EWB Resources

Community Participation


EWB Australia believe strongly in involving people in the decision making process where they would be affected as a result. All of our field professionals in the International Program receive training in participatory approaches before their placements to ensure they have the tools to actively engage all members of the community.


What can community participation look like?

The World Bank’s Popular Participation Learning Group defines participation as, “a process whereby those legitimate interests in a project influence decisions which affect them.” (5) There are varying degrees of participation defined by the World Bank, including:

  • Information-sharing. People are told about a project so they can decide their level of involvement.
  • Consultation. People are consulted on key issues and provide feedback to vital issues.
  • Decision-making. People are involved in the design and implementation of a project, and thus influence its development at every stage.
  • Initiating action. People organise themselves to take action in response to a shared challenge or area of interest rather than referring to the initiative of outside organisations.


Best practice participatory development approaches also attempt to identify barriers to participation and seek to overcome them. An example may be a meeting held in a rural village in the evening where women may not be able to attend because they are preparing the evening meal or looking after children. A more inclusive approach may be to schedule a meeting time convenient for all members of the community to attend. 


How does community participation apply to my EWB Challenge design?

Considering the importance of participation is important as you go about your EWB Challenge project, as members of the community will hold different important pieces of information. A strong participatory approach will also allow you to draw out key strengths and resources that are present within the community.


How do I find out more?

For more on participatory approaches, when they work, and when they do not, you can refer to the World Bank website. (6)

There are numerous news outlets sharing stories on this topic, including:

For more on the co-designing with communities process, check out this article on Engineering for Change by Melissa McCreey and Andrew Drain


The experience of staying in a community allowed me to witness first hand, the amazing skills, knowledge and resourcefulness that the local village possessed. An example of this was when we were designing an ergonomic sugar cane planting tool. We were trying to connect iron blades onto a P.V.C tube, which was quite a difficult task. One of the community leaders recognised straight away that we were approaching the problem from the wrong angle and recommended we connect the iron blades to a steel section instead. This made the tool stronger and more durable. Instead of waiting for our team to come up with a solution we engaged the community in the design process to tailor our initial suggestions to suit their own needs. A big success, for me, was the realisation that we were working with the community, not for them.” – Joshua Nohan, Humanitarian Design Summit Participant, India December 2015