Guidelines to Scaling Community-development Projects in Response to local Identities, Interests and Preferences (IIP):

16 key Messages about the Importance of Process


Lisa Elena Fuchs

(1) Introduction

Since smallholder farmers in the Global South are among the most vulnerable people to present and future climate change, numerous actors target an increase of their adaptive capacity and support climate change adaptation and mitigation practices. Previous experience however shows that the success, efficiency and sustainability of these projects depends on appropriate models and tools being implemented to take relevant climate-smart practices to scale.

After the successful completion of a four-year asset-based community-development (ABCD) climate change adaptation and mitigation pilot (2010-2014), and more than three years into the four-year (2015-2019) proof of concept phase, we formulate sixteen key messages, sub-divided in seven categories, about the importance of process in supporting community-driven scaling of context-specific and IIP-responsive activities: Select Suitable Staff, Select Suitable Participants, Engage early on, Take an Asset-based Community-driven Development (ABCD) Approach, Enhance Accountability through Record Keeping, Ensure Avenues for Financial Sustainability, ‘Run with the Strong Ones’, Choose diverse Leadership, Link Training Outcomes with Livelihood Enhancement, Prioritize Value Chain Literacy, Provide Small-Scale Business Tools, Train for Best Practice, Train for Diversified Livelihoods, Provide Consultation Opportunities, Ensure adequate Follow-up Support, Have a Participant-driven M&E Strategy.

(2) Sustainably Scaling Community-development Projects in Practice

Set the Pace

1. Select Suitable Staff

Project implementation on the ground by staff who are conversant with local languages and cultures is crucial for social acceptability of the project.

What matters: Having a strategy to recruit and maintain suitable staff. We select project staff from communities that are in majority in the project area. We also select staff members with complementary skills (i.e. in community development and social sciences on the one hand, and in agriculture and other biophysical sciences on the other hand). We are also mindful to have a gender and age balanced team.

2. Select Suitable Participants

Rigorous selection of project participants who are interested in and suitable for a given project determines the overall success and overall sustainability of the project.

What matters: Having a strategy to select suitable project partners/groups. Based on the underlying approach of asset-based community-driven development philosophies to support individuals and groups to ‘use what they have to get to where they want to go’, we use a group selection tool with the help of which we screen eligible community groups for minimum material well-being (assets), and particularly for social capital. Social capital is typically expressed in social networks of reciprocity, cooperation and trust, which we analyse based on how long groups have been working together, what their objectives are, how they designate their leadership and what groups achieved together (agency).

3. Engage early on

Early engagement of local authorities and the wider community in the target area builds official support, general awareness and a network of linkages.

What matters: Having a strategy to engage other stakeholders, notably government offices. We engage with the local authorities in the targeted area from the beginning. Apart from official/legal procedures that have to be followed, we visit the representatives of the local administrative offices in the target area and introduce ourselves and the project. We then ask them to organise community meetings, and to mobilise all formal and informal community groups in their area to attend. After introducing the project, we administer a brief questionnaire to interested groups - in line with our group selection tool - based on which we select the project groups. Local authorities are informed and included but cannot impose project groups. Other community groups are informed about the project and know about the outreach model through which they can benefit from the project indirectly. Relationships with relevant government offices are forged (i.e. with agricultural extension officers) whose expertise we draw upon in technical trainings.

Foster Community-Driven Development: Choose an approach that inspires communities to drive their own development

4. Take an Asset-based Community-driven Development (ABCD) Approach

Project Approach matters: An asset assessment via ABCD methods allows to identify the target community’s identities, interests and preferences and hence to define an action plan that is context-specific, locally-relevant and socially-appropriate.

What matters: Basing the entire project on an ABCD approach; ABCD is an approach to community development that places agency and control in the hands and minds of the communities themselves, positioning external actors as supporters and facilitators. Fundamentally, the ABCD approach uses various tools to support communities to identify and mobilise their various assets (human, social, natural, physical, financial) and to use them to pursue activities that enhance who they are (identity), which livelihood activities they want to pursue (interests) and what they like (preferences) to develop their individual households and the community as a whole. Our active engagement with the project groups starts with ABCD, including appreciative inquiry, transect walk for physical and natural asset assessment, 'hand, head and heart' for human asset assessment, organisations and association mapping for social assets, and community leaky bucket for analysis of the local economy and business opportunities. ABCD however is more than just a set of tools, it is the overriding foundation and underpins all other activities: support communities to understand, identify and drive their own development pathways.

5. Enhance Accountability through Record Keeping

Clean record keeping is directly related to accountability and hence to the performance of groups, individual members and leaders.

What matters: Having a strategy to foster accountability. Record keeping is part of our wider group dynamics and leadership training, which strengthens groups' cohesion and mutual accountability. During that training, we also do 'animation' through which various characters are ascribed to group members - which helps with understanding roles, strengths and weaknesses of individual group members better. This helps in the selection of lead-farmers (LF) later.

