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What is Available to Use?

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Assessing resources for community empowerment

A resource is wealth. It does not necessarily have to be money to be a resource. See "Wealth" (anything that is relatively scarce and relatively useful).

It is wealth that can be used for development, so should best be considered investment wealth, for investing in the development of the community, empowering it and reducing poverty. It is a resource if it (potentially) can be obtained and used by a community for a community project.

Later, in Participatory Appraisal, you will guide the community in identifying internal resources that they can tap.

It is wise first for you to become as familiar as possible with them, in order to provide more effective guidance. Remember that community members may consciously or inadvertently hide some of the available or potential resources.

Leaders and Organizers:

Perhaps the most important resource of a community consists of its leaders and organizers. These may include potential leaders that you identify as having the right characteristics, even if they have not yet exercised leadership or organizing activities. See Leadership.

If there are other resources, these leaders and organizers will be the ones to help the community to identify and use them. While identifying them may be one of the first things you do in a community (or even when conversing with informants before you enter the community), you should continue looking for them throughout your association with the community.

Working Together:

Another important non-monetary resource of a community is the ability of its members to work together. See Unity Organizing.

Communities vary in the degree to which they can co-operate, or have factional conflict. You can ask your trusted informants; have there been incidents of factional conflict in the past? Have there been other events where community members came together and co-operated on community activities?

It is not possible, and perhaps not necessary, to do a sophisticated sociological survey of community members to determine the degree of unity or willingness to co-operate. From the kinds of information that you can get by looking at the community history and stories from trusted informants, you should be able to make a rough estimate of the ability of the community members to work together.

Assess Both Strengths and Weaknesses:

In your research, it is important to make estimates of both strengths and weaknesses, not only one or the other.

What characteristics of the community would contribute to it being successful in starting and completing a self help project? What characteristics would hinder it?

Here it would be useful for you to draw a table, with positive attributes on one side, negative on the other. You might wish to categorise those characteristics in the six dimensions of culture and society. This will help you to organize your observations and analysis.

Communal and Donated Labour:

Another important resource on which a community might draw consists of labour donated by its members.

In traditional farming communities, this might include labour donated by a group of residents at one time, as called by the local council. This is less likely to be available in urban neighbourhoods.

Another form of donated labour is the labour of planning and managing a community project. Members of the executive committee or implementing committee spend their energy, time and interest on the work organizing a community project.

When calculating the community contributions of a project (especially if that is to be matched by finance from a donor agency) the value of donated labour should be fairly estimated (at market rates). When estimating community resources, you should make a rough estimate of the value of donated labour, broken down into various kinds and tasks.

Skilled Residents:

In your survey of community resources, make a list of persons with useful skills that might be used by a community if it makes a project.

These include working age skilled artisans who would expect to be paid a fair market wage for their work. It also includes trained but inexperienced young apprentices and journeymen who want experience to add to their CVs. It also includes retired specialists who can offer advice and guidance.

If they have satisfactory pensions, perhaps they might also be able to donate some of their skilled labour to the community.

Look for all kinds of skills, including typing and accounting as well as trades (masons, carpenters, blacksmiths), teachers and health workers.

Economic Resources:

Economic resources are often classed as land, labour and capital. See Wealth. This might be a useful classification for you to list resources that can be used by a community for a project.

A land owner might be willing to lend or give a piece of land on which to build a clinic, school or community meeting place (be careful about title, as the owner might claim the land back after the community constructs its facility). Labour (donated or provided for a fee) was discussed above.

Capital means any valuable thing that is not consumed directly but can contribute to further production, so usually implies tools (See the Technology Dimension of culture). A building in which to have meetings or set up a community facility, combines land and capital. Indicate in your notes whether each identified resource can be donated, provided at market rates, or provided at rates below market level (semi donated).

Time and Effort:

Attending community meetings takes time and energy. Some community members, if close to subsistence level, may not have either as they spend (maybe almost) all their time and energy on working to live. Look carefully to see if there appears to be leisure or rest time available among them.

Note that available time and energy is usually lower during planting and harvesting seasons. Note that urban community members (and rural persons with paid jobs) may have regular working hours, and would be available only on weekends or evenings. (Days off may differ, Friday for Moslems, Saturday for Jews, Sunday for Christians, and Tuesday for ocean fishers on the coast of West Africa ─ find out).


No matter how much a community can provide in non monetary resources for its project, there will be some need for cash. You need to assess the capacity of a community to generate cash.

This will be higher in farming communities where cash crops are grown, in contrast to peasant communities where crops are grown only for consumption, not sale. It will likely be higher in urban rather than rural communities. It will be higher where a greater proportion of the residents have access to money, as when they are employed or trading.

Remember that the amount of cash a person has is a private matter, and residents will try to appear as if they have less cash than they do. You will need to devise some indexes of availability of cash in a community, without relying on what individuals say they have. Also, many residents will like to say they have no cash, that they are poor, in the (false) hopes that they would be more likely to receive charity from outside.

Recording and Reporting:

It is necessary for you to record your estimates of potential resources in a community. If you are part of a district or regional mobilization process, those records need to be made available to the manager or coordinator of the programme.

You must start preparing immediately for your departure, in keeping records, so that your notes should be written as if to your successor, even if that may be years away.

Your research produces data, and those data need to be systematically stored so they can be retrieved quickly, and that means they must be kept as part of an MIS (management information system).


A Workshop:

A Workshop

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.09.15

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