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The community's toolbox: The idea, methods and tools for participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation in community forestry

*Hooray for FAO for this practical tool for practioners! In the Republic of Congo and throughout the Congo Basin, models and approaches to community participation in the forestry sector can - AND SHOULD - be adapted and applied to community development initiatives in "traditional" health and education sectors and are ESPECIALLY relevant in design, monitoring and evaluation phases of implementation. Capacity-building inputs to support local organizations understand, adapt and apply participatory approaches in working with indigenous communities should be viewed as a development priority in the Republic of Congo, second only to building the capacity of CSOs of indigenous peoples to represent themselves in accord with the right of self-determination and consistent with the underlying principles of rights-based development .

Excerpt from FAO document (1990): "...Participatory Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation (PAME) is an idea whose time has come. It offers new and promising ideas for sustainable and appropriate community forestry development...PAME "flips" the traditional "top-down" development approach to a "bottom-up" approach which encourages, supports and strengthens communities' existing abilities to identify their own needs, set their own objectives, and monitor and evaluate them... PAME approach focuses on the relationship between the beneficiaries and field staff and the beneficiaries and the community. It builds on two-way communication, clear messages, and a joint commitment to what "works" for the community...PAME is a combination of three interlinked parts: the IDEA, the METHODS and the TOOLS. While it may not always be possible to adopt the whole PAME approach in every project, it is possible to experiment with some activities to see if PAME works. Try it, adapt it, play with the ideas presented here, and observe the effects. Sustainable development can be built on the foundation that PAME sets out, especially when approached with the sense of adventure and creativity that is called for by new ways of thinking!...

In the past twenty years Community Forestry has gone through two very definite stages, and is now entering a third stage. In the first stage, outsiders made most of the decisions. They decided what the problems were, and how to solve them. They designed the project and set the project objectives and activities. They provided the necessary inputs, management, and then monitored and evaluated, to see that their objectives and activities had been achieved. The results were not encouraging. Community interest often decreased over time. Very seldom were activities continued by the community after the outsiders withdrew. It became clear that sustainability was not being achieved.

In the second stage, the outsiders still made most decisions, but they began to ask insiders more questions. Overall, the outsiders role was much like that in the first stage, except that studies of the community done by outsiders to help them establish the needs of the community, offered new insights into community preferences and motivation. The result was that outsiders began to realize that insiders knew a great deal. Insiders could often identify why activities had or hadn't worked.

Now entering the third stage, insiders - with support from outsiders - are active in decision making. Insiders identify their problems and the solutions. They set objectives and activities, monitor and evaluate progress to see these are being achieved, and continue to be relevant. Outsiders adopt a participatory approach, encouraging insiders to identify their own needs, set their own objectives, manage, monitor and evaluate the activities. The results are promising. The participatory approach has begun to show encouraging results. With time and experience, this approach will continue to develop methods and tools, which hold great potential for sustainable development. The Community's Toolbox describes some of the participatory methods and tools which can help field staff and communities to further develop this third stage....

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