A Practical Approach to
Local Community Empowerment

Empowerment is not a zero-sum concept. When power is shared in a whole-systems perspective, everyone is empowered and the whole system is synergized. (The slogan ‘Thai help Thai’ could be supplemented with ‘Thai empower Thai’)

For full empowerment, the following units in the society could be treated as self-steering and self-organizing governance entities, all within the framework of the sovereignty of the country and the supremacy of the national level:

Villages/local communities/neighbourhoods



The whole society then forms a nesting system of networks, with each level providing a node to feed the lower level network of units into the larger network.

The challenge is to create synergy among all these levels so that they all work together as a whole system towards the national vision and goals. This synergy is the result, not of structures as such, but of continuous processes on communication and participation, dealing with all aspects of development at every level in a whole-systems holistic process wave (Please see Figure 1).

Communities need to be empowered with regard to the full cycle of managing their own development and dealing with the crisis themselves. Thus they have to do their own situation analysis (a), planning (p), implementation (i), monitoring (m) and evaluation (e). This means they should work out answers to the following questions and make the related decisions:

  1. What is our situation and how has the crisis affected it? Who in the community was affected in what way? (a)
  2. What do we plan to do about it? (p)
  3. How are we going to implement our plans? Who will do what, when and how? Where will the resources come from? (i)
  4. How will we monitor our activities to ensure that they are effective and efficient? (m)
  5. How will we evaluate our programme to find out what results have been produced and how the situation has changed? (e)
The assumption is often made that communities do not have the capacities to manage their own development in this way. And capacities need indeed to be strengthened and build up, but not as a prerequisite for supporting a community. Rather the approach should be learning-by-doing and building capacity through experience, including trial and error. Technical expertise is blended best into local knowledge and know-how. Openness, equity, gender balance, progress, transparency and accountability need to be encouraged and monitored, preferably through the next closest level, such as the tambon or the district; auditing could be done through the higher levels.

Community or Social Lasers

In building community capacity to manage their own development in an effective and sustainable manner, it is essential to equip the community with the necessary social technology. The key element in this is a structured participatory decision-making process that can be learned and perpetuated by the community itself. There are several such methodologies available and some are widely used in Thailand, but on a one-off rather than continuous and sustained basis. It might be useful of thinking of these technologies as lasers.

Lasers are high technology inventions based on quantum physics. The name stands for:

Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

A laser is formed when the radiation emitted by molecules are amplified by mirrors and concentrated into a single beam.

A participatory community process facilitated by impartial facilitators, could be regarded as a community laser, i.e., as an instrument through which the collective wisdom of the community is focused on a problem, issue or goal of the community’s choice. As such, it is a means by which the community develops consensus. It is open, transparent and continuous. It is owned, run, maintained, managed and perpetuated by the community. Any member of the community can participate at any time. No one member or group of members can monopolize or dominate the community laser.

A community laser is created when a community process is facilitated by a team of facilitators who do the equivalent of holding mirrors up to the participants so that their own thoughts, ideas and visions are shared and converge into a single powerful beam of community purpose. It thus brings both direction and unity of purpose to the community. The community laser could also be used to guide the community’s energies in synergistic paths towards its vision, planning the actions it has to take to realize the vision, implementing these and monitoring and assessing community progress (Please see Figure 2).

The community laser is thus a powerful high technology social tool through which a community conducts an open, fair and efficient process, empowering its members to reflect on themselves and each other, to discover their shared vision, common values, wisdom and common sense. These are their most powerful resources that might be amplified, but must never be replaced with technical or ‘scientific’ inputs.

Community or social lasers are inexpensive to provide. What is required is non-formal, short-term training of a cadre of facilitators who can become skilled in the methods of facilitating community participatory processes. Not much training is needed at the outset; facilitation is more a skill that is acquired through learning-by-doing. Capacities for facilitating community processes could and should be created within the communities themselves so that these skills become resident and readily available. The required cadre

of facilitators to serve communities could be created in each province through a crash programme institutionalized at community or technical colleges in the province. The 12,000 graduates that the Ministry of Labour plans to attach to the TAOs could be trained as facilitators and provide an initial corps that could be expanded rapidly through continuous training and experience.

The Need for Flexibility in Community Planning Frameworks

Ideally, community plans should not be required to meet prescribed criteria with regard to sectors, priorities, and so on. What should be required, is that the community’s decision-making processes for planning, setting priorities and targeting be open, democratic, transparent and accountable to the community. They should be empowered to deal with the specifics of the social impacts of the crisis in their community as they experience these, based on their own analysis.

The following questions could be suggested to communities as possibly relevant to identifying the social impacts of the crisis in the community and the people affected by these. They would no doubt have more specific and appropriate questions of their own.

