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Poverty, Participation and Government Enablement



Gert Lüdeking, Programme Coordinator
Christopher Williams, Programme Research Coordinator


  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

Link To:


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


    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: Variations in Africa and Latin America


    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) An Integrated Strategy for Urban Development:

In its efforts to effectively put into practice concepts such as participation, community management, and government enablement, CDP has made an important contribution to an integrated strategy for urban development. The Centre should consolidate these contributions, liaise with strategic and operational partners, and consider assuming a leadership position in the advancement of a strategic initiative for urban development.

The Urban Dilemma: The vast majority of urban residents in Africa, Latin America and Asia live beyond the purview of institutional urban governance. Conventional urban management strategies are grossly ineffective and not oriented towards participatory citizenship. They do not address the needs and capacities of the growing numbers of residents who work and live in low-income settlements, informal settlements, and peripheral zones. Municipalities face economic crisis, spend declining amounts of public resources on infrastructure and social services, and seek to privatize such services. The privatization of municipal service delivery offers an ambiguous, at best, partial solution to the problem. While private service delivery may improve efficiency and offer some employment opportunities, it does not adequately address the needs — nor harness the productive capacity — of the majority of the urban population.

Possible Opportunities: The Evaluation Research demonstrates that the Centre together with select governments, local authorities and popular organizations have put into practice viable tools for improving human settlements. Low-income families can generate employment and assets, gain greater access to basic services, and work more effectively with local governments and NGOs. The study indicates as well that community management and government enablement, as practised by the CDP, can greatly enhance and broaden "good" urban governance. The applied concepts can help orient local authorities to the needs and capacities of what previously have been socially excluded urban populations. They can harness the economic potential of citizens in a period of financial crisis. Local authorities through genuine consultation, can enhance their own planning activities and democratize how they use public resources. They can as well significantly lower the cost of service provision, reduce management and maintenance expenses, and introduce user-fees.

Why "Integrated" Urban Development? A central mandate of UNCHS (Habitat) is to promote sustainable urban development. It pursues this goal by improving human settlements, especially low-income and informal settlements, and by strengthening the capacity of local authorities to govern and manage cities. The Evaluation Research suggests that in its efforts to improve human settlements, the Centre has developed strategies and tools that are useful not only for the improvement of settlements, but also for urban management, urban governance, and urban economic growth. This is necessarily so not only because of the growth rate of cities, but also because the vast majority of new urban residents reside in low-income and informal settlements. Urban management today is increasingly an exercise in participatory human settlements improvements. The line between settlement improvement/urban management is becoming finer and finer.

The Challenge Ahead: UNCHS (Habitat) needs to reflect internally on and consolidate the research findings, lessons learned, and recommendations. Operational programmes within the Centre need to challenge the research and take stock of its relevance to their work (e.g. Women and Habitat, Urban Management, Environmental Management, Disaster Management, etc.). Operational programmes in the Centre should as well present alternative positions, drawing upon their field experience, documentation and research. UNCHS (Habitat) should consolidate these consultations and sketch a broad operational framework for urban development, possibly drawing upon the variety of management skills advanced by the Centre (see below "2"). The framework should then be shared with select operational and strategic partners for the purposes of critical review and practical consideration. The Centre will then be in a strong position to launch a strategic initiative to develop, test and advance an integrated strategy for urban development.

(B) Co-ordination and Collaboration among UNCHS (Habitat) Operational Initiatives

The Evaluation Research demonstrates the need for UNCHS (Habitat) to define the boundaries of its operational initiatives and to articulate how these inter-relate.

Community, Urban, Environmental and Disaster Management: It is important for the Centre to define the synergy and complementarity among these distinct management strategies for sustainable urban development. UNCHS (Habitat) should consider the development of an Integrated Consultative Framework that consolidates existing management strategies as a mechanism for substantive co-ordination of operational activities. The development of a comprehensive framework for urban planning and management might entail defining the component parts of the programme strategies and their respective comparative advantage, levels of intervention, and modalities for operation. The Centre could as well establish guidelines for joint programming and mechanisms for inter-Programme learning and exchange (globally, regionally, sub-regionally).

Women/Community Development: The Centre is well placed to establish a joint policy statement on women's rights and community development. While the community development undertaken by UNCHS (Habitat) is highly gender-sensitive, the experimentation is not as yet formalized, nor articulated into policy. The result of a more formal linkage between programme initiatives could help to integrate global/regional women's networks and gender catalysts to a comprehensive framework for poverty reduction. Such integration would strength the advocacy work of grassroots and global women's networks, and significantly enhance strategies and practices to reduce poverty and improve settlements. This would necessarily have direct implications for advancing global campaigns on security of tenure and urban governance (see below).

