5 Steps to Participatory Community Development
By Collins Juma, Research Assistant
August 6, 2012
As the adage goes, no man is an island. However, involving people especially in development circles is never an easy task. As a researcher, you will time and again find yourself asking, ‘of what benefit is my research to the community?’ It is important to ensure that community members are part and parcel of the research process which is expected to accrue benefits in their favor. Since most of APHRC’s research activities are conducted in poor slum settlements in Nairobi, participatory community engagement is crucial to the Center’s success. Besides research, APHRC has also undertaken a number of community development initiatives which would all hit a snag if the beneficiaries were not incorporated in the planning and execution processes.
New research is born from new ideas. For new ideas to thrive in an organization, they need buy-in from the key decision makers. The easiest way to get your voice heard is to walk with someone in an influential capacity. Get them to support and own the idea. More often than not, we are tempted to jump the gun but if you are keen on being a successful researcher, an inclusive attitude will do you good.
4. Identify a Need
There are far too many problems in every part of the world but we cannot handle them all. Urbanization experts have described slum settlements, where a lot of APHRC’s research is undertaken, as areas of ‘concentrated risks’. A community problem analysis and/or needs assessment forum can be a good entry point. To make the exercise even simpler, the process could be thematic. For instance a forum of researchers, Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Community Health Champions (CHCs), local administration and clergy could be used to assess the problems/needs of a community that could have an impact on child feeding and nutrition. The same approach can be used to solve housing challenges, security, sanitation etc.
Needs may also emanate from research findings. The process of sharing such research findings requires creative dissemination such as presenting the findings in animated forms, community maps and demonstrations.
3. Community Champion(s)
A champion provides and sustains the interest of people in a matter that is new or not widely understood. Communities in urban areas rarely exist as homogenous groups. The distinctions range from age, gender, ethnicity and wealth among others. Every slum has its own structures that need to be respected. But it is essential to beware of community gate keepers who trap information and the attached benefits for selfish gain. The process of getting trusted leaders should therefore be a transparent one, with reputable leaders being selected by consensus or at worst, free and fair voting by all community members. The success of your research work lies squarely on the kind of person selected as the community champion.
The community participation process is usually very cyclic. However, this cannot be an excuse to evade planning; as the saying goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’. I cannot begin to describe a community engagement plan here, but the key components will include a list of actors, their interests and resources such as: funds, tools, personnel and time
Evaluation is the scariest aspect of an intervention especially for those not keen on the long-term impact. But for you to make your input worthwhile, it is important to look back and assess what worked and what didn’t. As had I stated earlier, the participatory process is a cyclic one. There are things you can learn from those who preceded you and improve your chances of success.