Module 3: “Twelve Commandments” of Community Participation

While what works in one community could catastrophically fail in another community, there are several “guidelines” that Botes and van Rensburg propose as steps in the right direction toward achieving community participation.(1)

Developers should …

  1. "Demonstrate an awareness of their status as outsiders to the beneficiary community and the potential impact of their involvement."
  2. "Respect the community’s indigenous contribution as manifested in their knowledge, skills, and potential."
  3. "Become good facilitators and catalysts of development who assist and stimulate community-based initiatives and challenge practices that hinder people from releasing their own initiatives and realizing their own ideals."
  4. "Promote co-decision-making in defining needs, goal-setting, and formulating policies and plans in the implementation of these decisions. Selective participatory practices can be avoided when development workers seek out various sets of interest, rather than listening only to a few community leaders and prominent figures."
  5. "Communicate both program/project successes and failures—sometimes failures are more informative."
  6. "Believe in … key values such as solidarity, conformity, compassion, respect, human dignity, and collective unity."
  7. "Listen to community members, especially the more vulnerable, less vocal, and marginalized groups."
  8. "Guard against the domination of some interest groups or a small unrepresentative leadership clique."
  9. "Involve a cross-section of interest groups to collaborate as partners in jointly defining development needs and goals, and designing appropriate processes to reach these goals."
  10. "Acknowledge that process-related soft issues are as important as product-related hard issues."
  11. "Aim at releasing the energy within a community without exploiting or exhausting them."
  12. "Empower communities to share equitably in the fruits of development through active processes whereby beneficiaries influence the direction of development initiatives rather than merely receive a share of benefits in a passive manner."

Botes and van Rensburg offer these “twelve commandments” not as fixed rules, formulae, inflexible blueprints, or surefire recipes for success. Rather, these guidelines encompass lessons learned by seasoned development professionals.

“Although successful participation is very elusive, these guidelines serve as a developmental ethical code of conduct of bringing disparate groups together for the real intention and praxis of participatory development … A reorientation of the thinking of development professionals is therefore necessary.”(2)

Such a reorientation manifests when developers see themselves as facilitators instead of agents, planning with and not for the people. Arriving at the development site with preconceived, cookie-cutter solutions detracts from the realization of such a paradigm shift.(3)


(1) Botes and van Rensburg (2000), 53-54.

(2) Ibid, 54.

(3) Ibid, 54-55.