Community participation and inter-institutional linkaging
Two “live wires” for the sustainability of risk communication
General | Community participation | Inter-institutional linkaging | Strategy and lines of action | Planning | Inter-institutional coordination and contact with the community | Inter-institutional consensus-building, contact and community extension | Inter-institutional convergence and continuity in community work | References
There are different models for social well-being programs in communities. Methodologies vary according to the focus and the background of the people involved in designing the proposals. One often finds projects based only on referential frameworks; however, practical experience gives us the understanding that makes it possible to produce feasible proposals.
The planning and design of programs should not be converted into empirical proposals. On the contrary, the approach should be professional and multidisciplinary. Constant critical reflection is an indispensable element in the monitoring and evaluation of the activities carried out.
There are no recipes for an ideal program, but in each case the social, cultural, political, religious, economic, historic, and geographic contexts must be taken into account. This implies giving careful consideration to the perception of the beneficiary families and communities, rather than relying solely on the perception of the external agent, who might well be unaware of the community work processes.
of community participation are not large-scale globalized proposals,
but small local ones. Elements conducive to success can be capitalized,
of course, but remember that the replication or cloning of procedures
does not always work : social development is not a laboratory process.
It is of the utmost importance to achieve a horizontal relationship between the outside organization and the community, that is, a peer relationship, where the community’s participation is conscious and voluntary, and not a result of manipulation. This means that the “top-down” approach of some programs needs to be removed, by means of agreements and mutual commitments.
These process will be facilitated if the knowledge of the population on the issue to be addressed is evaluated, systematized, and strengthened. The community’s knowledge, besides explaining the situation of the population, is socially legitimated knowledge about the fact that the program seeks to modify. It is the external agents who have to adapt their proposals to bring them into line with the conditions in the community, and this is achieved when the program personnel have a committed attitude toward, and genuine interest in, the persons whom the program seeks to benefit.
Program activities should be conducted in a framework of cultural respect, giving priority to the population’s perceptions, and integrating the institutional and community viewpoints by a process of negotiation of knowledge about the proposed lines of action.
In the design of documented successful experiences, seven elements can be identified:
In this chapter we discuss the advantages of a work proposal consisting of two components:
Institution-linkaging processes (to enable two or more institutions to join efforts in solving specific problems) will fall short of their goals unless they have the support of the community groups. Community participation seeks to strengthen the organization of the communities, promoting basic groups – women, children, young adults, men, agricultural producers – and identifying audience segments by groups of interest. Workshops or meetings are therefore organized for each group in order to carry out the proposed tasks with the participation of the institutions and the community.
Inter-institutional linkaging designs operating strategies to be applied jointly by governmental and private institutions, and non-governmental, academic, and civil society organizations, in order to pool their efforts and resources to meet a common goal. It should be a sustained process where the institutions optimize resources and carry out activities with shared accountability.
Coordination among institutions is an administrative task involving the first levels of the organizational charts. It should be done by means of programs that are combined (or “interwoven”) to complement the tasks. This requires each of the organizations involved to have clear indicators to identify which points can be strengthened by linkaging. Thus, coordination among organizations is merely one step on the way to inter-institutional linkaging.
The whole purpose of community participation and inter-institutional linkaging is to construct sustainable processes. The methodology therefore calls for constant critical evaluation and on-going reflection about the work process. To remove the risk that the programs will be carried out based on mere activism, the methodologies, systems, strategies, and techniques will need to be clearly defined.
The steps in this methodology of community participation and inter-institutional linkaging are listed in the following table. The table shows the lines of action that can be considered for each strategy level, although in practice some of the strategies and lines of action may be developed simultaneously or in a different order from that shown.
Planning covers the lines of action determined during the scheduling of the community aspects to be addressed by the program. These lines of action are used as parameters to be referred to during the program activities. They enable program personnel to make decisions on the procedures to be carried out in the field to achieve the participatory processes. In addition, they make it possible to meet specific needs of institutions and communities. Planning helps us to foresee any obstacles that may be inherent to the work programs and therefore enables us to get measures ready to tackle them.
There are eight lines of action:
1) Strategic area: The program’s areas of intervention must be delineated from the outset, in order to define the resources and the processes that will be proposed. The strategic area will be geographically located where the institutions have a permanent presence or have previously attempted to work. This area should be such that the process of linkaging may be extended to each of the localities.
