Collective Decision Making

Addressing Socio-economic Disparities


In my experience, most of the problems that arise in community decision making, particularly when natural resources are concerned, stem from basic disparities within the community. Often one part of the community feels like it has historically had less of a ‘share’ in something and thus pushes a more extreme agenda, sometimes only to antagonise those that they consider to have benefitted disproportionately. When considering a specific region, it becomes necessary to take into account these disparities and enact measures that create, or at least create the illusion of, a level playing field. In less-developed areas with important natural wealth, it is crucial to define collective ownership and responsibility at the earliest possible time. It is within an organisation that these disparities can be addressed gradually and systems put in place to ensure balance, particularly where the allocation of funds is concerned. One system that has worked in my experience is defining clearly the development objectives of various areas and prioritising them numerically relative to objectively considered needs so that when funds are available to the organisation there is little room for argument, given that the priorities have been previously agreed upon in the the absence of funds, the arrival of which are often a source of great tension. 


There is an old saying in the Samburu language which translates as ‘a decision made by few is more effective than one made by many’. While this may seem to directly contradict the idea of collective decision making, it stresses the need for unity amongst the community and the careful choice of leadership. Once a certain leadership system is established they should be allowed greater freedom to make and implement their decisions. This brings us back to civic intelligence and the importance of defining clear overlying objectives that are permanent guidelines even though leaders may change.


We must define the principles on which we intend to develop, against which we may analyse a particular case. Principles could include environmental preservation, cultural preservation and equitable distribution of wealth but would be specific to a particular area and its features. 

Discerning Opportunities

Prateek Trivedi

Modern development can take many forms including technological advancement, economic development or improved technical expertise. The most visible form of development, however is the construction of buildings and shops. In Samburu County in Kenya, for example, many view construction as the first step to financial prosperity and many have secured plots of land in order to hastily begin building, particularly along the recently-tarmacced main road towards Ethiopia. As existing towns expand, these ghostly clusters of half-finished concrete buildings mark the beginnings of what could quite soon be a devastating urban sprawl. 

The Isiolo-Moyale road has been under construction for a few years, with the Samburu section from Isiolo to Merille completed in 2010. The region has experienced a surge of development and and while there may not be a great deal of land suitable for farming, the northern part of Kenya is of growing interest to industrial entities, particularly those in the mining and energy sectors.

In addition to construction, there is the distinct possibility of mining operations being expanded into areas that have so far remained in a natural state, particularly with the increasing prevalence of rare earth metals in consumer products. As China comes to terms with the severe environmental damage that has resulted from its provision of as much as 97% of the world's rare earth metal demand, other nations have been realizing plans to end their dependence on Chinese supply, which has considerable implications for the environment.




It is a common opinion that the northern rangelands are barren and therefore ripe for exploitation, however they hold a great deal of natural wealth and can support far more than they appear to. The individualistic trend of the modern society has had a detrimental effect on the land and I would argue that for any positive development to occur on a significant scale, communities must operate with a heightened civic intelligence, discerning between opportunities that will bring net benefit in the longer term. 


In the case of communally-owned lands, there should be strong organization and established processes to discern between the development opportunities that are brought to their respective area and rather than being distracted by the promise of immediate financial gain, an opportunity should be set against defined principles and assessed objectively. 


Development opportunities are most often defined monetarily and are only marginally influenced by the communities that they will affect. In order to discern between positive and negative opportunities, we must define the principles on which we intend to develop, against which we may analyze a particular case. Principles could include environmental preservation, cultural preservation and equitable distribution of wealth but would be specific to a particular area and its features. 

Civic Data Challenge

Organization's slogan: 
The Civic Data Challenge turns the raw data of “civic health" into beautiful, useful applications and visualizations, enabling communities to be better understood and made to thrive.

The Civic Data Challenge turns the raw data of “civic health" into beautiful, useful applications and visualizations, enabling communities to be better understood and made to thrive.

Civic health data has been collected for years, and we now have an opportunity to make this trove of community insight more valuable and accessible to decision makers and the public. The Civic Data Challenge will bring new eyes, new minds, new findings, and new skill sets to the field of civic health.

Designers, data scientists, researchers, and app developers are especially encouraged to join the challenge.

Challenge participants will be provided civic health data, as well as data on health, safety, education, and the economy.  Participants will analyze the data, identify connections and correlations, and create visual representations and applications to showcase their findings. These may include infographics, apps, animations, videos, or other innovations.

Judges will evaluate entries based on the quality of the analysis and design, the compelling nature of the finding, and the utility of the product. Winners will be chosen in the categories of health, public safety, education, economy, and “Best in Show.” Challenge Judges will also choose a “Wild Card” winner.

