Is it Feasible?
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
The objective of monitoring should be defined from the outset. Is it to reduce corruption, improve the quality of infrastructure, make people aware of their role as citizens, improve relationships between the community and government, change laws or procedures? For CBM, it is all of the above.
You should design certain key factors that help you quickly identify problems during monitoring. Some of the Key Factors for CBM are:
1) Regular (3-5 times a week) monitoring of project site by local monitors.
2) Access to project documents (contract, bill of quantity and drawings).
3) Positive dialogue with the construction company workers.
4) Documenting the progress of construction through photographs, videos and notes.
5) Have broad community participation in and awareness of monitoring.
So, if the construction company or project donor does not share the project’s contract, it can seriously limit your ability to monitor. Or if the local monitors are doing a great job and regularly monitoring, but most of the community members are not aware of the process, then the bigger objective of transforming the relationships between the state and communities is not being pursued.
Monitoring in conflict and post–conflict zones has many advantages for communities, the state and donors. Community monitoring is often the only way to undertake projects that are out of the donors’ line of sight. Community monitoring partially reduces the costs of monitoring in highly insecure areas, gives a sense of ownership to communities and reinforces their ties with the state. It is important to note however, that community monitoring IS NOT a substitute for formal, technical monitoring by construction company or government engineers.
If the key factors of success are not being reached, then the monitoring is not fulfilling its objectives.
CAN YOU ACHIEVE SUCCESS?
It is crucial to really consider whether you can accomplish your goal. If you think you can, then you should proceed. If you think that you might not be able to succeed, do not give up since you can still refine your goal. Maybe, you wanted to reduce the poor quality of buildings in the whole country? Maybe you should limit your goal to certain areas or provinces, or limit to certain types of buildings like health clinics.
The monitoring process should be based on law and should use the existing legal framework to be successful. It should also have strong popular support. Joint working groups can also be created in order to exchange experiences and change expectations groups have from one another.
It is also important to acknowledge that monitoring sometimes does not necessarily bring change, but could lead a situation to deteriorate. One of the important things to consider is that mobilizing the community around an anti-corruption effort can cause them to have much higher expectations for change. You may only be interested in improving the quality of the health clinic, but the community may want to get rid of all corrupt officials, stop manipulation of the bidding process, or even want to physically damage or stop the work of companies they think are greedy. It is hard to know how a community will understand working against corruption. So, it is important for you to constantly manage their expectations in a way that they do not become disappointed by the slow rate of change or small improvements that are taking place.
Change is painfully slow and often, hard to see. So, do you think you are up for this?
IS MONITORING THE BEST TOOL?
Are you sure that community monitoring is the best tool for achieving your objective? You should consider the strengths, advantages and limitations of using monitoring. If limitations outweigh the strengths, then monitoring is probably not the best tool for achieving your goals. The example of community-based monitoring of construction projects has several strengths, but also some limitations.
The strengths of CBM are: it holds the implementers accountable, empowers communities, fights corruption, informs the donors of the impact of their work and builds credibility of citizens’ actions. The main advantage, especially when comparing community-based monitoring with monitoring done by outside experts, is its relatively lower cost and sustainability. Also, the information regarding construction may be more regular and accurate, since it is being collected by nearby residents who have a strong interest in the project.
However, monitoring of construction sites also has limitations. Monitoring does not lead to the prosecution of construction companies that built bad quality projects, and those companies will just move somewhere else where they may continue to build bad projects. It also does not directly lead to policy changes or legal reform. Advocacy can only take place if you are able to collect, analyze and present all of the data you have collected in a systematic way, so that you can convince government leaders and international donors that based on local monitoring, their current policies are not working. Access to project information is usually restricted and is a major barrier for monitoring. For us, the strengths of monitoring still outweigh the limitations in helping achieve our objectives.
Now it’s up to you to decide whether community monitoring is the best tool for you.
HOW CAN MONITORING BENEFIT THE PEOPLE INVOLVED?
In order to get people involved in monitoring, you should think from the perspective of each actor. For example, analyze the perspective of a local monitor and figure out the reasons that she or he would be willing to participate. In CBM, for example, local monitors can gain knowledge, contacts and a sense of pride for serving their nation. Communities can push for development needs that they think are important, and could hold the state and company accountable for the quality of their work. The state benefits because it can have a direct dialogue with its citizens that is especially difficult in conflict zones. Construction companies can have a better relationship with the community, which could increase their security in insecure districts.
CAN MONITORING BE NEGATIVELY MANIPULATED?
Yes. For example, monitoring can reinforce the power of the already powerful. If heads of shuras always become local monitors, their power will be reinforced through monitoring. Also, elders can take advantage of monitoring to reinforce their influence in the community and sideline youth. Women in patriarchal societies are those who still suffer the biggest marginalization, both by elders and mostly male-dominated shuras. And even where women’s shuras exist, their range of activities, funding and power can be severely limited.
Even though monitors are elected and trusted by the community, it is possible they can be part of local networks of corruption and accept bribes. In our experience, this rarely occurs. And if it does, it can quickly be fixed by replacing the local monitor. However, even one corrupt local monitor can seriously harm the reputation of the community monitoring effort. As a group that fights corruption, you always have to hold yourself to higher standards of ethics and transparency than those around you.
There are also some chances of community mobilization turning violent. The community is trained to peacefully settle their disputes with the local contractor, but sometimes when a contractor is very uncooperative or insulting, a large group of community members go to the project site and threatened to destroy the project if he does not make the necessary project improvements. Though verbal threats may simply be a way to apply pressure, these situations can easily devolve into violence. With the prevalence of guns and arms in Afghanistan, it is also important to prevent one community member from using community grievances as an excuse to take personal revenge from a contractor or destabilize the district. Again, it is important to note that these are not common scenarios, but ones that you should be actively aware of and try to prevent.
DO YOU HAVE THE CAPACITY?
In order to monitor, you should have the necessary resources. Do you have enough people willing to work with you who also have the right skills? Are you able to manage people? Are you able to network and build contacts? Are you able to secure funding and do you have the ability to fundraise? Do you have an appropriate office space? Are you persistent enough and not ready to give up that quickly? In chapter 2- What you will need, you can read more on this.
HOW MUCH TIME CAN YOU SPEND ON MONITORING?
Before you start monitoring, you should decide how much time you can spend on the campaign. This timetable should consider all the factors, such as the monitoring set-up, like the identification of the area to be monitored, data gathering to generate the monitoring structure, identification of the monitors or other methods used to monitor, training of the monitors/surveyors, and agreements on the monitoring requirements. The timetable should then include the time needed for monitoring itself like data collection and reporting. And finally, the use of monitoring results to advocate for greater accountability.
How long do you have to monitor in order to make an impact? It will depend on what you are monitoring. A series of documents, forms, and processes could be prepared in order to ensure successful monitoring. In CBM, we usually monitor projects for one year (or during the project’s construction cycle). We choose one-year because that allows us to (1) deal with project issues at the local level on weekly or monthly basis and (2) accumulate sufficient data by the end of the year to give donors and government agencies statistics on projects. However, our bigger advocacy campaigns like pushing for an Access to Information law can take more than year and run parallel to our monitoring work.
MONITORING REQUIRES A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT, SO PLAN AT LEAST FOR 2 TO 5 YEARS.