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Running a Programme of Mobilization

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Module Overview

What is Needed to Manage an Empowerment Programme?


Perhaps you are a district coordinator, with two or three mobilizers in the field. You may work for a governmental ministry or an NGO (international or national). You may be the only mobilizer in a district, self managed, and report to an administrator who knows nothing about community empowerment. Perhaps you are working for a multilateral or bilateral international assistance project, and you are in charge of the community participation aspects of the project.

In general, you are in the middle, with supervisors above who likely know little about community empowerment (except, perhaps as a few fuzzy ideals rather than a practical set of concrete actions).

If you have field staff, it is likely that they have had no formal training, and they will look to you for guidance and direction. If so, almost all the modules on this web site will be useful to you in different ways.

This module looks at some of the management issues that are peculiar to running a community empowerment programme. It is not about management in general, because those issues have been covered in two other modules (Participatory Management, Management Training).

You need to involve your field staff in making your management decisions, and that can be done through job descriptions, meetings, annual review and a participatory approach to management. You need to organize your department for action, and the Four Key Questions can assist you and your staff in that design.

Know Mobilization:

Any manager should be familiar with the professions of the staff she or he supervises. This is particularly applicable when the profession is community empowerment.

If you have not already done so, you should learn mobilization methods and principles. Think like a mobilizer, and you will be better able to manage a programme of mobilization. Use these documents to create your own curriculum.

Know some of the basic principles:
  1. choose development over charity,
  2. struggle (exercise) increases strength,
  3. enhance strengths and do not dwell on weaknesses,
  4. understand the social perspective,
  5. encourage and stimulate rather than control,
  6. practice and encourage transparency, courage, tolerance, respect and altruism, and
  7. promote participation (especially in decision making) at all levels of development and training.

The training throughout this web site can give you guidance in understanding the community empowerment process, and capacity development. If you are already knowledgeable, then review it. If you are new to the profession, study it.

Support and Encourage:

Remember that a manager has only one tool; people.

A typist may depend upon a typewriter, a driver on a vehicle, a digger on a shovel, but the manager is totally dependent upon people. If you do the work of those people, you are no longer a manager. Just as the driver must maintain the vehicle, and the typist keep the typewriter in good shape, you need to service and support your people, without whom you can not succeed in your job.

The problem of "Burnout" is a common illness afflicting social animators. It happens when a mobilizer is alone, tries to do too much, and the original enthusiasm becomes replaced by discouragement. Setbacks are a fact of life in the mobilizer work, and a field worker needs to be encouraged and paced. Your supervision and support can help to prevent burnout, and you can mitigate it by early detection and correction.

You can support your mobilizers in various ways.

Make as many field trips as you can to visit mobilizers in the communities. If you are often in the field, you can get a better picture of the whole process. Many situations and events will not reach you if you stay only behind a desk, but will be come apparent when you move around. Use the field trips to support your field staff, giving them advice, guidance and encouragement, based on what you see when you are together in the field.

Also, be visible to community members. That will give the community people evidence that their discussions with the mobilizer do not end with the mobilizer, but also get to you. Their increased confidence in the mobilizer and the process becomes a further way you support your mobilizer.

Training can never be once-and-for-all in this profession. Ensure that your mobilizers are given in-service training on a regular basis. Combine training with backstopping, encouragement, supervision and guidance. Organize workshops, conferences, seminars, and field trips.

You should try to bring your mobilizers together once a month, or at least once every two months for a two day conference. During those meetings, schedule times for them to report to each other and raise issues that they see as difficulties. Allow feedback between the mobilizers and, if appropriate, bring in experts or prepare your own presentations for them on such sticky issues, to be offered during the following regular meetings.

Defend the Method:

The empowerment methodology is not well understood outside the profession.

Most people do not understand the dangers of the charity approach, and do not see strengthening of the community as more important than the quick construction of a school or water utility. When senior officers in your own organization, or politicians, or journalists, ask a mobilizer why a school is not yet constructed, the mobilizer is diverted from her or his work. She or he may be tempted to spend unnecessary time defending the method (taking valuable time away from empowerment work); it should be your job to do so.

Take every opportunity to explain and defend the method: writing short briefs for VIP visitors, news releases, short routine and progress reports, talks on local radio stations, and discussions with influential persons. Pay a local or national journalist a small honorarium and provide field travel expenses to write an article about the method, explaining that the community empowerment is more important than the time it takes for them to construct their own school.

