Home Page


Ελληνικά / Elliniká


Other Pages:


Site Map

Key Words


Utility Documents

Useful Links

Poverty, Participation and Government Enablement



Gert Lüdeking, Programme Coordinator
Christopher Williams, Programme Research Coordinator


  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

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. 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


(A) Leading Research Questions

The UNCHS (Habitat)/Institute of Social Studies (ISS) Poverty Research Project (1995-1998) is a study that analyses the experiences of the Community Development Programme (CDP) in seven countries over ten years (1986-1996). The research examines how the concepts used by the Programme: community participation, community management, and government enablement ─ were translated into practical tools and how effective these tools were in reducing poverty. The study also considers how the applied concepts evolved: how the Programme revised its concepts and corresponding tools over the course of ten years. In addition, the research compares how CDP used these concepts with the way other organizations and institutions applied them. Through such comparison the research attempts to understand the validity, relevance, and contribution of UNCHS (Habitat's) approach to community development.

The analysis of these and related issues is organized into four leading research questions:

  1. How have the concepts of community participation (CP), community management (CM) and government enablement (GE) evolved in the Programme since its inception?

  2. What is the validity of this conceptual development, how does it compare to the general patterns in development, as measured by the literature?

  3. How effective are CP, CM and GE, as practised by the Programme, in fulfilling overall CDP goals such as poverty reduction, settlement improvements and quality of habitat?

  4. What do the findings of the research suggest for development policy generally, and CDP in particular, with reference to regional similarities and differences?

(B) A Framework for Research

The four research questions are difficult to answer because concepts like participation, management and enablement are complex and ambiguous. The concepts mean different things to different people at different times. This makes it tricky to analyse how the concepts were practised and how they evolved over time. The complexity of the terms also complicates efforts to determine how they improve settlements and enhance the quality of habitat.

The research relies for these reasons on an analytical framework in order to contend with the complexity of the concepts. The framework is a kind of road map which allows researchers to define what is meant by community participation, community management and government enablement. It provides researchers with a tool to compare concepts in different countries and to compare how communities, local governments and policy makers applied the concepts in very diverse settings.

The framework or road map makes the concepts more manageable. It looks not only at the general idea of participation, management and enablement, but also at what elements each of these concepts are made up of. For instance, community participation contains elements of community leadership, community organisation, and gender. Community management has elements of planning, monitoring, resource mobilization. And government enablement has elements of planning, financing, and administration.

The framework goes further and breaks down each of the elements into a corresponding set of aspects. The aspects help to define the quality of the elements. For instance, if we are interested in analysing community leadership, we would like to know the character and quality of that leadership. Is the leadership democratic? Is it the result of an election held by community members? Do the decisions of the leadership really reflect the majority of the residents of the settlement?

Elements and aspects help clarify what is meant by each of the three concepts but they do not measure the concepts. The research framework goes still one step further. It includes a set of indicators for each aspect. The indicators measure what is referred to in research as "qualitative states." Back to the example of community participation. It is important to ask if leadership is democratic. Yet, we also need to know degrees of democratic decision making and levels of accountability of leadership in order to measure if leadership is, in fact, democratic. The research framework therefore includes over 400 indicators that help to measure the aspects of the corresponding elements of participation, management and enablement.

Armed with a systematic framework, replete with elements, aspects and indicators, researchers are in a strong position to examine how these concepts: (i) evolved (over time and between countries), (ii) compared with the literature, and (iii) were effective in reducing poverty.

(C) Measuring How the Concepts Evolved Over Time

The research framework provides an excellent frame of reference to measure how concepts were applied and evolved over time. It serves as a kind of "net" with which researchers can capture and organize the wide diversity of practices and activities undertaken by CDP and partners in the seven countries since 1988. The study "casts" this "net" in each of the countries first at the inception of project implementation, then at various key junctures up to and including 1996. The initial "casting" at the onset of project intervention provides a baseline from which subsequent periods can be compared.

The study, as part of the initial inventory of concepts and practices also documents the economic, social, and political conditions in each of the respective countries. The research attempts to determine what kind of "playing field" the countries were in when they together with UNCHS (Habitat) attempted to test, apply and develop the concepts of community participation, community management and government enablement. Factors impacting on the concepts include structural adjustment policies, national programmes for decentralisation, constitutional mandates for popular participation, a historical tradition of social movements and community organizing, the introduction of multiparty politics, sharp declines in commodity prices, heightened urbanization, etc.

In 1996, local, national research teams in each of the countries used the research framework and corresponding analysis of economic and social conditions to document the evolution and practical application of the concepts. Their research was consolidated in country reports of which there are a total of seven, one for each country under investigation. The research teams relied upon secondary sources such as project documents, training materials, analytical reports, and reports of workshops. Researchers complemented this data by conducting select interviews with project staff and partners in non-governmental organizations, and in local and central government.

