Understanding the Impact of Community Led Development: A collaborative meta-synthesis

Gunjan Veda, May 20, 2019

Purpose: Community Led Development (CLD) is a multi-sectoral and human-centred strategy for collaboration to achieve locally created and owned vision and goals. It is a developmental approach that focuses on systemic change to foster stable, resilient, prosperous, inclusive, and self-reliant communities.  

The Movement for Community Led Development (the Movement), seeks to understand the complex relationship between CLD and sought-after development outcomes like citizen’s engagement, self-reliance, gender equality, sustainability and resilience. To this end, it is undertaking a collaborative evidence synthesis, encompassing the work of 57 organizations across 50+ countries, to answer the following questions:

  • Where has Community Led Development worked and in what context?
  • Do we see the theorized impact of CLD on self-reliance, sustainability and citizen’s engagement?
  • Is the present absence of evidence on the impact of CLD a theory of change, implementation or measurement problem, or a combination of all three?
  • Do the current evaluation frameworks capture the multi-dimensional impact of CLD? What adapted/emergent frameworks are most congruent with the complexity of CLD?

Background: In 2015, a group of global non-profit organizations, led by THP, came together to create the Movement for Community Led Development. For the last four years, this group comprising of 57 organizations like PCI, World Vision, Oxfam, Glimmer of Hope, Nuru International, Relief International and Roots Change has worked tirelessly to ensure that communities take charge of their own development. In addition to its global work, the Movement has national chapters in 11 countries – including Kenya and Togo that launched this year- where it actively works with governments to support devolution of power. Now, this Movement is, for the first time, undertaking a collaborative research to understand what happens when communities are placed at the center of development. This project will plot the landscape of CLD programming from the work of its 57 partners and explore the impact of CLD through a meta-synthesis of the evaluation reports of these organizations.

Framework and Stages: The research is a multi-year phased initiative that will drive a better understanding of the implementation and impact of CLD at the household, population and systems level, in various contexts (eg fragile, humanitarian, stable but low income). It will also lead to a peer-reviewed co-creation of evaluation frameworks that capture the contributory impact of CLD, particularly when it comes to issues of resilience, self-reliance, sustainability and social cohesion.

The first phase of this research is currently underway and is expected to produce results by October 2019. In this phase, we are creating the first iteration of a scoping tool to map the spectrum of CLD programming globally. This phase will also generate a broad understanding of the impact of CLD. Finally, it will provide suggestions on possible evaluation frameworks to capture the impact of CLD – intended and unintended.

Phase 1 has been divided into four stages:

Stage1                                                                                                  Underway

Stage2                                                              Underway

Stage3        Jul-Sep 2019

Stage4                                           Aug-Sept 2019

Phase 1 is expected to generate rich insights for the dialogue on development aid and for design of developmental and humanitarian programs. These insights will be fleshed out to better inform strategic and policy decisions through Phase 2 of the project.

In Phase 2, we intend to hone the scoping tool and to apply it to create a more holistic map of CLD programing (moving beyond the Movement partners) in specific regions and countries. In this phase, we will conduct a deep dive into the evidence synthesis to examine whether there is a correlation between individual characteristics of CLD and its proposed impact on developmental outcomes like self-reliance. We will move from the “what works” to the “how it works” question, unpacking causal mechanisms to create an understanding of how context influences the nature as well as impact of CLD programming. At the same time, we will create a participatory tool that captures the impact of CLD on select parameters like citizen’s engagement, self-reliance and resilience.

Current Status: In its role as Secretariat for the Movement, the THP is working with 35 Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning specialists from 23 different organizations to analyze over 350 evaluation reports of CLD programming from 50+ countries.

Through three sub-groups (Scoping, Impact and Evaluation), the research is defining the characteristics of community led development and mapping 350 CLD programs to understand the various ways in which communities are being engaged in their own development. These groups are also creating tools to see how the nature of CLD programming impacts more difficult-to-measure outcomes like social cohesion, gender equality, citizen’s engagement, resilience and self-reliance.

A group of advisors comprising of academics and implementation experts are guiding the research to ensure that it is neutral, robust and rigorous.

Group of Advisors

Scott Guggenheim, CLD Implementation Specialist, former senior advisor to President of Afghanistan

Dr Gill Westhorp, University of Charles Darwin

Prof Elisabeth King, New York University

Prof Kent Glenzer, University of Monterey

Nazneen Kanji, formerly Director, Quality of Life Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Support Unit, Aga Khan Development Network

Jo Howard, Institute of Development Studies