Notes from the Field

Community-Driven Development: A New Deal for Communities in the Asia-Pacific

November 13, 2013

The Asia Foundation, in partnership with Australian Aid, World Bank, and SMERU, a leading Indonesian research institute, recently hosted a four-day regional conference on “Sustaining and Mainstreaming Community-Driven Development Programs” (CDD) in Bali, Indonesia. In contrast to standard development approaches, CDD programs provide funds directly to the village level, allowing communities to decide for themselves what development problems to address. These programs include provision of facilitators who help to ensure that all voices in a community are heard and the process of decision making is not captured by local elites or local government.

While CDD is not without its critics, recent research suggests that the CDD model has had some success in improving local access to key services like water and health, and improving livelihoods. At a deeper level, CDD programs seek to reshape the way governments engage with their citizens at the village level, treating them not just as passive objects of development programs, but as full partners in the national development process.

Community-driven development has quietly become mainstream over the past decade and there are now some 90 CDD programs providing over $30 billion worldwide. These programs were initially piloted in a handful of countries in the 1990s, including Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Funded almost entirely by the World Bank, the earliest programs have matured and are now evolving into fully nationally owned and financed operations. Scaling up a donor-funded pilot project to a countrywide government funded program is not an easy process, and is often unsuccessful. What works on a small scale with heavy investment of resources including high quality expertise ready to step in when things go wrong often does not work on a large scale where resources are thinner and the potential for corruption looms large. Embedding CDD permanently in government structures also requires adjustments in law, regulations, financial tracking, and most of all, in reshaping the way government officials engage with citizens.

As it turns out, providing funds at the community level and putting citizens in charge of how they want to use them is also good politics. In Indonesia, the president and vice president have strongly supported expansion of CDD, nationally called PNPM, and it is safe to assume that aspiring politicians will think twice about dismantling this kind of program. In fact, CDD has being adopted at the local level, as in Aceh Province. Still, the political popularity of CDD can create difficulties as in Thailand a decade ago, where a new administration embraced CDD too quickly, before communities were ready and before checks on abuse could be established. With populist politics on the rise across Asia, CDD and CDD-like programs are likely to be seen as a useful way to garner local support. This can be a great boon to sustainability, but ensuring that CDD programs are able to evolve and adjust to get better while avoiding becoming a political football will be an important challenge. As a second generation of countries has begun to implement CDD programs, they now have the opportunity to learn from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and others to avoid earlier mistakes. The Bali conference brought together 80 participants from government and civil society from 11 Asia-Pacific countries (7 ASEAN countries plus Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands), who met to share their knowledge and experience for the first time.

Participants had the opportunity to build new professional relationships across the region, and to share knowledge on the challenges of sustaining, mainstreaming, and scaling-up CDD. This was an important step forward. As CDD moves from donor-driven projects to become an integral part of national agendas of developing countries, with CDD fully owned and operated by government, the question arises – what learning and what assistance do they need and want from donors like World Bank and Australian Aid, from intermediary organizations like The Asia Foundation and think tanks like SMERU, from local civil society organizations, and, importantly, from other countries who have gone through or are going through the same transition?  The conference was a first step toward establishing a “community of practice” among these 11 countries that can foster learning and help avoid unnecessary repetition of earlier mistakes.

Community-driven development programs don’t replace national programs in areas like health and education that are implemented through line ministries, nor do they replace the responsibility of local government in rural and urban areas. But done well, with sensitivity to local environments, CDD can empower communities, offering an important new model for strengthening relationships between government and the people.

William Stadden Cole is The Asia Foundation’s senior director for Program Strategy, Innovation and Learning. He can be reached at william.cole@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

One comment on this post:

  1. Rich Mallett:

    Thanks for this useful rundown of the conference, William. Fantastic to see the creation of an open space for cross-country knowledge sharing and collective learning around CDD. Seems like such an obvious thing for practitioners and policy-types to do, but so often seems not to be there (not just in relation to CDD, I hasten to add). And I like that you touch here on the politics of CDD programming – which, again, seems so obviously important but has typically not been engaged with (though I feel this is changing).

    If it’s of any interest, myself and Rachel Slater from ODI recently published a stock-take of CDD impacts in fragile states:

    http://www.stabilityjournal.org/article/view/104

    Open access, thankfully.

    Big picture findings: pretty good on the basics – increasing incomes, improving access to services, boosting enterprise – less promising on the more transformative stuff around generating social cohesion, state-society relations, and so on. But what appeared particularly important was perhaps less the impacts themselves, and more the things that seem to mediate effectiveness…characteristics of the context, the specifics of programme design. Your final sentence gets at this – CDD ‘done well’ can produce various effects. Or, in other words, it’s not just what is being done, but how.

    Rich

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