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Poverty, Participation and Government Enablement



Gert Lüdeking, Programme Coordinator
Christopher Williams, Programme Research Coordinator


  1. Effectiveness and Relevance of Applied Strategies to Reduce Poverty
  2. Community Participation and Community Management
  3. Findings on Government Enablement of Community Action
  4. Decentralisation, Enablement and Community Organizing:
  5. Variations in Africa and Latin America

Link To:


    1. Executive Summary
    2. 17 Research Findings
    3. Introduction
    4. Acknowledgements


    1. An Integrated Strategy for Urban Development
    2. Co-ordination and Collaboration among UNCHS (Habitat) Operational Initiatives
    3. Habitat's Strategic Vision: Linking Normative Positions to Operational Strategies
    4. Learning and Knowledge Building for Policy Formulation and Advocacy
    5. Contributing to a Global Campaign on Urban Governance
    6. Applied Strategy for Dissemination of Research Findings with Partners
    7. Future Research


    1. Leading Research Questions
    2. A Framework for Research
    3. Measuring How the Concepts Evolved Over Time
    4. Examining the Validity, Relevance and Contribution of CDP
    5. Analysing How the Programme AND the Applied Concepts Reduce Poverty


(A) Effectiveness and Relevance of Applied Strategies to Reduce Poverty

1. Community Development as Applied by UNCHS (Habitat)/CDP has a Significant Effect on Reducing Poverty


The research findings show in a clear and consistent manner that living and working conditions were significantly better in the settlements where UNCHS (Habitat) intervened in comparison with others. Low-income households generated more assets, were better organized, had greater access to basic services, and maintained stronger collaborative relations with their local governments. The study shows that poverty is reduced when:

  1. Communities and their organizations participate in settlement improvements

  2. Communities practise community management skills to participate democratically and effectively, and to generate wealth (assets, employment and income)

  3. Governments adopt conducive management practices and procedures to facilitate and sustain community action.

Lessons Learned:

  • Participation, community management and government enablement applied practically and in combination constitute a viable strategy to reduce poverty!

  • Participation is a necessary but insufficient condition for effective poverty reduction. It must be complemented by management skills that strengthen the capacity of people to participate in organized action and to harness their productive potential.

  • Popular initiative is incomplete and less sustainable without government support. Legal, financial and administrative innovations help orient public authorities to the needs and capacities of women and men in settlements.

  • Public authorities that adopt adequate enabling measures sustain community action and promote equity in urban governance.


  1. UNCHS (Habitat) should genuinely consider for its future work activities how best to use the innovative strategies for participatory citizenship and poverty reduction developed by CDP with the 7 Governments and 60 municipalities/communities. These contain crucial knowledge for the Centre when it consolidates and advances its policies on participatory governance and settlements improvements.

  2. UNCHS (Habitat) should also consider learning from CDP's efforts to target simultaneously central governments, local authorities, and settlement organizations. By fostering dialogue among policy makers, mayors and community leaders, the Centre can promote democratic decision making among its operational partners, and advance strategies to reduce poverty that are based on consensus among diverse stake holders.

  3. The Centre should make use of the CDP experiences with integrating applied research and operational projects in order to guide the planned cross-sectional working groups as envisaged in the new organisational structure. Combining research and operational projects builds knowledge and contributes to the systematic development of institutional memory.

2. Community Development as Practised by UNCHS (Habitat) is at Par and in Some Respects Well Ahead of the "State of the Art"


  • Community Participation: When compared to the work of other organizations on community development, CDP is applying "state of the art" methods of community participation. The problem-solving cycle, mobilization techniques, community-contract system, revolving loan schemes, etc. as practised by the Programme are commensurate with the participatory methods applied by NGOs and other international agencies.

  • Community Management: UNCHS (Habitat) is one of the few (especially public and multilateral) institutions that have developed and applied community management techniques consistently and effectively. Neighbourhood planning, resource mobilization, co-operation agreements, monitoring/indicator frameworks, and negotiation strategies provide management components and tools for empowerment that are noticeably less elaborated in the work of most other organizations.

