Data collection was a collaborative process between anthropologists from Duke University and the University of Antioquia and officials from the Agriculture and Environment department in the San Carlos municipal government. The work was done as part of an International Organization of Migration (IOM) community strengthening project for families returning from Medellín to San Carlos and as part of the participatory budget process in San Carlos.
The first workshop began with a general question to establish the component parts of what we were trying to assess. In our case, this was the community. The first question was: “What’s in your community? “
We talked about all of the things that existed in the community—people, roads, houses, organizations, schools, etc.—and made a list of these items with corresponding pictures beside them.
We then drew a community map that included the items previously discussed.
The workshop ended with a discussion about the different items on the map, the connections that existed between these elements in the past, what had been broken during conflict, what remains today, and what needs to be strengthened in the future.
Several weeks later, we returned to the list and map and divided the resources into the following categories: physical, economic, social, political, and emotional. This allowed us to have a conversation regarding what these categories meant and to add additional items to this list.
Then we asked what the quality of these resources were and explained we were going to color-code the resources, with green signifying good, yellow average, and red bad.
We spent some time talking about what it meant to the community for a resource to be in good, average, or bad condition. For example, many people began by saying roads were bad. But after a conversation in which we discussed the state of roads in other villages, we could usually agree upon a very simple system—if the bus couldn’t drive on the road, it was in the red. If the bus could drive, but it was difficult, it was in the yellow. If the bus could drive without difficulty, it was in the green.
We continued this way with all the community resources. Finally, we used the color-coded list to facilitate a discussion regarding what the biggest strengths and needs were in the community, what needs should be prioritized in the short, medium, and long term, what resources existed internally to meet these needs, and what resources could be drawn upon externally to realize these goals.
Coordination with municipal officials
We shared this information with municipal officials. Together, we used the information from the workshops and past participatory budget projects to make a comprehensive list of community resources. Next, we organized the information in a spreadsheet according to the departments in the mayor’s office—Agriculture and Environment, Public Works, Social Welfare, and Security. Finally, we further divided the departmental information into sub-sections. This included sanitation, agriculture and livestock, food security, the environment, disaster prevention, individual and community infrastructure, education, health, community organizing, culture and recreation, and security.
We made three-ring binders that had simple instructions explaining how to fill out the forms. The binders included the following information:
- Community resource forms
- Important phone numbers of municipal authorities
- Village maps and histories, if these had been done in previous workshops.
We bought red, yellow, and green markers for village presidents to color in the corresponding boxes according to the perceived quality of each resource.
Municipal officials explained how to fill out the forms at a community meeting with village presidents. We planned to assist village presidents in this process during the meeting. Village presidents, however, said it was too important a project to do without their community. So, we gave them the forms to fill out in their villages and asked them to return them to the mayor’s office.
We thought no one would return them.
We were wrong. Three weeks later, 56 of the 65 of villages with functioning councils had returned the notebooks with the forms filled out.
Villages used the forms in a variety of ways.
Some village presidents filled the form out on their own while others completed the task in community meetings with most of the village present. Some villages simply colored in the boxes to rank resources while others provided detailed information in the notes section.
Other villages used the notebooks as a tool for providing additional information such as village histories and maps, proposing projects to the mayor’s office, or a venue of complaint regarding the status of unfinished projects. Perhaps the most complete and interesting use of the notebooks was in a village where displaced people had not yet returned. The village council met in the town center and filled out the forms, providing detailed information of the work that had already been done to make the village habitable and what still remained. They provided photographic evidence of this work and detailed descriptions of what needed to be done.
In all cases, the notebooks were used as a tool of communication between the villages and the municipal government.
Data entry and analysis
The development plans provide a comprehensive view of village-level perceptions of the quality of over fifty resources. Their utility can be increased by quantifying the color-coded response in the following manner: green=3, yellow=2, and red=1.
Averaging the total resources in a village provides an over-all score of its perceived strength. Likewise, averaging the rankings of an individual resource across all villages provides a municipal-level measurement of its strength. We created a range for these scores to rank and visualize this information: green=2.41-3, yellow=1.71-2.4, and red=1-1.7.
This allows the municipal government to measure the strengths and weaknesses of resources at the village level as well as track the perceived strengths of villages as a whole. This also provides the format necessary for visualizing the data on maps.
In many ways, this is a blunt instrument. It is largely qualitative and thus varies greatly according to village members’ perceptions. Yet, the qualitative aspect allows municipal officials to see differences in perceptions that may need to be addressed. This is particularly important when it comes to security issues as it provides an early warning system for villages to report problems to municipal officials. The method provides a means of communicating with municipal officials that can lead to greater community participation in governance and higher levels of accountability and transparency for villages and municipal governments alike.
The process can be more standardized in a variety of ways, including having a municipal or institutional official present when village members fill out the form and creating set parameters for the meanings of green, yellow, and red for each resource.