In late 1996, the research co-ordination team, based at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), prepared a synthesis report based on the seven country reports. The synthesis report provides a comprehensive picture of UNCHS (Habitat) Community Development Programme as a whole. It notes important regional and country differences, and identifies key trends about how the concepts were applied by the Programme and how these evolved over time.

(D) Examining the Validity, Relevance and Contribution of CDP

Understanding the importance of UNCHS (Habitat's) efforts over ten years to advance concepts of community development requires knowledge about how other activists, practitioners and policy makers have applied the concepts. The most straightforward way of obtaining this knowledge is to survey the literature on community participation, community management and government enablement. A composite of the literature provides the basis for a comparison between the literature and CDP. That is, a sense of how the Centre's work on community development "holds" up to the "state of the art."

In 1996, the research co-ordination team at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) prepared two separate surveys of the literature. The first focussed on community participation and community management. The report identifies the earliest applications of community-based development and traces trends and patterns in the literature up to and including the present. Given the magnitude of publications and the large number of international development co-operation agencies now promoting community development, the survey is not exhaustive. Rather it reviews the literature selectively, placing greater emphasis on general publications of leading agencies and of academics in the field.

The second report is a review on government enablement. The review is novel in that it draws upon highly diverse literatures and attempts to consolidate knowledge on a relatively new concept. The report incorporates the literature on public administration, decentralisation, privatization, structural adjustment, governance, as well as on community development. As with the first survey, the review on enablement is selective. It uses as a common denominator literature germane to human settlements developments and urban management.

In 1997, the research co-ordination team prepared an additional report that contrasts the work of UNCHS (Habitat) with the "state of the art." The report juxtaposes the literature reviews to the synthesis report on the evolution of key concepts applied by the Programme. The report demonstrates (see above, Part II) that the Centre is at par on community participation, and well ahead on community management and government enablement.

(E) Analysing How the Programme AND the Applied Concepts Reduce Poverty

Of all the research questions, the issue of "effectiveness" (question "c") is the most challenging. How do you determine whether and to what degree poverty is reduced, settlements are improved, and habitat is of a higher quality?

Starting with a Claim About Poverty Reduction:

The study takes up the question by posing a claim or working hypothesis: CDP successfully puts into practice a set of concepts, applies these to select neighbourhoods and local governments, and facilitates the process by which diverse actors reduce poverty.

The claim is essentially two claims:

  1. CDP successfully introduces government enablement strategies, enhances community participation, and strengthens community management skills

  2. The concepts as applied by CDP in the form of practical strategies and tools do, in fact, reduce poverty and improve living and working conditions of human settlements.

The study questions not only if CDP applies the concepts, but also if the concepts (as applied) reduce poverty. The concepts as well as the Programme are under investigation.

Illustrating the Claim with a Conceptual Schema:

The conceptual schema below illustrates the relationships between the CDP intervention, the applied concepts, and their combined impact (effectiveness) on poverty reduction and settlement improvement.

The schema displays two phenomena: levels of intervention and the directional flow of the analysis. At national level, the Programme pursued macro interventions by applying the concept of government enablement (with emphasis on strategies for decentralisation programmes). At the level of local government, CDP undertook meso interventions also by applying the concept of government enablement. And at the settlement level, CDP did micro interventions by applying the concepts of community participation and community management

The schema displays the directional flow of the analysis in two ways: direct and indirect. The dotted lines indicate the direct flow of analysis from CDP intervention to the applied concepts, and on to poverty reduction and settlement improvement. The arrows indicate the indirect flow of analysis from CDP intervention to poverty reduction. The schema illustrates with arrows that CDP's impact on poverty reduction is indirect. The Programme intervened sequentially at multiple levels (first government, then local authority, and then settlement). The combined effect of such multiple intervention impacted on the living and working conditions of low-income households in these settlements.

Testing the Claim:

While the conceptual schema helps to illustrate the logic of the study, other methods are necessary to test the claim that CDP and the concepts (as applied) are effective. The research accomplishes this by obtaining data from settlements and local authorities where CDP intervened and comparing these with data obtained from other settlements where the Programme did not intervene. By contrasting settlements in this way, the study assesses whether ─ all things being equal (ceteris paribus) ─ the intervention of CDP had a significant (relatively greater) effect on introducing the concepts in settlements and public authorities. Controlled comparisons also allow researchers to determine whether, ceteris paribus, the concepts as applied by CDP had a significant (again, relatively greater) effect on improving the living and working conditions of the settlements in which it worked. The method of testing the claim(s) through comparison of settlements is, of course, imperfect. Often, all things are not always equal. For example, other organizations or public authorities may have intervened in the settlements where CDP did not work. They may have influenced (positively or negatively) the conditions in that settlement. Campaign promises of local elections, the closing of a near by industry, etc. also impact on settlement conditions.

