Do communities need funds or facilitation?

| July 6, 2015

MUSHENGEZI- BIRINDWA PascalA group of villages in Haryana, India came together to build a much-needed bridge to reduce travel time to the nearest town. This sounds like the sort of community initiative that donors have been supporting for more than a decade with community driven development (CDD) programmes. Except it isn’t.

It isn’t partly because the villagers in Haryana acted on their own initiative without any outside help. Fed up with being ignored by politicians and the local government, the villagers crowdsourced financing for the bridge. But it also isn’t because few CDD programmes actually operate in the way the villagers in Haryana did when they decided to get together and build a bridge.

Staff at 3ie are currently undertaking a review of CDD programmes. Several recent studies, such as the 3ie-funded impact evaluation of the Tungaane programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo and GoBifo in Sierra Leone, have confirmed what earlier (sometimes less rigorous studies) have shown. That is, CDD programmes are successful in building social infrastructure but not in building social capital.

This finding has not surprised me. We found the same in the World Bank review of social funds I worked on fifteen years ago and in a 3ie systematic review done five years ago. CDD programmes use rather than produce social capital. What has surprised me is the extent to which many CDD programmes really aren’t community-driven.

During the World Bank social funds study, I carried out fieldwork in Malawi and Zambia. Especially in Zambia, the social fund operated a pure CDD model. The social fund agency promoted the fund, but it was left to communities to get together, decide on a project and apply for funding. It turns out that this approach is more of an exception than the norm. In many CDD projects, the decision-making and application process is facilitated by outsiders. A chunk of project resources are used not for funding things communities want, but paying NGOs to train communities in how to hold meetings and help communities decide on what they want.

Now, facilitation may be useful. It can help ensure that the voices of the marginalised are heard, that poorer communities without the skills and connections get to apply and develop skills in project management. But I do wonder if communities that already have community-level decision-making bodies need outsiders to help them hold meetings and to decide their priority needs.

We are still analysing the data to test the hypothesis that there has been an innate tendency to bureaucratisation in the design and implementation of CDD projects. More recent projects have greater degrees of external facilitation at every stage of the project cycle. Communities apparently need help to form decision-making structures and determine their priorities. Who says so?

Earlier this year, 3ie hosted a consultative workshop for its Innovations for Increasing Immunisation Thematic Window . At that workshop, I facilitated a session on transferable lessons from development programmes that involved community engagement. The participants were asked to group lessons as being ‘essential’, ‘sometimes useful’ and ‘silly ideas’. The greatest consensus was that external facilitation was essential for community development. That was a consensus amongst researchers and development practitioners. There were no community members from low- and middle-income countries taking part in the workshop to give their views. The villagers in Haryana may not agree.

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