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Involve communities to lead the future of development

Let's ensure all people can shape the decisions that affect their homes, environment and communities.

Photo of Ryan Schlief
19 11

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Imagine a new highway is being planned to go through your neighborhood. Even if you are supportive of the new highway, as a resident you may want to share your thoughts about how the new highway may impact your walk to work or school. You may also want to ask if there are plans to limit noise and air pollution. Maybe your neighborhood really needs an improved hospital or school. You may want to share these priorities and explain how important they are to your community. The problem, however is that around the world many development projects are designed, funded and implemented without the priorities and expertise of communities who may be affected positively or negatively by the project. Complete information about proposed projects is often not available or accessible. Once the proposed projects are finalized, it may be more difficult for communities to be involved and contribute their experience and expertise. How do we ensure all people can shape the decisions that affect their homes, environment and communities? IAP uses the newest technologies to collect and make accessible hundreds of projects being proposed each year. IAP and its partners distribute this information to communities nearest each proposed project - before the projects are finalized. Once contacted, IAP and its partners provide advice and training materials to encourage community-led participation in the development process. The experience and expertise of communities and local civil society are vital to the success of any development project. Development should be a process that enables all people to uphold and claim their rights, live with dignity and thrive on the land they love.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

IAP collaborates with people and organizations who are deeply connected with and dependent upon land and natural resources for their life, livelihood, belief system, culture and history. While communities may have their own development priorities or may not want any development at all, projects are often designed and implemented without their experience or expertise. Without considering their priorities or involving them at the earliest stages, development projects can cause harm.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

IAP and its partners created the first software to collect and organize proposed development projects and distribute this information to those nearest the proposed project. The software receives 7-10 projects a day - destined for virtually all countries of the world. The team summarizes the proposed project and distributes the information by in-person meetings, email and secure mobile messaging. More than 350 organizations around the world are assisting this project. Improved access to information and participation is multi-directional: the personal experience and expertise from communities and local civil society should be contribute to information held by governments, businesses and those financing development projects. That's why IAP and its partners support community-led trainings and community-led research initiatives to reinforce a response to a particular project. This idea is a bridge between the newest technology and the best-tested community engagement approaches.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

IAP believes development should be a process that enables all people to uphold and claim their rights, live with dignity and thrive on the land they love.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Gains by local communities and organization around the world have led to significant progress in recognizing the importance of community-led development. However, until this initiative, communities often found out about development projects only when construction started - months or even years after the projects were designed and funded. A new effort to move earlier in the decision-making process became necessary.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Development projects may carry strong political and financial interests by local and national positions of power. Especially within a closed or closing space for civil society and communities to exercise their basic rights, attempting to participate in the development process may be limited without the necessary information and materials on how to respond.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

More than 350 organizations around the world have signed up to receive updates about proposed development projects. As the pilot phase continues, this network will increase by at least 150 more organizations. To deepen global leadership and inclusiveness, more than a dozen organization will join to manage and direct the initiative's next steps.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

This initiative provides information communities need about potential development projects near them and materials to reinforce their participation.

Geographic Focus

Development is global and this is a global project.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

18 Months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

In the past pilot year, the total number of reviewed development projects in the database grew from 1,370 in 2017 to over 7,000 so far in 2018. More than 1800 projects were distributed in 2017 and 10 community-led response were directly supported. With new committed resources, we plan to increase the number of projects distributed and the number of community-led responses supported. While the focus of the project will remain getting the information and support to communities and local organizations, the database and community training resources will be publicly available in the second half of 2018.

Attachments (1)

Introducing IAP FEB18.pdf

Learn more about our work to encourage community-led development around the world!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Claire

Hello there, this is a great project idea and so important to involve communities in major infrastructure decisions that can impact their lives. Communities around the world function very differently. I'm curious to know how do you intend to engage with communities? And where do you intend on starting?
All the best

Photo of Dima Boulad

Congrats on identifying a great gap Ryan Schlief ! Your solutions hits very close to home, as I live in a city where citizens are never consulted for any decision taken that might affect us a lot, and we always feel so alienated. The most common form of dialogue that we have with municipalities and other forms of power are protests! Protests in Lebanon are very common, and civil society constantly battling for our most basic human rights.
So I do agree with @Claire here, can you elaborate a bit more on how you intend to approach communities without sometimes sounding as if the approach is a "one size fits all"? What if a solution that works in Beirut might be very counterproductive in Nairobi? How do you ensure that you stay culturally relevant?

