Community management has remained the dominant paradigm for managing rural water supplies in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a widespread perception that community participation principles are inherently embedded in the community management model. In this paper, we analyze how an international nongovernmental organization engages rural communities in their rural water projects, and the ways in which community members are able to participate in the management and governance of their water supplies. Qualitative data were collected in 18 study communities – six each in Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia – through interviews, focus group discussions, and participatory mapping with community and water committee members. We argue that community management does not inherently lead to broader community participation, but rather that fostering community participation requires intentionality. We recommend implementers use collaborative planning processes and explicitly engage with intra-community diversity and inequalities in order to facilitate the opportunity for all community members to meaningfully participate in decision-making. Collaborative planning with diverse groups will also allow community members to realize their rights to transparency and accountability once community management structures are in place.
We studied communities in Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia to understand the importance of participation in the community management of rural water supplies.
We challenge the perception that community participation is inherent in community management.
Fostering community participation requires intentionality.
We recommend implementers use collaborative planning to engage intra-community diversity and inequalities.