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Bukit-Batu is a governance strengthening project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Its overall objective is to have a well-functioning society where local people are actively engaged in processes that shape the development in their immediate environment.

One important aspect of the project is to encourage individuals and communities to interact with the government and for the government to become much more responsive to the wellbeing needs of local people and their communities. Over time, the project has brought about a significant improvement in the quality of governance in development, through participatory and collaborative processes.

Traditionally, development agencies tended to apply a top-down approach when working with local villages. This was often met with difficulties. For instance, villagers had no access to, and therefore little understanding of, the basis for the development programme as it was imposed upon them. As outsiders, development agents might have been ignorant to local values and cultural practices, and found their plans seldom supported by all community members. Furthermore, there lacked a shared understanding of what wellbeing means for the village, hence individuals sought to resolve their immediate problems, rather than taking the view of a bigger vision.

In this context, a Central Kalimantan NGO, YTS, worked with local villages to develop the Bukit-Batu approach. Inspired by Robert Chambers’ (1994) Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) model, the team enhanced the PRA, especially in their understanding that the relational dimension ought to be central in pursuing village’s wellbeing, involving all members. This has been translated into a dialogic and collaborative approach to community building and to developing the village’s annual plans. All community members are encouraged and motivated to take part in the village-wide analyses and planning processes. In turn, these collaborative processes also help cultivate villagers’ capacities to organise and manage community-level planning and facilitate democratic processes for the equitable benefit of all.

More specifically, Bukit-Batu aims to:

  • Enable villagers to reflect on and identify together their well-being needs and priorities;
  • Establish an effective planning and follow up evaluative process between communities and government;
  • Liaise with and encourage government programmes and services to be tailored to and effectively address specific well-being needs in all communities within the government’s area of responsibility; and
  • Improve significantly social conditions and economic livelihoods and overall well-being within the concerned communities

The programme was implemented in four steps:

1. Developing a common well-being vision for the village

The first step in this process was an important event when all villagers gathered to develop a common vision of wellbeing for the entire village, including envisioning where the village will be in three, five, and ten years’ time in terms of the overall condition of the village, and people’s life within it. This starting point enabled the villagers to reflect and focus on the valuable aspects of their life. In developing a wellbeing vision for the village, the community members also become aware that individual wellbeing and collective wellbeing are mutually developed.

The wellbeing vision was documented by the village committee with the support of the local NGO, and this vision is revisited annually, not only to remind the villagers of how they have seen their well-being possibilities, but also to review and revise their vision. This ensures that their collective vision is represented, and truly ‘speaks’ for everyone.

2. Identifying village well-being priorities

This process served to analyse the village’s existing socio-economic context, and diagnose its wellbeing needs based on the collective vision. Through dialogue and listening, the villagers worked together to review existing needs and challenges, and identify priorities for collective wellbeing. The priorities can include, for instance, agricultural objectives, marketing strategies, the need for technical updates, educational innovation, or specific financial support for a struggling family.

3. Generating an annual implementation plan for economic livelihood

This step involved putting the wellbeing priorities into an action plan. This plan is central to all other activities, and the community can reference it not only to provide a focus for their own concerted effort, but also to feed into the annual government planning process, which earmarks support to communities for the following year. The plan is also used to attract support from NGOs and private companies operating in the area.

4. Evaluating the plan

This final annual process consisted of mapping the community actions and results against the wellbeing priorities, and discussing together how well these priorities had been served, and where the gaps lie. Some of the typical Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methods were applied in this step, including focus-group discussion, mapping, and modelling, and activity profiles. Still, the core of this step was dialogic and a collaborative review on how effectively the village has been embedded and involved in the district government’s processes and activities, as well as those of NGOs and enterprises that are supposed to provide support to the villages.

An important element of this governance-strengthening mechanism is to foster and strengthen village institutions that will continue the planning and implementation process. Therefore, YTS (the NGO) provided capacity-building support to two groups:

(1) a democratically-elected village leadership group that continue to direct the development process and liaise with all external actors; and

(2) economic livelihood group who would bring the plan to fruition.

The YTS’s work is more in the form of a programme of technical support for improving well-being and economic livelihood activities. In addition to the YTS’s support, the village is directly linked to government departments in the district that have relevant support programmes and services. The stronger the village institutions, the better the village can benefit from such support and services from district government.

The overall result of these steps and associated activities is to make communities much more aware of their entitlement to and needs for government support, and to strengthen the villages’ internal decision-making processes in order to access government supports and services more effectively. In the process, district government becomes much more aware of the lived realities, actual conditions and wellbeing needs of the communities, thereby enabling the government to design and provide much more effective services.

The Bukit-Batu approach seems to avoid some of the weaknesses of the traditional PRA model, such as the ‘tedious’ process for the plans to be implemented, and the reliance on development agents to facilitate community processes. However, Bukit-Batu still has to overcome similar challenges, including balancing the voice and power amongst the villagers (resulted from gender, social status, and historical dynamic), balancing the individual and collective well-being needs, and balancing a proactive attitude towards enriching economic livelihood thereby well-being of the community, and problem-based analysis towards resolving personal issues.

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