6. Ensure Avenues for Financial Sustainability

Sound mobilisation and use of one’s own financial means through VSLAs provides grounding for sustainable engagement in targeted activities, by fostering discipline in financial and planning matters, and by providing a platform for regular meetings and exchange among community members.

What matters: Having a strategy to foster financial independence and sustainability; counter dependency. One of the main constraints of many development projects, and of people engaging in activities in a sustainable manner, is a perceived lack of investment capital. This contributes to projects having to deal with dependency syndrome, which often leads to project participants 'waiting' for an external agent to provide this capital and/or pay them for activities on the one hand, and to discontinuation of project activities after external support is withdrawn on the other hand. Mobilising resources is hence fundamental for project engagement. Our approach to mobilising these resources is that sensible resource use depends both on financial literacy, and on a decision of individual households to use their available resources more efficiently. This is why we support project groups to set up Village Savings and Loaning Associations (VSLAs), following the CARE model, which encourages regular meetings under strict but very transparent regulations, which satisfy both our objectives. VSLAs typically meet once a week, which allows us to use the opportunity of the groups meeting every single week at the same time as a regular entry point to share information and/or propose new activities etc.

Foster Growth: Encourage community members to stand out and inspire others with their passion and hard work

7. ‘Run with the Strong Ones’

The selection of community members who show interest in and dedication for proposed activities as lead-farmers, who are trained on behalf of their groups, fosters appreciation of hard work and ‘positive deviance’ in the community.

What matters: Having a strategy to concentrate most effort on those who are receptive and willing to try improved practices; and who show sense of civic duty to encourage others. After training the entire project groups in the 'basic capacity and agency development' modules, the project groups revisit their community action plans (CAPs) that were initially developed after the ABCD training. In light of further insights related to group members' identities, interests and preferences, and with strengthened financial opportunities through the Village Savings and Loaning Associations (VSLA), CAPs are revisited and redefined. At this stage, we propose to support activities in three activities, which are typically defined at the sub-sector level. Individual project groups select these activities completely freely - but since groups are encouraged to use the external partners as 'social assets', it is most sensible that they choose activities that are in line with the professional identity of the respective external partner. Rather than training the entire groups in the selected activities, we ask project groups to self-select lead-farmers who are trained on their behalf. Using lead-farmers allows to cut project costs and encourages recognition of hard work and inspiration. It also allows to get through the technical trainings in relatively short time periods. Training lead-farmers furthermore allows to re-group people from different project groups in line with the activity for which they were selected, leading to further exchange of ideas and practical skills from across the project area.

8. Choose diverse Leadership

Selecting various lead-farmers per activity, and various activities per group, promotes positive competition, opportunities for exchange and varied experiences for community members to draw upon.

What matters: Having a strategy to embed individual trainings in a wider context that enhances cross-learning and mutual encouragement and accountability. Selecting various lead-farmers per activity, and various activities per group, promotes positive competition, opportunities for exchange and varied experiences for community members to draw upon.

Understand the business behind the practice

9. Link Training Outcomes with Livelihood Enhancement

Embedding technical trainings related to climate-smart technologies in an income-generating perspective relates uptake of proposed activities and technologies to tangible outcomes.

What matters: Proposing livelihood-relevant framing for technical trainings and deliberately linking activity with livelihood enhancement ('development'). After groups select specific activities/sub-sectors, we embed the technical training modules into an overall business logic. In our context, the core idea is to support uptake of 'professional' farming, and 'farming as a business', rather than supporting general 'sustenance' farming. The income-generating and/or business logic provides incentives to engage in the practices and strengthens ownership.

10. Prioritize Value Chain Literacy

Participatory or producer-led value-chain analysis improves understanding of the markets and one’s opportunities to increase profits by reducing costs and improving income.

What matters: Ensuring that partners develop a sense of ownership and control over the practices they uptake by understanding their position in the value-chain and adopting a 'business' perspective. Promotion of activities needs to take markets into account, or rather: the identification and potentially the strategies to generate demand need to be foregrounded, before supporting engagement of project participants in selected activities. Rather than only performing 'external' value-chain analyses, we believe that participatory market actor identification, mapping etc. helps the project participants to develop further agency and increases their sense of control over their practices and their businesses. Support of linkages also helps with reducing input costs and increasing income through produce aggregation and access of higher paying clients/markets.

11. Provide Small-Scale Business Tools

Business skills and simple business tracking tools give people an overview of the resources and time it takes to engage in an activity, which helps to manage expectations, and fosters a sense of ownership and control.

What matters: Propose and co-create tools, and provide support in application of these tools, to enhance planning capacity and control over engagement in various livelihood practices. The small-scale business tools are among the most important elements of the project, because they literally help project participants to have their numbers 'at hand'. The household leaky bucket and various commodity ledgers, which ideally would form a farm ledger, help project participants to plan their activities, anticipate when they need how much financial inputs, allow them to sell other produce and/or take loans from the VSLA accordingly etc. The anticipation of costs and time lines related to income help to manage expectations and support project farmers to only engage in certain practices once they have done the maths and ensured that they are able to engage in the practice from the beginning to the end.

