Issue 39 - Article 1

Community-driven reconstruction: a new strategy for recovery

July 10, 2008

As humanitarian actors increasingly engage in environments where transitional governments are in play, recovery is unfolding yet the situation remains fragile, questions arise as to what strategies should be employed. Clearly, the days of direct service delivery are over: enough literature has been produced to understand that creating parallel structures or undermining local capacity is just bad practice. But what comes in its place if we are to help communities recover and lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development? One strategy that is gaining ground within the international community is community-driven reconstruction, or community-driven recovery (CDR).

This article provides an overview of the background, methods and intended outcomes of CDR; the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s efforts to systematically build capacity and knowledge around CDR as a strategy for recovery settings; and the realisation of that effort through a sophisticated new programme now underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Community-driven reconstruction as a programme genre

CDR has its origins in Community Driven Development (CDD), an approach pioneered by the World Bank and others for use in developmental settings. It is premised on the belief that populations have the right, and are best placed, to drive their own development. CDD can be implemented in specific sectors or more widely in support of a decentralised governance system. According to the World Bank:

Broadly defined, CDD … gives control over planning decisions and investment resources to community groups and local governments … Experience has shown that given clear rules of the game, access to information and appropriate capacity and financial support, poor men and women can effectively organize in order to identify community priorities and address local problems, by working in partnership with local governments and other supportive institutions (The World Bank, ‘Community Driven Development’,

CDR applies this same logic, recognising that communities have the right to direct their own recovery. But CDR adapts to reflect the specificities of a context where:

  • local institutions may be weak or non-existent;
  • experience with good governance is often absent;
  • communities may be less willing to work together;
  • there is a need for rapid recovery via a tangible ‘peace dividend’; and
  • there are particular vulnerabilities related to war, such as return and reintegration, the situation of ex-combatants and the particular needs of widows.


Application of a methodology

To fully appreciate what CDR can achieve, an abbreviated description of a generalised methodology is outlined here. It focuses not on sector-specific work, but rather on building the community-level institutions and systems that allow recovery to take place.

A soundly designed CDR programme focuses on areas that are impacted by conflict, rural or remote, and where high returns are expected. An adequate level of security must be present, although recent experiences in Afghanistan indicate that implementation can occur in less stable environments.

In terms of process, a series of steps are conducted with local populations to analyse the context, including the power relations within the community, the conflict itself and general community needs. The population then elects, through a secret ballot, representative committees at one or multiple levels (e.g. village, larger community, region). The elected representatives consult with their constituents, review context analyses and decide on community recovery plans that outline priority projects against pre-defined budgets. (In the early days of recovery, infrastructure is generally the number-one request.)

Committee representatives must defend the plans to the wider community. Once endorsed, local officials are brought into the process to add technical and/or resource support, as well as to ensure that recurrent costs can be met. Thereafter, an open tendering process is conducted and overseen by the committees. Contractors are selected and money is transferred – sometimes directly to the contractors, at other times to committees, where banking systems exist. Project implementation is monitored by separate user groups or community-based organisations, such as water or health committees and parent-teacher groups.

Processes are designed to ensure that the views of women and vulnerable groups are addressed throughout the programme. The NGO’s role is to provide all technical and capacity-building support.

Outcomes of an applied methodology

The key to CDR versus some other participatory approaches is that: 1) it is comprehensive, attempting to address some of the root cause issues in conflict countries (poor governance and poverty); and 2) it aims for rapid outcomes while providing true ownership in decision-making and management of the processes and funds. If well designed, connected to the larger reconstruction and governance agenda and implemented by experienced staff (the latter being absolutely key to success), it can achieve results in the categories of governance, social cohesion and socio-economic recovery as follows:

Governance: In most relief to post-conflict countries, governance programmes are targeted towards the realisation of national elections, or building the capacity of civil society groups. However, if it is the base that sustains any democracy, the more good governance is mainstreamed the more likely it is that any emerging governance system will take root. CDR targets entire grass roots populations through its intensive processes, democratic elections, representative committee structures and accountability systems. Moreover, the processes often create the first bridging mechanism for new local authorities and citizens to work together, and to understand their mutually reinforcing roles and responsibilities.

Social cohesion:In many recovery settings, the question of how to systematically restore the trust and confidence of populations amongst themselves and with their institutions remains a challenge. CDR may redress some of this, not by addressing conflict head on, although this does occur in implementation. Rather, it brings once-divided communities together using a sophisticated, conflict-sensitive approach to planning, project development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Through work on jointly identified and negotiated needs, community members build collective ownership of both the product and the processes, creating a vested interest in maintaining public goods and fostering a local governance system.

Socio-economic recovery:Providing money in the form of block grants directly to local communities, with attendant training and systems to support their efforts, is believed to be a far more efficient practice for local socio-economic recovery than direct service delivery. Communities that own the money will, in general, take care to select the most sensible projects at reasonable prices, will choose the more honest contractors and oversee their work, will stretch their resources further through increased contributions, and will be encouraged to seek outside sources for co-funding.