  • Government Enablement: In addition, the Centre is one of the few institutions that have attempted to link empowerment with enablement. Although it has only begun the process, UNCHS (Habitat) is a leader in developing tools that strengthen collaboration between popular organizations and local governments and NGOs. It is unfortunate, however, that in doing so it has not surveyed and learned from the instruments developed by other specialized agencies and actors, nor disseminated its own methods and tools beyond a select few sub-regions.

Lessons Learned:

  1. CDP's work on participation, community management and enablement is valid and relevant as measured against the work of other organizations. In its work with community management and government enablement, UNCHS (Habitat) is considered unique and is an important "trend setter" for the efforts of municipalities, community organizations and NGOs.

  2. The disparity between CDP and the literature on these subjects suggests an urgent need for greater dissemination of experiences, outreach and exchange.


  1. UNCHS (Habitat) should ensure in the future Work Programme, that the relations between community management and local government enablement are given sufficient emphasis. This will strengthen the impact of the Centre's efforts to reduce poverty.

  2. It would further be conducive to the Centre's new Work Programme to institutionalize a process of dissemination and exchange, facilitating a series of local, national, sub-regional and international forums. Such a sharing of experiences should include exchanges with practitioners and policy makers in addition to the academic community.

  3. As part of this process, the Centre should also facilitate a dialogue with institutions that pursue community development approaches in other specialized fields (e.g. environmental management, labour-intensive employment generation, water provision, public health, waste management, etc.).

(B) Community Participation and Community Management

1. Participation is not enough: People Need the Capacity to Participate Effectively


The study documents that communities are far more effective in reducing poverty when they add management skills to those of participation. Data obtained from surveys indicates that households can strengthen their capacity to participate by identifying and mobilizing resources and by assessing the cost-effectiveness of technical options to improve shelter and services in their settlement. Additional community management skills helpful to households and their organizations include mechanisms to finance, implement and maintain improvements, as well as to monitor and evaluate such developments.

Lessons Learned:

  • Participation is a necessary but insufficient methodology for poverty reduction.

  • Women and men living in low-income settlements must also acquire planning, monitoring and evaluation skills (PMES), as well as resource mobilization techniques and negotiation skills that give them adequate capacity to participate equally and effectively in partnerships with local government institutions and NGOs.

  • Communities with such capacity are better suited to pursue their interests and fulfil their partnership role in own or joint activities with municipalities and other stake holders.


  1. Agency Focus: UNCHS (Habitat) should ensure that the building of community management skills among community leaders and development practitioners (including NGOs) is included in national poverty eradication frameworks and in ad-hoc projects that focus on participation of stake holders. Community management should also feature as part of city improvement management policies and strategies when these are developed with partners at the regional and sub-regional levels to maintain a strategic focus on citizen participation.

  2. Advancing Community Management: The Centre should continue to advance its knowledge on how to complement conventional community participation techniques with community management skills through experimental projects and through partnerships with research organizations. Special emphasis should be given to advance tools for savings (not only credit) mobilization, neighbourhood-wide (not only project) planning, and systematic (not ad hoc) community-based monitoring and evaluation.

  3. Lending Criteria: Flexible standards and practical approaches on participation and management should be prepared and negotiated with national, regional and global funding institutions. Standards will ensure that adequate strategies and methodologies for participation and management are adequately integrated in their lending policies and practice. This is especially important today, as bank task-managers increasingly consider effective community management in city improvement programmes an asset for more effective recovery of municipal loans. Community management often leads to lower investment costs and affordable prising of basic services.

2. Community Management Skills Enable People to Participate Democratically in their own Organizations


The research shows that when community members participate in development activities they are not automatically making an impact on the living and working conditions of all residents. Community members participate equally when they have the capacity to mobilize members and have them participate in the power to make decisions. The capacity and power to participate requires a set of community management tools. Apart from the above mentioned planning, monitoring and evaluation skills, these skills include, for instance, tools to arrive at decisions that guarantee the interests of women and men who may not be able to participate in meetings due to heavy workloads, discrimination, social position/class, and cultural patterns. Such practices facilitate the interests of minorities (e.g. displaced persons, youth, elderly, ethnic minorities, etc.) and very poor residents who are often socially excluded from decision making processes. Community management skills further include procedures community members can use to hold community leaders accountable and, where necessary, to institute elections for new local leadership.

