• Although facilitators are expected to know a great deal about a good organization and organizational practices, they should avoid offering guidelines to rural communities on the number and structure of their organizations or interfering with their operation since this might lead to reduced concern on the part of the rural community for the well-being and governance of the fledgling businesses. In other words, at no cost should the opportunity for testing or even making instructive mistakes be taken away from the target community. Experiences that lead to practical team work and coordination are far more effective and valuable than any theoretical training provided by the facilitator. For instance, during the initial workshops organized for women in Rameh village, two independent groups of 20 to 30 women emerged naturally. Despite the interest shown by some of the public civil servants and the General Directorate of Semnan Cooperative Organization, facilitators objected to the premature registration of their cooperatives. After only a few months of activities, these women decided to rearrange themselves into groups of 8 to 12 members on the basis of kinship relations and, after some more time lapsed, they decided again that they had better avoid duplicate work among the teams and reorganize themselves in terms of common activities so that they would be done by the whole group. Thus, each group selected a leader to communicate with the leaders from other groups for coordination and cooperation in identical activities as well as surveillance of activities within their respective groups. This might seemingly have taken a longer time to arrive at the desirable conclusion. We should not, however, forget that in dealing with people we have but to show patience and give them time to learn.
  • Creation of local funds is an important factor that ensures their continued activities and meetings. Collection of subscriptions or membership fees and granting micro-loans to the members of the fund not only strengthen the financial skills and empower the fledgling organization formed but also provide an asset and support for executing minor, low-cost projects.
  • A facilitator’s success in participatory planning depends on his ability to give freedom to the local community to choose and to act thereupon so that they acquire the capability to express their problems and interests within the context of their surrounding conditions, to prioritize their problems, and to find appropriate solutions. This will enhance their self-confidence and win trust in the facilitator’s good will. It is only after these have been achieved that their interests and cooperation in planning and managing soil and water resources become reliable and useful. As an instance, during the implementation of the desertification control project within the framework of Hablehrud Project, women identified the unemployment of women and the low income level of the households as the topmost priorities to be addressed by the project. They also proposed as remedies a variety of activities in the form of businesses such as silk worm breeding, cultivation of pharmaceutical plants, bee-keeping, etc. After a number of technical site visits had been made and several workshops had been organized and based on the competence and experience of some of the members, the bee-keeping business was selected as the first priority activity. The authorities at the provincial level and at the Management & Planning Organization, however, found this activity irrelevant to the desertification control project. Despite this objection, the business was developed and women found the opportunity to experience their first economic team work. To be honest, this business played a great role in enhancing solidarity among the group and in identifying their problems and possible solutions. Now after so many years since its development, the business has created the proper grounds for other similar participatory activities in the village. The group involved in this business has recently commenced a joint project with GEF affiliated to UNDP which aims at rangeland management in the areas surrounding the Rameh village.
  • Although some of the organizations and institutions thus formed may seem successful, they cannot be simply replicated or prescribed in other places. It is only the lessons learned that can be utilized in each case, as each locality has its own unique characteristics and traditional systems that must be considered. For example, in Ghalibaf Village, the irrigation water sharing system served as a basis for the establishment of an institution. Each user in this village used to have a certain share of the irrigation water. In the organization formed around the axis of water sharing, five representatives were selected for coordination who undertook the labor division and collection of contributions for the activities designed. The contributions by people were determined in proportion to the water share each individual received for irrigation. The five-member committee then selected one member and assigned him the task of surveillance on projects. Appropriate remuneration and wages were determined for the services provided by each individual from the contributions collected in their fund.
  • Determining wages and remuneration for people who offer certain services in their group plays a vital role in advancing team work and stabilizing organizations. This was of great significance in the Ghalibaf experience.
  • What is of utmost importance in the stability of local organizations is the relationship government agencies establish with these organizations. If they are recognized by public agencies and if the activities related to local communities are accomplished through these self-motivated organizations, i.e. if organic relations can be established between public agencies and local organizations, then a great step has been taken toward fostering self-confidence in them, which ultimately leads to their stability.
