When you’re solving the world’s toughest problems, no question is too small. In this new regular segment, we’ll be answering questions from our supporters and you can ask yours too.
Q: How does Practical Action choose which communities to work with? Do you approach them, or do they come to you?
Answer by Ute Collier, from our Influence and Impact team.
We can’t work with every community in need, of course. We try to select communities where there are important needs that our programmes can address.
If we are approached by a community from another location, we consider whether it is pragmatic for us to start new work in their area as part of our broader strategy. Deciding to work in a given location is not just about supporting an individual community, but about working with all the local partners, so there are many factors to consider.
All of our work begins with a process of developing a relationship with the communities. From there, we identify who we need to work with to bring about the positive change the community needs.
Q: I wondered why local authorities aren’t solving the problems slum communities face?
Answer by Uttam Saha, Strategic Lead on Urban and Energy.
Often local authorities want to do more to meet the needs of their residents, but they have competing priorities. For example, the need to raise finances to run public services, which could mean prioritising the needs of their business community. Or they may be trapped in systems that leave them very little flexibility for change. If they are spending a lot of time and money maintaining waste vehicles and systems that only just allow them to reach the central business district of the town, they struggle to imagine how they could stretch their resources to do any more.
They may also fear criticism if they are seen in some way to ‘legitimise’ the presence of slum communities on land which doesn’t belong to them – even if that community has been there for generations.
We help build lines of communication between slum communities and local authorities so they can each understand the challenges the other faces. We aim to build trust and respect where before there was suspicion and accusation. We help show local authorities and communities new ways of doing things that work within the limits they face, and start to push the boundaries.
Q: How do you measure the success of your projects?
Answer by Stuart Leckie, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor.
Each of our projects is designed with a specific aim in mind – for instance, to decrease poverty in a farming community. From the outset, we work hard to break that aim down into specific targets and indicators, so that we can monitor the effectiveness of our work both during and after the project.
Most often our projects are complex and take many years. We constantly monitor our progress towards the project aim, and adapt what we’re doing on the ground if it’s not working as planned. We also commission an external evaluation for our projects, so we get the benefit of an objective assessment.
Measuring the success of our projects is essential to our ethos of continual improvement. We work out what works, and we do more of it.