The Challenge opened on April 3 and entries must be received by July 29. Winners will be announced at the 67thAnnual National Conference on Citizenship on September 14 in Philadelphia.

The Challenge is presented by NCoC (the National Conference on Citizenship) in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. NCoC and Knight Foundation hope the Challenge will uncover new findings on why community engagement and attachment are critical to building thriving communities.

For more information, please visit

Organizational engagement: 


CIRAL Web Space

The creation of a living body of knowledge that is easily accessible and updateable is an important component of CIRAL.  By creating this space on the Public Sphere Project, the Liberating Voices pattern language can be easily incorporated into the work to facilitate the sense of shared vision CIRAL is striving for.

Project Goals: 
Become a centralized online space for the work of CIRAL
Facilitate project design and coordination
Host action and research results to form a growing body of knowledge

Community Animators

Pattern ID: 
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces, as well as grasp and utilize the various assets the community has to work with. The lack of grassroots knowledge has proven problematic in that development schemes are often mismatched in scale and relevance to the community’s needs, abilities and liabilities. Thus the conceived solutions for encouraging community capacities and livelihoods fall short of their objectives.


Through their lived experience, community members trained in assessment techniques and information gathering can provide contextual understandings of the assets and liabilities a community possesses that would otherwise go unnoticed to the outside professional. Similarly they can act as agent for the process of conscientization and subsequent mobilization for peoples to pursue change and empowerment.


In response to the failures of 'top-down' approaches to development, a shift towards emphasizing participation and empowerment have begun to make their way into the mainstream of development practice. This move toward "bottom-up," "farmer-to-farmer," and "grassroots" communication has been a fundamental reorientation. Following, the 70s and 80s, years often associated with the dark ages of development a new light has come about through alternative practices that seek to employ the community’s themselves in defining their needs, mapping out there assets and coming to terms with their own liabilities.

Through a variety of participatory processes both community members and development professionals have had the opportunity to jointly design community improvement schemes that are both appropriate to the community's needs and wants, as well sustainable and empowering.

As a result of relative success, the role of the community animator has become an increasingly important component for enabling this process of cooperation and participation between the development practitioner and the community members themselves. In some ways the animator acts as both initiator and on-going advocate for his or her community's development through regular open communication with both community members and the representative staff working in the area.

In the past highly educated teams of researchers and development field workers would enter a community and employ any number of assessment tools to identify community needs. Some of which were participatory in nature (see Power Research pattern). Upon return to their offices these assessments would be used to design various projects ranging from indoor lavatories, to treadle pumps, to community telecenters. In many cases it was shown that these projects failed to support the kind of long-term growth in people’s livelihoods they were thought to bring. Rather than looking at what the community wanted or needed from their cultural and social point of reference; these professionals designed projects relative to their point of reference.

Instead of persisting with this paradigm, NGOs such as the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) have pursued vigorous development campaigns in Bangladesh. In this example the community animator has become a central agent for helping to identifiy and express the needs and desires of a community, as well as initiating and supporting change to include, informal education, ideas for micro-enterprise, and even supporting the creation of women’s self-help groups that have enable a number of women in rural areas to gain access to credit and thus empower them to pursue economic generating activities.

Here organizations such as IIRD would send exploratory panels out to the communities, as a "get to know you" campaign. Over a period of time they would identify predominately young men and women that they would sponsor for further education. The pool of students would often serve as the primary group that would go on to perhaps become powerful community animators.

Not only were they given a valuable education they still retain those familial bonds to their community that often gives them an immediate advantage in having the lived experience of their particular area, as well the rapport of being a community member.

However, problems of jealousy and apprehension can be potentially problematic and it is important that groups and agencies that do seek to draw advocates from the field they seek to assist find ways to mitigate the potential social conflict that might arise. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to completely eliminate it. But it is perhaps a far better approach than previous alternatives


The community animator can act as a critical link between the community and any NGO Collaborator. It should be noted that by those in the field for social change that local citizens and activists can often better activate a community’s sentiments and bring about awareness for the possibility to realize change than an outsider who may be perceived to have little understanding of the real issues at stake.

Beyond the processes of concientization that a community animator can bring to the process; NGOs can also assist these community members in training for information gathering and needs assessments to help refine the basic kinds of projects and programs that might be of benefit to a community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces — or the various assets the community has to work with. This often means that development schemes are mismatched with the community's needs, abilities and liabilities. Community Animators can act as critical links and local citizens can often better activate a community to realize change than an outsider.

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