Archives for April 2016

5 Ways Mapping Can Help Empower Your Community and The Tools You Need to Do It.

If you’re a community leader, organizer or researcher it’s likely you’ve heard about the growing role that mapping is playing in community development, advocacy and research. It’s also likely that, while intrigued by the concept of community mapping, you don’t yet understand how mapping could be used in your particular issue or community context. But it’s likely that an even bigger barrier to community mapping is the belief that you need formal training in Geography or GIS to utilize mapping in your community initiatives. My goal in this post to begin demystify community mapping by showing you some of ways it can be used and some of the tools that can be used to do it.

5 ways community mapping can be used to help empower your community. 

  1. Defending territorial rights– It’s a common situation where communities/individuals have certain rights within a particular territory but have difficulty defending those rights or restrictions because they can’t prove if a violation is occurring within that particular territory. For example, indigenous Shipibo communities In Peru’s Amazon basin have territories that were assigned to them in the 1970s. Within those territories they have certain rights to regulate oil a gas extraction, logging, settlement development, etc. However, it’s one thing to point to a boundary on a map and another thing entirely to identify where that boundary exists on the ground. With simple low cost, consumer-grade GPS (or GPS smartphone apps) or even a compass, they can determine if a violation of their territory has occurred and have the evidence needed to alert local government officials. Other examples of territory defense include: indigenous mapping and counter-mapping.
    Peru Community Mapping Workshop

    Territory mapping workshop facilitated by Village Earth with Shipibo Communities in Peru.

  2. Revealing Socio-economic Disparities – Visualizing socio-economic disparities with maps can be a powerful tool for influencing the public, policy-makers, and donors. Socio-economic data such as the availability of low-income housing, areas under heavy gentrification pressure, crime and policing, domestic violence, exposures to pollution, traffic or transportation patterns, etc. can all be mapped and by doing so can reveal disparities experienced withing and between communities. In fact, any data that has associated geographic markers (coordinates, addresses, neighborhoods, census tracts, cities, counties, etc) can be used to populate associated geographies on a map – using various fee GIS software such as Quantum GIS and/or free online mapping tools such as Google Maps or QGIS Cloud.
    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

  3. Individual / Community Planning – You no longer need to be a government agency to utilize mapping tools for community planning. In fact, empowering undeserved communities to do their own planning and mapping can be a powerful hedge against impositions from the top-down. On Native American Reservations across the United States, many Native American landowners possess land allotted to them during the General Allotment Act of 1887 but because of various exclusionary policies by the Federal Government, have not been able to utilize them for agriculture, housing, etc. Despite the fact that many Native landowners would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands there are numerous hurdles to doing so. One of the largest hurdles is the lack of information available about their land holdings. In an attempt to remedy this situation, Village Earth developed a map book and later an online mapping resource. The purpose of these tools is to take freely available (but difficult to find and compile) information and make it easily available to Native landowners. This information can be used to locate their original allotments scattered around the Reservation which is the first step required to consolidate them.

    Online mapping tools like Village Earth’s “Pine Ridge Land Information System” can be set-up easily for low-cost and with little technical knowledge.


  4. Monitoring Lands – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery through websites sites like Google Earth has made it possible for anyone with a computer (or smart phone) with an internet connection to monitor vast and remote tracts of land for such things as illegal logging, overgrazing, settlement expansion, deforestation, ocean health, expansion of urban slums – the possibilities are endless. Plus, few people realize that you can access nearly 30 years of historical images allowing for historical comparisons for this like forest loss, agriculture development, rates of urbanization etc. and you don’t need to be a GIS expert to access it.
    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing.

    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing. //


  5. Discovering and/or Revealing Spatial Relationships  – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery has also made it possible to map previously unmapped geographies from your desktop computer or smart phone. For example the freely available Google Maps or Quantum GIS make it possible to map in high resolution “polygons” (e.g. the boundary of a forest or farm), “lines” (e.g. roads, rivers, trails) and “points” (e.g. housing units, well locations, latrines, car crashes, police incidences). These things can be mapped as a layer directly on top of an aerial in Google Maps or Quantum GIS or on site using a smart phone. Once these things are mapped, QGIS or even MS Excel can analyze this data against other data sets. For example, you could perform the following queries; What is the average distance of wells from households?, What is the average number of grocery stores per mile on Native American Reservations vs. non native communities?, or What is the average number incidences of police use of force in majority black communities vs. majority white communities.

Map developed by Village Earth using Quantum GIS combining freely available USDA food security data and agriculture census data.


To get started with community mapping it’s a good idea to clarify the question you are trying to answer OR the message you are trying to convey.

Types of questions that can be answered through mapping:

  • How much territory are we losing each year?
  • How do we know if our lands are being degraded?
  • Does where you live determine the quality of policing, food, water, transportation you have access to?

Types of messages that can be conveyed through mapping:

  • This is how much forest we’ve lost over the last 5-10-20 years
  • These are our ancestral lands that have been stolen
  • This is how much tiger habitat has been lost to deforestation
  • This is the decrease in areas of low-income housing over the last 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about community mapping including the different applications, tools, ethics, and methods check out Village Earth’s online Community-Based Mapping training which is part of our online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development.

Tiyospaye Sakowin Education Center to host three native youth healing camps on Pine Ridge this summer.

