Should locals be involved in social and economic monitoring?

I am in Belize for 7 weeks where my masters project objective is to help a local NGO design a practical and locally-relevant system for monitoring the social and economic impacts of their work. This NGO does both conservation work to protect a corridor it owns, and community work to improve the livelihoods of the local people and train them to farm in more environmentally sensitive ways.
The first challenge that I’ve come up against is an unexpected one: the communities are apparently skeptical of this NGO (and indeed all other NGOs in the region) and may be unwilling to take part in defining what social and economic factors we should be measuring.

From our point of view, understanding what works and what doesn’t should enable the NGO to improve the assistance it gives to the farmers, thus improving the situation for the farmers. Although I haven’t had the conversation with them yet, my colleagues here think that communities will see this as a waste of their time – they only want to be involved if they see tangible benefits to them.

The interesting thing is that all the documents I’ve read about participatory socio-economic monitoring make it sound like the communities really wanted to get involved, were interested in spending time doing it and put up no resistance.

Is that the case in most places?

How do we convince the communities that they should help us decide what to monitor? (Or should they?)

How can we get them involved? Do we need to pay for their time?

2 Replies to “Should locals be involved in social and economic monitoring?”

  1. Empathy. What does it feel like to be the other person? Don’t feel “for them.” Feel “with them.”Of course they are interested in tangible benefits for themselves. They are trying to earn a living, raise their families and maybe have a little more comfortable life. So how can your activities help them achieve their goals?

    When they start their day, what problems are they trying to solve? If your programs can help them solve their problems you will be much more effective.

    No, you don’t need to pay them. It will be more productive to help them get where they are trying to go.

    Good luck! Don’t be discouraged. Just walk a mile in their mocassins and it will become obvious what to do.

  2. I totally agree with cup experience. Empathy is the key. They care about their daily life and their daily problems and how can these be solved. They need to trust you. In my experience, if people in rural areas trust you then they will open their ears to listen what you have to say. If they don’t, they will never listen, even if you are proposing great ideas. People in these places are generally wary and distrustful and they won’t listen to you if you come with the NGO flag. They will see it as “more of the same”. Humans are part of nature and we need to count with them to solve conservation problems. I think the starting point should be “what do you need?” not “I know what do you need”. You may not be able to solve any of their problems but if they like you they will be more open to do things.I guess its difficult but fascinating. Language, I asumme, may also be an obstacle.

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