Lessons Learned:

  • Community management and participation entails rights and responsibilities.

  • Community members have a right to participate but they must also accept a responsibility to practise democratic participation along with that right.

  • Residents do not automatically have capacity to participate equally and effectively.

  • Therefore, all forms of participation must be based on adequate planning and capacity building, which is one of the most over-looked elements of participatory development.


  1. Community Management Standards: UNCHS (Habitat) should systematize and promote community management standards that have proven successful in improving the equal involvement of citizens in urban improvements and in enhancing the democratic character of neighbourhood organizations.

  2. Enhanced Gender Strategy: The Centre should as well integrate gender planning more explicitly into its overall strategy on community development.

  3. Primary Stake holders: UNCHS (Habitat) should underscore the distinction of people living in poverty as primary stake holders. Low-income communities have a fundamental interest in reducing poverty according to their own priorities, and should, therefore, be recognized as primary stake holders. Community management should therefore always feature as an integrated part of city improvement/management policies and strategies. This is especially so when these are developed with partners at the regional, sub-regional and national levels to maintain a strategic focus on citizen participation.

Residents of Settlements who have acquired Capacity to Plan, Monitor and Evaluate Improvements Negotiate More Effectively with Local Governments and NGOs.


The research shows that in many regions, especially in Latin America, communities and their organizations can more effectively and equally collaborate with local governments and NGOs when they employ acquired skills for community management. Principles of democratic planning and resource mobilization place popular organizations in a stronger position to negotiate with institutions based outside their settlements. They have greater confidence and feel less vulnerable to possible manipulation and exploitation. The study shows that local governments, especially field staff, take communities far more seriously when community groups plan and co-finance settlement improvements. The research also infers that techniques in conflict resolution help ease collaboration with public authorities and NGOs.

Lessons Learned:

  • Community management as an essential element of participatory citizenship sustains collaboration among popular groups, NGOs, and public authorities.

  • Effective planning, management and resource mobilization skills give popular groups independence, respect among external actors, and a stronger bargaining position.

  • Communities become less dependent on external resources and are more likely to sustain activities based on own initiative and strength.


  • UNCHS (Habitat) should work with community organizations to strengthen their external connections to institutions based outside their settlements.

  • The Centre needs to formalize what it has so far accomplished on an experimental, ad hoc basis.

  • It needs to systematize how low-income residents have established working relations with commercial banks, local governments, sector agencies, political parties, specialized NGOs, and professional associations.

  • An inventory of the mechanisms that facilitate CBO external linkage should serve as guidelines for revising training and intervention strategies.

4. Reducing Poverty Requires Integrating Economic, Social and Physical Development at the Local Level.


Researchers attribute the significant improvements in assets of households in settlements where CDP intervened also to the employment and income generating activities introduced by the projects.

  1. The study shows that several households in these settlements acquire skills training in masonry, construction, carpentry, and small business management. The training includes practical experience in building clinics, infrastructure, community centres, schools, and places of convenience. People's organizations in this way successfully link settlement improvement to individual skills training and employment.

  2. Many of the residents also strengthen the capacity of their productive enterprises. They associate with federations of community organizations to mobilize savings. Together with public authorities they negotiate with state banks to guarantee loans of commercial banks to community groups. They also forge alliances with specialized NGOs to obtain skills in marketing and business management. In most cases public authorities facilitate the establishment of these arrangements as well as provide technical and financial support.

  3. The research also emphasizes the success of community firms in being awarded public contracts to deliver services to low-income residents. Community contracts generate employment and improve access to, and quality of basic services.

