Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Selecting and Sustaining Community Programs in Developing Countries

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Selecting and Sustaining Community Programs in Developing Countries

Article excerpt


While academics and policymakers are unified in calling for community participation in governance reforms in the developing world, the micro-level manifestation of participation is highly varied and unsatisfactory. Many participatory programs do not empower communities and foster democratic governance and many are also not sustained for long periods of time. Why is this so? This article advances a theory that program selection and sustainability are the result of rational choices by influential social groups. In order to understand participation, academics and policymakers should consider factors shaping influence profiles and the preferences of those enjoying influence over program selection and sustainability decisions in developing countries.


Recent public administration literature, both theoretical and practical, argues that communities should play an active role in the governance process. The development community mentions the word 'participation' often, and espouses broad policy aimed at increasing empowerment, stimulating democracy, and improving efficiency, through programs of community involvement in governance. However, the literature has still not resolved what participation programs should look like.(1)

The program design question is an especially pressing problem in the developing world, where governments trying to involve citizens in developmentoriented administrative reforms do not know how best to proceed.(2) In many instances, development organizations and governments are finding that macro-level participation programs do not lead to sustainable, pro-empowerment programs of participation (Mohan and Stokke,2000). Two common, though basic, questions are: "what type of community programs should be adopted to most effectively involve communities in administrative reform?" and "how can the sustainability of these programs be assured?" One way of shedding light on these questions is by asking why different governments adopt so many different program types, and why some are sustained while others are not.

The literature reveals a large variety of program types, each engaging communities in different ways and associated with different levels of real administrative change and reform. Across the literature the sustainability of programs is also highly variable. To explain such variety, this article presents a theory of community program selection and sustainability. The theory argues that community programs are rationally selected, and supported in subsequent periods, on the basis of the match between the program focus and the interests of dominant actors in the administrative reform process. In order to shape program choice or influence sustainability, policymakers need to consider which actors are influencing program selection, what their preferences are, and how the realized benefits of the programs satisfy these preferences.


There are many developing countries trying to transform their public sector administrative processes (Mohan and Stokke, 2000). Administrative reforms in these countries are characterized predominantly by decentralization initiatives, a focus on more responsive and efficient resource allocation, and a move to results-oriented government. These reforms represent a significant change in public administration process and culture in the developing world, where the dominant bureaucratic form of government is generally closed, centralized, top-down and rule-based (even if the rules are only selectively adhered to) (Jenkins and Goetz, 1999).

Most governments are attempting to introduce programs of community participation into this mix of bureaucratic dysfunction and process altering reform. This participation is commonly seen as a way of directly bolstering the new democratic spirit in the developing world, as well as a vehicle for motivating and facilitating the reforms spoken of. Methods of community participation programs are anything but common, however, with substantial variation across and even within countries. …

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