(C) Habitat's Strategic Vision: Linking Normative Positions to Operational Strategies

UNCHS (Habitat) has recently adopted a new strategic vision. The vision statement calls for greater focus, a stronger advocacy role, strategic collaboration with partners, participatory citizenship, a shift from ad hoc technical co-operation towards well co-ordinated capacity building, emphasis on poverty reduction, and a more explicit adherence to principles of human development and normative positions for sustainable urban development.

The Evaluation Research suggests that the experience of Community Development Programme over the past 15 years does represent a crucial contribute to the Centre's efforts to apply the strategic vision. Perhaps the most useful contribution concerns how UNCHS (Habitat) will link norms to operational strategies and practical tools for participatory settlement improvements and urban management.

The research demonstrates that CDP has linked normative positions on empowerment to a set of operational strategies on community management. Rather than limit the agenda to participation, the Programme has expanded its work to include the promotion of community management skills in resource mobilization, employment generation, planning, management, monitoring, and negotiation. Low-income households have skills they can use to improve their working and living conditions, thus realizing a noticeable degree of empowerment.

Similarly, CDP has grounded what are normally rhetorical normative positions on enablement with the beginnings of a legal, financial and administrative framework for innovative local government reform. In contrast to many institutions promoting government enablement, the Programme has demonstrated the importance of moving beyond "external support" of ad hoc community projects. It has pointed to the need to revitalize public authorities, orienting them with procedures that facilitate participatory settlement improvements — as well as enhancing the way they conduct planning and allocate resources.

The Programme's work on community development also gives practical focus to normative positions implicit in national policies for redistribution and popular participation. In its work with sector ministries – local government, housing, gender and community development – CDP has helped to orient decentralisation programmes, making these more operational at local level.

CDP has as well furnished development practitioners with a set of practices that fully express norms about partnerships. The research demonstrates the importance of linking public management practice to popular action. It outlines the need for popular organizations to strengthen their external linkages to public institutions, and for local authorities to revise how they relate to communities and their organizations.

Primary Level
of Activity
Normative Position Operational Strategy Corresponding Practical Mechanisms
People's Organizations Empowerment Community Management Resource mobilization, democratic decision making, employment generation, neighbourhood planning, management, maintenance, community-based monitoring and evaluation, and negotiation.
Local/Public Authorities Participatory Urban Governance Government Enablement of Civic / Community Action Legal, financial and administrative framework: Procedures that ensure popular groups have legal basis to exist, make claims on public resources, tender contracts; Administrative procedures for participatory planning, inclusive decision making, joint financing, and joint management.
Central Governments and Public Institutions Redistribution, Regulation, Devolution Decentralisation Financing for training of local officials, rights for associations of local authorities to contest budget allocations, independent regulator boards for monitoring state transfers and public/private partnerships.
Popular / Public Nexus Operational Partnerships Co-management Federated organizations, sub-municipal units, political decision making forums, and legal/financial frameworks (as per above).


(D) Learning and Knowledge Building for Policy Formulation and Advocacy

The relevance of the Evaluation Research to UNCHS (Habitat) policy and technical advisory support suggests that the Centre should not limit such research to one Programme every ten years (e.g. pursue ad hoc research). UNCHS (Habitat) should, instead, consider ways of institutionalizing processes of organized learning and reflection in order to remain dynamic, formulate policy, and retain a credible advocacy role.

A Learning Organisation: An important finding of the Community Development Programme is that the Centre has the capacity to learn from itself provided it has explicit mechanisms (and the necessary funds) for doing so. Learning occurs when institutions integrate research in an organized manner with experimental projects, research, assessment, policy development and advocacy. UNCHS (Habitat) should combine experimental projects, research, analysis and assessment and then use the results to advise governments and set standards for funding agencies. In addition it should draw upon the mechanisms for learning to modify programme development strategies, scale up what is working, formulate policy, and substantiate its policy advocacy. The challenge for UNCHS (Habitat) is to find ways to facilitate organized learning processes within the Agency, among partners, and within micro interventions.

Internal Learning: Institutionalized learning within the Centre requires establishing roles and responsibilities for units with research capacity. Here the key is to integrate conventional monitoring research functions with applied research so that the two are organized and mutually reinforcing. This also entails creating a sense among those implementing experimental projects and providing technical advisory support that evaluation research is an important input to their work.