Lessons Learned:

  • Efforts to improve human settlements must include strategies to strengthen the human and productive capacity of low-income families.

  • This can be achieved by integrating strategies that increase access to basic services with skills training and employment generation.

  • Improving the working conditions in human settlements also necessitates strengthening small enterprises using co-operation agreements, community contracts, management and marketing training with an explicit enabling role of local authorities and NGOs.


  • Financial Base: UNCHS (Habitat) should continue to develop norms and tools that strengthen the financial base of residents and popular organizations. The Centre's work in community development provides a viable alternative to the neo-liberal economic model at the local level. It contains tools for low-income households to mobilize resources, co-finance improvements with local governments and NGOs, and to acquire management skills that lower costs of production and maintenance of services and facilities.

  • Savings, Credit and Collateral: UNCHS (Habitat) should collaborate with other agencies and research institutions to improve upon various financial mechanisms that facilitate low-income residents in obtaining commercial credits. The Centre should scale up such innovative forms of saving (e.g. mutual deposits) and collateral (e.g. collective assets). Where the political commitment is forthcoming, UNCHS (Habitat) should advocate partnerships between the financial service industry and state institutions to guarantee loans of commercial banks to community groups. Alternatively, the Centre should promote community self-financing systems, broad-based savings mobilization through federated community organizations, and public/popular co-financing arrangements

(C) Findings on Government Enablement of Community Action

1. Community Organizations Are More Effective when Their Efforts are Supported Systematically by Governments


Data based on household, community leader and government official surveys show that poverty reduction is more significant when governments enable community action.

  • Municipal Enabling Strategies: Support from government is not limited to the question of finance. Community organizations excel at generating assets if public authorities facilitate co-operation agreements with commercial banks and NGOs. They are able to access shelter better if municipal authorities curb forced evictions, and revise zoning codes and building regulations. People's organizations can obtain basic services more efficiently if their own efforts to undertake improvements are recognized and supported systematically by local authorities.

  • Central Government Enabling Frameworks: The efforts of local governments to enable community action are enhanced by incentives they receive from central governments. Government enablement in the long run requires the commitment of central government to devolve authority to lower levels of government. It also entails national policies that engender positive attitudes among civil servants about popular participation.

Lessons Learned:

  • The net impact of community initiative on poverty is far greater when governments support people's development processes.

  • Support begins with government recognizing that it is part of the problem.

  • That is, when it recognizes the sheer magnitude of community initiative and eliminates obstacles to and actively supports popular participation (legal, regulatory, administrative).

  • Government decentralisation programmes oriented toward popular participation and poverty reduction enhance the way local governments enable community action.


  1. Articulate a role for local government in poverty reduction: UNCHS (Habitat) must complement and consolidate its knowledge of innovative local government enablement of community action. The Centre should work closely with local authorities and their associations (national, regional, and global) to develop a comprehensive reform package based on a new understanding of the potential of systematic enablement in poverty reduction.

  2. Advance a Multi-Sectoral Approach: The Centre should continue its experiments with select municipalities regarding institutional arrangements geared towards providing integrated economic, social and physical assistance to low-income settlements which recognize the multi-sectoral nature of poverty and the need to address it accordingly.

  3. Promote Government Enablement through Consensus: UNCHS (Habitat) should further ensure an adequate inclusion of sector ministries and community organizations in the process of defining and instituting such enabling frameworks. Only a vertical linking of central governments, local authorities, and popular organizations can harness the total potential of enablement, decentralisation and empowerment.

2. Governments Improve Their Planning and Economize Public Resources More Efficiently When They Draw Upon, Rather than Disregard Community Initiative.


The research shows that governments stand to gain if they recognize community initiative as a resource for, rather than an obstacle to, urban development. The majority of settlement improvements today are undertaken by the residents themselves and not by (central or local) governments. Limited human and financial resources are a major obstacle for urban managers in reaching low-income populations. Prohibitive public management procedures and regulations and myopic attitudes of civil servants contribute to the problem. Municipal officials improve local development planning when they build upon neighbourhood planning efforts and help to consolidate ad hoc community initiative. Similarly, local governments better maximize scarce public resources when they collaborate systematically with community organizations and their associations, and include them directly into municipal decision making procedures.

