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Since the 1980s, the donor community, supported by the broader development discourses, has taken a strong interest in centring communities in the address of informality — shifting from the top-down to bottom-up approaches. Nowadays, programmes and projects aimed at addressing informality in cities in the Global South generally recognize that communities can and should play a central role in designing and driving these interventions.
Moving away from top-down to participatory approaches to informality can be done for a variety of reasons. First, there is widespread agreement that projects aimed at community development, but without the support of communities themselves, have problematic outcomes. Second, research claims that community-driven responses allow for tailored approaches that make use of the expertise and knowledge of those most affected by the challenge. Third, community-led development has shown greater long-term sustainability as communities can sustain projects even when donors or lenders have closed out projects. Fourth, the projects have the potential to have more comprehensive contributions to community-scale empowerment beyond the context of informality and with public authorities.
This review paper is based on a desk-top review of the best practices in community-driven mechanisms, particularly of Cities Alliance members. In addition to outlining the meaning of informality and community-based mechanisms, the paper summarizes the main reasons why Cities Alliance members have advocated for community-based mechanisms as tools to address challenges related to informal settlements and informal economics in southern cities. The review focuses on specific areas and mechanisms deployed in the Cities Alliance members’ literature and mini-cases used to provide practical insights. Based on this analysis, the overview synthesizes some of the key insights and presents key takeaways for subnational governments, community-based organizations, and donors and lender communities.
Community-driven development (CDD) is broadly defined as giving control of decisions and resources to community groups. CDD frameworks link participation, community management of resources, good governance and decentralization
Nitti and Dahiya, 2004, p.1.
Donors and lenders interested in mobilizing and harnessing community energy need to understand communities and their potential in a practical manner, reflecting a deep understanding of the power dynamics that exist within communities and between communities and other actors (such as the state or private sector). It is vital to avoid an over-romanticized view of community engagement in the address of informality and ensure that the wider systems that support the mobilization of people’s collective energy fit into more comprehensive urban development frameworks.
- Programmes and projects aimed at addressing informality in cities in the global south generally recognize that communities can and should play a central role in designing and driving these interventions. This mirrors the trend of development discourse at large, which has, at least on paper, moved away from top-down approaches.
- It is important to unpack the specific ways communities can drive urban development in the context of informality. At the same time, it is useful to identify the limitations and complexities of this involvement in practice.
- This review paper focuses on several key areas where donors and non-governmental organizations' efforts to support community-driven mechanisms have featured strongly. These include community-led planning, tenure security, housing and service delivery, climate risk management, and livelihood creation.
- It is necessary for subnational governments to recognize the limitations that community-driven approaches have, for example when it comes to multi-scalar, multi-sectoral and integrated development. For community-based organizations, there is a clear need to develop structures that are adaptive and responsive.
- Donors and lenders interested in mobilizing and harnessing community energy need to understand communities and their potential in a practical manner, reflecting a deep understanding of the power dynamics that exist within communities and between communities and other actors.