Managing village councils in project implementation

Advice to project managers in the field

The village council constitutes the main power structure of the community. Understanding how this group of people works for the interest of the village is very crucial in project implementation. In this blog we discuss what to take into account while working with leaders within communities. Please also read “Understand community dynamics” to get an understanding of working successfully with community members.

What to bear in mind

The formation of the village council may vary according to the different customs and traditions of the villages. However the end product usually has the same objectives of good governance.

The literacy level of the community is usually reflected in the composition of the council members as well. The modus operandi of council members’ selection is based more on traditions and customs that date back many generations. Educational qualifications usually don’t count though recently record keeping is becoming very important. There is sometimes more than one council operating in the community (e.g. village council and traditional council) which sometimes is confusing to outsiders. In addition to that there may be two village leaders the chief and the spiritual head. Furthermore there may be some other traditional groups which are not known publicly to outsiders but play a big role in determining what happens in the village. The presence of the church is known to have great influence on the outcome of village affairs.

Meeting the council and other groups

This may be quite simple but sometimes tricky as well. There is the human side of every individual which often covertly leans more to personal than to community interest. Councilors are very keen on picking up any implicit language towards personal member benefits.  Presenting your project to the council should be done tactfully not to make promises that you don’t intend to keep. Your presentation should be methodically arranged with clarity on the primary and if necessary the secondary objectives of the project.

The elaborate presentation should be simple and in a language that is understood by everyone. If your presentation captivates the interest of the council you have broken through the first huddle of community acceptance of your project.

Holding meetings with the council should not be a onetime affair. The councilors will be more interested in your project if they are given frank updates in meetings on regular intervals. The timing of the meetings though should not significantly interrupt their village activities and way of life.

Sometimes it may be difficult to meet every group in the community. However the youths and women’s groups are usually accessible. Make your project objectives palatable to these groups and you will find their support easy to gain.

What to avoid

The established power structures in villages can be very fragile. Project managers come to villages not to transform the existing structure but to work with it to achieve project objectives. Community members are very sensitive to changes in their environment especially by outsiders. You will meet with much resistance to implement your project if the villagers notice any form of meddling in their traditionally structured arrangements.

In some communities you will find individuals who are looked upon highly by the populace than the chief and his councilors. Such persons should not replace the established structure but may be used appropriately in galvanizing support for your project.

The village council may have some individuals that the community considers to be trouble makers. It would be in your best interest not to be caught in the middle by trying to resolve exiting differences. This may put you in an awkward situation not conducive for project implementation.

Avoid giving too much attention to any individual or group. It might be given a wrong interpretation of interest.

Please as much as possible make use of local resources especially labor. This often brings a sense of benefit to the people even at the level of project implementation. 

Conclusion

Though you use your past experience in engaging new communities it is advisable to treat each community and its council as unique.  Project implementers are not there to solve village conflicts but if your successful project in the end resolves an existing conflict then that would be a plus. Your project will only be valued for the benefits it brings to the community. It will on the other hand be scorned at if its manager was thought to have been interfering in village affairs. It is obvious that you may encounter a more complex situation in the field, but keeping your community interaction simple and focused on the project objectives will enable you to succeed.

Please for further information and clarification send your questions or concerns to eyole@humaniforest.org and a response will be sent to within a short period of time.

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