Keep your supervisor informed. Use the opportunity or preparing briefings and reports to teach principles and methods to your supervisor and those above your supervisor.

Watch out for "tourists." These include VIP visitors, journalists, representatives of donor agencies. Let them know about your objectives (the community strengthening, not the latrine).

Keep the capacity development objectives in mind (theirs and yours); do not get diverted. Engage in "running interference" for the mobilizers, protect your field staff from questions based upon ignorance and false assumptions.


Good management requires good planning. While that is true for most management situations, your job as a manager of mobilizers has some special planning characteristics.

You have two different sources of planning visions, and there is no guarantee that they will coincide. Your task in managing a programme of mobilization is to facilitate them coinciding as much as possible.

On one side, you have the district, regional or national planning process. Traditionally, this kind of planning has been centralised or what is often called "top down." Plans come to you from above, through your supervisors or district officials.

On the other side, you have the visions and desires of community members. Bottom Up. These are being drawn out by your mobilizers in brainstorming sessions and community meetings seeking priority issues, problems and solutions.

Fortunately, the difference between the two is not as problematical as it first appears. Increasingly government planners at national and regional offices are interested in having input from the general population, ie from the communities. So long as you make yourself known to them as a good and valid source of bottom up decision making, they will try to include your information into their national or regional plans.

Furthermore, the desires of community members in the communities where your mobilizers work are often already consistent with national priorities. This is especially apparent for goals such as physical constructions (water supplies, clinics, schools, feeder roads). It is less consistent for civil engagement or advocacy goals, which often involve conflict with government officials, landlords or others with power and vested interests.

Take on as a special responsibility to integrate regional or district planning with your mobilization programme. This means keeping good communications with regional or district authorities (depending upon your area of responsibility).

It is likely that those authorities will be open to hearing what the priorities of community members are, which you can obtain through your mobilizers. This of course means you need to have good communications with your mobilizers, and need to ensure that their report writing is effective.

Meanwhile you need to ensure that, during your regular (monthly or every two months) meetings with mobilizers, you keep them informed about decision making, vision, priorities and desires at the district or regional level.

See: Guidelines for Preparing a Work Plan

Paper Trail:

I do not have any scientific evidence or statistics, but in my experience, I have found that field workers and report writing are not easy to bring together.

It seems like mobilizers have a positive antipathy against making records and reports. The organizing of a community to do a self help project itself does not require report writing. The mobilizer gets caught up in the work, and often overlooks the need for keeping records and making reports. The problem with that is that mobilizers are living in the time, and do not stand back and see the bigger picture. They forget, or do not want to admit, that they will eventually leave and perhaps be replaced.

To ensure continuity and consistency of the intervention, the new mobilizer needs to know what has gone on before, what worked, what didn't, and lessons learned. Research should not have to be repeated.

Ensure mobilizers keep records and write reports. If you use the training material on this web site, and I recommend that our do, the initial introductory documents urge the mobilizer to begin writing journals. Keeping records is essential for later preparing reports, all activities and results, and lessons learned. Insist that they keep up the work of making records, and of writing reports.

Later organize a report writing workshop for your mobilizers, and use the material available on this web site. A whole module is dedicated to Report Writing. When a mobilizer leaves, ask that those records be left with the programme.

As a manager of a programme, you need to go beyond keeping mobilizer reports. You need to set up an MIS system (MIS = Management Information System). You need to explain how it works, and how your mobilizers must contribute to its operation. You need to show them its purpose, and what it should be able to do. See: Management Information. The information must be stored in such a way that it can easily be identified and retrieved ─ as needed.


Other modules give you some guidance about management in general. (Management Training, Participatory Management). Use those other management modules in conjunction with this one, which raises a few issues peculiar to managing a mobilization programme.

Know the principles and methods of mobilization; use the training material on this site to learn it or review it. You will relate better to your mobilizers, and get the most out of their activities in developing a programme.

Support your mobilizers with encouragement, guidance, advice, and your own actions, in the field and with your supervisors, politicians and journalists.

Defend the methodology because it is not well understood, and it is opposed by those with vested interests in keeping things the way they are.

Plan your programme, and use your position between the regional and national planning authorities and the community members, to integrate these two sources of planning vision.

Make sure there is a paper trail as records and reports are hugely important to your running a successful, sustainable, continuous and consistent programme of community empowerment.

Remember that management is far too important to be left only to the managers.


A Workshop:

A Workshop

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.09.03

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