Youth Camp 10

In recent years there has been an epidemic of youth suicides across Indian Country and especially on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In response to this crisis, a coalition of community-based youth programs on the Pine Ridge called Tiospaye Sakowin is planning three youth healing camps during the spring and summer 2016. We need your help to make sure they have the resources needed to make these camps a success! Please considering making a donation today.
Hoksila/Koskala(Boys/Young Men) Camp: May 26-30, 2016

Wakanyeja (Children) Healing Camp: July 6-10, 2016

Wikoskala (Girls/Young Women) Healing Camp: July 28-31, 2016
The camps will be held at the Tiospaye Sakowin Ceremonial Grounds, next to former Oblaye Store, approximately 2.5 miles south of Sharp’s Corner on the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota. The Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation) care for and protect their young by putting them in the center of the herd. Our Young Relatives, ages 0-17, who have experienced trauma, loss and /or grief are invited to come to the “center” and participate in healing camps. They will be provided with education and healing opportunities, with emphasis on nurturing their Nagi (spirit) toward a strong, mind and body. Young women, up to age 18, who are pregnant and have experienced trauma are welcome to attend either the children’s camp or Young Women’s camp.

Wicoti Wokiglega (Camp Goals)

To give life to the values, gifts and teachings provided by Tunkasila and Unci (Grandfather and Grandmother) ancestors for the well-being and healing of our people, which include:

  • Wacante Ognaka– To have a warm and compassionate environment for youth who have experienced trauma, grief and loss and their parent/guardian and siblings. All youth are treated
  • Woapiye – To offer an opportunity for the youth (and their family if they wish) to receive a spiritual purification or “wiping off” of the spiritual residue left by the trauma they have experienced.
  • Wopakinte -To offer an opportunity for the youth to begin or strengthen their healing through
  • Woyuskin– to provide a happy, fun and accepting environment
  • Lakol Caswicatun Pi – To provide an opportunity for those youth who do not have a spirit name to receive one through ceremony and to have a public acknowledgement of their spirit name to reinforce their Lakota cultural identity
  • Wicozani – To provide an opportunity for wellness screenings health and mental health
  • Wowasake – To provide an opportunity to strengthen the mind, body and spirit
Click image above to download PDF flyer and registration form.

Click image above to download PDF flyer and registration form.

Camp Directors/Advisors – Rick and Ethleen Two Dogs, [email protected] and Gene and Cindy
Giago, [email protected] For registration, contact Camp Coordinators as listed below. Once registration is confirmed, additional information will be provided for preparation and participation in the camp. There is a limit of 20 participants per camp due to limited resources and space. See registration deadlines on registration form.

Koskalaka (Young Men, age 11-17) Wicoti – Joe Giago, [email protected], 605-441-2794
Wakanyeja (Children, age 0-11) Wicoti – Saige Pourier, [email protected], 605-454-3150
Wikoskalala (Young Women, age 11-17)Wicoti– Randilynn Giago, [email protected],605-454-5178

Camp Coordinators

Sponsored by: Tiospaye Sakowin Education and Healing Center

Donate Now to Support the 2016 Youth Healing Camps


Hard and Soft Appropriate Technologies and the Technology Generation Process

Community well project - Amazon Basin, Peru

Community well project – Amazon Basin, Peru

Appropriate Technology (AT) is a way of thinking about the choices and the applications of technology to solve a problem or to create something, such as a structure, a machine, an instrument or a system.

Appropriate technology “involves a search for technologies that have beneficial effects on income distribution, human development, environmental quality, and the distribution of political power—as well as productivity—in the context of particular communities and nations”. — Darrow and Saxenian

According to Jequier (1976) Appropriate Technology “represents what one might call the social and cultural dimension of innovation.” The idea here is that the value of a new technology lies not only in its economic viability and its technical soundness, but also in its adaptation to the local and cultural environment. Assessing the appropriateness of a technology necessarily implies some sort of value judgment both on the part of those who develop it and those who will be using it, and when ideological considerations come into play, as they often do, appropriateness is at best a fluctuating concept.

Faulkner and Village Earth founder Maurice Albertson (1985) defined technology as “knowledge, skills, organization and machinery related to the production of goods and service.” Then they define appropriate technology as: “the skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing useful things, while making optimum use of human, natural, and person-made resources in the village—with ‘optimum’ determined on a village-specific basis by the villagers themselves”.

They further break down AT into appropriate hard technology and appropriate soft technology with the following definitions:

  • Appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by the village, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”
  • Appropriate soft technology deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”

Taking each of these concepts, ideas, and arguments into consideration, we provide the following definition of Appropriate Technology

Appropriate Technology is the appropriate use of knowledge, skills, organization and machinery for the production of goods and services that are desired by those people being served. These goods and services are provided in a way that is compatible with nature and the environment, uses only renewable resources (including energy resources), benefits people equally and to the maximum extent possible, and is based on an economic system where the service motive is combined equally with the profit motive.

This definition of AT is speaking in generalities. Therefore, the following is presented to expand on these generalities:

1.   Compatibility with nature and the environment includes:

  • The physical environment
  • The biological environment
  • The social and cultural environment
  • The political environment
  • The atmospheric and space environment
  • The earth environment
  • The auditory, olfactory, and visual environment

2.     Utilization of renewable resources, in order to develop a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature and the environment, includes:

  • Renewable energy resources to help find a way out of the accelerating energy crises
  • Construction material and supplies
  • Equipment and instruments
  • A non-violent approach taken for all activities
  • In order for all human resources (the people) to benefit to the maximum extent possible, AT must assure that:
  • It is a win-win situation for all people and communities concerned.
  • All persons concerned are involved equitably in decisions related to the project or activity.
  • No alienating work is created (which is disconnected from its products and goals).
  • The workplaces become more democratic.
  • Local communities and cultural traditions are preserved and revitalized.

4.    If the economic systems of both private enterprise and public enterprise are based on the service motive as well as the profit motive, AT will help to insure that:

  • No one person or group of persons benefits at the expense of another person or group of persons.
  • Incomes and standards of living are enhanced and not degraded.
  • No inappropriate or burdensome debts are incurred.
  • Diverse locally owned and operated enterprises are encouraged.
  • The AT will have a beneficial effect on income distribution and productivity.
  • Entrepreneurs will place equal value on, and feel equal satisfaction from, performing a service as well as making profit.

