Community-driven development: potential benefits and measurable impacts. What is the evidence?
Rome, 11 September 2021 – Community-driven development (CDD), as a form of people-centred and locally owned development used in many IFAD-supported operations, has been very effective delivering tangible benefits to impoverished and marginalized communities. CDD also has shown great potential to address issues such as social exclusion, climate change adaptation and food security through localized approaches. This, according to the 2020 IFAD evaluation synthesis on CDD. However, evidence has been inclusive that CDD has an impact on social cohesion and social capital. Does this mean that CDD does not work in practice? Johanna Pennarz, Lead Evaluation Officer at IFAD’s Independent Office of Evaluation (IOE), tackled this tough question head-on during the course of the European Evaluation Society (EES) bi-annual conference on 10 September 2021.
Entitled ‘Measuring What Matters: Evaluations of Community Development During Times of Global Crisis’, the session to which Johanna contributed as a presenter saw the active engagement of Susan Wong, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank, and Hai Ha Vu Thi, Programme Analyst on Youth, Gender and Social Inclusion at IFAD. Dee Jupp, participatory social development expert, moderated the discussions.
IFAD’s evaluation synthesis on CDD supports the overall view that giving communities control over planning decisions and investment resources is a way to ‘future-proof’ investments. Drawing on this body of evidence, Johanna highlighted that CDD offers a cost-effective, sound and environmentally conscious means to ensure both rapid adaptation and continuation of development efforts despite disruption or discontinuation of external support. However, CDD does not only contribute to stronger community organizations; it also requires community structures to be in place in order to become effective. IOE evaluations often point to the limited sustainability of community organizations, which highlights the need for longer-term engagement.
Against this backdrop, discussions focused on the strengths of the approach and on the challenges that evaluators face when searching for conclusive evidence that “CDD really works”. Challenges include the localized and highly adaptive nature of the CDD approach, which makes it difficult to compare and aggregate the evidence; the difficulties in measuring non-tangible outcomes, such as social capital; and the barriers to accessing the often very remote and marginalized communities, in particular under recent COVID conditions.
The session was framed within the context of the first theme of the ESS bi-annual conference, ‘The Anthropocene and its complex problems: The role of Evaluation’, which allowed presenters to address the bigger conceptual questions, by moving away from a purely philosophical or very pessimistic view, and rather focus on providing constructive perspectives or solutions.