This essay discusses the importance of community involvement in project appraisal. The issue of community involvement has come under scrutiny and has gained increased importance the world over. Community involvement has been seen as essential in achieving development goals. Participatory approaches have been shown to enhance project quality, ownership, and sustainability; and to empower targeted beneficiaries among other benefits. This paper shall start by defining important terms and then go on to discuss the importance of community involvement in project appraisal before concluding. 2. Definition of terms
3.1 Project Appraisal
Appraisal is the analysis of a proposed project to determine its merit and acceptability in accordance with set criteria. This is the last step before a project is agreed for financing. In addition to undertaking financial analysis with regard to the viability of the project, development projects cannot be considered unless they are economically, institutionally and technically sound. According to Oakely (1995), project appraisal is the process of assessing and questioning proposals before resources are committed.
It is an essential tool for effective action in community renewal. It’s a means by which partnerships can choose the best projects to help them achieve what they want for their community. Experience in projects emphasizes the importance of developing an ‘appraisal culture’ which involves developing the right system for local circumstances and ensuring that everyone involved recognizes the value of project appraisal and has the knowledge and skills necessary to play their part in it. 3.2 Community Involvement or participation
According to FAO (2007), community involvement or participation is “….a process of equitable and active involvement of all stakeholders in the formulation of development policies and strategies and in the analysis, planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development activities. To allow for a more equitable development process, disadvantaged stakeholders need to be empowered to increase their level of knowledge, influence and control over their own livelihoods, including development initiatives affecting them”. Community involvement can also be defined as a process through which people with an interest (stakeholders) influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources that affect them. In practice, this involves employing measures to identify relevant stakeholders, share information with them, and listen to their views.
Involve them in the process of development planning and decision-making, contribute to their capacity-building and, ultimately, empower them to initiate and control their own self-development. In simple terms, community involvement refers to the participation of the people in a community in development projects. Since social, economic, educational and other conditions differ from one condition to another, the form and degree of peoples’ involvement in development activities vary. This makes it difficult to define community participation precisely, however, since it implies action by the people to solve their own problems, it can be understood in terms of activities performed by the communities in development projects.
Broadly these include definition of the problems, setting of priorities, making decisions, planning action programs for solving problems, sharing responsibilities, among other things. Both primary and secondary stakeholders should participate and cooperate with each other. Primary stakeholders are the beneficiaries of the development intervention or those directly affected (negatively or positively) by it for example the local populations in the project area. Secondary stakeholders are those who influence the development intervention or are indirectly affected by it and they include the government, civil society organisations among others.
3. Importance of Community Involvement
Chambers (1992) reiterates that it is during appraisal that project design is finalised and operational details and procedures are fully developed and agreed by all parties. While stakeholder participation or community involvement is extremely valuable in the earlier stages of project preparation, it is also crucial at this stage to ensure that specific project structures and mechanisms that are put in place are acceptable to stakeholders and amenable to participatory processes. Community involvement is important as the project staff can discuss with government counterparts and other stakeholders of background studies carried out and fill in information gaps and seek stakeholder advice on addressing problems or outstanding issues identified in the studies. More so, details are verified and assumptions are clarified on issues of budgets, procurement and disbursement procedures, project timeliness and implementation schedules, stakeholder contribution to project activities such as labour, in kind, cash etc.
The aim of involving everyone is to reach the poorest of the poor and the normally vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Community involvement or consultation may help determine priorities and secure community consent and ownership. More targeted consultation, with potential project users, may help ensure that project plans are viable. A key question in appraisal will be whether there has been appropriate consultation and how it has shaped the project. .
The participatory process allows for more ideas to be incorporated into the project, and often increases the success of the project. The project staff have the obligation to involve local people in the projects and to make that involvement as genuine and as broad-based as possible. The ramifications of adopting a community participation approach can be extensive and should not be considered lightly. They will affect programme planning, budgeting, and actions at the operational level and also the political level. Involving communities in the appraisal of projects, implementation and even evaluation is important as it brings a sense of ownership of the project and its end result.
Political by in or commitment in most sensitive projects is mandatory as it is the highest level required to make changes or support a project. (Clayton (1997). Another importance of community involvement is that it allows and encourages people to select development projects in relation to the priority they accord to various development issues. Not all communities may give priority for water and sanitation for example, when there are critical issues such as food shortages. However, discussion with the community may end up raising awareness of the benefits of the project issues if they are ignorant. More so, community involvement or participation has benefits both as a means and as an end itself. The main aim of community involvement is the need to ensure community supported policies and projects. Evidence shows that participation is an important means whereby the quality, impact and sustainability of development policies, programs and projects can be enhanced.
Participation can be viewed as an end in itself to the extend it can raise awareness of stakeholder groups and strengthen their capacity to analyse and solve their problems. In particular, community involvement can assist weak and vulnerable groups to share equitably in development benefits and empower them to better defend their interests and initiate self help actions. In summary, potential benefits of community involvement or participation include the following: 1. Improved project design by drawing on local knowledge and expertise to ensure the designs accurately reflect stakeholder priorities and needs as the community know best what problems they are facing and probably how to solve them. 2. Means of verifying relevance and appropriateness of proposed interventions;
3. Strengthened stakeholder commitment to, and ownership of, policies and projects leading to increased uptake of project services and greater willingness to share costs; 4. Enhanced sustainability as a result of increased stakeholder ownership; 5. Opportunity to foresee and/ or resolve potential obstacles, constraints and conflicts; 6. Means to identify and address potential negative social and environmental impacts; 7. Opportunity to generate social learning and innovations based on field experience; 8. Capacity building of stakeholders and local institutions including their capacity to analyse problems and initiate other development activities; 9. Means of ensuring that project benefits are distributed equitably; and 10. Strengthened working relations between and the project staff.
However, each progressive level of community development or participation brings with it different benefits and costs. Deeper forms of participation imply increased initial costs, but the pay-offs are also greater. Lack of community involvement in project appraisal has many costs. The principal cost is the absence of stakeholder ownership and support that can lead to the low up-take of project services, reduced sustainability of benefits, poor maintenance and, limited cost recovery of projects. Lack of community involvement or participation can lead to a sense of indifference, resentment, or deliberate obstruction on the part of intended beneficiaries.
There is significant evidence that community involvement can improve the quality, effectiveness and sustainability of development projects and enhance the commitment of governments, beneficiaries and other stakeholders. Participatory approaches to project appraisals have proved particularly important in reach even the most vulnerable groups in communities such as the poor, women, children and the disabled, who traditionally have enjoyed little influence and control over decisions and actions affecting their lives. Evidence also shows that in the long term, the benefits of community involvements outweigh the costs.
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