ENABLING COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT
Political and Administrative Factors Affecting Self Reliance
By Phil Bartle, PhD
Laws, rules, regulations and practices that affect self reliance
If a community group is not permitted to own a hand pump that it builds, then that community is weakened, and hindered from being self reliant. If a local authority is not permitted to open and run a bank account, then its ability to serve the needs of a village is hindered, and village capacity is restricted. These are examples of where the political and administrative environment of a community affects the process of empowerment of a community.
This environment includes a whole range of factors, from the laws of the country enacted by decree or legislation, through the rules and regulations of various ministries and departments, at national, regional and local levels, and the practices of civil servants (based on attitudes and various interpretations of the laws and regulations). The environment also includes the policies and practices of relevant non governmental organizations and private sector businesses which, in turn, also are affected by the governmental factors listed here.
The task of mobilizers is to stimulate and encourage community activities that will help the community to develop itself, to become empowered. Those mobilizing interventions, however, can not be applied in a vacuum because every community exists within a political and administrative environment. At first glance, we might assume that these are factors over which the mobilizer has no control.
There are, in contrast, many actions that a mobilizer can take which may directly or indirectly have an effect on the political and administrative environment. First, it is necessary for the mobilizer to observe and analyse those rules and practices, and prepare a list of what changes could be made that would facilitate capacity development of communities. Then these can be used in a programme of advocacy aimed at changing the laws and practices. A position paper, for example, can be circulated, and find its way up the ministry to cabinet level. A senior civil servant may be asked to advise on generating, for example, a policy document on community development (for promulgation by parliament), and mobilizers asked to assist that senior civil servant.
It is also often the case that a few mobilizers become members of parliament or even cabinet ministers, and their mobilizing experience and knowledge become valuable in the process. It is also possible that this document, or locally adjusted versions of it, will find its way into a cabinet committee charged with reviewing governmental policy and practices.
No matter what, it is useful for mobilizers to read this, think about the degree or enablement, make observations and analyse the situation. A document that catalogues the features that impinge on community strengthening should be prepared by and put into the tool kit of every mobilizer.
Promoting an Enabling Environment:
The strengthening of communities and poverty eradication can not take place in a vacuum. The environment around each community, not only its ecological environment but also its socio-economic-politico environment, affects its level of community empowerment, and also needs to be observed and analysed when taking actions for reaching that empowerment.
In view of this, there should be an element of working towards an environment that enables self help improvement, actions towards self reliance, community empowerment, and the eradication of poverty from a community approach. The elements of supporting an enabling government include the following:
Central Government and Enablement:
Your programme of enablement should emphasize assistance in reform and improvement.
Where a Government is highly centralized, for example, and has the will to decentralize, your assistance can be directed towards initiating decentralization. If the Government has already embarked on decentralization, then your assistance can be more pragmatic and country specific. This applies then to democratization, to devolution of financial authority, to decentralizing of developmental ministries, and other relevant reforms, streamlining and making appropriate modifications of central government.
The following elements and instruments are included in your programme:
The advocacy and assistance to a central government, leading to changes in laws, regulations and procedures, is only part of the strategy for promoting a conducive environment for community empowerment and poverty eradication.
It must be accompanied by complementary assistance to district and local authorities which are closer to the target communities, and to non governmental organizations, both of which also form part of the socio-economic-politico environment of the target communities.
Roles of District and Local Governments:
When central government devolves authority, decision making and financial control to the districts, the capacity of those district administrations and governments must be concurrently strengthened. If there is to be decentralization, it should not be the decentralizing of tyranny.
As well as obtaining increased skills (and skilled human resources) the district authorities should be introduced to participatory planning and management, to skills in dialogue and facilitation with the communities, and to other elements contributing to an enabling environment.
Your programme can include:
At the district (or equivalent) level, there are three main types of persons who have influence over the communities and are targets in encouraging and training in participatory methods: (1) the district civil servants, (2) the district leaders and politicians, and (3) the technical specialists (often called "technocrats" because the source of their authority and influence lies in their technical expertise).
The nature of their changing from "provider" to "enabler" (facilitator) varies according to the source of their power.
We must work towards an administrative and socio-economic-politico environment that enables and encourages self help improvement, actions towards self reliance, community empowerment, and the eradication of poverty from a community approach. In each of the following, your role is to document the situation, how it affects community empowerment, and how it can be improved to enable community capacity development.
Specific actions you take in your programme of enhancing an enabling environment can be put into the following categories:
Let us look at these in turn.
