Effective Community Participation Strategies Management Essay

Introduction

Community participation is the creation of opportunities to enable all members of a community to actively contribute to and influence the development process, while sharing equitably in the fruits of development (UN 1981). Midgley, Hall, Hardiman and Narine (1986) define community participation as the direct involvement of ordinary people in local affairs. Community participation can be summed up as a means of educating citizens in order to increase their competence. Reid (2000) defines community participation as a vehicle for influencing decisions that affect lives of citizens and an avenue for transferring political power. However, it can also be a mechanism for ensuring accountability, receptivity and sensitivity of social services to local communities. Successful community participation allows community members to act in response to public concerns, empowers community members to openly give their views about decisions that affect them and to actively take responsibility for changes in their community.

Importance of Community Participation

According to WHO (2002), community participation helps communities to target resources more effectively and efficiently, allowing people to become more responsive to community needs and take responsibility. Communities have a wealth of untapped resources and energy that can be harnessed and mobilized through community participation.

Community participation methods empower people to creatively develop skills and build competencies and capacities within communities. Furthermore, better and more sustainable decisions are made by involving communities in decision making because community participation is a way of extending the democratic process by opening up governance and redressing inequality in power. It offers new opportunities for creative thinking, innovative planning and development (WHO 2002). Heberlein (1976) notes that better community decisions are the ones that involve citizens at community level and they are generally more acceptable to local people.

Cook (1975) argues that citizen participation in community affairs serves to check and balance political activities by allowing fuller access to benefits of a democratic society. This increases democracy and combats exclusion. WHO (2002) points out that community participation in decision making, planning and implantation is a human right. It is therefore important to implement new structures of governance that transcend citizens being viewed as passive recipients of services provided by agencies and decided by few representatives. This will open up genuine community participation at grassroots, empowerment of local communities and create a sense of citizenship.

Community participation ensures ownership and sustainability of programs, provides a source of information, knowledge as well as experience and eliminates deficiencies in the society, empowering members to put emphasis on problem solving (Christensen and Robinson 1980). Cahn and Camper (1968) suggest that merely knowing that one can participate in community development and become accountable for development of a local community promotes dignity and self sufficiency within the individual. Interestingly, Cook (1975) points out that community participation can legitimise a program, its plans, actions and leadership, which brings the difference between success and failure of the program. Programs that lack community support end up failing while the ones embraced by the community become successful. WHO (2002) views community participation as an essential tool for ensuring that interventions and programs aimed at promoting health, wellbeing, quality of life and environmental protection are sustainable.

Reid (2000) argues that active community participation is the key to building an empowered community. Participating communities are open to involvement by all groups and responsibilities are divided with an aim of engaging special talents and interests of contributing organizations and individuals thus decentralising power and responsibilities. Participating communities carry out their activities openly and publicise them widely. The citizens are well informed about community work as well as their opportunities for personal involvement in meaningful roles (Reid 2000 and Cook 1975). Successful community participation involves participating communities that do not discriminate against each other. Such communities willingly offer themselves to community involvement and perform their activities with an open mind. They are not controlled by any single organization, group or philosophy and their leadership is used to facilitate discussion of diversity of viewpoints instead of pushing for its own agenda.

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What Makes Effective Community Participation

Community participation requires going beyond consulting to make citizens an integral part of decision making and action process. It should not be viewed as a response to initiatives or agendas from politicians and professionals (WHO 2002). Spiegal (1968) notes that citizen participation is the only process that can meaningfully tie community development programs to members of local communities. The participation programs involve a significant number of people in situations or actions that enhance their well being. It involves people’s income, their security, time, commitment, skills and even their self esteem.

According to Brager, Specht and Torczyner (1987) there are three major aspects to be considered for successful community participation, namely: the kind of community participation under consideration, type or nature of people participating and how the participation takes place. Evans (1974) also points out the significance of issues such as, who participates, the nature of activities that people participate in, why they participate and how the activities they are participating in contribute to principles that they value as a community. Sharing community responsibilities, assuming good intentions for all stake holders involved in community initiatives and affirming the community strengths brings oneness to the community and creates effective community participation.