Lessons Learned:

  • When governments actively enable community action, it creates a conducive environment for popular organizations to improve their settlements, often providing the basis for community action to be co-ordinated, amplified and scaled up to city level.

  • Government enablement democratizes urban management, rendering it more inclusive of the priorities and capacities of low-income residents.

  • Government enablement reduces resident's dependency on state subsidies as the exclusive source of financing, and as the sole motivation for settlement improvement.


  • Democratize Urban Management: UNCHS (Habitat) should consolidate its experience with public sector and community partnerships, and propose standards for popular participation in decision-making procedures at municipal and lower administrative levels. It should continue to work with municipal agencies to advance current experiences on formalizing links between neighbourhood planning with city-wide planning with a bottom-up approach. It should further assist municipalities to develop guidelines for its sector agencies on inter-institutional co-operation and co-ordination for joint interventions with low-income communities. In-service training and awareness building to prepare municipal staff for working with low-income residents must be prepared and complement institutional and procedural changes. Such innovations would assist local authorities move beyond the ad hoc support to settlements based on clientism for political gain.

  • Initiate Applied Research: Further, UNCHS (Habitat), with a relevant training institute, should undertake research on relations between low-income residents and civil servants to guide the mentioned training efforts. Given the importance of popular/public partnerships for human settlements improvements and urban governance, there is an urgent need to know more about how to harmonize often antagonistic working relations between civil servants and low-income residents. There is much research on people living in poverty, very little on civil servants, and practically none on how these two relate ─ professionally, politically and culturally.

3. Governments Have Not As Yet Systematically Established Legal, Financial and Administrative Frameworks to Enable Community Action.


A major finding on government enablement is that local authorities, including municipalities and rural districts lack a formal legal and administrative framework to facilitate the efforts of communities and their organizations. Urban managers, for instance, who are keen on allocating public funds to a community managed improvement project, can not do so because there is often no legal basis and appropriate procedure that would allow communities to manage public funds. Local authorities also lack mechanisms for handing over the management and maintenance of clinics, schools, community centres, etc. to organized community groups.

Lessons Learned:

  • Governments are not geared legally and administratively to systematically enable community action even if they desire to do so.

  • Proponents of government enablement must move beyond mere "provision of external support" towards a comprehensive partnership framework, replete with legal, financial and administrative procedures that allow them formally to support and further popular initiative.


  1. Norms and Standards: UNCHS (Habitat) should consolidate its experiences on enablement of community action and propose standards to be included in a municipal administration designed to facilitate community participation and management. These should include the setting of standards for popular participation in decision-making procedures at municipal and lower administrative city levels. For example: legal rights for CBOs to associate and make claims on pubic funds, presence of CBOs on municipal planning councils, decisions actually implemented by councils, explicit provisions for funding improvements initiated by CBOs, budget line items indicating actual public expenditures for settlement improvements, etc. The Centre and its partners should enforce adherence to these norms, fully integrating the standards into the Global Campaign on Urban Governance.

  2. Operational Framework: UNCHS (Habitat) should develop an operational framework for government enablement of community action in settlement improvements. The Centre must specify practical tools that make it possible for municipalities and rural districts to enable community action. For example: apex organizations and sub-municipal administrative units that link settlement organizations and city-wide government, political decision making forums that mandate participation of CBOs and their associations, legal and financial procedures that enable CBOs to make claims on public resources, manage public funds, and secure public service contracts. The Centre must assume a leadership position: testing procedures through pilot projects, initiating applied research, and facilitating dissemination of experiences through national, sub-regional and global forums.

4. Field Officers Rather Than Senior Local Government Officials Lead the Way for Innovative Administrative Reform


The study compared surveys completed by field officers and senior local government officials. Overwhelmingly, field officers stated they recognize the necessity of working with, rather than for, community initiatives. Their superiors, however, were either indifferent or did not see the significance of supporting community action.