The Technology Generation Process

  1. Technology generation begins with a need.
    High-tech (technology) for the sake of high-tech is irrelevant. New for the sake of new is a waste of resources. Appropriate technology addresses a need by providing a solution that fits with the resources and goals of a village in its relationship to a prosperous future.
  2. Technology does not stand alone.
    Technology must be surrounded by organization, participation, management, decision-making, and financial solidarity. It requires training in its requirement for maintenance and optimal operation and training in management skills required to sustain its operation.
  3. Technology generation requires a technology that fits, a package, a scheme.
    The technology fits local resources and fills an expressed need. It is based on local knowledge of circumstances, social arrangements and what words, and imported knowledge of innovations that have worked for others and have solved similar problems.
  4. Technology should be a complete package.
    The package is the way a technology is introduced in terms that make sense to the people using it. The package includes preparation, installation, operation, maintenance, and replacement.
  5. A scheme is the way a technology is made usable and suitable.
    Nothing happens without a scheme. A scheme provides a way to provide the technology, a way to pay for, develop, and maintain the technology, a way to operate and manage the technology. Schemes involve incentives, agreements, organizations, and commitment. Some we all are familiar with are the Heifer Project and milk schemes.
  6. Monitoring and evaluation of the performance of technology is the privilege and responsibility of ownership.
    Constantly evaluating the performance of an innovation means that you are a dynamic part of continued improvement. You are a continual problem solver and innovator who can keep up with this changing world.

Village Earth is the distributor of the Appropriate Technology Library and publisher of the online Appropriate Technology Sourcebook. Topics discussed in this blog post are also discussed in the following online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development and the in-person course Community Mobilization for Chapters of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)


Developing a Shared Community Narrative (Past, Present, Future) Through Community-Based Film

Community-based film

Community-based film workshop facilitated by Village Earth with communities along the Rio Tigre in Peru and Ecuador.

Participatory video can be powerful tool for creating a dialogue and building consensus around a shared community narrative for “where we came from”, “who we are now”, and “what do we want to be in the future.” This post synthesizes the community film approach developed by Village Earth over the course of about 10 years working on such projects on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and with indigenous communities in Peru and Ecuador.

The community-based film workshops, developed by Village Earth, allow entire communities to work together dialogue and link past, present, and possible futures into a shared narrative with the express purpose of communicating with outsiders to raise awareness and support for their situation while attempting to mitigate the distortion or framing of issues by outsiders.


The roots of this approach stem from the cinéma-vérité approach Village Earth utilized in earlier films such as Pine Ridge Session One (2004) and REZONOMICS (2005). In these films we attempted to limit our influence on the subject and topic by avoiding elaborate staging, lighting, large-intimidating cameras, and even narration. However, even with these precautions it was difficult to avoid framing the issues from the outside through the selection of subjects and especially while in the editing room. Yet, despite these limitations the power that these films had to giving form to an emerging narrative for issues on the Reservation, especially the growing movement to recover and utilize lands, was readily apparent. It became clear that film would be a powerful tool, not only to educate outsiders about complex issues but also to mobilize communities for collective action.


Theoretical Perspectives

Village Earth believes that western values are not determinative and that all communities have the right to self-determination. This core belief has guided our work with indigenous communities around the world and has allowed us to be allies despite our position as ‘outsiders’ and with our less than complete understanding of their world-view. Furthermore, we recognize that leading up the end of the 20th century there emerged a growing crisis for the Western world-view. The crisis of scientific positivism brought about scholars such as Kuhn and Feyerabend, the delegitimazation of cultural imperialism, the rise of cultural relativism, and the acceptance of the environmental crisis caused by capitalist globalization created a paradigm shift for the totalizing meta-narratives of the Western worldview. According to the French Philosopher Jean François Lyotard, these meta-narratives were the basis of the social bond for western society, in their absence society is faced with a crisis of legitimacy especially in how it defines “development”. According to the Arturo Escobar:

“First, modernity’s ability to provide solutions to modern problems has been increasingly compromised. In fact, it can be argued that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s problems. This is clearly the case, for instance, with massive displacement and ecological destruction, but also with development’s inability to fulfill its promise of a minimum of well-being for the world’s people… Second, if we accept that what is at stake is the recognition that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s modern problems where are we to look for new insights?”

In the absence of the meta-narratives of the West (summarized by Escobar by the concept of modernity) we must create new narratives that become the raw material of a new society and a renewed social bond. But for this new society is to be based on equality, reciprocity, and compassion we must exchange the totalizing meta-narratives of the modern era, based on the on a notion of “Truth” and exchanged and monopolized for past several centuries by the Western States for a more relativistic notion of “truths” and the acceptance of differing world-views. Thus, this is a two part processes for individuals and communities. The first is rejecting the legitimacy of western knowledge as being implicit because of its reference to the Western meta-narrative of logical positivism. The second is creating new, more localized narratives where legitimacy comes from self-reflexive dialogue and community consensus.

According to Lyotard “A collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past. It finds the raw material for its social bond not only in the meaning of the narratives it recounts, but also in the act of reciting them.”

While this may be a paradigm shift in western world-view its the basis of the social bond for many indigenous communities who have been able to avoid, for whatever reason, the assimilation and acceptance of western meta-narratives.

