Imagine you are a development practitioner in a country just coming out of conflict and you have just been put in charge of designing a community driven development (CDD) operation there.
After decades of war, you are faced with a country that has crumbling infrastructure, extremely high unemployment rates, weak local governance systems, perhaps even a vast population internally displaced or worse still, exposed to violence. Where do you begin fixing the problem? What would you prioritize? Do you begin by rebuilding and providing public goods, and hope that it would eventually re-establish the broken trust between the state and its people? Or do you directly tackle trust building first? Or perhaps you could do them simultaneously, but how would you go about doing that?
Alongside decisions of what your primary objective(s) should be, you also have to think about where to go – will you design the project for the whole country or pilot it in one or two regions? If you choose to target just one particular region, will it be the heavily conflict-affected areas or will you go with areas where the project can operate safely and perhaps get more results? Within these regions, how would you select project beneficiaries in such highly tense and typically divided contexts? And most importantly, who should coordinate and have final authority over this entire setup – should it be out-sourced, or remain in-house within the sectoral structure of the government?
Fast-forward five years..
You have set up your implementation unit, a well-functioning management information system (MIS) is in place, your facilitators are trained and on the ground, when all of a sudden conflict breaks out again. What do you do in such a situation? It might be unsafe to let the facilitators stay, but can you afford to pay a huge amount of overhead to idle facilitators? Or can you perhaps temporarily ‘switch off’ the project? Could you have taken pre-emptive measures while designing your project?
Fast-forward another five years.
Your project has shown results, but the funding will soon run out. The project made decent contributions to re-building local economies, state legitimacy and local institutions. But it’s time to pack up. How do you ensure that the contributions made will sustain beyond the duration of the project? How do you ensure that the community organizations continue to come together once the steady stream of benefits is discontinued? How do you institutionalize them within country systems and country budgets beyond the life of the projects supporting them?
In fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCS), these decisions and many more need to be made by task teams constantly, and in spectacularly short time frames. There is no dearth of numbers and figures reminding us the urgency with which the Bank needs to deliver in such contexts, the most recent one being this – according to the latest IEG report  on World Bank Group Assistance to fragile and conflict-affected states, the latter are projected to achieve the fewest MDGs compared to non-FCS or even partial FCS countries. The risk of failing or failing to act in time is far too high, the biggest consequence including the possibility of reigniting conflict.
Given the dynamic and unique nature of these contexts, our best bet perhaps is indeed to empower communities to drive the reconstruction process in strong collaboration with a capacitated local state, in this way ensuring that actual needs are met. And this is precisely what the World Bank has been doing over the past decade and a half through the CDD approach. Over the past decade, Bank assistance in fragile and conflict-affected situations is increasingly taking the form of CDD projects – based on the Bank’s CDD database one fourth of projects and about a sixth of the investment in the FCS portfolio consists of projects incorporating a CDD approach.
This is why developing a ‘science of delivery’ of CDD in FCS is critical.
However, analysis of what has been done in the past, and guidance on how to better design CDD projects in the future, has not kept pace with the rapid deployment of CDD in such contexts. When we talk about design in CDD projects in FCS, this is no small feat – from objectives to targeting, project preparation to facilitation, national and sub-national institutional arrangements to M&E, every project team has to answer multiple overlapping questions at every step of the way as demonstrated above.
It is these questions and many more, which the new report “Designing CDD Operations in FCS: Lessons from a Stocktaking”  , makes a first attempt to tackle. By reviewing the designs of a sample of 17 CDD projects implemented in FCS countries across all six regions over the past decade and a half, and through literature reviews and conversations with TTLs of these projects, we bring together evidence and insight into the parameters and judgments that lay behind decisions made in CDD projects.
What drove our research, were four simple questions – first, when it comes to different design areas (like objectives, targeting, etc.), what were some of the available choices? Secondly, how did the particular context and nature of fragility and conflict influence these choices? Thirdly, what were some key adaptation features? And finally what worked and what didn’t?
By providing detailed answers to these questions, this report aims to kick-off a discourse within the World Bank Group and its partners on how we can better design CDD projects in fragile and conflict-affected situations.
But this is at best a modest first step – we hope that more practitioners and agencies will come together to build on this and further strengthen our knowledge and evidence on what works and doesn’t for community-driven programs in these challenging contexts. It is then that we’ll truly move towards developing a ‘science of delivery’ for CDD in FCS!
Photograph courtesy of Imal Hashemi via the World Bank Photo Collection, available here