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Criteria for selecting communities to mobilize

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Training Handout

What are the best communities for mobilization?


Sometimes you need to choose a community; other times it is chosen for you. If you have some choice in the matter, this document will guide you in making your choice. This discussion is for both mobilizers and managers of mobilizers.

Variations in Opportunities for Choice:

There are various ways that a community may be chosen for you. Perhaps you work for an NGO or project that has preselected which communities will receive their interventions. Perhaps you are part of a governmental (regional, provincial, district) planning process which has decided which communities will be served.

Increasingly, large rural water projects employ the DRA (demand response approach). Sometimes this means that a public announcement is made that assistance will be available for water and sanitation if communities apply, and satisfy a specified list of criteria. Only after a community is selected for such assistance would a mobilizer be sent to it.

Perhaps you are given a formula, such as villages closest to the regional capital, or communities over a specified size, and must choose each community in succession by size or distance. These arbitrary criteria mean you have no choice (based on principles of mobilization) on which community to choose first, second, third, and on and on.

Where you do have choice, there are many ways that choice might be defined. Perhaps you are a manager or coordinator for a specified area (eg district) and may choose communities within that area to which you may send several mobilizers. Or you may be one mobilizer with a specified area, and may choose communities within that area. It is under conditions like these where you may exercise some of the empowerment principles covered in various places on this web site, to choose which communities, in what order and over what time frame.

If you are a mobilizer with such choices, then this document should guide you in making those choices. If you are a manager of mobilizer, we suggest you communicate fully with your mobilizer or mobilizers, as in participatory management, and come to agreements on which communities to choose, and when to intervene in them. If you are a voluntary or freelance activist, you may use various criteria, but those listed and described here may be useful to you in making your choices.

Why Should a Community be Chosen?

There are two main criteria on which you should choose a community in which to make your mobilization intervention. These are (1) need and (2) probability of success.

In an ideal world, perhaps where every community would respond in the same way to the same intervention, then choice of community would be easy. The least wealthy communities, those with the least capacity and least power, should be the first to have a mobilizer work in them. The world, however, is not ideal. Another criteria of selection must take precedence. There are many reasons why a community should not be selected for social animation if it is not likely to respond ? if all efforts of mobilization are doomed to failure.

Potential for success is an important criterion, not merely need. Failure can spoil the reputation of mobilization. Success can encourage more mobilization. If effort is made in mobilizing a community, there will be a waste of resources (mobilizers salary, time, energy) if that effort results in failure.

Overall, we can build on strengths, and success creates strengths.

Factors Affecting Success:

When faced with choosing which communities where you would send mobilizers, you need some information about the communities. Some information would be valuable in making predictions about where mobilization efforts would be more successful.

Is there a pressing need or problem in a community? If so, can it serve as focus? If members of the community are in agreement that there is a particular problem that they are facing, this can be the basis for success in initial mobilizing.

Has there been previous success in mobilizing, self mobilizing? Note that we used the word "success." Previous mobilization is not an asset, and may even prove to be a hindrance, if it is seen as failure by community members.

Also we use the phrase "self mobilizing." If some mobilization has taken place without an outside intervention, then the community has an internal asset that a good mobilizer should be able to tap.

What are the attitudes of local authorities (leaders, officials)? Are they willing, sympathetic, knowledgeable? Local political leaders and officials are seldom assets to empowerment methods, because they are usually looking for outside resources, and may not be aware of the danger of dependency that may create. If they are willing to listen to your explanations of empowerment methods, and can see that in the long run they will benefit themselves (and their political aspirations), then they may be possible allies (see Politicians). Your primary concern is that they do not become hindrances to your work. Without their approval, even passive approval, mobilization is in danger of being hijacked or subverted.

What is the situation viz transport and communication to and from the community? Is there access to community all year round? Is there an all weather road? Rain and flooding (in tropical countries) or snow (in communities in or near the arctic) may make a community inaccessible for some parts of the year. This will hinder mobilization. Are there functioning telephones all year round? Even if the road is closed, working telephones can be useful in mobilizing. If there is internet service, or even email only service, that, too, can be useful, especially if there is no physical access during parts of the year.

What is the social organization of the community; is it conducive to self help? Here it is necessary to be a sociologist. You and your mobilizers must not only be able to conduct some social research, you need to be able to see the data through a social perspective. (See Culture for an explanation of how the social nature of a community transcends the individuals that compose it). See the module on Community Research. The data that is collected and reported by mobilizers needs to be organized and filed in a Management Information System (MIS) that allows it to be retrieved quickly and easily as needed. The information needs to lead you to deciding which community is more conducive to responding positively to mobilization. How your mobilizers keep records, and make baseline and ongoing research studies, and how you guide them in doing that, is vital.

Are there potential leaders who can carry the mobilization and empowerment process? Can they be identified? Can they be trained in necessary skills? Will they be co-operative in relation to the empowerment process?

What is the size of community? Is it too small to engage in self help activities. Is it too large to be organized?

Are there conflicts in the community? What is the degree or level of disunity? Is there a good potential to conduct unity organizing that will bring factions together? Is there violence in the community? Are there gangs fighting each other on the streets? Is there ethnic (and language, and religious) tolerance? While disunity is a fact of life, is there potential to reduce it during the mobilization process? Is the community receptive to unity organizing? To answer this you will need some sociological analysis.

All these questions relate to conditions in communities, the answers of which can lead you to being better at predicting if mobilization efforts will be successful. If a community is more likely to be mobilized and more likely to become more self reliant, then it should be a better candidate to be selected for your mobilization programme.


There are two important criteria on which you should base which community you should select for mobilizing, need (poorest first) and potential for success.

If you are responsible for several communities, all of them should have attributes of both.

If you have to select from several communities (say within a specified geographic area), then you need to choose those which most need to be strengthened, but are also most likely to respond positively to the empowerment intervention.


Digging a Trench:

Community Contribution; Digging a Trench

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.08.13

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