According to WHO (2002), valuing partnership between local communities and sponsors of a community initiative and confirming benefits of the initiative is a vital tool for effective community participation. Local communities do not want to be treated as being helpless. Treating them with respect no matter how poor they are, listening to them and learning from them boosts their morale to participate and own the community initiatives (UNCHS 1986). Smithies and Webster (1998) argue that successful community participation must have support at community grassroots level, with full consultation and involvement of local communities in planning and implementation of such initiatives. Research has shown that community initiatives implemented through resourcing grassroots work and local action with both geographical communities and communities of interest as the starting point for community initiatives has yielded great success and proved effective and sustainable. This process has often led to establishment of trust and mutual respect between communities and professionals intending to work with such communities to achieve desired objectives.

WHO (2002) identifies networking for the purposes of facilitating development of community and professional infrastructure as an integral part of effective community participation. Networking gives an opportunity to communities, professionals and all those involved in community projects to share common experiences, strengthen competencies and build alliances that focus on recognition and realisation of potential people in organizations working to ensure effectiveness, capabilities and adaptability within the context of community participation.

Effective community participation involves planning of concept, process, structure and content Smithies and Webster (1998). This ensures meaningful and long-term community participation at all stages of community projects. This requires an effective two way communication to ensure that the views of community members are incorporated into strategic plan.

Spiegal (1968) observes that local communities should be given an opportunity and responsibility to manage their own resources, define their needs, aspirations and make decisions affecting their well being. An effective community participation program is therefore established on the basis that local people have the innate capacity to understand and act on their own problems. The approach of such initiatives should be people centered and consensus driven and involve vulnerable groups of such as people with disabilities and the elderly. They should also have a gender balance.

Cahn and Camper (1968) argue that sustainable and inclusive community participation should aim at developing community infrastructures, whereby formal arrangements for communication, consultation, collaboration as well as informal networks for inter agency liaison should be developed with a shared understanding and a common purpose. All stakeholders should work in partnership to share skills and be committed to mutual learning and joint training as they appreciate and acknowledge resources that communities have in terms of expertise. Barriers to community involvement should be addressed by availing resources and taking positive approach towards building effective communication among all stake holders and adequate information management. There should be good governance and transparency in decision making to avoid prejudice.

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Barriers to Effective Community Participation

USAID (2000) notes that community initiatives are highly likely to fail in societies where there is unfair distribution of benefits of community participation or community work among local members. Highly individualistic societies where there is little or no sense of community partnership are faced with lack of cooperation, selfishness, corruption and at times mismanagement of resources that could benefit the entire community.

Bass (1995) observes that community initiatives that lack policies, laws and institutions that encourage, support, manage and reward local participation in planning and development process are faced with challenges of failing. The success of any community participation initiative is largely dependent upon the precise strategy scope, goals and likely participants. Political and cultural circumstances dictate the extent in which community initiatives succeed. Community initiatives influence by bad governance and political interference never benefit the locals but are only used by politicians as political milestones.

Mayo and Craig (1995) note that communities need an appropriate organisational structure put in place for them to express their interests and build effective community participation. People are reluctant to join community initiatives whose organisational structures are cumbersome, time consuming, dictatorial or grossly insufficient. Communities that have little knowledge or limited information on the nature and benefits of community initiatives withdraw their participation and often oppose the initiatives because they are hardly involved in their planning and decision making.

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Newcastle City Council

Newcastle city council works through partnership with other organisations such as police, universities, health service providers, all groups and individuals from community, voluntary and private sectors to ensure that community initiatives influence the future prosperity of the city (Newcastle city council). The council has a variety of community participation initiatives that have been quite successful such as building schools for future, whose main vision is to raise aspirations, opportunities and achievements of all Newcastle residents and to create a culture of learning that enhances creativity and economic prosperity. Other Newcastle city council initiatives include the rough sleepers initiative and housing initiatives.

