Community-driven development: a reality check
In the last two decades, community-driven development (CDD) has become a popular development project model for the World Bank, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and other donors. A recent 3iE report, however, questioned the validity of CDD, concluding that while it did build infrastructure, it did not improve social cohesion or other outcomes.
These findings came as no surprise to many donors and practitioners, as CDD wasn’t intended to meet such lofty goals in the first place (although that’s not to say some implementers haven’t been tempted to try). The 3iE report, then, serves as a useful reminder of CDD’s core functions.
I have worked on CDD projects for many years. I currently work on the Union of Myanmar’s National Community Driven Development Project (NCDDP), which Cardno manages in 11 townships. In my time, I’ve been a CDD implementer, designer, donor, evaluator, and critic. I’ve also been tempted to look for impacts beyond CDD’s limited participatory development goals.
I’ll give you an example of an impact that might lead someone like me astray. In Kyaukkyi, Myanmar — a township partially controlled by the insurgent Karen National Union — a community participating in NCDDP chose to build a bridge to replace one which had fallen apart years before. The bridge led to more children attending a nearby primary school as they could now cross the river separating them from the school without paying a private boat owner for the trip. We had not (could not) have anticipated this positive impact.
CDD and other development projects have all sorts of impacts like this that we can’t predict. The problem is when we try to take credit for them by anticipating and systematising them. If we do this, our measurements will nearly always fall short of our goals. …read more