Learning with Partners: The Centre should consider pursuing internal learning processes in a manner that benefits from and is useful to partners. This means engaging partners early on in the design of experimental projects, research initiatives and global campaigns. Participatory design requires investing in preparatory workshops that allow an exchange of conceptual and practical issues. Collaboration with partners at the design phase also helps to ensure that the information resulting from projects, research, and campaigns is validated, disseminated, and available to a wide cross-section of stake holders.

Popular Research: Micro-learning processes are especially important for UNCHS (Habitat) given its explicit focus on poverty reduction. The Centre should incorporate into its research strategy training for mobilizes and community leaders in basic methods of data collection and interpretation. Popular research is time consuming but often channels research in interesting and unanticipated directions. It also helps to ensure that low-income households are both producers and consumers of knowledge.

(E) Contributing to a Global Campaign on Urban Governance

UNCHS (Habitat) is currently initiating a global campaign on urban governance. The idea of the campaign is to improve the living and working conditions of urban residents by promoting a "code of conduct" for urban governance. The campaign seeks to identify and promote recognized norms of governance such as transparency, accountability, democratic decision making, equity, and sustainable urban development. In addition to advocating norms, the Centre is interested in providing activists, practitioners and policy makers with operational strategies, tools and indicators they can use to uphold these norms.

UNCHS (Habitat) seeks to facilitate the campaigns rather than "own" them. The real impact of the campaigns will depend on the support and action of partners. The Centre will launch a process of identifying norms and practices that includes community leaders, local government officials, senior government policy makers, NGO activists and facilitators, applied researchers, trainers, and representatives of international development co-operation agencies. The Centre hopes not only to develop a "code of conduct" but also to establish mechanisms for monitoring governments and assisting them to practice good urban governance. UNCHS (Habitat) plans to use the campaign to influence multilateral development lending, possibly establishing criteria based on campaign norms, practices and indicators.

The Evaluation Research suggests four ways the Community Development Programme might be able to contribute to the global campaign on urban governance.

Operational Strategies: As presented above ("3" of this section), CDP has demonstrated its ability to link operational strategies to normative positions. The Centre's efforts to launch a campaign on urban governance may well benefit from CDP's exploratory work on government enablement. The research recommends that UNCHS (Habitat) should consolidate its present work with legal, financial and administrative procedures local governments can use to enable community action. These procedures relate very much to norms of democratic decision making, equity, etc., and may well serve as useful inputs to the campaign. The tools necessary for linking community action to public management practice might be relevant as well.

Criteria Indicators: An important by-product of the Evaluation Research are 400 indicators which measure community participation, community management and government enablement. The indicators for government enablement may be particularly relevant for the campaign. They measure the presence and quality of local government planning methods, legal instruments, and financial procedures. These indicators could be used to monitor government compliance to the "code of conduct," and suggest ways local authorities can work more effectively and democratically with settlement organizations. Government enablement indicators may as well serve as criteria for multilateral development bank lending.

Collaboration with Partners: The Evaluation Research indicates that CDP's efforts to reduce poverty require working at the levels of settlements, local authorities and central governments. CDP operational partners are therefore a mixture of community leaders, representatives of federations of CBOs, local government field officers, urban managers, mayors, and central government directors, permanent secretaries, and ministers. UNCHS (Habitat) may enhance the effectiveness of the campaign by establishing a similar diversity of partners. This should not be limited to the CDP network, but should include an even distribution of practitioners to ensure the campaign considers governance from the perspective of settlements, local authorities and central governments.

Operational Programming with Multilateral Development Banks: The efforts of UNCHS (Habitat) to influence World Bank and Regional Development Banks policies and practices is an ambitious but crucial goal of the campaign on urban governance. Perhaps one opportunity for strengthening the campaign in this direction would be to explore the Centre's prospective role in preparing municipalities and sector ministries for large development bank loans. Ministers and mayors in Venezuela, Guatemala and Tanzania have approached CDP to provide them with a "pre-investment" training and pilot project on community management and government enablement. They believe a two-year intervention by UNCHS (Habitat) prior to receiving large-scale loans would help them. It could lower costs of settlement improvements, improve management and maintenance, create greater acceptance of user-costs, and ultimately help governments repay their loan. The campaign may benefit from operational programming that includes UNCHS (Habitat), governments, and development banks. The trial and error involved in negotiating, implementing, and evaluating "pre-investment" projects could give the campaign greater clarity.

