role of community participation in the design and Implementation of community interventions

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Traditionally a “community” has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or international community, Wikipedia 2011.
Community participation is the sociological process by which residents organize themselves and become involved at the level of a living area or a neighborhood, to improve the conditions of daily life (water, sanitation, health, education). It comprises various degrees of individual or collective involvement (financial and/or physical contributions, social and/or political commitment) at different stages of a project. Since, it implies that residents set up management committees in charge of equipment, Moningka L. (2000).

Laura Moningka (2000) adds that community participation can be seen as a process in which community members are involved at different stages and degrees of intensity in the project cycle with the objective to build the capacity of the community to maintain services created during the project after the facilitating organisations have left. Community participation throughout the whole project, thus from project design and implementation to evaluation, ensures the reflection of community priorities and needs in the activities of the project and motivates communities into maintaining and operating project activities after the project is completed.
Community participation processes include an identification of stakeholders, establishing systems that allow for engagement with stakeholders by public officials, and development of a wide range of participatory mechanisms, Laura 2000. Stakeholders are individuals who belong to various identified ‘communities’ and whose lives are affected by specific policies and programs, and/or those who have basic rights as citizens to express their views on public issues and actions. Chambers (2002), highlights the value of engagement with stakeholders in terms of greater local ownership of public actions or development projects.

Role of community participation
Many local authorities in developing countries suffer from a lack of financial, technical and human resources and are therefore not capable or willing to deliver and maintain urban basic services. Possible benefits of community participation for projects are:

Increasing democracy.
Community participation in decision-making, planning and action is a human right. An increasing number of citizens are disillusioned with the government and want to see more participatory approaches to democracy. It is increasingly being argued that new styles and structures of governance are needed that transcend people being viewed as passive recipients of services provided by agencies and decided by elected representatives and enable genuine participation, empowerment and citizenship, Tam,H.(1995).
Participation leads to improvement of project design and effectiveness. If the community is involved in the design of the project, it is possible to integrate its needs and constraints in the objectives of the project and in this way come to a more effective implementation.
Sustainability.
Involving the community in the project may increase local ownership of projects and enhance a sense of responsibility for maintaining services provided by projects. These aspects are both essential for the durability and continuity of projects. Community participation is essential if interventions and programmes aimed at promoting health, well being, quality of life and environmental protection are to be widely owned and sustainable. However, such sustainability requires that the community participation process itself be sustainable, with fundamental prerequisites being in place, Tam, H. (1995).

Project efficiency.
Community participation may be used to enhance the understanding and agreement of cost sharing (both financial and physical contribution). Furthermore, community participation can be used to prevent conflicts and to stimulate cooperation and agreement between different actors. In this way delays in project execution can be reduced and overall costs minimized.

Community participation has a role of increasing awareness of knowledge and capacities, to improve the ability to negotiate as equals with authorities and other stakeholders to promote common objectives, and increase responsiveness to conflicts within the community. Community participation helps in building local capacities and capabilities. Participation in decision making ensures that the different needs and problems of the community are integrated in the project’s objectives.

Empowerment;
Community participation may give people the opportunity to devise and initiate strategies to improve their situation. Empowerment is a continual process whereby individuals and/or communities gain the confidence, self-esteem, understanding and power necessary to articulate their concerns, ensure that action is taken to address them and, more broadly gain control over their lives, Schuftan, C.1996.

Role of improving accountability;
Involves creating increased transparency from community involvement with public sector agencies, community participation in management, and community participation in public hearings, Cummins 2007.

Citizens can exert their collective voice (which occurs in the relationships between citizens and policy makers) to influence policy, strategies and expenditure priorities at different levels of policy making (national and local) according to their wishes and preferences
Strengthening the citizen’s voice enhances accountability of policy makers motivating them to be responsive to the needs of communities and stimulates demand for better public services from service providers. Local communities in can be empowered by law to recall their leaders, which motivate elected leaders to be more responsible to the needs of their communities. Citizens can also exercise power as the end users of services.

