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Resources >  Community Participation in Construction Projects

Community Participation in Construction Projects

During my career working in developing countries I have worked on a number of projects that have involved varying degrees of community participation. 


The first of these was the UNDP/UNCDF funded Bo Teachers College project in Sierra Leone where we constructed school buildings, toilets, roads and wells at 10 rural primary schools.  As initially designed, the communities were to donate their labour, both skilled and un-skilled for free but as I pointed after I was appointed to manage the project, it was unrealistic to expect subsistence farmers to leave their farms for up to 2 years to work unpaid on constructing the school facilities; how were they expected to feed their families?  We therefore instituted as system of small payments for both skilled and unskilled labour based upon the numbers of hours worked which was supplemented by donations of food from the World Food Programme and this system worked very well.  The communities were still however expected to donate labour for free for clearing sites and collecting sand and stone for foundations, etc from the local rivers which on the whole they did.  There had been very little in the way of informing the communities of their responsibilities for donating labour and materials before the project started and I therefore spent a lot of time at the beginning of the project visiting the communities and discussing their responsibilities with regard to materials and construction.  The project was, in the end very successful in that most of the planned facilities were constructed and most of the communities were very enthusiastic about being involved in the construction of schools for their children.  My report on the project contained guidelines for the implementation of community-based construction projects and these guidelines were revised and refined over the years.  The final version is attached: see Guidelines for Community Participation in Construction Projects. See also the Sierra Leone projects section for more details of the project.


The second project was the health project that I managed in the Solomon Islands.  The communities that were involved were supposed to donate land and materials such as sand and stone.  Again there had been little or no discussion with the communities about their responsibilities and I had to spend a lot of time visiting the villages (which was not easy given the remoteness of many of the sites) and discussing these issues before the construction process could get under way.  Ownership of land (and coco-nut trees!) is a real issue in Melanesia and the final selection of sites took quite a time.  In the end, the communities donated sites for all of the health facilities but there was little real involvement from them in the provision of materials or in the construction process.  This shows, I think the necessity of involving communities in projects such as these well before construction starts if they are to be really involved.  See the Solomon Islands project section for more details of the project.


I worked on a number of education projects in Indonesia for around ten years from the mid-1990s and all of them featured community participation in some way.  The first was the World Bank funded West Java Basic Education Project (later expanded into other Provinces) that constructed primary schools managed by school committees.  The Bank had agreed with the Ministry of Primary Education that the construction of new schools would be managed by school committees because of two factors: one was the decentralisation process that was then in progress where decision making was being pushed down from the capital, Jakarta to the districts (and incidentally side-lining the Provinces) and the other was the blatant corruption that all agencies had recognised was present in the way that primary schools were then being constructed.  It had therefore been agreed that school committees would be established to manage the construction of their primary schools using local contractors with consultants employed to provide technical assistance.   


The projects were in the main very successful and good quality primary school buildings were achieved.  There were also a number of other World Bank funded Junior Secondary School Projects in progress at the same time in which schools were being constructed by contractors appointed in Jakarta (although these contractors had sub-contracted the work to local contractors).  Problems had arisen with these projects because it was suspected of corruption and I was asked to carry out a survey of the schools.  The results were rather worrying as the quality of the majority of the schools was very poor (three schools had to be closed immediately as they constituted a danger to pupils and staff and a large percentage of the others had serious structural problems) and it was decided therefore to change the approach and use school committees to manage the construction of the schools using local contractors with technical assistance again being provided by civil works consultants.  The projects were turned around and became very successful, so succesful in fact that school committees are still being used to manage junior secondary school construction projects. 


There were some problems and these were mainly due to the inexperience of the civil works consultants in managing these types of projects and to the fact that in many cases the consultants employed very junior and inexperienced architects and engineers to provide technical advice to the school committees.  Many of these architects and engineers did not have the relevant experience and, being younger than most members of the school committees, they also did not have the necessary cultural authority to ensure that their advice accepted where it went against the opinions of the committee members.  There was also some evidence of corrupt practices but in the main, corruption was not a problem due to the transparency of the financial processes and the oversight of the committees. 