The main objectives of Newcastle city council are: to develop and sustain opportunities for local people and groups for the purpose of influencing what goes on within their communities, to create opportunities aimed at shaping and influencing quality service delivery to local communities, to manage and coordinate engagement activities for consistency, quality and partner participation. The Newcastle city council aspires to ensure that community development activities provide opportunities for entire community to participate in community programs and share their skills (Newcastle city council).

These objectives have been achieved through priorities such as successful coordination and leadership of participatory community initiatives, development of protocols, toolkits and performance management framework. The council has a web based resource for effective consultation as well as inclusive ward committee structures to establish views of all community groups, to improve coordination with partners in engagement activities and to enhance skills and expertise in community development participation (Newcastle city council).

Each ward in Newcastle has a neighborhood response manager and a neighborhood response team to ensure that views of residents are incorporated in service delivery. Most of the decisions are made through effective consultation with local community groups, which are then involved in implementation of such decisions through active participation in service delivery (Newcastle city council). Newcastle city council has been a successful community initiative through active participation of local communities at grassroots,

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Case Study 2: The Tsunami Project

Following the Tsunami disaster, several groups of grant makers such as the American Jewish society, Global fund for children, Global green grants fund, Oxfam America and Global fund for women among others positively responded to assist the affected communities. However, a closer look at available literature on Tsunami shows that the central role of local organisations such as mechanisms for ensuring local participation is widely recognised throughout the Tsunami community initiatives. However, it is evidently clear that grassroots participation in Tsunami response was insignificant, this forced local communities to compete for resources and recognition (Roper and Harvey 2006).

The Tsunami initiatives seem to have been driven by what grant makers had planned and purposed to deliver instead of being driven by the needs of local communities involved. The initiatives were planned and implemented without consultations with local communities. This made it difficult for more sensitive issues emerging after the disaster to be addressed because beneficial roles could only be achieved through tapping into existing community groups, focusing on marginalised groups to strengthen their capabilities, building solidarity across social divides, funding women- led initiatives to promote gender equality and giving local people an opportunity in coordinating implementation of temporary shelter (Roper and Harvey, 2006).

The objectives of Tsunami response by several organisations were not well defined to members of the local community, there was little involvement of local communities in planning and implementation of Tsunami initiatives and this made the local communities feel like they were left out of the projects, without a sense of ownership hence it was difficult to address the real problems facing communities after the Tsunami disaster.

Conclusion

This research paper started by defining and discussing community participation initiatives and what makes community participation initiatives to be successful. Community strategies and initiatives are only successful when the local communities are fully involved in planning and implementation of such initiatives. Participatory community initiatives bring psychological satisfaction to members of the local communities, giving them a sense of ownership to community initiatives while tapping into the unlimited potential of skills and knowledge from local communities.

Through the two case studies discussed, Newcastle city council has been a successful community initiative because local communities are actively involved in planning and implementation of community initiatives. This gives them a sense of ownership and the ability to identify with the initiatives and contribute to the total well being of the entire community through participation. They are not afraid of offering their expertise because they know the benefits of being involved in community initiatives. On the other hand, local communities were not given a chance to participate in planning and implementation of Tsunami project. The implementing agencies viewed communities as desperate people and did not give them an opportunity to air their views or become involved in planning and implementation of the project. This led to unfruitful results in implementation of the community initiative, with massive failure of the projects and even increased risks to local communities after implementation of the projects.

Community participation is not an idle principle. Communities that have chosen to follow it find that not only do they derive more satisfaction from the joy that comes from open community involvement, but they also achieve more results, more rapidly and with greater benefit to the community as a whole. In short, participating communities succeed better than those that only pay lip service to this important principle.

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