Lessons Learned:

  • The finding suggests that field officers who work directly with community groups recognize that a political commitment to community participation and management needs to be facilitated with tools and practical methods.

  • Contrary to their senior counterparts, field officers see first hand the necessity to upgrade settlements in partnership with neighbourhood organizations.

  • The finding also suggests that senior local government officials are confined by administrative procedures that either prevent them from appreciating such steps or from being able to do anything about it.

  • Therefore, the diverse needs, responsibilities and capacities of local government officials must be considered when defining and introducing innovative changes in urban management practice.

  • Senior officials of local governments have special constraints and are largely under-exposed.


  • CDP should emphasize the different needs of elected and appointed local government officials. It needs to tailor training and awareness building to the specific functions of the municipal staff: field officers (community development officers and physical planners, etc.) as well as senior officials (district executives, planning directors, financial officers).

  • Further, the Centre should, when adequate, integrate training among community leaders, NGOs, and local government officials in order to foster a mutual understanding and respect for their different roles, responsibilities and rights.

  • Training of this kind should be reinforced with awareness raising and advocacy that engenders attitudinal change, as well as new administrative practices.

5. Government Enablement is Not Yet a Properly Formulated Concept


The research reveals that CDP together with its country partners has not sufficiently developed the concept of government enablement. As part of the study, researchers compared the results of the field research with the existing secondary literature on government enablement. They found that CDP has moved well ahead of NGOs and international agencies in its efforts to identify government practice that enables community action. However, like most other institutions, the Programme has not explained clearly who is enabling and what is being enabled. The study raises questions about how and to what degree governments should enable service provision and settlements improvement through markets and privatization, along with their efforts to support community and civic actions. And whether such dual enablement strategies contradict or overshadow one another.

Lessons Learned:

The ambiguity of government enablement raises important issues. Not only does it call for greater conceptual clarity but it also stimulates debate among activists, practitioners and policy makers about the roles and responsibilities of the state. Privatization of basic service delivery may to a large extend exclude people living in poverty, as they do not represent an effective economic demand. If government is serious about reducing poverty, will it (be able to) retain its functions of redistribution and subsidies targeted at the poorest sections of the population? Will governments be able to regulate market activity to ensure the entrance into the market of low-income households? What are the limits and boundaries of government enablement of community action? What of non-state actors: how should NGOs and private firms enable communities and their organisation? And what, in this context, constitutes good urban governance?


UNCHS (Habitat) needs to revitalize its understanding of government enablement. After having pioneered the enabling strategy (Global Shelter Strategy, 1988), it has a special responsibility to continue to examine critically how the concept is used politically and in practice. The Centre should place special emphasis on how government enablement of markets is viewed from a community perspective. This will provide a unique contribution to debates on market enablement. It will also give the Centre clarity about norms and strategies for government enablement of community action.UNCHS (Habitat) should organize research, international forums and pilot projects to develop:

  1. Techniques for Government Enablement of Markets from a Community Perspective: UNCHS (Habitat) should work with partners to explore the effectiveness of municipal councils with stated monitoring roles for CBOs designed to regulate privatized delivery of municipal services; and of regulations for private investment that maximize employment opportunities for low-income residents and promote equal opportunity.

  2. Normative Standards for Privatization of Services Delivery: UNCHS (Habitat) should work with select governments to develop norms for services that are provided by private firms and by community organizations (through subsidizes). Emphasis should be placed on normative standards that include rather that exclude the poorest communities as users and producers of such services. The Centre should also establish and enforce a code of conduct for public/private partnerships with standards to measure quality and affordability of service delivery.

  3. Framework for Government Enablement of Markets and Communities: UNCHS (Habitat) needs to document its experiences with various forms of government enablement and to outline systematically a comprehensive framework for community and marked enablement. The framework should not only define the roles of central and local governments but also those of the private sector and NGOs. Such a framework should consider: Mobilization and sharing of resources for public infrastructure and service investment; Co-operative savings and credit schemes for small businesses and private housing; Municipal, multi-sector investment plans; Participatory governance structures (down to the lowest administrative structure); Neighbourhood planning frameworks; and Norms for participatory citizenship, security of tenure, gender planning and land.