Integrate conservation and diversification into an income-generating perspective

12. Train for Best Practice

Climate-smart best practices for soil, land and environmental conservation can be embedded in the technical trainings identified in the action plan and are hence framed as crucial for successful engagement in selected income-generating activities.

What matters: Having a strong focus on best practice: those that are both 'good' and 'climate-smart'. Actors interested in promoting 'good agricultural practices' or other 'good practices' often struggle with 'convincing' project participants why these practices should be taken up. This is particularly true for less 'popular' conservation technologies, including soil health management practices, whose sensibility is less easy to grasp. By including these practices in the overall 'technical skill-set for successful farming', the importance of the adoption of these practices is de-emphasised, while engagement in these practices is defined as pre-condition for further income-generation. Hence, we promote engagement in CSA practices for the sake of one's pocket, and not for their own sake or the sake of the environment.

13. Train for Diversified Livelihoods

Training in various activities supports integrated farming systems, and promotes diversified income sources, which directly relate to adaptive capacity.

What matters: Supporting livelihood diversification and integrated farming systems. The project’s offer to support project groups in several activities is directly related to our interest to support farm and income diversification. Both are in line with strategies to improve adaptive capacity of households, since households that engage in various activities and draw an income from various activities are less likely to be adversely affected by climate change.

Reinforce Project Outcomes: fostering demand-driven outreach support and backstopping

14. Provide Consultation Opportunities

A simple field office with fixed consultation-hours during which community members can get advice serves an important backstopping function.

What matters: Providing opportunities for exchange and support with, ideally in a demand-driven model; being clear on the exit strategy. Independently from training sessions in the field, which project staff typically conduct in specific localities close to project participants' homes (typically on local places of worship), we have a field office that opens twice per week. The office is open on market days and located in close proximity to the central market of the region, allowing project participants and others to get targeted information and support from project staff. This, again, increases ownership and agency, because project participants are not relegated to wait for whenever project staff come to their farms and/or their areas for trainings, but allow them to access them whenever they want additional support. We also provide access to various books, leaflets and other information material at the field office.

15. Ensure adequate Follow-Up Support

The facilitation of regular exchange visits among lead-farmers, the creation of linkages through market visits, and support for the creation of specific producer groups, enhance sustainability and constitute a viable exit strategy for external supporters.

What matters: After 'hands-on' engagement is over, fostering exchange and social capital development for enhanced sustainability. In the last step of our project, LFs train other project group members, as well as members of the wider community in the technical and business skills they received. To support their practice further, we organise regular get-togethers of lead-farmers with their LF cohort (hence all dairy LFs meet, all poultry LFs meet etc.), which allows them to exchange success and problem stories and find inspiration and solutions through and with each other. These get-togethers also help us to remind lead-farmers of their social responsibility towards other members of the community by whom and in whose name they were trained in the first place. Further market linkages through market visits are used to support and encourage the formation of 'interest' or 'producer groups' among LFs; but we do not do that directly, since such groups need to be organic and 'authentic' to work.

Count and win double: Monitoring success and assessing impact in a participatory manner

16. Have a participant-driven M&E Strategy

Participatory monitoring and evaluation tools can be used to track successes of the project, both in terms of livelihood outcomes for the project partners, as well as in terms of return on investment, while benefitting project farmers directly by increasing their awareness of the numbers behind their practices.

What matters: Proposing simple and participatory metrics to track 'success' at various scales. We invested considerable time in the definition of relevant metrics to track project success. At the moment, we track changes (through regular re-calls in data collection) in household economics through 'household leaky bucket' collection, which considers both on- and off-farm income and expenditure; additional agricultural data, including crop harvest and land sizes under cultivation; outreach data in terms of who trained whom on what etc. We are attempting to satisfy various interests and objectives with these metrics, including: (a) showing the donor that we produce value for their money ('return on investment'); (b) tracking whether/how households engage in the proposed practices and whether/how and following which dynamics uptake of certain practices influences adaptive capacity and/or general household well-being; (c) involving project participants in participatory data collection in a creative way that reduces the often extractive nature of M&E data collection activities, and that, most importantly, serves the households themselves. Further, more qualitative research activities are conducted alongside these more M&E type of research activities.

(3) Conclusion

These guidelines emphasise the importance of process in community-development, specifically in externally-supported climate change adaptation and mitigation projects. They hence contribute to a growing body of work on the ‘missing link’ between the identification and appraisal of existing systems on the one hand, and knowledge about desirable practices in terms of context-specific sustainable livelihood engagements on the other hand, by proposing a model and tools through which the sustainable uptake of relevant adaptation options can be supported.

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