Approaches to Community Engagement and Voice Enhancement for marginalised People - lessons from V2P
A report on the Voice to the People project in Nigeria - our approach, achievements, lessons, challenges and future plans.
The Voice to the People (V2P) project supports vulnerable communities in Anambra state Nigeria, to hold state and local government and their leaders to account, take part in the decision-making that affects their lives and raise their voices to demand the rights and services to which they are entitled.
This is a summary of the approach, achievements, lessons, challenges and future plans for V2P, for the period July 2013-March 2016.
Approach - coordination, synergy and partnership
V2P’s key approach has been coordination, leveraging and links among partners and other programmes.
Community-based partners work at the community level, local government level, and sometimes state level to identify key issues in their communities. Networking and lesson sharing between local government and communities, and collective evidence gathering, have built voice and confidence. This enables both parties to understand their roles and responsibilities.
V2P’s state level partner Civil Rights Concern (CRC) has taken up community issues at the state level, and shares information on state government provisions and policies with community partners. All partners leverage on each other’s work, with constant learning and experience sharing, which they replicate in their communities.
A problem solving approach uses collective action research and iterative power analysis, where communities identify and map out issues and chart a way forward.
Information self-help empowers communities to acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence required to address their issues and challenges.
Demonstration entails showing how things are done and learning from this. It acts as a catalyst for other actions by community groups.
A community scorecard exercise mapping the community's needs takes place in Amaetiti.
Response of government to community needs
V2P has increased interaction between civil society organisations (CSOs), marginalised groups and state and local governments. This has led to changes in government responses to community needs, enhanced service delivery and citizens' participation in the budget process.
Changes in policy
Effective engagement with duty bearers has led to the reversal of negative policies by government.
Adoption of Charters of Demand
Through the development of Charters of Demand and Community Action Plans, 73% of community needs in V2P target communities have so far received government attention.
V2P project activities have contributed immensely to women’s interest and participation in both formal and informal decision-making structures.
Behavioural and attitudinal change
There has been a higher level of citizens’ participation in governance processes especially in budgets, elections, legislative engagement and public sector engagement.
Effective sharing of lessons learned
By sharing lessons, V2P has promoted the harmonised delivery of development aid for better results and helped avoid overlaps and duplication of project interventions.
Elections and civic engagement
More than two million people have been reached with information about election processes. More than 10,000 have been trained and deployed as election observers and 11 debates/interactions have been held between citizens and potential candidates in Anambra.
The Idikacho Women in Governance Platform set up through V2P, visiting Anambra’s Commissioner for Women's Affairs.
- V2P promotes constructive engagement over confrontation. Partners have strengthened the capacity of community groups, marginalised groups and civil society to make governance work for poor and marginalised people in Anambra.
- Power and gender analysis has been an effective development tool in facilitating community approaches to governance issues.
- The engagement of women in informal structures has shown that, when given the opportunity, women will actively participate in decision making in their communities. Traditional rulers have become willing to promote the wider inclusion of women in their councils, which has been a key learning point and good practice in the application of power analysis.
- Involving government departments and agencies in activities has the potential to institutionalise gender sensitive programming.
- The understanding and application of power analysis has been of great use to partner organisations as it also helped to resolve a lot of management issues, in the office and in the field.
- Men’s involvement, clear messages and confidence building in women through known local CSOs has helped to establish that change does not mean taking power from men but rather empowering women to become active citizens who contribute to their communities.
- Integrating communications into V2P has increased visibility, bringing awareness of how the project is delivering strong results in community-driven accountability.
- By sharing ideas, information, and knowledge with SAVI and its partners, Christian Aid has increased shared knowledge about legislative issues, and deepened the understanding of community needs.
- V2P has recognised the need to nurture relationships with non-state actors including the media, CSOs and other voice and accountability programmes. These relationships helped to make strategic links, build collective action and amplify voices.
- Programming during elections besides observation and voter/civic education is unproductive as elections are a ready excuse for politicians to abdicate their commitment to activities.
- Community mobilisation, demands and advocacy can be misconstrued as having political bearings. A clear understanding of political and power relationships by stakeholders and community-based partners helped to explain the approach.
Challenges and mitigations
- A lack of local government autonomy affected their responsiveness to community needs.
- Communities find it difficult to engage local government with their charters as the local government lack the necessary resources for projects. To address this, communities have been supported to take their issues to the state government.
- Some V2P communities are yet to adopt gender equality in decision-making platforms. Increased sensitisation, exclusive meetings and power mapping are still going on to get the support of community leaders.
- The inaccessibility of some state actors and duty bearers during advocacy visits, which tends to consume a lot of time, was mitigated through power mapping.
- The refusal to change harmful widowhood and traditional practices by traditional rulers in some communities, due to their strong belief in their traditional system, was conquered through exclusive meetings with community and religious leaders, elderly men, women and youths. Power mapping and training on rights-based approaches and widowhood rights have also been used.
- Convincing community members, especially women, to change long-held practices and beliefs is work in progress. One helpful strategy has been the use of community facilitators/champions/change agents to convince others.
The way forward
There is a need to increase stakeholder mapping and enhance understanding of the project objectives through media, advocacy and campaigns.
Working on attitudinal and cultural change is difficult and time consuming. More time is needed to change beliefs and practices on issues of cultural and traditional norms that hinder certain groups (especially women and girls) in developmental issues.
V2P has raised issues of common concern affecting all communities, in particular the weakness of local government in Anambra State, which has been starved of operating budgets for nearly a decade. There is a need to link local level engagement with state level engagement to address this.
V2P should address weaknesses in accountability within local institutions like Town Unions and traditional leadership, as well as government.
V2P should involve more academics, students and professional bodies through dialogues, interactive sessions and think tanks to establish a pool of stakeholders involved in policy and programme development.
To sustain community interest in the programme, there is the need to introduce economic empowerment programmes as incentives.