Guidelines for Initiating and Modifying Legislative Policy:
We must encourage stake holders to contribute to crystallizing policy into written documents that can be used as guidelines for reforming national (and district where appropriate) legislation (laws). The strategy calls for the production of guidelines for stake holders preparing such documents.
Support to committees responsible for legislative reform (in community empowerment sectors): See "Guidelines for Preparing a Policy Paper." Resulting from your advocacy, Government may set up or revitalize working committees for the production of policy papers or law reform.
This calls for financial support for committee meetings (preferably rotated in the field, not only meeting in the capital city), venue rental, refreshments, daily allowances, and technical support (technical specialists and facilitators for committee meetings aimed at the desired outputs).
Guidelines for initiating or modifying ministry regulations and procedures: Documents can be prepared that describe the need, and are designed to assist committees and others working towards preparing policy papers, written regulations and rules, guidelines, and changes in legislation.
Guidelines to and for NGOs active in the community related sectors:
Depending upon the legal status and acceptability of NGOs (international and local), support can be given for NGOs, leading to consistency and integration with each other and with governmental efforts. Support can include financial and technical assistance for meetings, workshops working committees, and document (eg guidelines) preparation, printing, and distribution.
Awareness Raising Events:
The more the public is informed about the goals and methods of this strategy, the more the environment will be conducive to social change in the desired direction. These events can include conferences, workshops, competitions, awards, plays, skits, music, campaigns.
Public Information Actions:
These include posters, radio, TV and newspaper advertisements and magazine articles. Journalists can be given gratuities or honoraria to research and write special articles that illustrate the empowerment process and the poverty reduction methods used
Central Government and Enablement:
Democratization, political and administrative decentralization, devolution of financial authority, centralizing of developmental ministries, modifications of laws, regulations and practices to encourage and support community strengthening and self reliance. Guidelines for writing policy papers and related instruments (facilitating community strengthening) for promulgation by parliament:
The assistance in expertise should include written guidelines for preparing policy papers, and those guidelines will encourage a participatory and consultative process, involving stake holders, promoting an enabling environment for community strengthening, as well as professional advice in the production of policy papers and related instruments.
Analysing and advising on appropriate requirements for decentralizing authority and finance for the support of community management: Consultants with technical expertise to analyse and advise on the decision making and financial implications of decentralization.
Assisting in the Reform of Land Laws:
Land laws that affect the community empowerment process include those relating to land, land tenure, and land practices. See the "Community Perspective in Land Management".
They should become laws that will facilitate the increase in community management of facilities and services, ensure human rights with respect to gender and minorities, and improve the enforcement of fair laws related to land ownership and access:
Assisting in the process of ministries focusing more on policy, standards, procedures and guidelines, while implementation, operational staffing, planning, decision making and management are devolved to the districts. The process of decentralization does not eliminate all functions of central ministries; there role becomes one of guidance, policy formation, and professional backstopping, while the operational functions are devolved to the districts.
This requires assistance in training and expertise for the districts, and assistance to the central ministry in changing its role. The strategy calls for assistance to those ministries which are involved in the community strengthening process (eg a department of community development).
Assisting in defining and attainment of legal status and authority of community-based organizations. Assistance is included in the content of the expertise noted above, and in financing meetings, workshops, advocacy and guidance in legitimizing and legalizing both the community strengthening process and the resulting community organizations that are formed and empowered.
Municipal–Community Information Flow:
Establishing legal and procedural mechanisms for the flows of information from neighbourhoods to municipality, and from community organizations to local authority: The information management requirements explained above need a legal and procedural environment to be effectively operational.
Advocacy for raising awareness and public concern about these policy and legal issues: All the public information activities noted above, and the content of the training and sensitization sessions, are aimed at improving the acceptance of the needed changes in laws, regulations, procedures and attitudes which form the environment of the communities and the strengthening process.
Assisting public institutions, including universities and training institutes, in rewriting and modifying curricula so as to incorporate participatory methods and the above issues: Professionals in the relevant ministries and in NGOs implementing community strengthening and poverty reduction initiatives need advanced training and education in the sector.
Meanwhile the academic professionals can constitute a pool of expertise to be drawn upon by the strategy. Training institute and university curricula, which need upgrading from time to time, can be assisted to include variations of this strategy and methodology.
The advocacy and assistance to a central government is mainly intended to lead to changes in laws, regulations and procedures, supporting the establishment and growth of an enabling environment.
Roles of District and Local Governments:
Advocacy for participatory planning and management at district and local levels: As part of this enabling environment, the capacity of district administrations and governments (to be facilitators rather than providers) must be concurrently strengthened. District authorities should be introduced to participatory planning and management and to skills in dialogue and facilitation for interacting with the communities.