Defining Poverty:

The research draws upon the research framework and upon definitions of poverty in order to validate claims that the concepts, as applied, reduce poverty. As mentioned above (part "B"), the research framework includes detailed definitions of the concepts, replete with elements, aspects and, most importantly, indicators. Researchers can use the indicators to measure the quality of participation, management and enablement, and determine in which settlements these concepts were effectively applied.

Regarding poverty, the research relies on internationally recognized definitions of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). These include indicators that measure not only income, but also consumption patterns and asset formation. The poverty indicators also measure the quality and access of low-income families to shelter, basic services, and settlement facilities. Importantly, the study does NOT include in its definition of poverty, indicators such as gender equality, social organisation, democratic leadership, skills training, planning capacity, relations between popular organizations and local authorities, and the quality and attitude of local government.

Why is this so? At first glance, it would seem an oversight. Poverty should be measured in terms of social indicators as well as indicators which capture the ability of low-income families to generate assets and attain shelter and services. The research, in fact, does not overlook these. Rather, it incorporates the social indicators into the elements and aspects of community participation, community management and government enablement. The "separation" of social and economic indicators of poverty is intentional. It provides the basis for an analysis of how social conditions do or do not impact on economic/consumption conditions.

Collecting and Processing Information:

The study relies upon field surveys as the primary source of information. Claims about the effectiveness of the concepts as applied by the Programme are based on surveys of 900 households, 120 community leaders, and 90 government officials. The questions of each of the surveys are derived directly from the research framework. Each question and its possible answers are essentially aspects and indicators, respectively, of the three concepts. The government official survey covers questions related primarily to aspects of government enablement. Information on the aspects of community participation and community management is obtained primarily through the household and community leader surveys. The household survey is the source of all data on poverty indicators. Importantly, a set of similar questions is asked in all surveys. These allow researchers to analyse how aspects of participation and enablement are viewed from different perspectives (e.g. households, community leaders and government officials).

The processing of data obtained from surveys is a difficult undertaking. It requires organizing over 200 questions from 1,110 surveys in two languages, in seven countries. Rather than compare people's responses to 200 questions, the study compares responses to groups of questions. Recall that most of the questions are based on the research framework aspects of participation, management and enablement reformulated for the surveys. The research essentially re-visits each aspect, re-grouping all questions accordingly. For example, within the concept of community participation, there are a number of questions about leadership. The study consolidates all relevant questions pertaining to community leadership and then takes stock of how each survey respondent answered. Researchers construct indices for leadership, systematically adding up how people responded to all the relevant questions. The indices are "scored" such that each question is added to the others giving a range of possible, cumulative points for each aspect. Back the example. Leadership consists of questions about democratic character of elections, degree of representation, etc. The "score" for leadership on a particular survey would be ranked high when the variable for democratic character, representation, etc. are each the highest possible value, resulting in the highest possible cumulative score. Low values on each of the questions, by contrast, would result in the lowest score. By constructing in this way indices based on a set of ordered variables (questions), researchers can manage the complete range of aspect of the study. This, in turn, provides the basis for comparison of aspects in settlements and districts where the Programme did and did not intervene.

Interpretation of the Data by National and International Research Teams:

In 1997, national research teams in collaboration with CDP project staff carried out field research. The research teams identified settlements and randomly selected households within these settlements. The criteria for selection of settlements were based not only on CDP intervention, but also on proximity to the seat of government, density of population, capacity of local government, coastal location, and socio-economic level. The national research teams compiled their findings into country reports, one for each of the seven countries. The findings were based on comparisons of various aspects of participation, management and enablement in settlements and districts where CDP did intervene with those where the Programme did not work with settlement organizations and public authorities.

In addition to summarizing the results of the processed surveys, the national research teams also considered factors that impacted on the effectiveness of the concepts (as practised by CDP) on reducing poverty. The teams formulated country-specific hypothesis about factors and their impact on CDP effectiveness. For example, in Zambia, the researchers compared the results of survey questions carried out in rural and urban settlements to determine if density of population was a factor influencing the effectiveness of participation, management and enablement. Researchers in other countries considered the influence on effectiveness of proximity of settlement to the seat of government, small verses large cities, capacity of local government, and socio-economic level of population, etc. The research teams based their findings on direct comparisons between settlements that fit the stereotype (e.g. rural/urban, close/distant proximity to capital, etc.).

In late 1997 and 1998, the research team of the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) analysed the findings using processed data sets based on surveys conducted in the seven countries. Their work is compiled in two reports. The first is an analysis of the effectiveness of the concepts, as practised by CDP, on poverty reduction, settlements improvement and quality of habitat. The report on effectiveness provides the analytical reasoning behind the main findings of the study outlined above (Part II). The second report analyses regional variations and outlines recommendations based on the research findings.

The ISS research team also produced in 1998, a detailed report on the research design and methods used for the study, about which this section is a brief summary.

If you copy text from this site, please acknowledge the author(s)
and link it back to www.scn.org/cmp/

 Slogans and Proverbs: Following the path of least resistance makes all rivers
and some men crooked

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.07.26

 Home page