Success indicators of community participation in development projects (Part 1)
Our new CEO, Nobi, describes how to involve the community in developing success indicators for development projects.
Community participation has become the ‘buzz’ word in development projects, many of which (both government and private) advocate involving communities in one way or the other.
Examples of such government programmes in South Africa are the Community Based Public Works Programme (CBPWP), Working for Water and Zivuseni to name just a few. In all these programmes participation of communities happens, in a variety of ways; with communities offering their labour and getting paid for it, or their participation in the process from design to implementation.
A number of studies have touched on community participation, hinting at what contributes to community participation being a success and what may contribute to community participation being a failure.
The literature on community participation suggests that there is no comprehensive list of success or failure indicators. Moreover, the literature also suggests that some confusion exists over whether to classify these indicators as either qualitative or quantitative. To add to the confusion some authors simply don’t classify the indicators at all, whilst for others one author’s qualitative indicator is another’s quantitative indicator.
While there are no standardised success indicators, literature does provide guidelines that can be used to measure the success of community participation in projects. In this article we focus on quantitative indicators using various project examples from previous research. This article critically discusses quantitative indicators. These measures are drawn from projects that have been visited for research purposes. Readers of this article should also note that indicators discussed in the article may not all be present for a project to qualify as successful.
Economic indicators look at measurable economic benefits of a project. For example, a project that has employed participants who benefit economically from it. This indicator is relatively easy to measure as in most cases government programmes commit to, and spell out, what they intend to pay out to participants and whether there is an accounting system in place. Therefore, if the project has been able to employ a number of beneficiaries who are paid the project would be considered successful.
Organisational growth relates to the knowledge possessed by project members of the organisation that is assisting them, for example a community based organisation or a non-governmental organisation. So, for example, a project would have to be informed about these organisations’ activities, how far they can assist them and so on.
Various studies indicate that the ability of project members to have knowledge about organisations assisting them is limited. Usually, project leaders and steering committee members are more likely to possess the information.
Participation in project activities
Measuring participation in project activities has a number of components. For example it looks at the associations that the project has formed, attendance rates at meetings, the attendance rate at project meetings, the number of members actively involved in project group meetings and so on. It also looks at the change in size of membership over the project period.
Research studies conducted show that it is not easy for projects to form associations even if they may be offering the same services as each other. There are a number of reasons for this. The fact that some of the projects are in rural areas and may not have the necessary resources, for example, things like telephones, the ability to network and so forth. Another reason may be that projects normally compete for funds and may not see the benefit of forming associations with each other. It is easy, however to measure things like attendance at project meetings since projects are likely to keep a register of members who attend and so on. Most projects do have monthly project meetings.
The size of membership is an interesting indicator to measure. Research studies indicate that it is rare that the size of membership stay constant. An evaluation conducted by S&T of a vegetable garden in Limpopo found that in 2000 the number of the project members was seventy-nine and four years later (2004) the number of project members had decreased to half. The community initiated the vegetable garden in 1994. Interestingly, this project is still viewed as successful since it was still operational after having faced a number of challenges.
There are a number of factors that influence the increase or decrease of project members. In this Limpopo project, for example, during interviews respondents mentioned that the project had faced a number of challenges and some members were disheartened, the work was quite physical and those who are seen as ‘lazy’ tend to leave the project.
This relates to the developmental aspects of project members as they participate in the process. For example, project members obtaining training, establishing links with formal organisations and the projects’ ability to identify gaps in skills within their project and address them.
The success of project members obtaining training differs from project to project. In some projects skills development forms part of the process whilst in other projects training may take place shortly after the project has been completed. Project members then possess a skill which they are able to utilise beyond project implementation. This is easy to measure because researchers can get information on how many people were trained, what they were trained in and so forth. A project is considered successful if it has achieved these objectives.
Providing skills also relates to the quality of skills that are provided by the project. It is not easy to measure quality of training and it can only be done over time. This measure also relates to the ability of project members to identify the skills gap within their project and to address them as they progress.
We note that quantitative indicators are easy to measure. Qualitative indicators of success on the other hand are not easily verifiable and may take lengthy periods to establish. We will discuss these in an article to appear in the next issue of Phatlalatsa.