Improved information about services being provided at the local level, as well as a choice of providers, can represent important elements of client power.

The accountability of providers to poor people can also be strengthened through mechanisms for poor people to voice their priorities and views. In this case, the path to enforceability is through clients’ various forms of interaction —encouragement and complaints. Although parents cannot monitor all aspects of education, they can monitor attendance by teachers and even illiterate parents can tell if their children are learning to read and write.

Allocative efficiency;
Involving the community in the program can lead to a greater awareness of service delivery problems and often members of the community can suggest appropriate and effective solutions. Improving various dimensions of allocative efficiency include; greater attention to the priorities of communities, increased transparency on budgets and public resources through such mechanisms as public budgeting and Public Expenditures Tracking systems, and a subsequent reduction on ‘rent seeking” by those in positions of power.
Improving technical efficiency;
Improving allocative efficiency; and improving mechanisms of accountability. Community participation initiatives are related to technical efficiency through such areas as overcoming information asymmetry, providing communities with information on quality through various forms of Monitoring and Evaluation, and ensuring that resources are spent for necessary technical resources by service providers. Clients are usually in a better position to monitor programs and services than most supervisors in public sector agencies—who provide the compact and management. When the policymaker- provider link is weak clients may be the best positioned due their regular interaction with frontline providers. As documented in the case of Educo, where parents had the ability to hire and fire, as well as monitor teachers World Bank (2003), improvements in basic education often depend on participation by parents Mozumder and Halim (2006),.

Mobilizing resources;
Communities have a wealth of untapped resources and energy that can be harnessed and mobilized through community participation, using a range of practical techniques that can engage people and, where appropriate, train and employ them in community development work. There is a clear tension here between mobilizing resources in a way that empowers communities and mobilizing to reduce the cost of providing services, Robertson (1994)
Combating exclusion;
Community development and community organizing often works with specific groups of the population, especially those that are marginalized and disadvantaged. The changing contexts within and between European countries (such as increase in asylum seekers) can pose special cultural and political challenges and require that workers be equipped with relevant skills, knowledge and
b. What are the limitations of community participation? Illustrate with examples.
Community participation may have its own limitations and these may include;
Lack of understanding of the Policy Process and interventions
Before rural communities can make attempts to impact public policy or an intervention, it is important that they have an understanding of the policy-making process itself. Understanding the policy-making process can help individuals and community-based organizations decide whether they will become involved in trying to develop or change a policy and, if so, how to best go about it. Unfortunately, the policy-making process tends to be very complex making it difficult for almost anyone to understand it completely. However, understanding the process can help empower individuals and community-based organizations to impact policy Dukeshire S. et al (2002).

Lack of Resources
In order for communities to fully participate in the policy-making process, it is necessary for their members to have access to resources. These resources include adequate funding, government training programs, education, leaders, and volunteers to support rural causes and initiatives. Many rural communities tend to lack one or more of these resources, a situation which interferes with their ability to effectively impact the policy-making process.
Having inadequate resources negatively impacts a rural community’s ability to effectively influence and develop policy compared to other players in the policymaking process. For example, corporations and professional organizations often have access to large amounts of financial and human resources. This creates an inequity whereby community organizations that may be equally or even more affected by policy change do not have the same opportunity to participate in and influence the process.

Reliance on Volunteers
Lack of access to financial resources necessary to address problems and concerns of rural communities leads to organizations relying on volunteers to carry out community-based activities. Low populations in rural areas can result in the availability of only a small number of volunteers to carry out all the necessary activities demanded by their community organizations. This situation can lead to a reluctance to become involved in the complex policy-making process. Even more difficult is finding individuals within rural communities with the skills, abilities and desire to initiate and champion rural policy development. Further, there tends to be a lack of programs to train, support and motivate new leaders and volunteers. As a result of a lack of these resources, some community leaders and volunteers face burnout that affects their productivity and progress in furthering the work to help their community. In addition, the loss of youth from rural communities results in a depletion of potential future community leaders and volunteers.

