Thursday, October 30, 2008

Advantages and challenges of community participation in Community Economic Development: A case of Uluguru Mountain Road project in Morogoro Rural Dist

Over the last decade, terms such as community mobilization, citizen involvement, community participation, community organizing, community dialogue, multi-stakeholder processes, interactive decision-making and social learning have been frequently used in the literature of community development. These terms embody the idea of bringing together different stakeholders (actors) who have an interest in a problem situation and engaging them in processes of dialogue and collective learning that can improve innovation, decision-making and action. For the purpose of this paper the term community participation has been used to discuss the benefits and challenges of community participation for community economic development, a case of Uluguru Mountain Road Project that was facilitated by Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF) in Morogoro Rural District. The first section of the paper will sight some literatures, on what is community and community participation. It will then discuss the process and principles of participation, why need community participation by pointing out its advantages and challenges that are faced in the process of achieving Community Economic Development programs and finally recommendation and conclusion.
What is community?
The term community is a changing and complex that might mean differently at different environment or situation and can have very different implications in practice. Various scholars have defined community in different ways as follows:
Stewart E. Perry defines community as commonly used in two different senses. The first definition refers to any category of people who are related to each other by virtue of specific common interest and values, for example the disabled, the members of Catholic Church, women, low income people and artists. The second meaning specify a category of people who are related to each other by virtue of living in the same particular locality which implies that they also have shared values and interest, arising from their common locality.
Alinsky Redux define community from a public health perspective as "a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action. It is the term "joint action" that changes a “field of shared meaning” into a community of solidarity and joint action does not come out of a vacuum, it always needs to be organized.
UNAIDS defines ``community'' in its widest and most inclusive sense by pointing out that a community is a group of people who have something in common and will act together in their common interest. A community's ability to act together may have existed for centuries, or it may be triggered in a very short time by some urgent problem. Many people belong to a number of different communities – examples include the place they live, the people they work with, or their religious group.
Therefore for the purpose of this paper community is a group of people with shared interest or goal within a specific locality: A case of Uluguru Mountain Road Project.
What is participation?
Participation has different meanings to different people as it has been pointed out by various scholars. The few definitions are as follows:
Oxford (1995) considers participation as taking part in something. While Freire (1998) says Participation is not only about people. It is a process where planners and change agents must take part. He further argues that, development organizations need to discover problems with people, but also allowing potentials for further action and reflection. While on the other hand Save the children (2003) in its discussion paper defines “participation as the process of allowing Children and youth to take part in the decision of their affairs”
The key similarities identified on both definitions consider sharing and taking part as key concepts in participation, they all talk about people as key actors and working together. They bring out the fact that human beings learn better through participation.
In communities where participation is encouraged there is high production and sharing of experiences and ideas. It gives communities chances to make decisions on their development activities
Community Participation process:
According to the definitions above, participation can occur at any stage in the development cycle as (Markey, 2003:64) has pointed out as follows: Firstly in articulating goals and objectives; secondly in the choice and implementation of development strategies; and thirdly through the use of local resources as a significant component of the initiative. Another way to put this is that there are opportunities for participation in research or situation analysis, planning, implementation and evaluation -- in short, at every stage of a development initiative. Community participation is an interactive process of ongoing dialogue between members of the public, key stakeholder groups, technical professionals, and local decision makers. It is not something that can happen effectively in a single meeting, particularly in a formal public hearing, where each person has limited time to present their opinion, and there is no opportunity for meaningful dialogue and consensus building between stakeholders. Community participation happens throughout the process, not just once. There should be at least one opportunity for community input in each phase.
Principles of community participation:
Through various literatures community participation has the following principles: Firstly, facilitate high quality dialogue that participation becomes more than just having facilitator’s say,” but also includes “listening to others have their say” and seeking out common ground and potential solutions. A skilled facilitator with appropriate sensibilities is essential, helping all participants to keep an open mind and to develop strategies that are in the best interest of the community as a whole. The quality dialogue should lead towards desirable outcomes: as follows: Is it deepening understanding? Is it building relationships? Is it expanding possibilities? Most public forums need good facilitation to ensure high quality dialogue.
Secondly, respond to all input and opinion given by community members to ensure every one has been heard and their input have been given due consideration. Ultimately, join in collaborative deliberation and co-creative problem-solving. The diversity of perspectives engaged in a wide participatory process will maximize the diversity of the views and ideas of community members that are affected by the problem. This will include the community wisdom and buy-in come from the fair and creative inclusion of all relevant perspectives: viewpoints, cultures, information, experiences, needs, interests, values, contributions and dreams will make valuable contributions toward the wise resolution of their situation.