Another principle that guides our work is the right that communities have to opacity. “For Glissant, “opacity boils down to the “irreducible density of the Other,” suggesting that it is not possible to ever fully know, understand, or be the Other. More importantly, Glissant recognizes the inherent violence in appropriations of the Other and warns against the types of appropriations that are evident in the social sciences and that tend to dominate the Western way of thinking. Western understanding, in this context, is based on transparency, measurement, and reduction. Glissant argues that in the West, “In order to understand you and thus accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale of providing me with the grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I have to reduce” (Glissant 1997, 190). Moreover, the seemingly benign act of understanding, from an etymological perspective, constitutes an aggressive act.”(Stetson, 2007)

[A] “right to opacity,” which is a right not to appropriated, not to be objectified, not to be essentialized, and not to be understood (too deeply), arguing that is time to give up the “old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures”. [Glissant] develops a theory of difference that rejects pure… In this sense, opacity acts as an ethic that encourages a shifting of the gaze away from objectifying the other. However, while it leads us away from essentialization or objectification, (Stetson, 2007)

In 2006 Village Earth was invited to facilitate a community-strategic planning session with the Shipibo-Konibo of Peru’s Amazon Basin. After a discussion with community members it was agreed to structure the planning around the creation of a shared narrative of drawing from the past, present, and possible futures. The reasons for this decision were multiple: For one, it was thought that this approach would be more practical since at the end of the workshop they would not only have a plan but a compelling way to share that plan with other’s in the community who were not present at the workshop but also to outsiders and potential funding agencies. The other reason was that it was thought this would engage the participants more as they saw their story take shape. We also decided to venture further away from creating films of people to facilitating communities to create their own films and thus have greater control over the framing of the issues, the level of opacity, and the creation of their own narrative.

The central idea was to create a cohesive narrative of the community, what it was, what it is, and what it could be. By participating in the creation of the community’s story, workshop participants take an active role in framing and re-framing a shared narrative of the community and archetypal images. While also framing their own representation(s) for people outside of their community. Simultaneously creating a narrative that is empowering internally to your own community – addressing the role of individual/community agency but also analyzing the structural changes that has limited personal/community agency and self determination.

The process of the film workshop has four steps:

  1. Identify important defining images/stories from the past, answering the question “who were we and how did we live?” this is accomplished by writing or drawing pictures on pieces of paper.
    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

  2. Identifying important defining images/stories form the present answering the question “who are we and how do we live today?,”

    Aspects of their current reality that they would like to discuss and share.


  3. Identifying important defining images/stories for the future “how would we like to live and who do we want to become?” The final stage of the workshop is tying together past, present, and future by identifying narrative “threads.” An example might look/sound like this: “In the past our rivers were clean and full of fish (past). Today, because of the oil companies drilling upstream, our rivers our contaminated and there are no more fish (present). However, we plan to organize with other communities along the river to make our voices be heard and let the world know about what these companies are doing (future).”
    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.

    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.


  4. Once the group has come to consensus on the most important threads, the next step is creating a storyboard. We accomplish this by having the workshop participants break into groups, one for each thread. We then give a brief explanation of “shots” and “scenes.” Scenes are collections of individual shots that tell a story. A particular thread might contain several scenes.
Narrative Threads that tie-together past, present and future.

“Narrative threads” that tie-together past, present and future.

For example, to tell the story of river contamination you might want to have a scene explaining how children get sick from swimming in the river. This scene might have several shots – children swimming, a sick child, an interview with a doctor, or whatever the participants believe will tell the story best. Once they are satisfied with their scenes they create a “shot list,” basically a list of of their shots, where they will do them, and who will be responsible to get it done. Finally we give a brief explanation of how to use the cameras and then let them go out with their teams to start working on their lists. Each night we would collect the footage, digitize it and work with each team to edit together their scenes (below).

Editing footage captured by the community during the day.

Editing footage captured by the community during the day. (Photo: Ralf Kracke-Berndorff)

The final evening of the workshop was the film premiere of the community’s new, completely participatory, documentary which they decided to title Paromea Ronin Bakebo, which is Shipibo for The Children of the Anaconda. Many people from the community showed up and there was quite a buzz throughout the community about the film. This was very exciting for everybody involved. The film premiere was amazing. As one American observer remarked, “It was like the Shipibo Academy Awards.” After many long speeches, songs, and special recognitions, the film was projected onto a make-shift screen in the community hall for all the people to see. Everyone was very happy with the film and the children were so excited to see themselves on the big screen.

The impact of the film was readily apparent. According to one participant, “Working on our Cosmovision has brought us together and gave us an opportunity to keep the dreams of all the particpants’ families with us.”

Stetson writes, “in the video the Shipibo express themselves in terms of the possibility of re-living or re-making Shipibo culture (via language, traditional medicine, pottery, dress, reciprocity, sharing, and community integration). The film also reveals practical and material needs such that the interests in getting micro-projects funded reflects the reality of being indigenous in a modern world. As mentioned, the video deals with the real structural constraints that both individuals and communities face. However, to look at the Shipibo only in these terms would be a mistake. The workshop participants, in Children of the Anaconda, framed Shipibo culture in terms of the past, present, and future. The past is dignified, beautiful, and even romantic; the present is a crisis, economically, environmentally, and culturally; but the future is potentially bright, given the potential to re-live and re-new Shipibo culture, of course, with the help from, and relation, to the world.”

The community film we developed with Communities along the Rio Tigre in Ecuador in partnership with the Zapara Nation followed a similar process and highlights similar concerns about loss of habitat and contamination by nearby oil and gas.

Click here to learn about Village Earth’s support for Narrative Evaluations.

Ideas and concepts discussed in this post are also discussed in the following courses: Community MobilizationParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Development and the Politics of Empowerment

The Role of Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation in Community-Based Development

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Village Earth Participatory Strategic Planning Workshop – Armenia

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an important part of building both accountability and a learning process into the development program from the beginning, both within and between communities and organizations. M&E should be incorporated into each phase of the community development process and included into implementation planning as a concrete plan for M&E drawn up by the community itself. M&E planning from the beginning can allow the funding strategy and ensuing M&E approach to spring from this relationship. Here we advocate for a Community Praxis Approach to lay the fundamentals of an M&E process.

