PREPARING A COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY PAPER
Guidelines for Ministry Leaders
By Phil Bartle, PhD
1. Introduction (Purpose):
In many projects there may be some objectives related to changing the environments (political and administrative) within which community development interventions are carried out. These may include, for example, "leaders, technical experts, and civil servants changing from a provision approach to a facilitating self-help approach." Other objectives may refer to developing and institutionalizing programmes and actions of empowering low income communities by the relevant ministries and departments, and in guiding non-governmental organizations in carrying out this work.
To create a legal and institutional framework as well as to allow Government to provide a leadership role in community development, it is necessary to have an official policy paper, approved by Government, which codifies its principles and policies regarding community development.
This paper provides some guidelines and suggestions about producing and using such a policy paper (ie creating a new one or revising an existing one). As with most guidelines in this series, this is not a definitive document. It seeks your input, and will be modified and updated in response to feedback from you and others. Please engage in dialogue.
The structure of this paper is simple: (1) it begins with suggestions about procedures in creating, developing, modifying, editing, polishing and legitimizing such a paper; (2) it discusses content topics that can be modified or expanded as the paper is developed; then (3) it ends with a few suggestions as to how the policy paper can be used.
To ensure a policy paper is comprehensive, useful, relevant and a reflection of the "will of the people," its production should be as participatory and consultative as possible. Those participating in its creation and development should definitely not be limited to civil servants, or to community development practitioners, or to any specific professional category; participation should be broad based. It should include stake holders at all levels: advocacy groups, CBOs and implementing committees, civic engagement groups, farmers, health workers, illiterates, lawyers, local authorities, national and international NGOs, students, teachers; ie people from all walks of life.
Full participation by everybody (eg listed above) is impossible. The practical alternative is to set up a procedure that allows maximum input by stake holders. A small "task force" composed of, say, four persons, should be assigned the job of co-ordinating the creation and production of the document. The task force should include at least one academic (knowledgeable about community development), a professional community worker, and an officer of an NGO. The job of the task force should be to produce a rough first draft, circulate it to others for feedback, and set up a series of workshops for editing and finalization, and prepare a final copy to be presented to parliament.
When the document is finalized, it should be taken by ministry officials to the minister, for presentation to parliament, for approval. It can be accompanied by any appropriate documents for parliament members to read along side it (eg description and analysis of conditions and needs; relative advantages of facilitating participation).
3. Contents of the Policy Paper:
The following is a collection of issues about what to include or not to include in a policy paper. It is incomplete. Your own experience in community development or in drafting a policy paper is an important source in modifying or expanding these issues. Please contribute.
3.1. Policy Should Be Policy:
A policy paper should be an encoding of a country's policy. As an "acid test" of content, you can ask of every sentence: "Does it say what to do, or what not to do (by whom, to whom, with whom or through whom)?" Many policy papers are diluted or weakened by descriptive material about the sociology or history of communities or community development. A policy paper is not a university essay; descriptive and analytical material can be put in an accompanying "profile" paper (perhaps to convince members of parliament about the need for codified policy) but should not be included in the policy paper itself.
3.2. Clarity and Precise Definitions:
Community development and community participation are plagued with different and conflicting interpretations. The use of key words in the text of the policy should be precise, specific, and unambiguous. They should be supported by a list of definitions that is attached (as an appendix) to the policy paper and approved as an integral section of the paper. Words and phrases defined in such an appendix should include (but not be limited to) the following:
Accountability, animation, capacity, CBO, CBR, a community, community empowerment, community management, community-based, consultation, development, functional literacy, human settlement, income generation, intervention, local authority, mobilizing, NGO, participation, partnership, PHC, poverty, sustainability, training, transparency, unity organizing, and value added. You might think of other key words and concepts.
All definitions, and the use of these words in the text, should not be vague or able to be interpreted in more than one way. This will help to avoid misinterpretations and conflicting or contradictory actions by those implementing community work.