Photo of Claire

Hello Dima Boulad 
I see that Ryan hasn't replied back yet with regards to our questions but I wanted to say thanks for your comment and sharing your experience in Lebanon. It must be terribly exhausting to always be forced into conflict for change instead of peacefully options with the leaders of your communities. May this be different one day.

Please have a read of my project Footsteps To Inspire - it is a completely peaceful approach to addressing the issue of sexual violence around the world. I will be running in Lebanon at the end of 2019 and it would be great to talk with you further about it.

Have a lovely day

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Hi Claire and Dima - so nice to meet you and thanks for opening up this conversation.

As you both likely have experienced, any engagement on 'development' should start with and be centered on people and the environment to be affected positively or negatively. This of course may not happen and the community-led response should itself model a human-centered design approach, if possible.

There is much to discuss on this topic - but here are some main points from our perspective:

1) Safety and Security
First and foremost, as you know, safety and security for those involved in any engagement on development varies by and within a country. Since many governments have already limited or are increasing limitations on access to information and the freedom of assembly and association, exchanging information with the communities and local organizations nearest a proposed development project and reinforcing their response can be challenging. Even possessing information about a development project can be dangerous for community organizers. We are piloting various communication systems between us and our partners in several countries. While no system is completely secure, we with local and national partners are working to understand and then make adjustments to limit the safety and security risks of sharing information and organizing a community-led response.

2) Contextual strategy
As you read, the primary objective of the Early Warning System is to reach those closest to a proposed project with accessible informational and to reinforce their response with materials, direct trainings and partnership connections. Since the outreach is done with national and local partners, they will be involved in advising or even participating in part of the community-led response.

Ideally for IAP, a community-led response involves some form of community-led research. The results of which document the experience and experiences of community members and can be used to better understand the deeper context for the response.

3) Materials and Guides
Beyond the local / national context, when the Early Warning System team and our partners conduct outreach, local communities generally fall into three categories: those who have not heard anything about a proposed project; those who have heard some information about a proposed project but do not know the specifics or timeline; and those who know a project is coming, but lack information about the institutions and actors funding it.

Generally all local communities, movements and local organizations benefit from additional information about proposed projects and how to respond. However our model is not just to provide information - but also materials and contact to reinforce what is then done with the information.

In reality, communities often mobilize around a project once they know it's been confirmed. IAP and our partners have recognized that many communities, movements and local organization are not yet mobilized when they are initially contacted about a proposed project. This makes total sense, of course, and it greatly informs next steps.

Even if they are mobilized or there is an existing structure for mobilization, community groups often lack information about how and to whom they can respond. While we has seen some communities, movements and local groups with the capacity to conduct their own community-led responses, many need basic materials (eg how was the development project proposed and designed in the first place?) to take the first steps. Here is where IAP's Community Action Guide materials and also our partners' training materials can be helpful. We hope with these Guides, community organizers and local groups can start on organizing on their own.

Thanks again for opening up this important conversation and I look forward to continuing it!


Photo of Claire

Hello Ryan,

Thanks for your reply and further info on your project.

May I just add one further bit of info. I've run now in 38 countries across most regions of the world and engaged with communities in many different areas and contexts. The one thing that I hear a lot is how communities feel isolated by the NGOs they work with because of all of the jargon. Are you able to take some of the above details and make it more user-friendly language, more visual language or even stories to convey a message. Currently it is quite hard to conceptualise without strong technical language.

All the best with this project

Photo of Ryan Schlief

You are so right! The prevailing language and processes of 'development' are overly complex and exclude virtually everyone. We use straight-forward language / illustrations / exercises in our training materials to overcome this - but it is always a challenge!

Thanks for all your support, Claire!


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