRM requires a number of operational choices about the time and scope of the process, and the methods to be used. It also requires skilled facilitation: these skills must be learnt. The following paragraphs highlight a few of the main issues (appropriate communications methods, which are vitally important here, are discussed in more detail in Chapter 10). CBDRM is often a long process involving several steps from identification and analysis of problems, through decision-making and planning to action and evaluation. Community participation should take place throughout this process, at each of these steps.

6.4.1 Entry points

The first problem for agencies is finding an appropriate entry point to the community. The choice of entry point will depend primarily on the nature of the community concerned. In some cases, it might be through customary local authorities (such as village elders, heads of clans or religious leaders), local teachers or traditional forms of association such as forums for regulating water, funeral societies or occupational groups. In other cases, it might be directly through the poorest and most vulnerable – for instance women-headed households or landless families.

Decisions of this kind require careful calculation of the likely consequences, based on an understanding of the community’s structure and the different needs of its sub-groups. Will working through a particular entry point enable the initiative to reach the most vulnerable, or does it run the risk of the project being ‘captured’ by local elites? Will some sections of the community (e.g. traditional leaders) be alienated if the process begins with other, traditionally marginal or disempowered, groups? It is not easy for a DRM organisation to maintain neutrality if it appears to some community members that it has taken sides. Some people may simply distrust outsiders.

6.4.2 Processes and methods

Participatory processes for CBDRM must be inclusive, involving all sections of the community in assessing existing and potential situations, creating a common vision of the future, identifying practical opportunities, setting priorities for action and designing interventions. There is a wide choice of participatory learning and action (PLA) methods and tools available to support this.+See http://www.participatorymethods.org; http://communityplanning.net; http://www.iied.org/participatory-learning-action. They can be grouped into six main kinds (see also Chapter 11.4):+These categories, which are applicable to development initiatives in general, are taken from R. Chambers, Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last (London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1997), pp. 130–61.

  1. Spatial – mapping and modelling. This is particularly useful in risk and vulnerability assessment. For example, it can be used to identify hazards and dangerous locations, map water systems and rainfall, identify areas affected by erosion, loss of vegetation or pest infestation and identify vulnerable groups and capacities and assets within the community.
  2. Nominal – collecting, naming or listing. These activities can collect information about communities and their environment: for example, naming and sequencing coping strategies used in times of food crisis, listing health problems in order of frequency or importance and identifying the causes and consequences of deforestation.
  3. Temporal – putting events in sequence. This could be through personal and ecological histories, disaster timelines, disaster visualisation, seasonal calendars, community time lines or re-enacting events. These methods can reveal the changing nature of vulnerability and the effectiveness of previous preparedness or response measures.
  4. Ordinal – sorting, comparing and ranking. This can be used to identify the most vulnerable individuals and households.
  5. Numerical – counting, estimating, comparing, scoring. Methods of this kind could be used in assessing disaster losses or quantifying the value of some kinds of livelihood asset.
  6. Relational – linking, relating. This can help facilitators understand how different parts of the community relate to each other and identify power structures. It also allows people to show how their problems relate to one another: for example, how the effects of drought might be linked to land tenure arrangements, or to gender-based divisions of labour, using a problem tree.

The choice of tools needs careful consideration. Users must be clear what aspects of the question they want to investigate, what information they are looking for and what methods will obtain that information. PLA tools do not automatically provide all the answers to what may be complex questions, and important issues can easily be overlooked.

6.4.3 Participation and projects

In some cases participation is an end in itself, enabling men and women to learn, organise, decide, plan and take action without other specific goals in mind. More often it is geared to some kind of formal project or programme supported by outside agencies, usually with external funding. Those responsible for such projects and programmes have to make tricky operational decisions about when to stop analysing and start planning and implementation. The process is not crudely linear: good participatory processes involve ongoing reappraisal and willingness to change project design and activity in response to people’s feedback and new insights. Nevertheless, the shift from appraisal to operations is significant within the project cycle, and must be managed carefully.

The timetable for analysis of problems and opportunities, for methods of research and action and for planning new activities should be based upon a careful consideration of the local context, the specific concerns to be addressed, the institutions involved in collaborative efforts and the objectives of local and outside actors. Collaborative actions may be limited to specific initiatives for the immediate future (a few months, one or two years), or they might be viewed as a genuinely long-term programme (ten years or more). Participation works best as a process over long periods of time, allowing for reflection and modification in the light of experience and contextual changes. However, participatory approaches are just as valid in short-term projects and in emergencies. External agencies themselves vary greatly in the extent to which they ensure beneficiary participation within their own programmes. Some support local partners to build their capacity, others deliver services directly, but all should be prepared to enter into long-term relationships with communities if their interventions are to make a meaningful improvement. The aim should be to facilitate community mobilisation, action and empowerment.

Communities are always undergoing change, as are their circumstances, needs and resources; sometimes these changes are rapid. Participation must therefore be a dynamic process, which implies constant readjustment of understanding, planning and implementation. This is not easy, and may be particularly difficult for external actors who have to work to less flexible schedules and targets set down by managers or donors. Understanding of what participation implies must reach right up the management chain.