Planning a Development Project

Key points to bear in mind when planning a development project/program:

  • Needs analysis – research and asses the knowledge, hopes, fears, priorities and skills of the local people
  • Explore potential solutions – identify and consider the impact of a project on all the community.  Ensure project integrates with existing economic, social and political factors. Regards all environmental impacts.
  • Draw up an effective plan incorporating:
    • Objectives and goals
    • Beneficiaries
    • How the work will be done
    • Time scale
    • Clear expectations and exit strategy

 Why local participation is so important in development work:

  • A top-down approach imposes preconceived ideas onto a community
  • The locals know what they need
  • Local knowledge is vital for planning and resource availability
  • Locals must “buy-in” to a project for it to succeed and continue to succeed after the NGOs have left
  • Projects where the participants have ownership are much more successful. This is true for most projects!

  The general approach to participatory development includes:

Participatory development is the process of interaction between local communities and outside facilitators which involves:

  • Participatory learning – gaining a joint understanding of the main characteristics and changes within a community or particular farming systems
  • Defining priority problems
  • Examining or experimentation with a variety of options derived both from local knowledge, other farm groups and formal science
  • Seeking solutions that may use local resources or dependent on seeking external finance.

  Techniques/methods which can be used in Rapid Rural Appraisal include:

Examples of methods that can be applied during a project start up period are known as Rapid Rural Appraisals; these lay particular stress on the participation of local people in analysing their present situation. These include:

 Organisational Resources Inventory

  • Create an inventory of all groups and organisations that wish to get involved and explore their resources and capacities

    Community Walks

  • Ask the community to take you for a guided tour of the area to gather basic information.
  • The objective of such as walk is to get the guide to point out features of interest ie. Water resources, cropping patterns, residential clusters, post harvest crop handling etc
  • Vary the guide to avoid bias:
    • Road Bias – confining exploratory research to areas that are easy to access
    • Elite Bias – restricting contact to the better-off farmers already familiar to the facilitator
    • Gender Bias – meeting only male farmers, ignoring the female ones
    • Production Bias – focus only on production, not post harvest, preservation, processing and preparation of food
    • To avoid bias, sector the land area, select guides on a equal basis and sample the population according to size

      Screen and discussion of secondary data

  • Examine any external data available such as:
      • Literature and Reports already produced
      • Maps
      • Arial photographs
      • Censuses
      • Health records

 Problem Census

  • Using a structured group discussion to allow members of the community to express their ideas and points of view
  • Use a variety of techniques such as drama, posters, tapes, video to encourage participation
  • The villagers should be able to list and rank the problems that they face

 Community lead surveys

  • This is where the villagers themselves gather and analyse the information about topics identified by the community in discussions about the problems and changes they face



Projects should reflect the needs of the participants, be beneficial, cause no harm or damage and be sustainable.

For other articles on tropical agriculture click here

Written by Fiona Johnson

March 2012