Updated: Wednesday 19 October 2005

Participatory management assessment

Methodology for Participatory Assessment

Methodology for Participatory Assessment (MPA) is a ground-breaking methodology which was first validated in a research study in 2001. It was undertaken by the Water & Sanitation Pogramme (WSP) and IRC with 88 communities in 15 countries and examined the following issues and their connections:

  • the level of democratic and demand-responsive planning;
  • the level of equitable division of burdens and benefits between women and men;
  • the level of autonomy, equity, and quality of local service management;
  • the level of institutional support for community participation and management, and gender and social equity;
  • the level of policy support.

A set of indicators was developed to assess sustainability, together with a sequence of participatory tools to assess the indicators, and a scoring system to quantify data from the participatory assessments. Participants from all three levels - community, agency, and policy - took part in the assessment.

More information on the MPA can be found in:

The use of participatory tools

At community level: separate groups of women and men from better- and worse-off parts of the community assessed the quality of the systems, their functionality, the existing management structures, and hygienic and environmental use. The groups also assessed process indicators such as the level of demand responsiveness and the gender and poverty sensitivity of the planning and implementation processes and the operation and maintenance of the systems. Tools used during the assessment were welfare classification, social mapping, transect walks, review of the existing management structures, pocket voting and matrix voting, rope voting, benefit-cost analysis, and card sorting. The assessment took up to five days.

At agency level: both agency staff and community representatives participated in the assessment. Using various participatory tools, they assessed:

  • the enabling organisational system for approaches that are participatory, demand, gender and poverty sensitive; and
  • the enabling organisational culture for the implementation of these approaches.

At policy level: the methodology relies mainly on open interview and review of policy documents. The interviews helped to determine the extent to which programme policies define sustainability and equity as their goals, and to which strategies are already operational and can be further developed in support of these goals.

Quantification of PLA outcomes

To quantify the results, community members used the outcomes from the respective PLA methods to rank their community on scales of 'mini-scenarios'. This makes it possible for community members to transfer the qualitative outcomes of their analysis into statistics. However, it should be noted that scales cannot be developed by the community members themselves. To be valid and comparable across communities, scales are developed based on a set of theories related to development, sustainability, gender, poverty, and equity. Before their use, they should be validated through statistical analysis.

Gender and poverty in process and data

The MPA mainstreams gender and poverty approaches in four ways:

  1. local women and men including those from the poorest sections take part in the process;
  2. collection of disaggregated information for men, women, poor and rich;
  3. the use of tested indicators and scales to reveal gender and poverty divisions; and
  4. the analysis of this information to bring out socio-economic and cultural equalities or exclusion.

Lessons learned so far

In the global study, the MPA was tested with data from 88 communities in 18 countries. In Flores, Indonesia the MPA has been retested in 63 communities. In both studies the MPA was used to examine the linkage between demand, poverty- and gender-sensitive approaches, and sustainability (see van Wijk, 2001; Gross et al., 2001). The main lessons learned can be summarised as follows:

Decision making:

The most important factors contributing to a more sustainable service were the number of local planning decisions and the democratic nature of those decisions. The more men and women community members (rather than just agencies, local leaders, or just men) participated, and in the more planning decisions, the better the performance of the resulting water services. Choices are thus best made by men and women together, including decisions on the location of the facilities, maintenance, financing and local arrangements for management groups.

Quality of management:

The next most important factor was the quality of management. The presence of locally developed rules and functioning management committee contributed to the sustainability and effective use of the services. Other contributing factors were their recognised authority and their transparency in and accountabilty for their decisions towards the users. In communities with better performing water supplies, local committees were responsible for: monitoring the quality of construction and household contributions and accounted for their (financial) management to the users/tariff payers.

Capacity building:

The MPA findings confirmed that capable management organisations which are representative of women and the poor, are essential for community-managed water services. Better results were also significantly related to the management committee having recognised status. The committees were more effective when they had control over contractors and contributing households during construction, and could establish and apply the rules, while still remaining accountable for the services to the women and men users. Training along gender biased lines, however, was still found to be common and was often incomplete with little or no follow-up. Better results were achieved when the training covered more aspects of service management and use. Ideally, training should be given to both women and men on aspects such as health and hygiene, and user rights. It should also be followed-up with refresher courses or courses for newly emerging service functionaries.

Community contributions:

Contrary to what the World Bank, in particular, has claimed, contributions from community households in cash and/or kind to construction, were not significantly associated with more sustainable services. They were associated, however, with the quality of local management. In communities and services with stronger local management, users had contributed more often. This is another reason to pay added attention to developing the capabilities for community management. In the project cycle, the time used for organising local labour and raising cash contributions should also be used to build local management skills and create, from the beginning, a tradition of transparency and accountability.


Results were better in communities which had water committees with a more equitable representation of women and a greater influence of these women. The latter showed that women's representation was not tokenism. Nevertheless, agencies should also change their interpretation of women-in-development or gender policies, so that women's participation on committees will not only link significantly with contributions from men and women community members to construction, but also with equal participation in planning decisions, and service management and control.

Poverty aspects:

Contrary to project policies, most projects did not address poverty aspects during planning and implementation. Emerged key concerns are the absence of poor people on water management committees, failure to design and manage for productive use of domestic water within poor households, failure to stop or charge for this type of (generally illegal) uses by wealthier households, and lack of adjustment of tariffs to differential water uses, benefits and the capacity to pay.

MPA beyond evaluative studies

So far the MPA has been used mainly for one-off evaluations. However, experiences indicate that the methodology can also be used to empower local people to plan new services and make existing services more sustainable and equitable. The use of the MPA as a management tool for monitoring and improving existing services and planning new or expanded services is thus to be preferred over its use as a tool purely for end evaluations.

Experience also shows that the MPA is not the only management tool needed to achieve equitable and sustainable coverage, use and management. Especially in water distribution and pollution prevention, wider, area-based and cross-sectoral management tools are needed. Others, such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems), Bayesian networks and MIS (Management Information Systems) can be used for planning and monitoring at higher levels to check/achieve better coverage and sustainability of water resources and services. Therefore the MPA will be linked with these other tools, and activities will be undertaken to develop a package of complementary management tools for the sector.

Besides this adjustment into a management tool there is scope for the expansion of the use of the MPA in different areas such as sanitation and hygiene.