A further World Bank funded project that used community participation was the Early Childhood Development project under which pre-schools and mother and child health centres were constructed in Bali and South Sulawesi using village committees to manage the work and again good quality buildings were achieved.  For further details see the section on Early Childhood Development under ‘Resources’.


The last projects that I worked on in Indonesia were the Dutch government funded School Improvement Grants Projects 1 and 2.  The construction component of these projects consisted of the renovation (and in a lot of cases, the re-building) of primary school buildings again using school committees to manage the process with technical assistance again provided by civil works consultants.  These projects were also relatively successful with good quality buildings being achieved and many communities adding their own funds to the school grants so that they could improve their school buildings for instance with the addition of stone cladding or tiling to the exterior walls.  See a typical report that I produced after visiting some of SIGP2 schools.

As part of my work on the SIG Projects, I carried out a study of the education projects that had involved community participation in the construction process: SIG Projects 1 and 2; the Junior Secondary Education Projects; the Early Childhood Development Project and the West Java Basic Education Project.  The study found that where communities and schools had been free to implement the renovation work themselves and had done so effectively, this had generated feelings of pride and achievement in the work carried out and a degree of ownership of the facilities which must have been beneficial to the school and the community.  See the attached Study of School and Community-Led School Renovation Projects.


The study also found that: 1) construction or renovation work carried out by school committees and communities led to improvements in the quality of the work at little extra or even reduced costs; 2) the communities had been informed of the budgets, the procurement process for obtaining materials and labour and the amounts spent and that this had helped to both improve the transparency of the process and provide disincentives to corruption; 3) the quality of the construction or renovation work was usually directly related to the amount and quality of the technical assistance provided and that the more visits made by well qualified advisors, the better the quality of the completed facilities and 4) that the quality of the work was generally better and the costs lower than in comparable schools where the work had been carried out by contractors with no community involvement in the construction process.


I carried out a separate Study of the School Construction Advisory Services for SIGP2 which sets out findings on the work of the consultants for this project and also makes recommendations for the use of consultants for future projects and this is also attached.  Also of interest are the reports on construction issued by the managers of the SIG projects: see attached Warta/CIMU reports and an Anti-Corruption Guide that I produced which sets out strategies for reducing corruption through the use of communities in managing school construction projects.


When the SIG Projects were complete, I was asked to prepare some Guidelines for School and Community-Led School Renovation and Construction and three practical manuals for the use of communities and school committees for the construction, renovation and maintenance of schools.  I wrote these in English and they were then translated into Bahasa Indonesia and illustrated by a young Indonesian architect. My draft for the Construction Manual complete with my notes for the illustrator is attached (unfortunately I do not have a copy of the translated and illustrated version) together with my draft for the Renovation Manual and the translated version of this: Manual Rehabilitasi Gedung Sekolah.  The Maintenance Manual can be seen in the Resources section covering Building Maintenance.


Although these projects were all ‘top-down’ projects in that they did not originate in the communities, because nearly all of the educational facilities selected for renovation or reconstruction were in very poor condition and because the communities recognised that the projects offered probably the only opportunity to improve these facilities, most of the communities involved participated enthusiastically in managing the projects and they can probably be viewed therefore as a success in community development terms.


Some other documents relating to the participation of communities in construction projects are also attached.  These include a two volume Project Implementation Manual from Zambia for community-based projects which is very detailed and very comprehensive even if the technical details relating to construction are sometimes a little dubious: see Volume 1 and Volume 2. There is also a Manual on School Construction through Community Participation from Eritrea and a Building Manual for Self-Help Basic Education Projects from Nigeria both of which are of some interest.


Some photos of the school buildings constructed by the community-based school building projects in Indonesia are shown in the photo gallery below.

Project Gallery

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