OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

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
23 10

Written by

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!


Photo of Martha

Hi Ryan,
I would love to lean more about your work, and what it looks like in the United States. We are attempting to implement similar principles in Northern Vermont.

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Great to meet you Martha! Perhaps you can send an email to us?

Thanks for reaching out!


Photo of Leonardo

It's a very good idea! Congratulations for the inspiration and the will of helping communities! I live in Brazil, and, as general, people aren't aware of the projects running in the cities, actualy, do not even know how to influence on it. I believe that politicians must have to ask people before aprove projects, because those projects will be realized with people's money! an associated feature could allow voters to choose projects while still being designed by politicians, or suggest projects for their communities. In some Brazilian cities there are mobile applications that allow the resident to supervise the city, such as informing the water company that there is a leak in a particular plumbing. But it is still far from your idea, much wider. My apologies for my poor english,

Photo of Vidhya Shanker

This is lovely and would be very useful to our work at SLFND, which we hope will lead to villagers' stewardship of their land and culture. While our idea submission, Ta-Valema Learning Lab , focuses on the social enterprise piece, the larger goal is that communities do not just participate in these decisions, but lead them--much like many US indigenous tribes now have their own IRBs to determine whether, how, when, and where research can be conducted on/ with their community. (As one of my Native friends said, "we're not here to take part; we're here to take over!") Of course, the relative advantage tribes have in this regard is that they are sovereign nations.

We would love to try to work together, although much of our situation involves not just "development," but industry. I wonder if you have any thoughts about how to address accountability in that regard?

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Hello Vidhya,

Thank you for starting this conversation. We can connect you with the IAP staff person working in Sierra Leone - please send us a note:

I read your idea submission with great interest. For us, the projects we track will almost always have a private component - an investor, a construction company, etc. Campaigns directed to these private actors have informed and even improved local efforts for community-led development priorities. When we work on the private side, there are many factors to consider (where they are located, what is their role, how are they financed) - so it is best to partner with a business and human rights / corporate accountability organization within the country.

I am sure you know those active in Sierra Leone - but happy to connect you as well.

Thank you for opening up this conversation and we look forward to your email!


Photo of Vidhya Shanker

Thanks--our work is entirely based on non-adversarial, multidisciplinary, and cross-sectoral partnership, so we welcome your input and your specific ideas. As you may have read, we are founded by a Sierra Leonean who has been working there and is well connected, but because he is currently in a remote area without electricity or consistent communications and now spends more than 2/3 of the year out of the Sierra Leone--yes, it would be great to connect with your staff person and others active in the country. We have in fact been seeking additional partners. One of our closest relationships is with the Network Movement for Justice & Development, which you may be familiar with. I will send this request by email as well.

Thanks so much,

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Great Vidhya Shanker looking forward to connecting you with my colleague!

Talk soon,


Photo of Jaci Braga

There are so many "development" projects happening that are harmful to both local communities and the environment. It would be amazing to receive information about all upcoming projects before they begin so that the community can actually have a say in what the municipality, state or federal government has planned. We would love to partner with you to receive this kind of information and our youth EEJL leaders could also use this information to take action and help ensure that planned projects are taking into consideration the needs of the community and the planet. Please check us out here:

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Bon dia Jaci Braga - so nice of you to reach out.

Sorry to hear that you know of many projects which are harmful to communities. So we can share more, let's connect you and my colleague working in Brazil. Please send us an email:

It was great to read your challenge idea, Jaci. All the best with it! And, are you in Bahia, by the way?

I am glad we connected, Jaci!


Photo of Jaci Braga

Hello Ryan,

Yes, I am in Bahia. I will go ahead and send my email. Thanks for you response and connection!

Best wishes,


Photo of Ryan Schlief

Awesome Jaci Braga - talk to you soon!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Ryan Schlief sounds like you are doing some amazing work with lots of different communities, for this proposal are there specific communities you would hope to work with if so can you share a bit more context around why and the specific things you'd like to achieve?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Hi Ashley Tillman - good to hear from you. I'm actually getting a lot of questions and feedback from others - it's been really helpful!