A Theoretical Introduction to Village Earth’s Community Praxis Approach

The Community Praxis Approach stems from Paulo Freire’s ideas on education and poverty, which have their roots in Marxist concepts of an “ideological superstructure” shaped by the mode of production (e.g. capitalism, colonialism) and which forms the fabric of the “social consciousness.” According to Marx, this is a “false consciousness,” preventing people from recognizing the true nature of their reality, and most importantly, the reality of their exploitation.

Freire was also influenced by the concept of praxis in Marxist theory –namely, the idea that theory should be grounded in action and the everyday practice of human beings. Freire explains,

“It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection; only then will it be a praxis.”

In practical terms, the oppressed must shape their understanding of reality by critically analyzing the world in which they live and then using that analysis to change it. This would be in contrast to the traditional “banking” approach to teaching where someone else tells you about the world and then you memorize it, like someone making a deposit into a bank. Freire was also influenced by the anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon especially his ideas on the role of language in the psychology of the colonized. Fanon writes:

“Every colonized people–in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality–finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country.”

With this in mind, Freire developed a new form of literacy education where people don’t just memorize a language embedded with the conceptual categories of the oppressor but rather do so critically, creating their own conceptual categories (of course based on a critical analysis of the world around them). Both Fanon and Freire believed that true liberation must start with education calling this process “conscientization.” According to Freire, “literacy should be viewed as ‘one of the major vehicles by which ‘oppressed’ people are able to participate in the sociohistorical transformation of their society.”

Freire’s ideas have had a powerful influence around the globe, but especially in Latin America, influencing liberation theology and becoming the basis for many social movements. Freire has also influenced contemporary thinking and practice of action research, participatory research, community-based research, participatory rural appraisal, participatory learning and action, and now as we present here, participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E).

The Role of PM&E in Community Development

Monitoring and evaluation are not activities outside of the community-praxis approach—they are inherently built into the action-reflection cycle. PM&E can be viewed as the reflection half of the cycle which evaluates and informs action. Monitoring and evaluation are not events that take place after the fact, but instead an on-going processes that help to improve the alliance between program partners (internal activators, communities etc.) and NGO staff (external activators, etc.) and inform involved stakeholders (funders, partner organizations, etc.) about the impact of project activities. PM&E can be used as a process to learn as an institution and improve practice in the field. For communities, this is not only a learning activity but part of the process of conscientisization for all stakeholders. Through the community-praxis approach, individuals and communities critically analyze the world around them and identify practical actions to create the world they wish to see. Critical to this approach is regular open dialog and honest reflection at each stage to determine if the underlying assumptions, strategies and actions are moving the community towards their vision.

The community-praxis approach is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each layer you peel off is like the process of conscientization discarding another layer of false consciousness. Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) is a part of this process that helps people to analyze and reflect on their actions to determine what is working and what is not. PM&E requires open dialogue between all stakeholders. If M&E reports are tied to job security and future funding—honest and genuine learning are lost as reports are fabricated to meet expectations and not based on genuine reflection and learning. PM&E has to be a two-way exchange relationship based on mutual trust which, in turn, allows for flexibility. It also requires an analysis of whether the actions are moving the community toward their vision. Each peeled of a layer is like a step in the empowerment process toward self-determination and liberation, or total empowerment. Therefore, PM&E is a tool in that process of empowerment. Because empowerment is not a tangible outcome and the process of conscientization is difficult to see – many traditional PM&E tools are not usable to measure the results of this process.

Some of our key indicators in our approach to PM&E are levels of participation, empowerment, and social capital. However, because these indicators are so intangible they are very difficult to measure using quantitative methods. Instead we advocate for qualitative participatory methods both formal and informal. There are a multitude of participatory methods that communities, outside evaluators, and NGOs can use to measure people’s perceptions of levels of social capital, etc. including mapping networks, timelines, focus groups, etc.

This, however, is a process that is to be constantly revisited as new layers of the onion come off. By using participatory M&E tools, communities may realize they have reached a new level of conscientization and that it is time to reanalyze their new reality and decide new visions to work towards. This process is cyclical.

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

A cyclical process of action/ reflection as opposed to a linear sense of progress in M&E activities

After a series of trust building activities in a community, PM&E tools can be used to gather baseline data with which communities can better analyze their reality and with which communities can address local needs, concerns, and their hope for the future. In PM&E, local perception is more important than precision and scientific objectivity. After communities have come together to analyze that reality, create their shared vision for the future, identified obstacles, and come up with strategic directions to move them toward their vision, monitoring and evaluation activities are then built into the action planning phase. Communities and individuals themselves must determine for each specific action plan how they will determine success, who is responsible to whom, dates to hold those responsible to their timelines (although with a certain flexibility), and guidelines to determine at which level they are willing to participate in a possible outside evaluation by an NGO partner or funder. This decision can then guide the decision on where to find and apply for project funding. For example, if a community is not amenable to evaluation by an outside organization then they can proactively decide not to seek funding from that organization. Communities and organizations themselves must decide what type of funding matches their capacity and development philosophy. M&E should be done with the same level of participation as the rest of the project unless agreed upon ahead of time.

Information gathering activities are used for the purpose of helping local people to analyze their own situation and then decide how they would like to act on it. As an ally in this process external activators can act as neutral facilitators, provide expertise in certain methodologies upon the request of the community, provide access to particular resources, and be advocates for the communities. Communities do not have to reduce themselves down to transparency for funders nor for the NGO staff in this particular approach. They maintain a sense of power in their opacity. Local people can determine their own methods for data gathering whether it be participatory interview, PRA/ PLA activities, or an indigenous method of data gathering, as well as reporting formats understood by them for their use. Outside activators can use this as an opportunity to share with local people different research methods and theories so that they can use this knowledge to demystify monitoring and evaluation activities with the aim of local people ‘decolonizing’ these methods. These activities are not about extracting data, but rather about stimulating learning and conscientization.

Many funders and other outside evaluators like objective data to view that the predetermined outcomes have been achieved and the efficient use of resources. But many times this need to please funders or higher ups in an organization actually undermines community development processes based on relationships of trust. We recommend the adoption of a few non-negotiables in our fundraising strategy. Namely, to not fund the community development process by one large grant. Instead, we build alliances with a number of dedicated, individual, private donors and small granting organizations that trust our approach. We refuse to accept funding with time-bound targets or massive reporting requirements that hinder truly empowering and participatory processes. Many aid agencies and large NGOs require massive transparency in their project management approaches. Bureaucracy and top down approaches make them not open to dialogue with stakeholders and unable to undertake a participatory process. However if local people are genuinely empowered in this PM&E process, they can then use these tools to evaluate the performance of donor agencies and governmental institutions that impose top-down solutions on them.

At each step of the process the continuous cycle of reflection and action is repeated in order for the community, alliance of NGO partners, project team, etc to revisit their actions and determine if they are moving in the right direction or if a new action plan, visioning session, etc is needed. These reflection sessions are best facilitated using the ICA’s ORID discussion method so as to not impose the facilitator’s reality on the reflection of the group. The ORID methodology takes participants and facilitators through a process of questioning what reality is according to those participating. How does that reality make them feel? And how can they take that feeling and interpret why they reacted in that way and what they can do to take that and turn it into constructive further actions. This is the process of conscientization.

To learn more about this topic we highly suggest Village Earth’s online trainings: Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Community Mobilization

The Case for Capacity Development in Community-Based Conservation Efforts

Capacity Building for Community-Based Conservation

Village Earth community mapping workshop. Ucayali Region – Peru

In the protection and management of natural resources, it is widely agreed that human social, political, cultural and economic systems must be part of the equation (Berkes 2004; Kates et al. 2001; Gunderson & Holling 2002). In recent years, community-based and collaborative conservation have been increasingly recognized as alternatives to the dominant paradigm of top-down, expert-driven management (Berkes 2002). However, the literature suggests that collaborative and community-based conservation efforts should be cautious about moving forward too quickly since low levels of organizational capacity at the community-level may pose a challenge to rapidly developing institutions capable of managing complex natural system (Barrett 2001). This is especially true in collaborative efforts that involve multiple stakeholders (Berkes 2004). In such efforts, taking into account historical and contemporary relationships of power among stakeholders will help ensure greater equity as well as the promotion of local livelihoods and sustainability (Gruber 2006: Berkes 2004; Brosius and Russell 2003). The literature also suggest that special emphasis should be placed on empowerment at the community-level and especially with traditionally marginalized groups. According to Agrawal (1999):

“local groups are usually the least powerful among the different parties interested in conservation. Community-based conservation requires, therefore, that its advocates make more strenuous efforts to channel greater authority and power toward local groups. Only then can such groups form €effective checks against arbitrary actions by governments and other actors.”

If, as Agrawal suggests, empowerment at the local-level should be our priority, where do we start? Brown (2002) has identified a set of internal and external challenges that community-based organizations face. Externally, community-based organizations are challenged by a lack of legitimacy and accountability with the general public; relating with institutions of the state, such as government agencies; relating with institutions of the market, such as businesses; and relating with international actors, such as development agencies that provide funding support. Internally, they face challenges of amateurism, restricted focus, material scarcity, fragmentation, and paternalism. However, efforts by governments and NGO’s to build the capacity of community-based organizations without destroying what makes them so unique in the first place (e.g. local focus, their spirit of volunteerism and solidarity) is not easy (Powers, 2002; Brown, 1989). Powers et al (2002) offers the following advice:

“We believe it may be most effective if INGOs go beyond decentralising their operations and cease being operational in the field. This can be done by forging ties with autonomous local NGO’s which have a proven commitment and track record in handing over controls in the development process to the communities where they are working. To the degree that terms for partnership can be negotiated equitably, the imperative for standardised and impersonal mass reproduction of one strategy, which ironically is often only magnified (rather than adapted) in the process of decentralization, can be significantly curtailed.”

According to Berkes (2004) the specific approaches to building capacity of community-based conservation organizations is a current area of interest for the conservation community. Furthermore, the success of community-based natural resource management has lead to an explosion in support from international agencies and subsequently, the number of new local natural resource management organizations (Gruber, 2010; Armitage 2005). According to Gruber (2010):

“[w]hile CBNRM has proven to be a successful model in numerous cases, this approach may be outpacing a critical analysis of the key characteristics of effective community based environmental initiatives which can ensure long-term successful and sustainable programs in a variety of settings.”

Village Earth offers several courses focused on supporting community-based conservation efforts, this includes: Participatory Water Resource ManagementBuilding Climate Change Resilient CommunitiesCommunity Participation and Dispute Resolution, & Agroecology for Sustainable Communities.

References Cited

Agrawal A, Gibson CC (1999) Enchantment and disenchantment: the role of the community in natural resource conservation. World Development 27:629–649

Armitage, D. 2005. Adaptive Capacity and Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management 35:703-715

Barrett, C.B.,K. Brandon, C. Gibson, and H. Gjertsen. 2001. Conserving tropical biodiversity amid weak institutions. BioScience 51:497-502

Berkes, 2004 Rethinking Community-based Conservation, Conservation Biology, Volume 18, No. 3 July 2004: 621-630

Berkes, F. 2002. Cross-scale institutional linkages: perspectives from the bottom up. Pages 293-321 in E. Ostrom, T. Dietz, N. Dolsak, P.C. Stern, S. Stonich, and E.U. Weber, editors. The drama of the commons. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.