Training in Skills of Participatory Planning and Management:
The strategy includes training in necessary participatory skills, to support the advocacy and encouragement of the enabling environment.
Guidelines for developing local and district legislation, regulations and procedures: Where a district council or legislation has the authority to make laws or regulations, the strategy calls for assistance to do so, modelled after the assistance at the central governmental level. Meanwhile, the district administration can be provided with similar assistance in modifying its administrative regulations, procedures and attitudes.
Contexts for networking and sharing experiences with other districts and countries: As part of the information sharing, advocacy, encouragement, and skill transfer, the strategy calls for support of networking mechanisms such as conferences, workshops, seminars and meetings with other district authorities (and community members), in the country and outside it.
Three main types of persons who have influence over the communities are:
These are targets in encouraging and training in participatory methods.
The nature of their changing from "provider" to "enabler" (facilitator) varies according to the source of their power. Part of the task of the mobilizer and management trainer is to determine ways to effect those changes based on observation and analysis of the situation.
The Non-Governmental Environment:
While NGOs themselves must operate in a context mainly designed by the government, they may also be a part of the overall environment of communities, depending upon the legislation and practices that allow them to operate. If they can operate in an atmosphere of benevolent tolerance, they have potential as a great force for participatory development.
They do need some guidance, however, if they are not to operate at cross purposes and hinder an integrated approach to development in the country. International NGOs have, as their major contribution, resources (mainly financial and skills), while local and national NGOs contribute to the democratic civil engagement process, especially in advocacy and human rights. The strategy includes:
The overall objective is an environment that will bring NGOs into a form of partnership with all levels of government, communities and the private sector, emphasizing their different strengths while contributing to a sustainable social development of low-income community empowerment and poverty elimination.
NGOs have potential as a great force for participatory development. They need some guidance and co-ordination to ensure consistency and sustainability.
International NGOs can be classed into two types:
Both have their role. The first type can be encouraged to add the second element.
Many large international NGOs have both approaches.
The second type can be guided and co-ordinated as part of a national strategy, and within district plans.
Local and National NGOs:
Contribute to the democratic civil engagement process, especially in advocacy and human rights. Usually are financially much weaker than the international NGOs, but can be supported by some international NGOs, the UN and bilateral donors;
Come in mainly two varieties:
Both have their role in the strategy, the first often being our target for empowering low income communities, the second one often acting as small consultancies.
NGO and CBO Fora:
Fora for participatory creation and revision of guidelines for NGO and CBO operations:
Workshops and seminars for producing guidelines and revisions that support the community strengthening process and poverty eradication. Brokering relationships between ministry officials (responsible for producing guidelines), and the NGOs (responsible for following the guidelines).
Fora for networking and dialogue between NGOs, CBOs, and central and local governments: The strategy seeks to strengthen dialogue between NGOs, CBOs, and the central and district officials, to exchange information, techniques and experiences of community strengthening.
Agreements on Methods:
Agreements on methods of empowerment and poverty eradication that are sustainable and consistent:
Produced by the above two fora, these are documents that include declarations, agreements, guidelines and methods that produce an enabling environment, and encourage self help community management and wealth creation.
The information shared will contribute to a consistent national policy and process (of course flexible enough to vary according to different situations and related interventions).
Local–International Assistance Agreements:
Agreements of financial and expert assistance between international and local NGOs: Also produced by the above fora, and with information brokerage between local NGOs and their potential donors, these agreements are aimed at ensuring some national consistency, and the methods indicated in Part A and Part B of this strategy.
Encouraging Participatory Methods:
Assistance in encouraging and training in community empowerment and poverty elimination through participatory methods: The strategy supports both international and local NGOs, eg financial support and training sessions that will encourage consistency, sustainability and co-ordination between the NGOs, and the central and district governments involved in poverty eradication and community strengthening. The strategy aims at an environment that brings NGOs and CBOs into partnership with all levels of government, communities and the private sector.
Just as there are many facets of environment that affects the self reliance and capacity of communities, and affects the strategies and effectiveness of mobilization efforts to strengthen them, there are many facets of action that you as a mobilizer can take to influence them.
As every country is different, every district and every community, your approach will differ. You need to observe analyse and write about what barrier their are and what should improve the situation.
The actions you can and should take equally differ according to different situations. They can range from major or minor advocacy programmes, quiet professional advice to individuals in positions of power, to participation in committees charged with responsibilities to make changes.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle