There are a variety of possible applications for social stoplighting methods and tools. The following are specific to Colombia. However, these methods can be modified for other community organizing, planning, and policy-making projects.
Municipal Participatory Budgeting:
Many municipalities have a yearly participatory budgeting process in which neighborhoods and villages propose projects to be included in the budget. However, there is no streamlined methodology. Social stoplighting could provide an easily replicable method as well as a tool for monitoring and evaluating the progress of prioritized projects.
Participatory Development Plans (once every four years):
All newly elected government officials–from the president to mayors of small municipalities such as San Carlos–have to produce a development plan their first six months in office in which they outline their proposed policy for the next four years. The Social Stoplighting project was one of a variety of participatory processes that sought to incorporate community perspectives in the making of this plan.
There are multiple benefits to using the same or similar methodologies for both participatory budgeting and development plans. First, it allows the development plan to draw upon information provided yearly in participatory budgeting. Second, it helps strengthen institutional memory and communication. Third, it saves time and decreases frustration caused by using new methodologies. In San Carlos, multiple external institutions provided workshops and information on participatory development plans, duplicating the efforts already underway in the municipality. Creating a more stream-lined methodology for both participatory budgeting and participatory development plans at the regional or departmental level could help prevent some of this duplication. Fourth, the goals set out in the development plan can be re-evaluated yearly through participatory budgeting, allowing communities and governments to use the same tools to evaluate progress and problems, fostering greater transparency in the process.
One of the biggest difficulties in providing victims with assistance in Colombia is coordination across multiple departments in the national, regional, and local government. Returning people to their homes in the countryside— which often entails rebuilding the social, political, physical, and economic infrastructures of families and communities—is particularly complex.
The national government established fourteen basic rights that must be met in the process of return. These are divided into immediate and longer-term needs. The immediate needs are: health, education, food, identification, family reunification, job evaluations, housing, and psychosocial attention. The long-term needs are: land, basic public services, roads and communication, food security, work and income, and social organization. The national government asks municipalities to provide return plans that assess these needs at the local level.
These return plans often only provide information at the municipal level. The social stoplighting methodology, however, provides a means for creating and visualizing village-level assessments. Many of the fourteen basic rights are included in the village development plans and those that are not could easily be included in subsequent versions. The development plans illustrate dramatic differences in the strengths and needs of villages within a single municipality, which are often difficult for external actors to recognize from afar. Village-level information makes it easier to target assistance to areas most in need.
While the National Planning Department has established metrics to measure all of these needs, these might not fit with local perspectives of what it means to successfully achieve these goals. The stoplighting process provides a more qualitative and community-centered means of defining strengths and needs at the village level that could complement the nationally established metrics. It offers a baseline of community perspectives that can be used to track progress over time.
Expansion of security assessments in consolidation areas
The stoplighting methodology that originally inspired this project is not only used in San Carlos. The national government has also used it to illustrate if armed actors, illicit crops, or landmines are present in municipalities participating in “territorial consolidation” projects throughout the country.
Here is an example of a stoplighting map in a consolidation region in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco on the Pacific Coast:
The National Plan for Territorial Consolidation prioritized fifteen regions of traditional guerrilla influence (later reduced to seven) to receive security and development projects. The program has been criticized, however, for focusing too much on security and too little on development. The stoplighting methodology could be used in these regions for socio-economic issues as well as those of security if armed actors do not control the local government.
Many people who participated in this project mentioned the similarity between the stoplighting methodology and a method using webs as visualization tools to evaluate farm resources and make future plans. The Distrito Agrario—a rural development organization in Eastern Antioquia—uses this methodology as part of their farm and community planning. Their planning materials include indicators for the environmental, social, and economic resources being evaluated.
The stoplighting and web methodology are complementary. It would be simple to use webs to gather information at the family level using the same color-coded indicators as stoplighting. These results could then be averaged in order to get a village level score for each resource, a range set to signify good, average, and bad quality, and the information mapped.
The full resource book for Distrito Agrario’s development plans (in Spanish) can be downloaded here.