(F) Applied Strategy for Dissemination of Research Findings with Partners

The Evaluation Research provides information that is potentially useful to activists, practitioners and policy makers well beyond the network of CDP and its partners. The Centre should facilitate a process for dissemination and exchange through a range of global, sub-regional and national/local forums. An applied strategy for dissemination of the research findings with partners could help to give the Centre more visibility, demonstrating its capacity to apply concepts of community development for poverty reduction.

Specific Topics: The topics of the forums might include debates on poverty reduction, participation, community management, government enablement (of communities and of markets), governance, decentralisation, and co-management. The Centre should approach each of these topics with the explicit purpose of: (i) Defining normative positions; (ii) Identifying indicators that measure the implementation of normative standards; (iii) Advancing conceptual understanding, and; (iv) Establishing strategic frameworks, practises and tools that allow practitioners and policy makers to operationalise the concepts.

Partners: The forums could engage diverse audiences together and apart. They should, in the long run, be organized and hosted by partners: applied scholars, practitioners (at all levels), and high-level, policy makers. The academic community could be called upon to challenge the findings of the research, questioning not only the results but also the methodology used to obtain them. Academic forums could help to consolidate disparate research agenda, strengthen networks among researchers, and promote applied research that links academics to popular organizations and local governments. Development practitioners could use the findings to develop more explicit operational strategies and practical tools. Emphasis here should be placed first on building a legal, financial and administrative framework for local government enablement of community action. An additional set of forums should be organized for policy makers of governments, foundations, and funding agencies. The Centre could spearhead an agenda to update policy priorities and revise criteria for future development co-operation.

Types of Forums: The Centre could facilitate learning among partners through different types of forums, including: international expert group meetings, sub-regional forums, and national and municipal meetings. International Expert Group Meetings could harness the knowledge of select institutions specialized in the subjects and advance relevant topics of community development and poverty reduction. Sub-regional Resource Facilities could establish annual forums to inform global strategies with experiences from actual practise. This would necessarily entail exchange of experiences among operational and strategic partners working within select sub-regions (Central America, East Africa, etc.). UNCHS (Habitat) could augment global and sub-regional forums with national and local initiatives. The Centre may identify countries and municipalities where it is currently providing pilot projects and technical advisory services, and use the forums to advance relevant issues on poverty reduction, and to co-ordinate disparate operational activities.

(G) Future Research

As with Evaluation Research generally, the UNCHS (Habitat)/ISS study on community participation, community management, and government enablement points to new areas for research.

Government Enablement of Communities and Markets: Proponents of government enablement, according to the research, often lack clarity about who is enabling, what is being enabled, and for what purposes. A possible area of future research of the Centre concerns how to arrive at a better understanding of government enablement. This might be approached on conceptual and practical levels. Conceptually, UNCHS (Habitat) would do well to identify two forms of enablement and their relationship: government enablement of community action and government enablement of market processes and privatization. Operationally, the research could identify and compare strategies governments use to put the two forms of enablement into practice. A particular angle of the research may be to document how government enablement of markets may be pursued "from a community perspective."

Community Development and Economic Growth: Community development and its component parts — participation, management, enablement — are often seen solely from the perspective of social development. What of economic perspectives? Does community development contribute to economic growth? A possible avenue of future research might be to examine how community management skills, combined with government enabling practices contribute to the following: (a) asset generation, employment, income; (b) reductions in the cost of settlement improvements; (c) acceptance of user-fees of settlement facilities and services; (d) cost-recovery of public investments resulting in higher loan repayment; and (e) generation of greater (and better targeted) public and private economic investment.

Community Action and Public Management: UNCHS (Habitat) and partners could benefit greatly from research that examines how popular organizations and local authorities jointly plan for, finance, and manage settlement improvements. The Evaluation Research points to the need to explore more closely the relationship between the actions of communities and their organizations and the management practices of public authorities. Four areas for future research are: (a) attitudinal studies on how civil servants and residents perceive their roles and those of one another; (b) analysis of public management practices that enable community action (legal, financial, administrative); (c) analysis of the role of intermediary institutions such as NGOs, political parties, federations of CBOs, sub-municipal units; (d) historical comparative analysis on how the relationship between states and societies impacts on co-management.

Comparative Sector Analysis of Community Management: Many of the community management practices advanced by CDP are cross-cutting. Low-income families could use these skills not only to obtain adequate shelter, employment and basic services, but also to improve public health, manage natural resources such as water and forestry, etc. UNCHS (Habitat) should conduct research that compares how community management is practised in other sectors such as health, water and forestry. By documenting these practices, the Centre could enhance community management of settlement improvements and contribute to community-based approaches to public health and natural resource management.

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