Brosius, J.P. and D. Russell. 2003 Conservation from above: an anthropological perspective on transboundary protected areas and ecoregional planning. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 17 (1/2):39-65

Gruber, 2010 Key Principles of Community-Based Natural Resource Management: A Synthesis and Interpretation of Identified Effective Approaches for Managing the Commons. Environmental Management 45:52–66
Kates, R. W., et al. 2001. Sustainability science. Science 292: 641-642

5 Principles for Maintaining Downward Accountability When Supporting Community-Based Development

Maintaining accountability to the grassroots in community development projects

Community dialogue session facilitated by Village Earth with communities along the Amazon River, Peru

The success and ongoing relevancy of community-based development initiatives is largely dependent on the ability of community workers and NGO’s to maintain their accountability to stakeholders at the grassroots. However, downward accountability can become compromised by various top-down pressures from donors (the so-called alien hand syndrome) but other structural issues faced by NGOs can also compromise accountability including professionalization and turn-over of staff, trends in development assistance, defined project timelines, etc. Below are 5 ways to help ensure you remain accountable to the grassroots.

  1. Make a long-term personal commitment to communities.
    We believe the only way to build sufficient trust and a genuine sense of solidarity and mutual accountability with communities is when they can count you being there for the long-term. Genuine empowerment requires diligence in several areas in order to be successful. It demands a commitment to creating an enabling environment where the tools for self reliance are fostered (Korten 1984; Mansuri and Rao 2003). A people based development agency must be prepared for longer time commitments on projects in order to facilitate the bottom up, organic growth of community driven projects (Mansuri and Rao 2003). The importance of commitment to the project outside of timelines is echoed by Korten (1991) due to the need for place and context specific responses to individual communities. Furthermore, transforming deeply entrenched structures of power is a slow and gradual process (Trawick 2001). According to Mosse (1997b), “[i]f external agencies try to change the political and social dynamic without fully understanding it, the social equilibrium can be severely disrupted, with nothing to take its place.”
  2. Be an ally not a project manager
    This starts with a genuine willingness to listen and learn from the people within the communities they are allied with. Take the time necessary to develop relationships based on trust, solidarity and mutual accountability and try to suspend any preconceived notions you may have about what is needed. Instead create a space for the community to develop and/or share their vision for the future and the strategies that might move them towards it. In the spirit of  Paulo Freire, we believe that by working together as allies in praxis (an intentional cycle of planning, action, and reflection) communities can identify and eliminate the objective sources of their oppression. But also, as outsiders can learn how our own relative privilege is intertwined in that oppression. In this way, empowerment is a mutual process. The genuineness and reciprocal nature of this relationship is the basis for developing genuine trust and solidarity at the grassroots. 
  3. Focus on the community’s long-term vision not band-aid approaches that just address symptoms.
    Instead of focusing on “problems”, try to facilitate communities in developing a long-term holistic vision for their region. Unlike focusing on problems, a holistic vision allows communities to imagine the world they would like to live in. You can deal with problems forever, yet never deal with the underlying contradictions behind poverty and powerlessness. Identifying a vision first makes it possible to identify and prioritize exactly what it is that is preventing you and your community from creating a better situation. The visioning process becomes the starting point for the ongoing praxis process described in the previous point and also forms the baseline for future assessment, monitoring and evaluation where individuals and communities come together to reflect on the progress of their various strategies and whether they are moving them towards their vision. But we have also found that through praxis, the vision becomes clearer and more broadly shared. Starting with a community’s vision also empowers communities to define progress on their own terms rather than having to adopt Western models and practices. 
  4. Work with community towards the mobilization and empowerment of entire regions or social groups.
    In the spirit of Ghandi’s concept of Swaraj, the recognition that true power comes from self-reliance and self-governance. And this being possible only with the mobilization of sufficient human and natural resources. In other words it takes more than just one or two communities to mobilize the critical mass and resources necessary to break the cycle of dependence behind much of the world’s poverty. We do not argue that all communities and regions should become self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant in that they have the ability and freedom to choose their own strategies. By gradually linking communities, community leaders, grassroots organizations, foundations, government agencies, and businesses together you can break the cycle of dependence that compromises their self-determination. 
  5. Create organizational structures built on trust, solidarity, & mutual accountability.
    We believe the only way to ensure genuine accountability to the communities we are working with is by creating and maintaining organizational structures built around trust, solidarity and mutual accountability. Within this framework the concern is not just with the final outcome, but with how the outcome is reached, and how the people within the framework contribute meaningfully to the organization (Davies 2000). The people become actors working to build the system, instead of being subjected to it. Key features of people based organizations are empowerment of members of the community (Davies 2000), decentralized decision making (Rothschild- Whitt 1979), context specific practices and policies, and an emphasis on the importance of trust between the employees of the development agency and the people with whom they are partnering (Korten 1984). While people based organizations are certainly still concerned about desired outcomes, the process by which the outcome is reached is organic and can be changed as needed. Such organizations are more responsive to the places in which they work and location specific needs, as opposed to being bound by the ways in which they work and trying to replicate generic processes. A central feature of such organizations is a bottom-up flow of decision making (Mansuri and Rao 2003) which enables the organizations to foster participatory development within communities (Chambers 1983). Projects and needs are met on an individual basis, evaluated with the input of the community, and a unique process grows out of that input (Korten 1991).