  • Coordination among government agencies and a unified attitude and approach toward the significance, necessity, and methodology of participatory planning is inevitable in the process. This is mainly because the efforts and sweat of years to empower and mobilize local communities may be simply ruined by a single mistake or mistreatment somewhere in the hierarchy of the agencies involved. For example, when the allocations by different agencies are not spent on the agreed activities and through a participatory approach, the credibility of the whole participatory planning concept will be destroyed and the cooperation of the local communities in any activity will be simply motivated by the public funds spent in their region. In other words, the allocations will become counterproductive in the sense that they will serve as a nuisance to the participatory planning process.
  • Shortening the decision-making routes and cycles and proper allocation of resources form two other requirements of the participatory planning. Complicated decision-making processes and imbalanced and improper allocation of resources cause the local communities to lose their trust in both facilitators and the efficacy and efficiency of the planning process. To avoid the adverse consequences, it will be essential to leave the responsibility for making decisions, ratifying allocations, and providing funds to the hands of local authorities at the city or town level.
  • Training and capacity-building in public agencies and organizations and their change of attitude toward participatory planning are also fundamental to the success of the process.
  • Project staff and experts selected from among the local community together with representatives of the local community are instrumental in building effective and fruitful relations with the local community, organizing successful meetings, and winning their support and cooperation.*
  • Evaluation must be accomplished at each stage of the work so that preparations are made for the following stage.
  • Participatory work may only be accomplished in a step-by-step manner and in phase with people’s pace. No work can be accomplished by force, or it will be counterproductive to public participation.
  • Participatory work is of the same nature as are culture and religious faith. It should not be continued persistently until it is institutionalized in the target community. Steady but continued development and change in the behavior and mannerisms of the rural community in their treatment of social and economic problems reflect the achievements made.
  • It is good to rely on indigenous institutions such as religious groups as they can mobilize large volunteer groups.
  • Project descriptions for detailed studies and executive plans must be based on the local needs and demands derived from the realities observed by the people and with the people, rather than on mere feasibility studies.
  • As projects proposed by women and the youths enjoy a higher level of practicability due to their competence and commitment need a higher level of trust and support. Such projects additionally have higher effectiveness.*
  • Implementing and executing a project or an activity arising in response to people’s demand not only increases the people’s trust in this type of planning but also faces them with new challenges as a result of which the decision-making and execution systems as well as various groups in the community find their roles and place.
  • It is most difficult for experts to speak less than they hear. This skill must be fostered in project officers.
  • The people in each locality gain valuable experiences as a result of living in their region. Exploitation of this indigenous knowledge and experience and valuing the owners of this knowledge will win their good will and cooperation. This does not necessarily mean that expert knowledge must be done without but it is essential to know how to combine the two for better results.
  • It is absolutely necessary to employ women facilitators and experts in order to invite rural women into social functions.
  • Facilitators must be wary of their performance or treatment lest their behavior may be misinterpreted as favoritism, thus gaining the support of one individual or a group at the expense of losing many. Of utmost importance is the labor division within the group so that each member undertakes a responsibility in proportion to his/her competence.
  • A fundamental aspect of the work is sharing information with the local community. This helps the local community make correct decisions.
  • We should remember that social problems always exist and the solution to one generates a new challenge possibly greater than the problem that was solved. This not bad per se as new problems and challenges help the community to develop and to lift more problems.*
 

   * Adapted from Tahmasebi and Amir Masoud Pooyafar    "GoingBeyond Centralized Planning through Empowerment of Local Communities (The Experience of Hablehrud Project)"; Congress on Rural Development, Challenges and Opportunities.   
*Adapted from Tehran Province Work Group, "Survey of the Achievements of the Hablehrud National Project in Tehran Province".
*Adapted from F. Mafi, “Survey of Women’s Status and Achievements in Phase 1 of the Hablehrud Project”.".