Community-led Research is What Today’s Development Needs:
Global Community Action Guides to Support Community Organizers

By Ishita Petkar, John Mwebe and Tom Weerachat

The International Accountability Project (IAP) is excited to share three new materials on Community-led Research, part of our new series of Global Community Action Guides.

These materials provide:

  • concrete step-by-step guidance on how communities can lead their own research to determine their own development priorities, and respond to unwanted development projects;
  • practical tips, tools, and activities on conducting community-led research; and
  • inspiring stories from experienced community organizers around the world who have used community-led research to redefine development processes.

Community members, organizers, and civil society representatives can use these materials to mobilize communities, document harms and rights violations, and advance community-led campaigns.

“When community members do their own research, they may uncover findings that outsiders would not. Communities possess knowledge about their surroundings and environment that decision-makers and planners may not know. Often, the research process itself helps communities better understand the problems they face, build confidence in their knowledge and ideas, strengthen solidarity and accountability amongst community members, and learn necessary skills for community organizing.”

There are three booklets in this Community Action Guide:

1) The Community Action Guide on Community-led Research provides clear and detailed guidance on each step of the research process, and suggests activities and tools to build capacity and advance community-led methods. This booklet also includes information on safety and security, and the stories of three community organizers who used community-led research to support community advocacy.

2) We’re Experts Too! A Checklist to Support Community-led Research presents a concise overview of community-led research. Breaking down the process into clear steps from preparation to implementation to advocacy, the Checklist can be used on its own, or as a supplement to the Community Action Guide on Community-Led Research. This booklet also includes links to resources and tools to further illustrate each step.

3) The Survey Template for Community-led Research contains instructions and sample survey questions that have been developed and used by communities and civil society partners in 14 countries around the world. These questions were designed to help communities explore their direct experiences and expertise about the process and impact of destructive development projects, and to identify their ideas and priorities for their visions of development. This template can be adapted and translated to fit different contexts, with an editable version available for download here.

“The community-led research we carried out in Marange strengthened the struggle of our community in a remarkable way and was a powerful mobilizing tool in enabling communities to organize and rally behind a common agenda…. Because the community owned the process and this research, they are making sure their voice is heard.” — Melania Chiponda, WoMin

We have seen firsthand the transformative power of community-led research when used by communities, civil society, and movements around the world to strengthen their advocacy and campaigns to resist harmful “development” projects. As part of the Early Warning System, IAP and partners exchange information with communities who may be affected by proposed development projects, including materials on possible strategies for responses. Many communities choose to conduct community-led research as the first step in responding to a proposed project.

Read more about the experiences of communities around the world who are using community-led research to respond to unwanted development:

In Malawi, the results of the community-led research strongly influenced the potential financiers of the Lilongwe Water Project to pull out of the project, and further empowered community-led interventions with the Government of Malawi to address issues of consultation and resettlement.

Community members impacted by Akiira Geothermal Power Plant participate in a community meeting

In Kenya, indigenous Maasai communities and other groups affected by the Akiira 1 Geothermal Power Plant Project used community-led research to collect data about their experiences with the project, based on their local knowledge and expertise. Their recommendations are being used in advocacy with the European Investment Bank, the Government of Kenya and the company involved to ensure that the project respects their rights and fulfills their priorities.

In Nepal, indigenous communities affected by the Tanahu Hydropower Dam, financed by the Asian Development Bank, conducted community-led research to uncover problems with consultation, access to information, and impacts on livelihoods and traditional practices. Their findings are being used to support their campaign and engagement with project developers and financiers.

Communities in impacted by the Northern Province Sustainable Fisheries Development Project participate in a workshop

In Sri Lanka, fisherfolk communities used IAP’s tools to demand access to information, meaningful consultation and participation in an infrastructure project proposed by the Asian Development Bank, and mobilized to ensure community needs and priorities define development.

In India, communities impacted by the Tamil Nadu Sustainable Urban Development Program carried out their own community-led research and monitoring of project impacts, leading to improved compensation and resettlement outcomes for the most vulnerable residents.

Mr. Sikander Brohi, Executive Director of Participatory Development Initiatives shares the findings from the community-led research process. Image Credit: Daily Balochistan Express

In Pakistan, communities impacted by the World Bank funded Balochistan Integrated Water Resources Management & Development Project participated in a community-led research process to successfully secure changes in project design and the resettlement plan.

In Panama, inhabitants from Colón used community-led research to determine the community’s opinions and engagement with a liquefied natural gas project financed by the International Finance Corporation. The results helped the community decide on the most strategic response to this project, and revealed a lack of consultation and access to information, and safety and security concerns.

In Chile, traditional fisherfolk communities used IAP’s materials on community-led research to identify their development priorities, in anticipation of a desalination plant proposed by the Inter-American Development Bank Group. The results of the survey will be used to create a community-led development plan as an alternative, based on the development priorities identified.

IAP believes that by supporting communities to collect data based on their local expertise, knowledge, and experience, we can collectively challenge power imbalances and ensure that development is more inclusive, sustainable, and reflects the priorities of the people.

It takes a village to create and advocate for community-led development. IAP is thankful for the civil society partners and communities we have been honored to work with, and for sharing their advice, feedback and tools with us. We hope this guide will contribute to an ongoing struggle to create a world where development is designed and lived by the same people.

IAP is translating these materials. If you would like to help, please contact us

For more information on community-led research, see our report from the Asia-Pacific Roundtable on Community-Led Research, hosted by IAP in Chiang Mai, Thailand.



International Accountability Project (IAP)

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.