Lastly, CDR can offer emerging transitional governments, donors and NGOs key learning opportunities in a rapidly evolving context. Through ongoing documentation and study, it can provide information on community attitudes, reconstruction needs and possibilities for local or community governance structures and systems, all of which could inform any future decentralisation effort.

Impact evaluation on an applied methodology

IRC has been implementing CDR programmes for the last ten years, with its longest-running in Rwanda and its largest in Afghanistan. In the former, we worked for almost eight years implementing across one-third of the country’s villages, helping to shape policy and practice on governance and eventually feeding into a full-scale decentralisation process. In Afghanistan, through the World Bank-sponsored and government-operated National Solidarity Program (NSP), we are now in our fifth year of programming, supporting 1,039 communities in two southern provinces to administer $33 million in block grants.

Through an intensive study of these and other similar programmes, we have confirmed that CDR seems to be a stabilising force in the community, that it promotes economic recovery and that it furthers the understanding and practice of governance in reconstruction settings (See Kimberly A. Maynard, ‘The Role of Culture, Islam and Tradition in Community Driven Reconstruction: The International Rescue Committee’s Approach to Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program’, IRC, May 2007; and International Rescue Committee, ‘Initial Lessons Learned on Community Driven Reconstruction’, revised 2007). But these results are not conclusive. CDR (as with most aid delivery systems) presents a significant challenge for programme evaluation. Programmes were initiated in chaotic relief or nascent post-conflict environments, characterised by high demands and expectations for results from communities, international NGOs, donors and governments alike. Need was great, it was understood that a window of opportunity to demonstrate a ‘peace dividend’ existed and situations were often considered too fluid for sophisticated programme evaluations. As a result, the collection of rigorous data that would allow demonstrable evidence-based impact was often sacrificed (rightly or wrongly).

To overcome this challenge, in our next programme, in Liberia, IRC piloted one of the first randomised evaluations in a post-conflict setting, with academics from Stanford University. The aim was not only to understand impact, but also to determine if it was even possible to work with control and treatment groups in a conflict-affected environment. The answer was a qualified yes, and consequently we initiated plans for scaling up these programming and learning efforts, using randomised impact evaluation in a new programme in the DRC.

A case study in the DRC

Recent national elections and a democratic government offer the DRC the best chance for years to move from war to sustainable peace and development. Within this context, IRC piloted two small CDR-type programmes (funded by USAID). The aim was not exclusively programme implementation, but also to determine the contextual adaptations required to our own established best practices in anticipation of a much larger intervention. The pilots eventually led to the development of a large, sophisticated CDR programme for three eastern provinces, amongst the hardest hit by war.

The programme is entitled TUUNGANE, which means ‘let’s come together’ in Kiswahili. It is implemented by three international agencies (IRC, CARE and IFESH), and is funded by DFID for three years. It targets approximately 1.78 million people or around 1,400 villages for small projects, and 280 larger communities for public works schemes. It provides approximately £12 million in direct community funds to local populations who, through their representative committees and councils, will own and manage the money, with the technical support of consortium staff.

The scale and size of the programme renders it capable of having an immediate and significant impact. Equally, it provides an opportunity for insights, lesson learning and the development of appropriate methodologies to help governments, civil society and communities in the DRC particularly, but other countries as well, better understand and respond to their transitional contexts. As a result, the project is undertaking a large-scale randomised impact evaluation, in collaboration with leading academics. Using a 3,000-person household survey in both control and treatment areas as one of several tools, it will aim to assess with confidence the three primary aims of CDR:

  • Whether, and to what extent, participation in the programme instills social cohesion.
  • Whether, and to what extent, participation in the programme promotes better understanding of democratic governance.
  • Whether, and to what extent, participation improves the socio-economic situation of the population.


Due to the use of a randomised survey, the programme is selecting participating communities through an open lottery. Experience in Liberia demonstrated that communities were far happier with this process than those generally employed in direct service delivery, i.e. INGO- or elite-dominated decision-making. Communities felt that the open lottery was more transparent, and readily accepted non-selection through this mechanism. Moreover, it reinforced the transparency the programme espoused, and created an interest from non-selected communities in the project process and outcomes.


With CDR gaining increased recognition and becoming increasingly used, the new DRC programme offers tremendous opportunities. First, its size and scale allow for direct impact in the DRC, providing a possible stabilising mechanism in regions long affected by war. Second, the methodology will be studied rigorously, providing new lessons to improve CDR practice both within the DRC and in other transitional environments. Third, outcomes will be studied to inform or influence any new governance systems planned for the future. Lastly, the evaluation strategy will not only certify with confidence programme impact, but also provide insights into conducting randomised impact studies in fragile environments.

To further this learning, a TUUNGANE website will be posted within the coming months, providing updates, lessons learned and programme results. For additional information in the interim, please contact us at

Lizanne McBride is Senior Director, Strategic and Post-Conflict Development, International Rescue Committee. Alyoscia D’Onofrio is Regional Director – Democratic Republic of Congo, International Rescue Committee.


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