In each of the strategic areas, the operating personnel of the institution and the community members are specifically trained to play a direct role in the processes. Specific tasks are proposed for solving problems, with input from the social institutions and organizations.
2) Initial community diagnosis: The diagnosis reveals the community’s problems so that we can start working appropriately given the existing conditions. The diagnosis involves looking for documents, statistics, and maps from different sources. During this stage we should approach the community so that the inhabitants may enrich the diagnosis with their own words and express their perceptions of the issues that the program is to address.
3) X-ray of operating coordination: It is important to identify official, private, and academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations and civil society, in order to contact them before the work begins in the community. This will make it easier to set in motion the strategies and coordination to prevent duplicity of actions and to promote the resources, services, and training of the community.
Map of services: The
map of services concentrates the information obtained in the x-ray
of operating coordination and indicates the programs and services
offered by each agency in the area. The map of services is prepared
after program activities have started, once it is known in practice
what each institution really does. Information is subsequently cross-checked
among the institutions. The operating areas of the organizations concerned,
and their programs, lines of action, and activities, will be listed
in a register.
6) Objectives: The objectives give us a clear understanding of what we are going to do. We may modify the objectives as the work progresses. Such modifications would be based on a critical examination of the work, and would occur, for example, to prevent the program from falling into routine situations due to technical or methodological constraints.
7) Strategic community: A place will be defined where the methodological process of linkaging and community participation will first be applied in order to create a replicable microprocess with the following characteristics:
It is better to select the strategic community once the support institution has given its opinion. The support institution knows the region better, and in this way it is more feasible that it will feel identified with the work proposal.
8) Approach strategy: It is indispensable to have adequate instruments for starting the program in the community, especially if alternative work models are to be used. The proposal will be made by the support institution and others found in the strategic community. Examples are the community assembly for reflection and training workshops, described later in this chapter.
1) Contact with the institutions: Once the support institution and the strategic community have been identified, and the approach strategy defined, the other organizations will be invited to take part in the process. This will encourage coordinated organization based on cogent specific tasks.
2) Invitation: Building the community’s capability for active participation is not a task that is carried out in the same way under all circumstances. In the action strategy to be developed, we have to consider the various factors influencing the population in their daily lives: factors such as felt needs, the presence of community-based organizations, standard of living, forms of leadership, the pace of the population, and their attitude to the organizations participating or to the program in general. The program may be promoted by an organization from within the community, by outside organizations, or by the community itself.
3) Community assembly for reflection: This proposal enables us to gather the community members in a common space accessible to all. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the population’s main problems and jointly seek possible solutions. The community assembly for reflection makes it possible to:
4) Core program: From the people’s assembly for reflection we obtain the self-diagnosis, which enables us to propose possible solutions. On listing the problems in order of importance, the institutions and community jointly propose the core program, which may be associated with health, education, production, food, housing, or communication. It is called the “core program” because its main activity enables actions to be combined based on workshops, which are the mechanisms for meeting the objectives of community participation.
5) Training workshop: The training workshops in this methodology make it possible to:
6) Seed community: The institutional training should be conducted in a place known as the “Seed community”, which will be the most accessible community, with space for doing the training. These training sessions will make it possible to:
The direction taken by the community’s development programs will depend on the inter-institutional and community dialogue. Participation cannot be promoted without dialogue, since the institutions are those directly responsible for promoting it and the opinions of others enrich it. Programs will be interwoven based on the “consensus-building” process, and once this stage has been reached, work can then start on the “community extension” stage. This is a stage at which the community-and-institution can be regarded as a unit. They are at a stage of contact that encourages identification. For this step, two lines of action are considered:
1) Community extension: Community extension has three stages:
a) Initial extension: This refers to the first session held by the advisory team together with the person responsible in the community (institution’s operating personnel) and with the community itself.
b) Follow-up extension: Although the institutions continue to receive training in the seed community and continue with their inter-institutional meetings, it is necessary to provide follow-up on the sessions of each of the field workers as part of the training process (“learning by doing”). At this stage, unlike the previous one, only some of the methodological deficiencies are addressed.
c) Continuity extension: At this stage it suffices merely to verify the existence of activities as part of the process. It is not appropriate to continue correcting mistakes as this would create a threefold dependency: community - institution’s operating personnel – advisory team.
