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Project Sustainability: Put the Community in Charge
March 2011 Newsletter
Online Courses Beginning March 15
March 2011 Newsletter. Project Sustainability: Put the Community in Charge
What is development? Certainly, one of the goals in community-based development is for community members to cultivate their capacity to lead productive,  healthy, meaningful, self-reliant lives—and to be able to contribute to the development of their communities—autonomously.
Last month we talked about how developing community ownership is a cornerstone of sustainable project development. This month we explore the next step of empowering the community: creating a community based project management team. Engaging community members in a committee where they will learn leadership, decision-making skills, organizational management, and gain a sound understanding of the tools and activities included the development project—is like on-the-job training.
How to Lead a Participatory Teambuilding Workshop:
Steps to Forming a Village Committee
To learn more about the process. visit these following course documents:
This community-based planning and oversight committee—is the community team that you will partner with on your project’s final planning stages, launch, implementation, and community takeover. Examples could be committees on water, health, education, disaster preparedness, flood control, soil restoration, reforestation, agriculture, or alternative livelihoods. I'm going to walk you through the steps of planning and organizing a workshop to do this.
Managing a project whose outcomes are projected in terms of decades needs to be carefully planned. However, if we play too large a role in the process, it will make it more difficult for the community to take over when we leave. Greater involvement in the project on their part eases the takeover process
Contemporary thoughts on community involvement and sustainable projects
A very well-done paper called “Why Some Village Water and Sanitation Committees Are Better Than Others” is a study of a series of projects that compares their effectiveness. Although this is based upon water and sanitation, the same thought process can be applied to other types of projects as well. Here are some of the conclusions that the authors arrived at:
“A key lesson from global research over the past decade is the strong relationship between a demand responsive approach and overall project effectiveness. External support agencies around the world are relying upon community level organizations to respond to community demand and assist in the planning, construction, and maintenance of water projects. Based upon evidence that these community level organizations can lead to more effective projects projects were designed to have committees that functioned at the village level.
This study suggests that if beneficiaries are able to express their views and set up water projects that meet their needs, they are more likely to work and the beneficiaries are more likely to pay to sustain the system. The village committees can enhance demand-based approaches by bringing decision-making down to the village level where users can decide, among other things, the type of technology, location of the facility, level and hours of service, tariff charges and how they should be used
Participation is important because a critical mass of community members must understand the potential benefits of the scheme and participate in setting project rules. Moreover people's participation contributes to the achievement of the five main objectives of water supply projects: effectiveness, efficiency, empowerment, equity and coverage.
It is also important for the community to feel a sense of ownership for the resource; the community as a whole should believe that this is their project and they are responsible for keeping it operational.
The projects... were designed on the premise that establishing Village Water and Sanitation Committees would lead to more effective management at the village level. This study provides evidence to suggest that this is correct.”
Why Some Village Water and Sanitation Committees are Better than Others
These quotes continue to show us that community-based participation is necessary for long-term sustained development—and that community-based management committees are an effective mechanism for connecting participation to implementation, management, and maintenance.
Let's analyze why you would want a village water committee. If an NGO arrives in the community with funding to develop a water system, spends a year designing and installing the water system, and then leaves, who will oversee and maintain the water system into the future?
In many development projects, as the NGO's project nears completion, the beneficiaries have not been prepared to receive the continuation of project activities (e. g. maintaining a new water system). For example, in a recent report, it was noted that almost 50% of village water projects in developing nations fell into disuse within two years. One of the reasons cited is that community members were not trained in the management of the systems nor in their maintenance. The formation and training of community-based management committees can work to solve this challenge.
When a community is engaged in developing a project that meets their needs, and is involved in project implementation, is trained in the maintenance of project outputs—and when this process is overseen by a responsible committee—the project has a much greater likelihood of being successful in the long term.
Community committees can be set up at different levels of sophistication—depending on the demands of the project that you are executing. A committee can be as simple as electing a group of community members to oversee a project—or as complex as setting up a formal committee with bylaws, governing rules and regulations, fiduciary responsibilities, and state registration.
The community needs to choose people representative of the diversity of the community to form a committee. This committee should include not just village leaders, but also representatives of marginalized members of the community—and most importantly—women.
How to Lead a Participatory Teambuilding Workshop: Steps to Forming a Village Committee
If you haven't already done this, I would recommend a community-based, participatory needs assessment where you will learn a lot about local knowledge, community vulnerability, development capacities, and traditional coping strategies; you will also increase community ownership of the project concept. You can then combine this local knowledge and information with scientifically sound project activities into a solid project concept. Now, in the act of forming a community-based committee, you are beginning to make their project real.
A short workshop is a method for gaining consensus among a group of participants in the validity of forming a committee and in electing/appointing the first committee members.
Make the workshop as participatory as possible by keeping the exchange of information as conversational as possible. If you bring up comments or questions in an effort to keep the workshop lively—make sure that they are directed towards getting responses and feedback from the participants: this isn't meant to be a lecture.
I have successfully used in workshops a modified version of the Village Forestry Training Manual - forming and operating a Village forestry core group (pp. 155 – 161). I adapt it to my project’s program; you can refer to it for more in-depth description of the workshop process: 
The workshop should have three basic components:
1. Introducing the concept of a specific village committee in a participatory workshop setting. Consciousness-raising about the importance of having a committee and about skill sets that will need to be developed by committee members in order to manage the outputs of the project
2. Going through the step-by-step procedure of forming a committee with the workshop participants
3. Electing or appointing committee members
I write up a short, easy-to-understand summary of what will be involved in a community committee—so that they can better understand what it is that we're trying to accomplish—and also understand the responsibilities that will be required. This introduction to the reality of the community participation will filter out some of the people and simplify the selection process.
In the workshop we follow the guidelines from the Village Forestry Training Manual to go through an equitable selection process for the founding committee members.
At the end of the formalities, I recommend asking the newly formed committee, as their first formal task, to look over the list of project activities in the project description, and make a list of activities that they feel community members would like to do on their own or do side-by-side with NGO field staff.
Next month we will explore skill building: how you can facilitate community members in increasing their capacity to participate in project activities and maintain them after your NGO is gone. See you then.
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Please write me with your thoughts through Online.Learning@csd-i.org, or post them at the Development Community, at our Facebook Page, or on the Center’s Blog.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tim Magee, Executive Director
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The Center for Sustainable Development specializes in providing sound, evidence-based information, tools and training for humanitarian development professionals worldwide. CSDi is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.