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Interactive Community Planning:
Community Action Planning (MicroPlanning)

This approach was developed by the authors during their collaborative work over the past 15 years. Their participatory approach catalyzed in Sri Lanka as part of the Million Houses Program, a national-scale participatory program internationally applauded. In Sri Lanka it was applied nationwide and has become a model emulated in programs internationally.

The key element of Community Action Planning (CAP) is an active, intense community-based workshop, carried out over a period of 2 to 5 days, depending on the specific goals of the workshop. The output of the workshops is a development plan which includes a list of prioritized problems, strategies and options for dealing with the problems, and a rudimentary work program describing who, when and what is to be done. Integral to the method is the equal relation between the professional technical inputs and the community.

The workshops are programmed over specified intervals – once each year tends to be appropriate – with the implementation of agreements during the interval.

The setup for the workshop requires a minimum of preparation, materials and training. Required is a motivated community and a confident moderator/facilitator/organizer who can take the lead in assuring that announcements are made, participants identified, a location selected, a few materials collected, and finally in running the workshop. Much of the preparation is done by the community. A designated person often takes responsibility for the logistics. Moderators need not be highly skilled and can adapt the style and content to suit their own temperament and the prevailing circumstances. Training of moderators/facilitators can be minimal, but is strongly advised to participate in an actual workshop in order that future moderators can capture the dynamics of the event as much as understand its procedures.

Materials required are limited to markers of some kind, large sheets of paper (any kind: wrapping paper, newsprint, cardboard, unfolded boxes), and a place for display of outputs.

The location should be in the community and accessible, rather than in government offices. Example locations have included formal classrooms to sitting on the ground with the back of a makeshift store as display space. This offers familiarity to participants, emphasizes the bias toward the community, and allows instant corroboration of issues.

The start to the process is problems definition. Both perceived – those felt as being a problem – and “real” problems – those that are measurable – are included without initial distinctions.

The process adopts four general stages of work:

  • Stage 1: PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION and PRIORITIZING: What are the problems?
  • Stage 2: STRATEGIES, OPTIONS and TRADEOFFS : What approaches and actions are most suitable to deal with problems?
  • Stage 3: PLANNING FOR IMPLEMENTATION: Who does what, when and how, and how to get it going?
  • Stage 4: MONITORING: How is it working and what can we learn? (A variation of this stage is sometimes included in Stage 1 in identifying problems.)

At each stage charts structure the workshop and are completed by small mixed-background/mixed discipline groups during the workshop sessions. The charts are prepared on large pieces of paper for display purposes and with a minimum of formality to highlight the working nature of the sessions. They remain with the community as a record of discussions and agreements. At the conclusion, the community has a prioritized list of problems, a plan of action for implementation for key agreed options and an appointed person to liaison with authorities.

Participants at the workshop include a cross-section of community representatives, technical officers from the various departments (sanitation, water, housing, health, education, dependent on the nature of the municipality organization). The facilitator plays a key role as moderator and must have the confidence of all participants.

The original handbook explaining Community Action Planning (at that time called Microplanning) was prepared for the National Housing Development Authority of the Government of Sri Lanka and for its technical staff. The handbook was later expanded with the addition of a frontispiece on the conceptual background, a section describing the workshop dynamics in Santiago, Chile, and a section on assessing the impact one year after MicroPlanning workshops were held in four communities.2 A modified version was prepared as a “Training of Trainers” guide as part of the dissemination of the methodology throughout the country.

Subsequent to the development of the methodology in Sri Lanka, the approach has been used by the authors and others worldwide, in Bangladesh, South Africa, Boston (USA), Poland. It is being used extensively in Central America by the regional version of ILUA. It has not been successful in Boston because of the underlying political commitment required. There local authorities feared that the outcomes would not match official expectations, despite their funding of the preparation of a locally-oriented handbook.3 The methodology was selected by the World Bank’s Economic Development Unit for its municipal programs throughout Latin America and translated into Spanish.

The process is flexible and variations of the approach with their explanatory handbooks have been prepared to address specific circumstances. In Bangladesh a version was prepared that linked training of local technical officers, participatory community upgrading, and the on-going strategic planning effort in Dhaka and Chittagong. In South Africa the method is being used as part of the township upgrading, and a pilot project was undertaken in Schweizer-Reneke, North-West Province, with subsequent workshops in the planning stages. A summary of the guidebook prepared from the workshop is included.

In all cases where community action planning was used the fundamentals were retained: rapid, intense field-based workshops, a problem-driven agenda, equal community/technical participation and documentation.

For further information:
Making MicroPlans: A community based process in programming and development. Reinhard Goethert and Nabeel Hamdi. IT Publications, 1988. Order from publisher.

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