On the importance of involving the silent majority in communities
The overall success of a community project is dependent on the independent variables of perception, willingness, understanding and sense of ownership. However from our experience the overriding success factor is “willingness” of the community to participate and take over sustainability responsibilities from project implementers. We have noted this does not come easily or instantly.
What we gather from our interactions in communities
In spite of the need and desire of rural communities to improve their living condition the members in many cases we have come across don’t share the same enthusiasm for projects. From our observation during discussions with a cross-section of community members we find some of the reasons behind the lukewarm attitude. Below are some of the comments from beneficiary villages:
From the general public we get:
In this village projects involves only a select few; I don’t see how I can contribute, that is why I don’t attend general village meetings – I stay back because I know no one will listen to what I will say; the village council has arrogated every village issue to itself and a few others called the notables – we see these people do nothing for the general good of the village but to stuff their pockets with village money; projects bring development but I wish I know what this project is all about… ; how did you come about bringing this project to our village?
Particularly from the youths we get:
We preferred to have village electricity project not water project or …; with Mr. “Joe” in the project team this project will eventually fail because we know him to be a very corrupt man; When was this project initiated anyway, I just heard about it a few days ago from the village crier; The youths in this community are never allowed to lead except when it comes to manual labor, but we can do more than that.
From the women we get this:
The men always decide for the village; our input usually doesn’t count so it a waste of time getting involved; the men will always hold meetings without informing the women.
With such skepticism by a cross-section of the village community it is hard to build a positive general consensus to support your project. Women and youths are usually the majority in the villages and their input is of great importance if a project is to succeed.
What we do
Our community approach in project implementation is quite simple. We start by building support for the project. As part of our project plan we always interact with the community sometime for up to a year before launching the project. During this period we prepare the foundation for easy communication patterns and at the same time dispel pertinent fears and worries that may be deeply rooted in the minds of the people. Furthermore we come to understand the community’s dynamics especially the established power structure and how we can work with them.
Projects bring about conspicuous changes especially to rural communities. In spite of the positive effects the project will bring to the community there will always be pros and cons to its implementation. From our observations there is usually up to 10% on both sides leaving a wider 80% which we can lump up as undecided. We focus our attention to this third group given its size to enable us build a large participation base for our project. In our interactions we pose to community members a simple question such as: what would it take for you to willingly participate in our project? The response we get generally more than 85% of the time is – I just need to know what the project is all about and how I can contribute.
We have thus observed that appropriate communication invariably influences community willingness to participate in projects. So what we do initially in the beneficiary community is develop a community social profile from a simple stakeholder analysis. This profile is vital to create effective communication strategies as well as helps us identify possible weaknesses to community willingness to participate in project activities. Together with the community we then constitute a project team which we have found to be very instrumental in winning a wider community willingness to participate in our projects. We have noted that appropriate project team members use multiple approaches to convey project needs more effectively sometimes than in general meetings only.
Can we improve community willingness to participate in projects?
My response to the above question is, yes. Quite often though we project implementers sometimes erroneously assume that the entire community will wholeheartedly embrace our projects from start. We express frustration when this is not the case. This should not be as we understand community willingness to participate grows with time and is more guaranteed where there is clear articulation and understanding of the project objectives. Making use of appropriate communication methods will enable you achieve this.
Without the community’s willingness to participate, the level of acceptance of the project will be marginal as well. In this situation even after projects completion the sustainability of the project investment is most likely to be short lived. We therefore urge partners in rural community development to consider their steps in engaging communities in project implementation.
We need to promote the characteristics of willingness to participate such as the risk, time, benefits, and difficulties… as shared components for their community in general to accept. With these elements embedded in the people’s minds the likelihood of gaining a large and willing participation for your project will be quite high.
Center for Economic Development (CED) Buea, Cameroon reports (2008 – 2017)
Farm and Animal Husbandry Project (FAHP) Buea, Cameron reports (2000 – 2017)