Community selection is the process of objectively examining multiple locations where a sanitation intervention may be implemented to benefit both the community and the environment. The purpose of the selection process is to collect and analyse all data that is relevant for the selection of the target community and the successful implementation of the sanitation project. Usually, the process entails a wide range of non-technical and technical criteria and indicators that help to evaluate and assess the advantages and disadvantages of shortlisted geographical locations. Often, it makes sense to adopt a multi-stage approach, which includes primary and secondary community selection.
Primary community selection involves rejecting geographical locations that do not fit with the project’s objectives and approach or have significant constraints that disqualify them from development. This primary selection can be carried out according to different criteria such as:
- national priorities and expansion/development plans for existing wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) sites,
- upgrade potential of the WWTP,
- potential to improve faecal sludge management (FSM), and
- treatment capacity of the WWTP vs. project budget.
In addition, the communities adjoining the shortlisted locations can be sorted according to criteria such as:
- national priorities and expansion/development plans for underserved communities,
- underserved vulnerable community, and
- community population size vs. project budget
In the second stage of the community selection process, the remaining geographical locations are assessed in more detail in order to prioritize the communities that best fulfil the project objective. This can be done by applying criteria related to economic, social, environmental, technical and institutional issues.
- Economic criteria consider the economic benefits that the target community would gain from the proposed intervention.
- Social criteria consider the “expressed” interest the local community may take in the intervention.
- Environmental criteria consider the current surface/ground water contamination and environmental health hazards.
- Technical criteria consider the type of wastewater produced and the reuse potential for agricultural lands.
- Institutional criteria consider the conflicting interests in the site selection process as well as the type of land tenure.
See our practical experiences, key lessons learned, and recommendations below.
Why you should care
Done right, the community selection process allows you to make informed decisions regarding the communities that are best suited for the successful implementation of your project.
What really matters: Lessons learned & recommendations
Consider fall-back options
In highly complex projects such as reuse-oriented wastewater management systems, contextual political, social, and cultural risks that prevent implementation in the preferred target community can materialize anytime. Therefore, fall-back options are of the utmost importance. In the ISSRAR project, three fall-back options had been identified during the community selection process in case the project could not be implemented as planned in Azraq. In such a situation, transparent communication is key, since the backup community may have doubts about the reasons behind the shift of location. We also recommend creating a “community of practice” plan, according to which a group of highly committed community members can present the project at any time and share knowledge with other communities.
Handling conflicts between government priorities and the interests of project owners and stakeholders
Aligning official government priorities with the vested interests of project owners and key stakeholders can pose a challenge to the process of selecting the most suitable community for a sanitation system. To handle such conflicts of interest, it is helpful to agree in advance on clear selection criteria. These criteria and indicators should cover technical and non-technical elements, including economic, social, environmental and institutional aspects. Social criteria that measure the community’s political willingness should matter most in the decision-making and selection processes. However, it is important to understand that sanitation projects are always politically sensitive. It is therefore necessary to look for compromises that increase the prospects of a successful project.
Let local stakeholders guide you in the process but be aware of their own interests
Performing a detailed context analysis is a resource-intensive process. With limited resources available, it may only be possible to focus on a single community. A gradual community selection process allows you to identify and prioritize communities about which more information is needed. We applied a combination of “desk research” (reviewing previous studies and official government reports and strategies) and in-person meetings with national officials and sector stakeholders (verifying information and aligning the proposed project with government development strategies) to identify underserved communities in Jordan. Understanding the sector governance framework was vital, as a sanitation project is linked to different ministries and stakeholders. Therefore, identifying governmental and local interest groups and measuring their level of engagement was a critical step before beginning the selection process. Ignoring the involvement of an important ministry in the selection process will create a communication and coordination gap in future activities. On the other hand, involving too many local stakeholders can easily lead to conflicts of interest and runs the risk of steering the project toward a less suitable community. Keeping the project owner (e.g. ministry) centrally involved in the selection process helps to sustain their cooperation and engagement.
Do not stick to options that are unlikely to succeed
Even the most promising community may not meet all the requirements/criteria of the community selection process. It is advisable to focus on the option that holds the most promise to meaningfully contribute to the overall goals of the project. Discuss/negotiate adaptations of the project design with the donors and project owners to see the most promising option through. However, if you do discard an option, make sure to have good arguments at hand to defend your decision. In our case, ISSRAR was originally intended to upgrade a centralized system, which really did not exist in Azraq. Yet as an underserved community that attracted sufficient political support for the project, Azraq still proved the most promising locale.
“Expression of interest by the local community” is a tricky selection criteria
The selection criteria “local community shows interest in the project” proved to be tricky, as many communities will initially express interest in a project expecting investment money to flow into the area. Including a well-designed exercise, task, or the like in the project’s inception phase allows you to determine a community’s/municipality’s real willingness to invest effort in the project. Doing so can yield reliable indicators of the local level of interest. If this is met with unwillingness or disinterest, it is a sure sign of a low chance of success.
Setting up a community representative group
Identifying and setting up a community representative group to assume social responsibility for different decisions can make your work with the community easier and keep discussions manageable instead of transforming the project into a public-opinion case. The group can be involved in technical and non-technical discussions that demonstrate the importance of the project to its target area. In addition, the group can be invited to on-site visits to similar projects that already benefit local communities and the environment. Since ISSRAR did not have a community representative group, we had to deal with a wide variety of community members and groups and explain the project in detail many times over, which required lots of time and effort.
View each community from different perspectives
All team members need to contribute to the process of taking technical, political, and socio- aspects adequately into consideration. This requires well-organized and coordinated management of inputs into the community selection process. In addition, it is important to select experts with different backgrounds and expertise in relevant fields in order to view each community from different perspectives.
Transparency and accuracy of information
A transparent process of selecting the target community provided ISSRAR with much-needed project continuity. During the selection process, a list of criteria and indicators was applied to evaluate Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs) and underserved communities in Jordan. These indicators were formulated jointly with national and local stakeholders to maintain governmental ownership and engagement in the project and create synergies with governmental development plans. However, in retrospect we should have identified a clear target group to be informed and updated on the progress regularly. Instead, update meetings took place rather unplanned and with varying stakeholders. Defining a target group would have been an asset and enabled regular follow-ups (with written proofs, such as Minutes of Meetings, or regular project brief/newsletter, etc.).
- Do you have fall-back options in case you cannot implement the sanitation system in your preferred community?
- Are you aware of potential conflicts between government priorities and your/the project owner’s interests? Do you have a plan on how to handle such conflicts of interest?
- Are you following a gradual community selection process to perform a detailed context analysis with limited resources?
- Have you discussed/negotiated adaptations to the project design with donors and project owners to see the most promising option through?
- Have you developed a well-designed exercise/task to determine the local community’s willingness to invest effort in the project?
- Have you set up a community representative group to support you in your work with the local community?
- Have you taken technical, political and socio-economical aspects into consideration in the community selection process?
- Have you been transparent in conducting the selection process and communicating with stakeholders?