Thirdly, empower the people's engagement to the extent that people feel involved in the identification and ratification of decisions made on the solution either directly or by recognized representatives. The decision-making process will be appreciated by everybody by saying that we, the community members made this decision thus they will support the implementation of those decisions as they clearly see the impact of their diverse contributions in the final outcome.
Fourthly, build Consensus, understanding that not everyone will completely agree on everything. Identify areas of agreement, acknowledging the usually significant areas of “common ground” among participants, and then focus on developing potential resolutions to areas of disagreement.
Fifthly, promote Transparency so that even if people disagree with the outcome of the process, they understand how it was reached and the reasons behind the decisions made. The documentation of the process should be clear and complete to provide full understanding of the decisions made.
Sixthly, follow-through on Commitments made through the community development process, and establishes mechanisms for monitoring of ongoing participation in the implementation process. It also recognize that the process of community engagement and participation is ongoing and an essential component of community development. One-time events such as public meetings and conferences are not sufficient for a larger ongoing participatory process as they are limited in their capacity to generate collective intelligence for a whole community or society.
Why community participation?
The objective of community participation is to strengthen the community’s capacity to identify problems and come up with the solutions, carry out action plans, as well as monitor the progress and make an appropriate evaluation, measurement, and analysis of impact and results and give feedback to the stakeholder, community and others who wish to learn about the program.
Community development facilitators (Government, Non Government Organizations, Faith Based Organizations, and Community Based Organizations) are involved in community participation process through various approaches. These includes: public community meetings, community dialogue/ conversation, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Strength Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threat (SWOT) analysis, Opportunities and Obstacle to Development (O & OD) promoted by Tanzanian Government. The approaches has been among of the most approaches applied within a community to identify problems, resources, locate resources, analyze local power structures, assess human needs, gender relations and investigate other concerns that comprise the community's character. By doing that the community becomes well informed and are aware of their shared concern or common need, and decides together to take action in order to create shared benefits. Community participation involves the community members at every stage of community economic development cycle.
Advantages of community participation:
Community participation emerged as an alternative approach to traditional community development as it was founded in the belief that problems facing community need to be solved by the community itself as they know what are real problems and solutions for their problems. Therefore the advantages of community participation are as follows:
Firstly, it empowers community members as it opens doors for exchange of ideas and sharing. It encourages active involvement through the participation of all members of the community in the planning, decision-making and it seeks to remove the barriers that limit the participation of marginalized citizens. It supports decentralized, non-hierarchical decision-making processes that strengthen the autonomy of the individuals in the community.
Secondly, Community participation builds on local strengths, creativity and resource, and actively seeks to decrease dependency on, and vulnerability to, economic interests outside the community as a result sustainability is ensured. This has been recognized by The Government of Tanzania that unless there is substantial improvement in institutional and fiscal capacity at the local level, effective and sustainable service delivery will not materialize. Government's basic strategy to bring about such institutional and fiscal improvements is decentralization, specifically the Local Government Reform Program (LGRP.) The LGRP which was effectively launched in 1999 that is focused on a medium to long term process of legal and institutional reform, local accountability and the promotion of community involvement in the planning and execution of infrastructure and service-delivery projects community driven development, (CDD.) It is housed in the Prime Ministers Office - Regional Administration and Local Government (PMO-RALG).
In this paper community participation has been evidenced in the implementation of the Uluguru Mountain road project in Morogoro Rural District. The project was facilitated by Tanzanian Social Action Fund. (TASAF). It involved the Uluguru Mountains community members fully in the identification, implementation and monitoring of the Kinole to Tegetero (twelve kilometers) village road construction project. The PRA approach was applied.
The community elected a committee among the community members to oversee and manage the project implementation. Apart from the committee community members participated in various activities of the road construction. They participated in contributing financial and labor e.g. digging of the trenches and fetching water during the construction of the road.
Thirdly, through community participation process there is equity in decision making processes, resources mobilization and benefits of the Community Economic Development regardless of race, gender, income, age and ability. Both are motivated to participate in decision-making on what actions to take, evaluate the results, and take responsibility for both success and failure. As a case of Uluguru Mountain road project all members in the community had equal decision making and use of the resources and benefits among the members through the elected leadership that was supervising the project.