We do have information on the goals, objectives and proposed activities of the project as well as our target audiences. Here are the overall thoughts at this point.

Outcome 1: To inform participation in advancing community-led development priorities, in 2019 the Early Warning System identified and distributed to local community groups, 2,000 projects that key development banks were considering for financing and exchanged local experience and expertise to strengthen a community-led response to the development banks, governments and private actors involved.

Outcome 2: The Early Warning System created and curated training and advocacy tools to strengthen mobilization and advocacy within community-led campaigns directed towards development banks, governments and private actors. In 2019, IAP gave direct support to 10 community-led campaigns and shared its materials with 30 other community-led campaigns.

Outcome 3: To anticipate development activities and therefore to have better prepared civil society responses, with data from the Early Warning System and community-led research, the Early Warning System conducted and shares statistical information with local and national advocacy groups to understand existing and future trends in development by bank, sector, geography and community response. In 2019, IAP produced a trends analysis for each global sub-region, each bank and each sector and laid the ground work for a further assessment of community response for 2020.

While there are other target audiences for particular activities, this is how we define the overall target audience:

IAP collaborates with people, movements and organizations who are deeply connected with and dependent upon land and natural resources for their life, livelihood, belief system, culture and history. Communities facing development they don't want often lack political and economic power in their countries and do not have access to information and decision-making spaces where development decisions are made. The most destructive and high-risk projects are consistently sited in the most economically and politically marginalized communities. Ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, urban communities in informal settlements and women are impacted disproportionately by harmful projects, and are forced to bear a huge portion of the externalized costs. Although, given their status, the same communities negatively affected by development should be, if they wish, among the first in line for any development benefits.

Awesome! I hope this is helpful. There's more to share and I am happy to share / speak more Ashley Tillman!

Thanks so much for reaching out!


p.s. Are you based in Oakland? IAP actually got it's start in the Bay Area and before moving to NYC, our office was in Oakland for several years. I'm missing it, but will visit this August!

Photo of Bahaa

Dear Ryan,
This idea is great and so much needed in the development community, as you explained often the local communities who are the ones who are deeply affected by such projects are not included. Can you explain how it can be accessed and works?, and where it is currently available, if it is currently not available for us, how can we ask to use it and does it require particular conditions to be able to implement?
Thank You
All the best

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Hello Bahaa - so nice to meet you!

At this moment in our work, you'd need to connect with one of our staff to receive updates about proposed projects. If you focus on Occupied Palestine, we do have information specifically for Palestine - so please do reach out ( outside of this chat and you'll be connected to the appropriate staff person at IAP.

Thanks again Bahaa for reaching out!


Photo of Allison Pinto

It is so true that, as you say, "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." Your plan to make information available to community members EARLY enough in the process for them to be genuine co-creators of efforts is essential. Over time, would it be possible to build a platform so that community members could access information directly, without it necessarily being mediated through your partner organizations? Or do you believe it is the trusting relationships that community members already have with these organizations that makes it more likely they will trust information you share? This might be helpful to describe a bit more, from a human-centered design perspective.

Photo of Ryan Schlief

Hi Allison - thanks for reaching out! We really appreciate your questions.

It would be great to make this information more widely available, but for us, it is not just about sharing information more widely - it's about what is done with it to create change.

In fact, we will be sharing the community campaigns and proposed project data on a public platform this year, but the primary target audience of this space are international and national non profits. The off line outreach and community support work being done, project by project, will not change, even once the information we share is publicly available in one space.

The information we share travels mostly through non-profits (email, text, dropbox, in person) so there are people who can provide communities with better-placed resources and support.

Also, we don't plan to be so globally known that a urban community in Kenya or a village in Brazil would regularly visit our platform to learn if a project is coming to their area.
This is not realistic for us or any online platform actually.

The work we are do challenges what is often not a human-centered design process and through the community-led research work, begins to show how starting with and centering on people and the environment would have made any effort better.

Thanks again for starting this conversation, Allison!