3.3. Non Governmental Organizations:
NGOs are here to stay. They are growing in number, size, variety, impact and influence. Governments do not have the resources, flexibility, or mandate to do all community work without being supplemented by NGOs. Those that are mature, professional, ethical, and development oriented will desire to be an integral part of a country's policy of poverty reduction, community empowerment and democratisation. They will see a well formulated policy paper as a much needed clarification of leadership and guidance for their work.
Not only should NGO representatives be invited to participate in the drafting of community development policy, an important segment of the policy should be devoted to the guidance of national and international NGOs. At the very minimum, the policy should define what information NGOs should provide the ministry; including: objectives, methods, areas of operation, results of activities, monitoring and evaluation, in the form of plans, budgets, records and reports. Quarterly reports, every three months, are recommended.
The ministry, in return, has a role to play in collating and summarizing all NGO reports, assessing areas (professional and geographic) of weakness and needs, and providing guidelines and leadership to the NGOs.
3.4. Communication and Networking:
The ministry should facilitate the sharing of experiences and skills between all the district officers working in community development and all the NGOs doing community work. This could be in the form of a regular newsletter, supplemented by occasional news briefs. Annual meetings would be beneficial.
The ministry should also be in the forefront of using electronic information technology, by establishing and maintaining an InterNet web site on which its communiqué's be established, as well as training material and experiences shared by district community development officers and NGOs.
3.5. Training and Upgrading:
The Government should be the focus of in-service training and upgrading of professional intervention skills of community workers in and outside of the Government. (Community workers can easily get stale, outdated or burned out, and training is one way of re-invigorating them.) Many such services are available, often available for free, mainly unknown by practising community workers.
The policy of the Government should be towards the continual upgrading and professionalisation of community development workers in the field, learning the new methods and techniques as they appear, and integrating practical experience with theory and literature.
3.6. Purpose and Focus:
The purpose of the policy paper should be clearly stated. Its intention is to clarify and codify the country's policies related to community development. It should emphasize empowerment over dependency, transparency over secrecy, affirmative action towards vulnerable persons, gender balance, good management, democratization and planning.
3.7. Roles of Actors:
A chapter of the policy paper or (better) an appendix should define the roles of the key actors and stake holders. As each role is identified and described, relations between actors also can be sketched. The list should include, but not be limited to: Community members, community leaders, coordinators, district or regional authorities, donor representatives, executing agencies, implementation agencies, local authorities, ministers, mobilizers / animators, NGO officers, NGO boards, NGO country representatives, politicians, senior ministry officials, department officials, steering committee, target (group or individual) and others responsible for or participating in community development.
The list should encompass governmental and non governmental actors and stake holders.
A policy paper, even if approved by parliament, will not make any effect if it is then shelved and ignored. Its usefulness (utility) mainly will be a result of what happens next. The policy should not only be read, but also discussed and understood, not only by community workers, but by their supervisors, manager and planners, by leaders and officials, at all levels, who control or influence what goes on in the communities.
The production of the paper should be treated as an opportunity to advocate for the principles embodied in the paper. Many copies, each with a shiny cover and a few illustrations, should be printed and made available at bookshops, at subsidized rates, throughout the country. Free copies should be sent to every district office and to every NGO working in community development.
Several workshops, at national and district levels, involving all levels of stake holders should be held. There workshops should not remain limited to awareness raising and understanding of the policy, but should challenge the participants to then formulate programmes (for their districts, and for the nation) of community empowerment, based on the principles embodied in the policy.
The ministry can do all this, produce, approve and utilize, a policy paper, without increasing its budget. Many external donors (governments, the UN, NGOs) are willing to contribute to such work, so long as leadership, motivation, commitment and will are shown by the ministry to carry this out.
A community development policy paper is a necessary tool for clarifying, advocating, and supporting the empowerment of low income communities in a country. Its creation and content should call for input from a broad base of actors. Producing it should be as participatory as possible.
It should be approved by the Government's highest policy and law making body, then distributed to all districts and all NGOs in the country, and made the topic of workshops country wide. Its job is to clarify and codify the people's vision for their own participation in their own destiny.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle