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Balance trade-offs between a community approach versus external project implementation


Balance trade-offs between a community approach versus external project implementation

Balance trade-offs between a community approach versus external project implementation

Posted on January 17, 2020 by Lillian Holmes

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Universal: No
Applicable Phases: Act
Last Updated May 20, 2024


When implementing a project, consider whether to hire external contractors or engage the local community to do the work. If the project must occur quickly due to changing conditions, a professional external contractor may be best able to implement the project. However, hiring community members encourages ownership of the project and its goals, and helps the project to outlive initial funding.


In some communities, incentive-based management for environmental projects – such as restoration of a spring or riparian area – can encourage locals to support a project.  An example of this incentive-based approach is programs that offer conditional financial grants for community members who manage restored areas. This approach builds the water management capacity of the local community, invests community members in the project outcome, and may allow the project to become self-sustaining if local groups adopt the project work and seek funding independently. If the local community is not invested in the project, the project outcomes may not be maintained – for example, a formerly polluted water source may quickly become polluted again, and restored natural areas may be once again degraded by poor management practices.

However, creating systems for community project implementation takes more time than hiring a single actor to do the work, and sometimes incurs more costs. Consider hiring a contractor to manage the work with community members hired to implement the groundwork. Although this approach may result in less community involvement initially, an experienced contractor may be able to train community members to maintain the restoration work longer term.


  • Consider both time sensitivity and cost restrictions when deciding how to implement the project.
  • The type of project will dictate whether the local community has the capacity to be trained in project implementation.
  • Consider the longterm sustainability of the project: some projects can only be maintained through ongoing community cooperation, capacity-building, and support.


In the Kiiha watershed in Uganda, community members near the Kinyara Sugar Limited company encroached on wetlands for crop cultivation. An early attempt to prevent this encroachment by Kinyara resulted in backlash from the community. The GIZ IWaSP together with Kinyara Sugar company and Ministry of Water and Environment   formed a partnership to address the issue.

Initially, a contractor unknown to the community was hired to assess the level of wetland degradation, sensitize the local community about wetland management, and restore the degraded wetland areas. The contractor hired casual workers from outside of the community to demarcate and plant trees in the degraded area. The community reacted negatively to this approach by vandalizing plants in the restored areas and continued with cultivation.  

Next, the partnership worked with ECOTRUST, a locally recognized and trusted NGO, to create an incentive-based restoration and management program. This approach engaged community members in restoration, convened regular meetings, and offered loans to reward participation by financing environmentally-friendly livelihoods. Although this approach took longer, it yielded more acres of restored wetlands. Furthermore, this approach leveraged the community members’ local understanding of their environment and encouraged them to take a leading role in restoring the wetlands; as one leader noted, “these are local people living every day in the area; they know more who is doing what and where.”

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.