This article discusses topics that are also discussed in the following Village Earth online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentCommunity-Based OrganizingCommunity MobilizationCommunity Participation and Dispute ResolutionDevelopment and the Politics of EmpowermentParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Building Trust in “Root-bound” Communities

Trust Building Community Development

Whether it’s your first time in a new community or a community you’ve lived in your entire life, working as a community organizer (animator, researcher, aid/relief worker, developer, facilitator- whatever the case may be) requires a unique set of skills and attitudes that differ from the skills we are taught in the course of our normal daily and professional lives. One of the central skills needed to be a successful community worker is the ability to build and maintain trust.

While trust is a critical factor for success in virtually all aspects of life, I would argue, the type trust one seeks to gain in the course of our everyday personal and professional lives is different from the type of trust one seeks to gain as a community worker. To help in this discussion, I would like to distinguish between two types of trust; embedded vs. generalized. Embedded trust is developed organically throughout the course of our lives with people with whom share a common identity (e.g. family members, schoolmates, neighborhood friends, religious affiliation, sports team members, colleagues, etc). Embedded trust is one of the strongest forms of trust. The other form of trust is “generalized trust” which has less to do with specific relationships than it does with the general willingness of people in a community to trust one another.

Generalized trust, to a large extent, is developed or eroded by the macro-social and political structures affecting a particular community. For example, without a functioning system of justice and due process (western or traditional) the risk of everyday social and economic interactions is increased. In such an environment, people avoid social and economic transactions with people they don’t know well because when something does go wrong people there aren’t institutions to deal with the conflict and so people are forced to seek their own justice – which can and often does tear families and communities apart, sometimes for generations. To the contrary, when there is a functioning system of justice and due-process the risk of a bad transaction is much lower and so people are more willing to engage with people they don’t already know.

How does generalized trust and embedded trust interact? The two types of trust are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that a healthy community has a balance of the two. Too much embedded trust and not enough generalized trust creates a situation where you have cliques that don’t interact with one another – I often refer to the problem as being a community being “root-bound.”  The term “root-bound” is a term used to describe what happens when the a plant outgrows its container which forced the roots to get tangled among themselves where they aren’t able to get sufficient nutrients and water. The solution is to break-up the roots before replanting it in the ground or a bigger container. For a community, an over-reliance on embedded trust also limits the resources and opportunities available to that community and/or the various cliques within it. It can also be seriously limiting for minorities who aren’t able to access the resources and information available to members of the dominant groups.

Too much generalized trust (and not enough embedded trust) is also not healthy. This is a scenario often described for many Western communities where over time, people have become disconnected from family, religion and civic institutions. This can be problematic in times when collective action may be required such as during times of crisis, in the course of healthy democratic functioning but also, family/religious/civic participation has been positively correlated with psychological well-being.

Now that we have a better idea of the concepts of embedded and generalized trust, what does this tell us about our role as community workers? It should be relatively clear at this point that as community workers, one of our principal roles should be to foster a healthy balance between generalized and embedded trust. Below are some specific points for building both types of trust within communities.

Rebuilding Healthy Community Roots

  • First of all, it is important to remember that cliques in communities often form in response to unreliable or oppressive macro social and political structures and thus may have social, political or economic utility. And that truly healthy relationships aren’t likely to occur until the broader macro social and political context is transformed into something that fosters more generalized trust. The key is not to break-down or break-apart the trust within cliques but to create low-risk opportunities for cliques to interact with one another and with outside networks.
  • While many cliques may have their basis in cultural institutions. Most cultures also have institutions that function to build connections between groups (ceremonies, festivals, rites, kinship rules, etc.). It’s important to learn about these cultural mechanisms and build upon them.
  • As community workers, we can facilitate the development of trust between groups by serving as a bridge, developing trust with and between different social groups.
  • If you are working in your own community it’s important that you avoid or (more realistically) are transparent about your standpoint on particular issues, allegiances and obligations to any specific group or clique.
  • If you are from outside the community, you can leverage your lack of embeddedness to develop a reputation as a neutral “bridge” between relatively closed groups (it’s also advised to be transparent about your standpoint on particular issues, allegiances and obligations to any specific group or clique).
  • Whether you’re an outsider or from that community, you should seek to be a model of transparency, openness, and trustworthiness. A situation where you’re open and transparent about yourself but people don’t feel like you’re going to spread information they shared with you in confidence. Doing so will position you as a valuable intermediary that can help bridge groups and access information and resources from the outside.

Building Embedded Trust When it Lacks

For organizers working in more urbanized or westernized community settings where you have relatively high levels of generalized trust but low levels of embedded trust, building embedded trust among individuals (solidarity work) may be your biggest challenge. Below are a few recommendations for building it.

  • It’s important to recognize that in such contexts, because people are disconnected and have been for so long, they may not fully realize what can be gained through organizing. Just the same, they may not realize that anything can be gained. In Western (cash-based) society, the options available to us for improving our life have been limited to what’s available through the market and very limited democratic processes (e.g. that a better life can only be obtained by increasing my income). To overcome this tendency, it’s important to open up people’s thinking to the spectrum of ways things can be accomplished outside of traditional market forces and political processes.  
  • Solidarity is difficult to build when some people stand to gain more than others and when some people take-on a disproportionate amount of risk. Building relatively flat organizations that emphasize member’s roles and responsibility vs. top-down authority will create an environment where the risk and rewards and more equitably shared by all, thus increasing a sense that “we’re all in this together”.
  • Western culture places emphasis on the individual (white males to be specific) and so we’re often not taught the normative cultural understandings and behaviors that promote effective voluntary collective action and solidarity. Unpacking the taken-for-granted assumptions in Western culture (individualism, patriarchy, survival of the fittest) can go a long way towards building more effective organizations – this is often referred to as “anti-oppression” training.

This is just a short list of ideas for building trust in communities. Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments. Topics discussed in this post are also discussed in our online courses Community MobilizationDevelopment and the Politics of EmpowermentCommunity-Based OrganizingCommunity Participation and Dispute ResolutionParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation.