SERVICES DESIGN - PLANNING PROCESS
Practical Action maintains a people first approach to housing. We firmly believe that when the
housing process starts with comprehensively identifying the needs of the people, then the
technology for providing the infrastructure and services will fall into place. Practical Action is
committed to the fact that a house is not merely a structure but a starting point for communities
to regain a lost future.
This brief describes this approach taken by Practical Action in post-tsunami reconstruction in Sri
Lanka. However, it would also have wider application wherever homes and livelihoods have been
damaged by disasters or where rebuilding or improvement projects are being undertaken with the
resident population that is vulnerable; in many slums or informal settlements, for example.
Prior to designing permanent shelters for persons displaced by disasters it is imperative to
engage the community in the planning process. It is also important that communities understand
the context of the changes and future risks they will have to face as a result of the disaster.
It is recommended that prior to entering into housing rebuilding; a general discussion takes
place. This will help participation of the community and the housing rebuilding subsequent
Figure 1: Photo credit: Practical Action South Asia
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Figure 2: Photo credit: Practical Action South Asia
Engaging the community
Identity and list the most successful strategies used by communities living in
In consultation with the community, build on indigenous measures to develop
strategies that have already been successful. The following mechanisms are
recommended to integrate community participation in the planning process:
Include both women and men from the community in the assessment,
planning and implementing of housing programmes.
Invite women and men who are leaders in the community to strategic
planning meetings and discussion, to enable a better focus on ground
realities, leading to more targeted strategies.
Identify and plan out the most useful forms of communication that can
highlight and address the needs and concerns of women and men and
marginalised communities such as people with disabilities.
Bring together the different village-level organizations working in the area
and share the focus / mandate of these organizations.
Make sure that community-level practitioners/CBOs secure the involvement
of both women and men in the community in local organisations.
Source: Madhavi Malagoda Ariyabandu and Maithree Wickramasinghe (2003) Gender Dimensions in
Disaster management: A Guide for South Asia, ITDG South Asia Publication
Participatory surveys, processes and analysis aim to create and recognise multiple perspectives
and offset biases by creating a debate about change. Debate about change should generate new
thinking and a readiness to take action.
1. Time should be allowed for survey design, testing and adjustment prior to large-scale efforts.
2. Flexible and informal techniques should prevent collection of superfluous detail.
3. Data analysis should be an integral part of fieldwork not something done afterwards or by
4. Collective analysis of the findings from pilot surveys should result in changes to the approach.
Tools for participatory assessment
The following are some of the tried and tested tools of participatory assessment, these should be
adjusted and new approaches invented based on local knowledge and preferences.
Review of existing information – what do we know already?
Existing written material can provide a rich overview of relevant issues. Media, reports
and information gathered by others should be reviewed keeping in mind that often these
materials will have been written for a different purpose at a different time. Nonetheless
“secondary data sources” can promote thinking and raise many questions for further
Observation – watch and learn
Simply watching people, noting what they do and how they act in a variety of situations
can be very instructive. For example, if you observe the dynamics at a gathering you will
get clues as to who is a natural or appointed leader in the community and clues will be
evident as to who is excluded either by their total absence or silence during discussions.
It is important to select the most appropriate tools and methodologies depending on the
location/ communities etc. It is recommended that a suitable combination of a few tools
is selected and used to obtain community participation.
Semi-structured interviews – talking with a purpose
People like to talk - having a conversation is the most natural thing in the world.
Careful planning and some flexibility can go a long way to guiding natural conversations
to ensure you cover issues of interest. Listening carefully and following up on the issues
which are of most concern will result in an awareness of people’s concerns, problems
and priorities for the future. Unexpected or new topics which arise can offer a fruitful
direction of enquiry to pursue. Such interviews can be carried out with individuals, in
small groups, and with specific people who are felt to be key players because of their
specialist knowledge or roles. Interviewers should stop at the end of each interview and
note their findings and share these with others at the end of each day to promote
learning and to revise the structure of future interviews.
Drama, role play, songs and visual art forms – tell us a story
Traditionally, performing arts can be used to
express ideas and concerns which might
otherwise remain buried. Sensitive issues can be
tackled in a non-personal way. Performers can
structure their story in a way that raises questions
or encourages the audience to determine the story
line. For example, role plays talking about the
lives of a fictitious Mr & Mrs Perera and their
children has been used to promote discussion
about HIV/AIDS in a way that saves any
embarrassment, raises problems and suggests
advice they might be given to overcome the
challenges they face.
Diagrams and visual tools – can you picture
Diagrams and symbolic representation can
usefully represent the current situation and risks
faced at many levels. Laying symbols and
diagrams out and noting how people relate various
risks and measures to counter them can be
informative in understanding existing coping
mechanisms. The products may be interesting but
it is often the conversations that people have
during these processes that provide the richest
materials for learning. Comparing and talking
Figure 3: Photo credit: Practical
Action South Asia
about the differences between diagrams produced by different groups of people can also
be instructive. For example by asking women and men, or young and old people, or able
bodied and people with disabilities to work separately a rich and diverse picture will
Mapping – it looks like this
Collectively producing a
map of an area can
identify specific hazards
and features which
vulnerable people can use
to mobilise in times of
need to minimise the
risks to life and property.
Mapping can also be used
as a tool to plan how
neighbourhoods should be
materials can be used to
Figure 4: Photo credit: Practical Action South Asia
create maps, from sticks
and stones to computer based software. If you need to keep a record then the process
should be paper based or be transcribed onto paper.
Transects – a slice of life
By taking a walk through a neighbourhood, or potential settlement area, a group of
people can record what they see, talk to people along the way and make notes, look at
natural features and identify hazards. Taking pictures and later discussing what was
taken and why it is considered important can generate useful debate.
Modelling – bringing ideas to life
Ideas can be brought to life through building models – using simple local materials or
scale drawings can all enhance a process involving people in defining their built
environment. The same techniques can be used to show what neighbourhoods,
community spaces or individual dwellings might look like.
Seasonal calendars – what a difference a year makes
People’s daily reality and livelihood options can change significantly with the seasons.
Hazards change in periods of rain or drought, women and men’s workloads may vary
enormously and their economic situation accordingly. Plotting out a seasonal calendar
with older and younger people, women and men will help to understand the seasonally
dependent hazards and opportunities.
Figure 5: Photo credit: Practical Action South Asia
Social and institutional network analysis – who’s who?
All communities rely on social networks and institutions to govern, organise, and access
resources and services. Careful mapping of organisations, for example by placing cut out
circles of varying sizes and colours in relation to each other, can highlight which formal
and informal organisations relate most to, or which ones are disconnected from,
communities. It is possible to identify who has responsibility for and controls what.
Pivotal relationships and gatekeepers can be identified and implications for any
Livelihoods & class analysis – how do you make a living?
Diagrams and discussions can help to understand individuals’ and households’ sources
of livelihoods, behaviour, decision making and coping strategies. Interventions can be
focused to strengthen and /or diversify the existing livelihood options and mitigate
Gendered resource mapping – what’s the difference?
By exploring resource availability and use by women and men an appreciation of who
controls what and how each benefits can be gained, and a profile can be established.
Problem tree – getting to the root of it
This process aims to create an understanding of prominent problems impacting on
individuals and communities. Collective discussion aims to dig deeper in order to
understand the root causes and then develop strategies to address these rather than
simply tackling symptoms. The branches of the tree reach for the light to nourish future
Ranking and scoring – putting things in place
Hazards, needs or planned actions, services, or any aspect of development can be placed
in a matrix and people can be asked to rank each according to the others. By asking
people to share out finite numbers of counters (beans, stones or any other local object
available in quantity) a quantitative ranking can be created. It remains true that the
discussion and qualitative debate is more interesting than any absolute numbers coming
out of the exercise.
Disability mapping – whose needs are special?
A census of disabled people and their disabilities within the community, their location,
their livelihood options and the facilities which are available to assist them need to be
mapped, so that they can be included in community based activities and their future
Figure 6: Photo credit: Practical Action South Asia