  4. Limits and Boundaries of Government Enablement of Community Action: UNCHS (Habitat) should define the limits and boundaries of government enablement of community action. This should include research, international forums, and the testing of tools in order to determine the role and abilities of non-state actor ─as well as of governments. Emphasis should be placed here on how NGOs and private firms enable community organizations.

(D) Decentralisation, Enablement and Community Organizing: Variations in Africa and Latin America

1. Decentralisation of Government Administration Does Not Follow a Specific Regional Pattern


The study found that decentralisation of government administration is not a regional phenomenon. Researchers observed that Bolivia, Ghana and Uganda maintained the greatest levels of decentralisation, as measured by the powers (executive, legislative and judicial) granted to lower levels of government administration. Zambia and Sri Lanka pursued quasi-decentralisation programmes in which powers were granted (deconcentrated) to local authorities only in a partial sense. Costa Rica and Ecuador, by contrast, exemplified highly centralised forms of government administration.

Lessons Learned:

The experience of national policy on decentralization shows that there is greater variation within regions than between regions. While it is important to establish strategies for poverty reduction that are relevant to local, economic, social conditions, the "regionalization" of poverty strategies is in the case of decentralization, irrelevant.


The Centre needs to promote strategies for poverty reduction that appreciate intra-regional variations of public administration. Technical advisory support to central governments should be country specific and based on an informed political analysis of decentralization. Within Africa, this means coming to terms, inter alia, with the divergent forms (and legacies) of franca-phone and anglophone systems of public administration.

2. Government Enablement and Decentralisation Are Not Automatically Related


The way governments enable community action is not necessarily a direct result of the way they decentralise government administration. Often it is assumed that if governments devolve authority to lower levels of government administration, local authorities will be more likely to support grassroots initiatives. The research found this assumption to be, by in large, incorrect: First, in Uganda, a fairly decentralized central government was combined with local authorities that apply relatively weak enabling strategies. Second, in one country, Ecuador, a highly centralised central government was combined (at the period when the research was done) with an elected and progressive municipal government in the capital, Quito, which applied very "enabling" policies to settlement improvement.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Governments need to complement their decentralisation policies with institutional frameworks (legal, financial, administrative) to enable popular action: decentralisation alone, does not foster popular participation

  2. Local authorities can enable community action even if their central governments are reluctant to devolve administrative authority. However, when central governments do devolve authority, local governments that have such a commitment can facilitate community initiatives even further. In each city or district, local conditions should be carefully analysed in order to find out what opportunities exist to promote or utilize enabling policies, even under highly centralised national government.


UNCHS (Habitat) should develop as part of an overall policy on community development, strategy guidelines for decentralisation AND government enablement. Together with central governments, especially Ministries of Local Government, the Centre needs to promote mechanisms which ensure the devolution of government administration (e.g. need-based criteria for state transfers, ceded revenue, fiscal autonomy, financing for training of local officials, rights for associations of local authorities to contest state transfer allocations, etc.). UNCHS (Habitat) together with partners should augment these with legal, financial and administrative procedures that allow local authorities to enable community action (as per above, C-3).

3. State/Society Relations and Their Impact on Joint Popular/Public Partnerships Follow a Region Pattern


The research shows that African (specifically Sub-Saharan African) and Latin American states have distinctive relations with their respective populations and popular organizations such as CBOs, women's groups, local traders associations, apex organisation, and other non-state institutions. In very general terms, state/society relations can be characterized in Africa as pragmatic, functional almost managerial, while in Latin America as conflictive and contested.

Lessons Learned:

The difference between African and Latin American states regarding the way they interact with popular organizations has important implications for how concepts of community management and government enablement of community action are applied at local level. In Africa the challenge is to develop legal and financial tools that enable popular groups and local authorities to collaborate. In Latin America the key is to apply these tools and augment them with skills for community leaders and civil servants to resolve conflicts and achieve consensus.


