Community participation in the Zimbabwe Community Development Association (ZCDA) ISAL project : a development communication perspective.
Community social change projects emphasise the need for participatory communication practises. The intended beneficiaries are expected to participate in the social change projects, but often their voices are not fully heard. This study therefore seeks to ‘write from below’, by investigating the participation of Gutu Ward 13 community members in the Zimbabwe Community Development Association (ZCDA) Internal Savings and Lending (ISAL) microfinance project. This research is cognisant of the key role that the community members play in social change projects. As such, the culture-centred approach (Dutta, 2008, 2011) is employed as the methodological and conceptual framework for this study, as it acknowledges the importance in the interaction of culture, structure and agency. This study also uses the Communication for Participatory Development (CFPD) model (Kincaid and Figueroa, 2009) as a benchmark upon which participation in the ZCDA ISAL project is analysed. Participation is complex, and in this study participation is conceptualised as power (Arnstein, 1969). Thus, the participatory process should be empowering and accord power to those without it, or those previously excluded from social change projects. This research analyses the participation trends, forms of participation, self-exclusion and non-participation in the ISAL project. It adopts a qualitative research approach and data was collected via focus group discussions with Gutu Ward 13 members participating in the ISAL project, key informant interviews with the village development workers, and external social change agents such as ZCDA staff. Participant observation was undertaken at the Gutu Ward centre during a community meeting and also during the interviews. From the findings and literature, convergence highlights how social cohesion influences the participation of certain stakeholders in the microfinance project. Divergence also highlights the reasons for non- participation and self-exclusion of the stakeholders, most of which are at the ‘margins’. This highlights the need to include and encourage participation from previously excluded groups in community projects, and also for the development of a structure which facilitates equal agency in participation, because community interests influences participation. More so, the participation of community members during the project aids in future participation and ownership.
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