Community-Driven Development

Importance of Community Participation

Community involvement, during and after the development of a water and sanitation system promotes sustainability.  Participation during the early stages of a project has the potential to increase involvement, enthusiasm, and the community’s sense of ownership after the completion of the project. In Community-managed water supplies in Africa: sustainable or dispensable, Harvey et al. describe that limited durability of facilities is often related to the lack of community education, acceptance, entitlement, and management of the facility.   To avoid this, increasing initial participation will help to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of a community sanitation system.  Involving the community can initiate community awareness and possibly encourage more involvement among other residents.  Incorporating community members into project development opens discussion to what the community needs are, which will help to pin point problems and highlight the best possible solutions.  Their input can help further understanding of existing conditions and provide a greater chance for a positive meaningful change.

Click here to read about water sanitation projects in both Gujarat and Kerala, India, which compare the effects of community participation.

The “Co-Researcher” Model

Based upon past project experience in informal settlements and prior research, WPI expressed to the Stellenbosch Municipality the importance of working directly with the community before entering into Langrug.  Over the past few years, WPI has developed a “nothing for us, without us” mentality for the community by adopting the principal that no upgrading is done unless the community is directly involved in the process.  To best understand the current water and sanitation systems in the settlement WPI believed we would need the help and expertise of residents using the facilities.  By working with community residents who are paid a stipend to work and research alongside WPI students, WPI was able to ensure community participation and a direct link to the community.  This model, which has been successful in past WPI projects, has been coined the “co-researcher” model. The team’s sponsor, David Carolissen, from the Stellenbosch Municipality, originally expressed disdain for partnering with academic groups, likening them to parasites. By the end of the project work however, he garnered much enthusiasm for the student-co-researcher model that was proposed by WPI. He likes the model so much that he is insisting that any individual or organisation that works in Langrug in the future must use it.

The co-researcher model has helped the team to develop a working relationship with community members, by establishing an entry point to communicate with other residents.  Since the co-researchers are both fluent in Xhosa and English they are able to translate and help the team better understand community dynamics. They have translated informal interviews and sparked group discussions with community members about community concerns and thoughts on the existing toilet facilities.  By having these conversations, our team has been able to learn about key details the community wants addressed.  It has also been great way to share ideas, learn about past efforts, and what the community would embrace.  The conversations have been an insightful way to learn more about the community and their facilities.  Community members that agreed to be identified are listed in the chart under the Water and Sanitation in Langrug Section.

Co-researcher Capacitating

Unlike previous years, in which co-researchers worked only as long as WPI students were in South Africa, our co-researchers are to continue their work throughout the next calendar year with the support of the WPI Co-Researcher Scholarship [PDF, 235 KB]. As a result it became important for us to ensure that they gained the necessary skills that would allow them to continue upgrading after we leave. To build capacity, we completed steps of the WaSHUp process alongside the co-researchers. This ensured that they had first-hand experience in carrying out the process. Together, we identified open spaces around toilet facilities, measured them, and recorded the results. We spoke with community members around these spaces, gathered feedback on different ideas, and held conversations about what would be best to implement. We designed spaces by mapping out different toilet blocks on a grid, and drawing where different features such as tables, swings, etc., fit on that grid. At first, we did these activities together, but, eventually, the co-researchers were able to create designs on their own.

Pat and Alfred measuring open spaces

Macauley and Siyanda mapping open space









After practicing these steps on three facilities, we collectively chose a toilet block in D section to implement some of our designs. The co-researchers took the lead on this project, and demonstrated the skills they had learned during the three days we were not on-site when they carried out steps one through three of our process guide, which included sharing ideas with the community for critique and assembling their own site model. With this, they have shown the ability to think critically about sanitation facilities in order to isolate issues and propose solutions.

Working with the co-researchers to develop computer skills

In addition to developing and implementing a process for upgrading with our co-researchers, we also supplied them with the technical skills and resources necessary for them to continue their work. We taught them basic computer information, typing, and camera operation so that they would be able to communicate the work they are doing to us and others. To further communication we also set up a blog for them to document their progress, and we purchased them a computer, a camera, and 3G internet access so they have the resources necessary to use it. Finally, we left them with a guide book containing the process we developed, space assessment forms, design forms, and ideas for implementable projects.

Click here to see documentation of co-researcher interaction.




Harvey, P. A., & Reed, R. A. (2007). Community-managed water supplies in Africa: sustainable or dispensable? Community Development Journal, 42(3), 365-378.