Working with communities
The single most important component of the programme is community participation. Without this there would be no motivation for involvement in the various activities taking place, little likelihood of communities making cash or in-kind contributions, no sense of ownership of the resources provided, and critically, no long term sustainability
How we work
Practical Action has only two staff working on the DIPECHO programme. A Project Manager and a Project Officer. As such Practical Action is dependent on its partners, two local NGOs, for the day to day running of all field based activities.
SAHAMATI and CSC each have a programme coordinator, technical manager, finance admin/staff member and three field facilitators each working on the project. CSC in Nawalparasi, SAHAMATI in Chitwan. It's through the field facilitators, who come from and live in the communities they work with, that our partners get day to day feedback on the progress of work.
In its turn Practical Action interacts with its two partners and supports them in working with communities, district authorities and other stakeholders. The programme aims to strengthen these partners as well as the communities, to broaden their skills and experience and to increase their capacity to work with other international NGOs and donors in the future. Practical Action carries out no work itself that the partners can't do themselves.
Mobilising the community
Participation is the key to success in any community based programme. Participation can only be guaranteed if communities are fully aware of what is taking place and are involved in the decision making processes. As such Practical Action carried out extensive consultative processes both before and during the programme. These ensured community members were aware of who Practical Action, CSC, SAHAMATI and ECHO are, what resources were available to assist them and how they could contribute and take part in the programme. As part of this latter exercise communities decided to elect management committees to act as representatives of their communities and act as the contact points for Practical Action and its partners.
Communities were left alone to decide their committees make-up, though the inclusion on the "VDC Secretary", the lowest level government representative, on the committee, where this post existed, was felt to be appropriate, so as to include the government from day one. Committees had very few female members in most cases, though over the course of the programme as members have left or dropped out and been replaced, the number has increased significantly.
It is not by chance that the community with the highest number of female committee members, is also the community with the highest levels of participation and community contribution.
From experience of other programmes Practical Action realised that to generate real enthusiasm early on in the programme it would have to do more than talk and plan. It would need to provide tangible benefits to the communities as a stimulus to involvement. As such, and with the monsoon starting only three months after the projects start, Practical Action encouraged the construction of dykes and spurs from the outset, as these were highlighted as the number one priority in nearly all locations.
Responsibility and transparency
Practical Action and its partners made it clear they were willing to invest in their communities, but only if communities used the resources wisely and fairly and made contributions themselves. The first stage in this was to ensure that in any decisions made everyone in the community was aware. To this end notice boards were set up in all communities, in a central and easily accessible location, where various pieces of information are posted. These include meeting minutes, a monthly project bulletin posted by the local partner NGO stating what has been done and what activities are planned next, "tender" documents, the results of any tendering processes and announcements of up-coming events and activities.
Through this any confusion or accusations of bias or favourtism have been avoided, as everyone can see who made decisions and on what basis. Where for instance a contract has been awarded in the community for providing and transporting rocks to construct a dyke, all the quotations are put up, indicating the cheapest, which by the rules established must be the one chosen. Such processes have greatly increased trust and understanding within all communities.
In all activities, Practical Action requests a donation or contribution of some kind from the community. This is based on the principle that if something is really worth having and required by the community, they will want to contribute. The programme is there to assist the work of communities, not act as a substitute for it.
Contributions come in the form of donated land (for tower sites), gifts in kind (furniture for shelters), cash contributions (to buy land for shelters and pay for construction activities) and the contribution of community labour (for dyke and spur construction).