Fourthly community participation process builds the capacity of the community by encouraging the acquisition of relevant skills in the identification of local resources, implementation, monitoring and evaluation for the sustainability of the project. A case of the Uluguru Mountain, community members were able to identify resources available in the community and outside. These included stones, sand, water and manpower that were available in the community and also the community identified TASAF as an outsider stakeholder that provided funds to hire equipments and purchase of material for road construction. Not only that the Uluguru management committee was exposed to project management skills these included leadership and financial management. On the other hand, the community members gained skills in road construction and maintenance.
Challenges in community participation:
There are certain things that can hinder community participation process in various ways as follows: Firstly, Government and development practitioners, political and legal structures do not encourage or give room for community participation. Most of the programs for community development are identified by the Government or Non Government organizations communities are just involved at the implementation level as a result most of the programs fails as they do not meet the community expectations and the real community needs.
Secondly, Government and NGOs that work with communities are often primarily motivated by their strong sense of urgency about achieving their preset objectives and timeline. They are likely to be frustrated by what they perceive to be a lack of progress. At the same time, community members can be irritated, offended or simply confused by the expectations of the facilitators. For example most of government and donors funded project do have pre-determined life spans of initiatives. Many community projects have a pre-planned project design imposed on them without the wide participation of community members. Typically, such a design has a specific schedule, including a fixed end-date and rigid reporting requirements. This builds inflexibility into the project from the start and frequently imposes an unrealistic pace on it. Inflexible planning often cannot adapt to events that are highly important to community members. For example a case of Uluguru Mountain road construction project, TASAF has a financial year period for ending the project that did not include the activities of the community such as farming season. During the road construction community members were fully involved in agriculture and there were no such time to participate in road construction activities. This led to delayed completion of road construction as per TASAF financial year.
Thirdly, incomplete participation or representation in decision making causes a risk that community leaders and influential people in the community whether traditional or external do not represent the whole community, but instead focus on their own concerns or agendas. At the same time, certain groups within the larger community whose participation can be highly important to community economic development may be marginalized or ignored due to culture and classes. This was observed in a case of the Uluguru Mountain road construction whereby women were often reluctant to speak publicly due to culture and religious norms. As per waluguru tribe who are most Moslem, women were not allowed to speak in the public as a result was not given room to participate during the planning processes which did not consider women’s other activities such as agriculture. In view of that the road construction was delayed as women were supposed to fetch water for the road construction instead they were busy with agriculture activities.
Firstly, community development practitioners need to ensure that community members take ownership of the initiative. It is generally accepted that a true community-based initiative is one in which local people will say, we did it ourselves. This basic principle of community participation is frequently forgotten in the haste of many community initiatives. Facilitators and sponsors may rush the mobilization process in order to meet their planned goals, and in so doing, jeopardize its long-term success.
Secondly, creating strong links to outside resources and development partners as communities are not closed and self- sustaining systems. The ability of communities no matter how well organized and motivated to meet all of their needs is limited. These limits must be recognized and then planned.
Thirdly, for a successful community participation requires a strong skilled local leadership through a process of leadership development, community mobilization, capacity building, education, and consciousness raising on how-to organize communities that encompass such skills as chairing meetings, negotiating with government and NGOs institutions, fundraising, and handling budgets etc
Fourthly, optimal community leadership and optimal representation must be invested not only in supporting good leadership but in ensuring optimal representation. The participation of marginalized groups such as women, youth, old and poor class is an important part of community economic development.
Fifthly, Government need to promote community participation by encouraging grassroots self-help efforts like Uruguru Mountain road project in several ways, including funding direct operations, training, and subsidiary activities of community groups; making public information accessible to community organizations; and giving community organizations a legitimate role in the public policy process through the local government reform that advocate for community organized activities.
Community participation is a vital important strategy in efforts to work with community to improve their Community Economic Development. It respects the rights and ability of indigenous and other community members to design and implement programs within their community. It also opens the way for community members to act responsibly. Whether a participatory approach is the primary strategy or a complementary one, it will greatly enrich and strengthen programs and help achieve more sustainable, appropriate, and effective programs in the field. For real Community Economic Development calls for active citizen involvement in a development process which brings together a diversity of community interests and sectors. The central credo of CED according to Douglas (1994) is to develop the competency of the community to deal with its own problems. Real participation is an essential ingredient to building community competency.

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