  1. What changes have taken place in the community as a result of the crisis?
  2. Have there been any bankruptcies?
  3. How many people have lost their jobs?
  4. How many people have their incomes or wages reduced?
  5. What has happened to them? Have they found other sources of income?
  6. Do they need any help? How can they best be helped to get back on their feet?
  7. What is a realistic definition of poverty in the community?
  8. How many people in the community have been thrown into poverty?
  9. How has the crisis affected the people who already lived in poverty in the community?
  10. How can the community assist the people living in poverty in overcoming the crisis impacts?
  11. What kind of enterprises or other initiatives would create jobs in the community?
  12. Has the crisis affected women different from men? In what ways?
  13. What needs to be done to help women deal with the crisis?
  14. How many children have dropped out of school as a result of the crisis?
  15. How can the families be helped to put the children back into school?
  16. Have there been any cutbacks in health services? With what effects?
  17. Are families able to maintain adequate nutritional levels for all members?
  18. How many migrants have returned to the community and what kinds of assistance do they require? What demands do they make on the social services in the community?
  19. Has there been an increase in drug trafficking and use?
  20. Has there been an increase in violence in the community? In families?
The three essential elements of effective empowerment

It is important that communities be encouraged or required to deal with at least three elements of empowerment with regard to their own situation so that self-reliance is encouraged and reinforced:

  1. What they can do by and for themselves without any outside help.
  2. What they can do by and for themselves with some help from outside.
  3. What they cannot do by and for themselves that is vital to their wellbeing, or the achievement of their vision.
An effective empowerment network or system will ensure that all three elements are addressed in community plans.

The same three elements could also be seen as involved at each level in the system, but the same action may be in a different category at different levels. What can be done at any one level, is not passed on to the next level.

Each level acts as a filter to maximize the localness of empowerment and self-reliance, and to specify the nature of the assistance that is required from the next level (Please see Figure 3).

When a community addresses all three elements, it becomes empowered with regard to its whole situation:

The first element provides it with a plan of self-reliantactionor programme of development that can be implemented without further delay.

The second element provides it with a resource mobilization strategy to secure the assistance it needs to implement all that it can do by and for itself.

The third element provides it with an advocacy or lobbying strategy to secure the elements essential to its wellbeing over which it does not have direct control.

Thus, communities could be mobilized nation-wide and empowered to address the social impacts of the economic crisis with regard to each of the three elements:
  1. What they can do by and for themselves: To go ahead, make plans, and do it, monitor it and report it so that it is known throughout the community and the country.
  2. What they can do by and for themselves, but for which they need some outside help: Go ahead, plan it, determine what assistance is needed – what type, how much, when, etc. – and submit plans to one-stop support centre, which could assist with resource mobilization and the provision of required inputs.
  3. What they cannot do by and for themselves, but that need to be done to secure the wellbeing of all: Plan it, specify it by type, quantity, etc. and submit to one-stop centre. These matters could be referred to the appropriate authority for immediate attention. The provisions of the Eighth Plan could be checked. If there is provision, implementation could be speeded up. If there is no provision, the NESDB could be requested to consider adjusting the Eighth Plan, if need be, or the relevant ministry or ministries could be asked to address the matter.
They could also be invited to indicate what they could do or contribute to the larger effort in their district, province or the nation as a whole.

A social mobilization campaign

The NSPC could define its role as conducting a social mobilization campaign with the two-fold national objective:

Communities could be empowered with information, education and communication. One-stop community learning centres could be supported, building on the Non-Formal Education Department’s programme. These could provide one-stop access to all information - government and non-governmental, services and entitlements. Access to the Internet could be included with a special Web-site devoted to the Social Impacts of the Crisis. All programmes of education and training –non-formal, distance, formal on television, radio and video – that are available, could be featured in the one-stop centres for community learning.

Community media of communication could be encouraged, including access to government radio and television programming. Mass media could be encouraged to devote prominent space to community efforts, communications and news.

A process of friendly competition among communities, districts and provinces could be set up to reward those that have made the best progress during a particular year, starting in 1999. Progress could be celebrated and success stories widely publicized at all levels from the community to the nation. There could be an annual national award ceremony for the finalists from all provinces or regions and celebration of the progress made by various categories of partners – communities, CSOs, companies, knowledge institutions, government programmes, the mass media.

The overall vision could be promoted of creating a quantum Thai society with quantum Thai communities networked into a web of high level social synergy and life. This could be achieved through whole-systems visioning and planning processes that engage all levels in society. The continuous and constant flow of social energy through the networks is what will create the synergy that moves the society steadily towards its shared, multi-layered vision.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation of the nation’s progress in addressing the social dimensions of the economic crisis must be done in a way that is consistent with the general approach and strategy adopted by the NSPC.

Given the importance attached to self-reliance in the Eighth Plan and in the government’s policies in general, as well as the King’s Projects, the NSPC might wish to monitor self- reliance as the first element of empowerment. In other words, it could monitor how much communities are able to do by and for themselves without any help from outside (Please see Figure 4 and 5 for prototype results that could be produced and monitored on an annual basis).

If the NSPC selected a community empowerment approach, it would want to monitor the empowerment process itself, along with the results achieved by the communities. It would need to define criteria on the basis of which a community would be considered empowered, perhaps along the following lines:

  1. The Community has a legitimate, recognized forum for community decision-making, which may be informal.
  2. The Community has developed its own plan for dealing with the crisis or with its own development.
  3. The Community itself manages the implementation of its plan and monitors and evaluates progress.
  4. The Community’s decision-making processes are transparent, open and participatory with accountability to the members of the community.
  5. The Community demonstrates effective partnership with all major actors from all spheres and levels.

The number of communities that meet these criteria could be monitored on an annual basis (Please see Figure 6 for prototype results, based on scenarios reflecting different levels of effort).


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Dated: 26Jan1999