Giving Communities their Voice

Giving Communities their Voice
February 2010 Newsletter

The first weekly project in our online course on designing and funding sustainable projects ,“From the Ground Up” was so successful that I wanted to share the technique we used for a community needs assessment in this newsletter: The Ten Seed Technique.

Successful Launch of Online Learning
The course caught me by surprise. So many people contacted us that we needed to cap enrollment. 50 people from 31 different countries are taking the course which is being delivered in both English and in Spanish. Enough people missed enrollment that we are offering the course again beginning March 2. Thanks to generous donors we were able to award 7 scholarships.

There are two very exciting aspects of the course.
One is that participants are using the course to design real projects with real communities on the ground. The second is the cross-hemisphere partnerships between participants. We have people living in big cities (without access to communities) in Australia, Spain, Canada, the US, Brazil, and Panama, partnering on projects with on-the-ground field staff (with access to communities) in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, Columbia, Peru, and Venezuela.

Course participants include postgraduate students, staff from large INGOs, staff from small in-country NGOs, people considering career changes, and African business owners with a social conscience.

The importance of developing a community-based needs assessment
Have you ever been to a village and seen the remnants of a development project that has been abandoned? Sometimes this is due to well-meaning NGOs initiating a project that the community never had a sense of ownership in. Consequently, it is important to make sure that a community has ownership so that they will maintain the project long after the NGO is gone – and one of the best ways to do this is to ask the community what they need.

Here are some reasons why
1. Community members may have a greater depth of knowledge about their problems than we do, and so will be better able to identify important and underlying causes for the challenges they face.
2. If they are engaged in the process of needs identification, and feel their voices have been heard, then they will have a sense of ownership; this leads to long-term project sustainability. Ownership can be thought of as the community’s demand for the products and services that your organization will provide.
3. Working with the community to address their needs will develop trust on their part in working with your organization in future projects or activities.

How to get started with the process
One needs to begin by developing rapport with a community; a good approach is an initial meeting with village leaders or village elders and asking their help in gaining access to community members.  Training and Services

Communities are very diverse so we need to be sure we are working with a representative example of members. It is also important that individuals feel safe in voicing their thoughts and feelings. This may mean holding separate meetings for men and for women or for teenagers and for their parents.

The Ten Seed Technique: A Quick Overview
There are several simple techniques for facilitating a participatory needs assessments, but my favorite is called the Ten Seed Technique developed by Ravi Jayakaran of World Vision China.

Gather together small groups of between 10 and 20 people. To start off a discussion for a community-wide needs assessment, ask the group to imagine all the problems and needs that are faced by the community as a whole. Active participation can be enabled by encouraging all of the members of the group to voice their concerns.

Each individual community need, as it is identified by a community member, is drawn graphically on a sheet of paper. Draw simple pictures. For example, if housing is a problem, draw a child’s illustration of a house. The technique is a very visual one that allows the literate and illiterate to participate as equal partners and contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

When the group is done voicing their concerns, each workshop participant is given 10 seeds as voting tokens to be used in prioritizing the needs with a 10-Seed vote. Villagers vote in privacy and place seeds on the illustrations of the identified needs they feel are the most important. They are free to spread their seeds across several needs – or to place all 10 on a single need that is most important to them.

Once all of the individuals have voted, the participants are asked to discuss the results. The collective tokens will show a prioritization of the needs identified by the community — by which needs have the greatest number of seeds.

As students in our Online Course finished this first assignment I began receiving photographs of the voting process from all over the world—and the lists of priorities that their communities developed. I’ve posted a Ten Seed How-To Card with photos that you can download.

From needs assessments sent to me by course members, I was able to see that there are many common problems worldwide including:

income generation, clean water, access to education, poor sanitation, gender equality, migration, lack of vocational skills, chronic diarrhea and malnutrition in small children, lack of roads to villages, marginalization, shelter, food shortages, illiteracy, environmental degradation, drought, lack of irrigation for agriculture, and overpopulation.

It is with a community’s prioritized list that you can begin designing a sustainable, impact-oriented project. And that is the topic of the March newsletter. See you then.



Tim Magee

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