2) Consolidation of the community and inter-institutional team: Not only do the institutions seek to promote their programs in the localities where they work, but they also form a team that goes beyond inter-institutional linkaging to strengthen community development as an integrated process. This process is strengthened in the following ways:
Inter-institutional linkaging processes stimulate the definition of priority actions (derived from the institutional programs) and channel efforts and resources into strategic areas. The priority actions form the linkage programs. The idea is not so much to create new programs, as to match the experience of government agencies with the demands and commitments of the beneficiaries, and to trigger processes of conscious, responsible participation. There are six main lines of action:
1) Inter-institutional meetings: This line of action marks the beginning of the linkaging and cohesion of the inter-institutional team. The aim, in addition to institutional training, is to have all the operating personnel form one single team. These meetings are an opportunity for sharing work tools and experiences to improve the daily work in the community; also, the strategies to achieve inter-institutional linkaging and sustained community development are set at these meetings. The process is globalized in the strategic area, avoiding any fracturing of the process in localities (these meetings are started during the consensus-building stage). This is the line of action that really ensures effective community capability-building.
The methodology of linkaging and participation is a learning process for all involved. The institutions learn and design strategies with sustained rhythms and in one single direction. This methodology also creates a sense of personal commitment to the integrated community capability-building work.
2) Socialization: To establish a relationship of trust with communities, the program must keep them informed as to what is being done and how it is being done. This calls for commitment on the part of all the participants to the results and to the tasks yet to be completed, and promotes a working relationship where accountability is shared.
3) Microregions: The commitment to work for community development increases as the cohesion of the inter-institutional team becomes stronger. Community and institutional teams are formed in each of the communities where there are organizations applying a program; “blocks” are formed, made up of neighboring localities, which gives rise to microregions. In the microregions we find communities with or without coverage of institutional services. Thus, new proposals for team work emerge in response to specific needs, which make the following possible:
a) Meeting about permanent self-diagnosis: the self-diagnosis of the community is discussed with persons working in the same region, with a view to implementing the strategies, so that the self-diagnosis document will not simply be filed away and forgotten, as is often the case.
b) Core institution per microregion: although at the beginning it is sufficient to have one “core” per strategic area, later when the microregions are proposed it will become necessary to have more core institutions, since each institution becomes a driving force in the process.
4) Cohesion of the inter-institutional team: The methodology of linkaging and community participation regards the institutional operating team as a group that has to be strengthened in terms of labor productivity and human promotion. This work brings the team members closer together, which, in turn, strengthens the process of linkaging and community participation.
5) Strategies for continuity: These strategies are designed taking into account the community process and the proposals of the institutions involved. The intention is to strengthen the joint participation of the institutions and the community, so that the programs will be properly adapted to the community’s movements and routines.
6) Social networks: These seek to link different localities to promote integrated community development and strengthen the organization of the community (e.g. the Peasant Community Organization and Women’s Network, both of which grew up around specific tasks: in the case of the former, agricultural production; and in the latter, women and the reproductive risk). Social networks are organized with members of each selected community, who at the same time act as replicators. In this way, we achieve effective support for the process by means of agents who, unlike the institutions, are permanently in the community.
Social networks are made up of social actors who have representativity. There are formal and informal networks. The significant thing about the networks is that they are groups who legitimate their leaders as spokespersons, which is important for the communities’ interactions with outside agents.
In conclusion, the institutional training is carried out in keeping with the needs, objectives, programs, coverage, and material and human resources available to the institution. Strategies and instruments of analysis are prepared for the different lines of action; and the problems are detected (including their apparent and essential causes, as well as their determinants).
Because of the nature of this proposal, the methodology includes critical reflection about the work being done. A critical attitude to the work done daily is required to detect achievements and failures, and to facilitate the results. It is important to be critical in the team, even though the team members do not belong to one single institution, and not to make an evaluation based only on the goals of the institution..
The evaluation of the team is a self-evaluation using indicators constructed for each of the processes being carried out. The self-evaluation reveals advances, failures, and causes; it also serves to consider points about each one of those involved to find ways of improving the work; and to strengthen the process carried out by each of the participants.