The Centre needs to strengthen linkages between popular organizations and public authorities. However, it must facilitate the development of mechanisms that are commensurate with the historical, political and cultural factors that characterize state/society relations in each country. While these vary, in general terms, by region, they often manifest differently from one country to another within a particular region. It is important to formulate strategies for participation, management and enablement that are based on analyses of national and local traditions in state-society relationships. These should examine the existing expectations in each country/locality about the role of government (at different levels), especially regarding its role in improving settlements and its relationship to community organizations.

4. The Way Low-Income Households Organize Follows a Regional Pattern


In Latin America and Africa the way settlement populations organize themselves varies significantly. In Bolivia, Costa Rica and Ecuador household and community leader surveys indicate that people mobilize primarily through community-based organizations, federations of community organizations, and/or popular movements. There is a long tradition of CBOs as organizations that attempt to represent members within a proscribed territorial space and which undertake a range of activities (basic services, productive enterprises, etc.). In Ghana, Uganda and Zambia surveys show that households organize through elder councils, trader associations, women's groups, project-specific construction committees, religious groups, and sub-municipal/district government units. There is not a formalized CBO-tradition as such. Rather, people pursue different needs through different channels. Whether they choose to work with administrative units established by government is based on a practical decision, rather than on (as is often the case in Latin America) an ideological position.

Lessons Learned:

Noted differences in how people organize raises an important lesson about applying participation, management and enablement. Activists, practitioners and policy makers must distinguish between form and content. The form through which households organize (e.g. CBOs, religious groups, administrative units, etc.) is less important than what they achieve through organizing (e.g. equitable access to basic services, assets, skills, employment, etc.). Low-income households in Africa do not need CBOs to reduce poverty any more than their counterparts in Latin America need state-sponsored administrative units. Households need democratic forums through which they can improve their living and working conditions. The form (and forums) of organizing they pursue locally should not be the result of a universal model for poverty reduction. It should be what makes sense for people culturally and politically.


CDP has demonstrated its ability to question an important assumption about community development: community-based organizations are not the only form through which low-income families can or should organize. The Centre should establish international forums, challenging activists and policy makers to examine more closely their assumptions about community development. This should entail inter-regional exchanges and applied research, as well as advocacy work. UNCHS (Habitat) should focus such efforts on rectifying the distortions emerging in Africa resulting from heavy international NGO presence. The Centre should explore with activists and policy makers how to ensure that popular participation in Africa is autonomous from the modalities of NGO development.

5. Agents of Government Enablement Vary by Region


The research findings demonstrate that "government" in the notion "government enablement" differs by region. In Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia the state pursues enabling strategies primarily through local governments (municipalities and rural districts) with support from central government. In Bolivia, Costa Rica and Ecuador, the state enables community action through sectoral agencies and their specialized corporations (e.g. electrical, water, social welfare, etc.) as well as through local and central governments. Sectoral agencies are centrally controlled though administered locally through field offices. The community leader and government official surveys reveal that, in Latin America, local field offices of sectoral agencies and corporations collaborate with popular organizations. They co-plan and co-finance settlement improvements much as local governments do in Africa.

Lessons Learned:

Government enablement of community action can not be confined to local governments. Local field offices of public authorities, especially in Latin America, can also sustain community action. They should be considered along with municipalities and district governments as playing an important role in strategies to reduce poverty.


UNCHS (Habitat) should advance global strategies for poverty reduction that are flexible enough to accommodate the diversity of ways governments enable community action. UNCHS (Habitat) has more than any other UN Agency elevated the role of local government, placing it centrally in strategies to reduce poverty. It should be careful, however, not to let the focus on local government prevent it from promoting other actors of enablement (e.g. sectoral agencies). Stereotypes are not the basis for action. The Centre must test strategies for government enablement at operational level with a variety of government agents —sectoral, central and local— to explore real opportunities for applying combinations of these policies in their respective areas.

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