Another factor which can be considered contributing to the absence of a volunteer pool may be the political and social visibility that can result from becoming active in the policy-making process. Such visibility may be uncomfortable for some and emphasize the vulnerability of certain community members, for example, those of low socioeconomic status.

Lack of Access to Information
Rural citizens have indicated that they feel there is a lack of access to information about government programs and services. Rural populations have also reported that the information that is available on policy, government programs and services is difficult to obtain and interpret. There is a desire to learn about and access information about government programs and services that is understandable, concise and timely, Rural Dialogue, 2000.

Another information challenge is the fact that little research has been conducted concerning rural communities and the policy-making process. Further, this research often is difficult to obtain. Rural communities have also indicated that they need access to information specific to the status of their communities. Once again, this information, if available, tends to be difficult to access and may be expensive.

Absence of Rural Representation in the Decision-Making Process
Living in a democratic society, representatives are elected to speak on behalf of local people at the government level. By virtue of their larger population, urban areas tend to have greater representation in the Federal parliament and Provincial legislatures than rural areas. The greater number of urban representatives is one factor that can lead these elected bodies to have a more urban focus and reduce the influence rural community members have in the decision-making process. Specific communities and groups of community members must also be considered in the rural policy-making process. Unfortunately, there are some groups who tend not to be well represented in the policy forum, for example, people with lower socio-economic status

The Relationship Between Rural Communities and Government
The relationship between rural communities and government is strained by the community perception that governments do not understand rural issues and impose policies and programs that negatively affect rural communities. Even worse, there is sometimes not even agreement among key policy makers that circumstances in rural communities are problematic and deserving of government action, Doern 1988. Government is also seen as sometimes downloading responsibilities on rural communities without providing the necessary resources
(e.g. financial support and, educational programs) for communities to assume these responsibilities. Further, rural community members get frustrated and discouraged by rejections of policy proposals by government and ever-changing program criteria.
From the perspective of rural communities, the attitudes and action of governments have created barriers to working together to affect policy to improve the health and sustainability of rural communities. Rural community members often perceive government priorities and programs as detrimental to their community’s health and sustainability. These perceptions create a barrier to community involvement in the policy-making process.

Time and Policy Timeline Restrictions
Often the policy timeline can create difficulties for communities looking to impact policy around a particular issue. Although government may be considering a policy change for a long period of time, the public consultation process may be relatively short and not allow community-based organizations the time to research and properly prepare to effectively participate. On the other hand, the policy-making process can take a very long time, draining the resources of community-based organizations and frustrating those who want change.

Conclusion
Participation of the community in a neighborhood activity or policy formulation should be considered as a voluntary act of civic responsibility, a commitment by the residents to one or several stages of a collective project, (control, awareness-raising, providing information, promoting, decision-making), although the actual tasks may not always be visible. What is worth highlighting is the fact that inspite of its importance in interventions and policy development, community participation is usually faced with a number of bottle necks and much needs to be done to make participation relevant.

References

Chambers (2002); Cornwall and Pratt (2003) Community participation.

Cloke, P. J. (ed.) (1988). Policies and Plans for Rural People: An
International Perspective Unwin Hyman Ltd.: London
Canadian Rural Partnership “Rural Dialogue” http://www.rural.gc.ca/anualreport/index_e.html

Cummins Stephen (2007) Community Participation in Service Delivery and Accountability
Doern, G. B. & Phidd, R. N. (1988). Canadian Public Policy: Ideas, Structure,
Process. Nelson: Toronto
Dukeshire S. et al (2002) Challenges and Barriers to Community Participation in Policy Development, Rural Communities Impacting Policy project ISBN 0-9780913-2-9

Matthew Andrews and Anwar Shah, “Voice and Local Governance in the Developing World: What is done, to what effect, and why?”, World Bank, 2003

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