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By:   Marsha Berman, Papua New Guinea © 2000

Development is a process of growth and of change. It is a creative process. A successful community development project is a creative process. As such each development project is unique and has its own particular challenges and obstacles to overcome.

woman carrying pot on head Nevertheless, in Papua New Guinea today some obstacles are common to all types of community development projects, whether technical or social. Today we often find that some major obstacles to development do not come from outside, but from within the community itself.

Regardless of the nature of the project - whether social, technical or economic - these obstacles are the same because they are not rooted in the project (whatever the project may be) but are rooted within the community itself.

As we are now approaching 25 years of independence as a nation, it is time to assess our successes and failures in our own development not only on the national level, but on the community and individual level as well.

In fact, already in 1994, evaluation of the state of rural development led the national government to the conclusion that it had failed "to deliver goods and services to the people". This was the reason for the constitutional reforms known as The Provincial and Local Level Government Reforms, which were passed by national government in 1996 and (check date) officially implemented as of October 1997.

The key principles of the reforms are self-reliance and bottom-up planning as opposed to reliance on government (handouts) and other top-down political, administrative and implementational structures to determine our future and achieve our aims in life. In fact, the right of rural communities to self-determination was fixed with the introduction of the ' 5-year Ward Development Plan' strategy. It has become one of the important duties of each elected Ward Councilor to formulate long-term aims and goals for the development of the Ward area, thereby in fact empowering each Ward to formulate its Councilor's duty statement as development facilitator, and every community to write its own history.

The key concepts identified of the Reforms accurately address real problem areas and real needs for change, in order to increase opportunities for rural communities to improve their quality of life. However, how can we increase the communities' capacity to actually successfully make use of the opportunities provided? To achieve this, it is not sufficient to reform the administrative, political and legislative systems that serve us. We must also reform our own attitudes of mind which prevent us from achieving our own aims.


Cargo cult mentality is an inherited attitude. This means that we are often not aware that we are a carrier of this obstacle to our own development. When we speak about 'cargo cult' mentality in relation to human or social development we are talking about attitudes of mind that lead us to assume that we are not in control of our own destiny; that our lives are not shaped by ourselves but by others or other forces outside of ourselves. These attitudes cause us to feel helpless to improve our own life, and to rely on persons and forces outside of ourselves to give us what we want from life. Over time these attitudes develop into a mentality of denying responsibility for our own lives.

People with a cargo cult mentality usually believe that, by performing particular rituals, the aims that they wish to achieve will simply come true without further effort on the part of the 'wisher'. It is not required from the 'wisher' to investigate and understand the nature of the aims that he has set for himself. He is not responsible for achieving his aims himself; the external force - whatever it may be - will do this for him. His only task is to work out the correct ritual. Unfortunately, developing and improving life doesn't work that way. All development in life mean growth in some way or another. And to grow means to change. If we want to improve our life it means we want to change ourselves - for the better. To change ourselves always means that we agree to accept the challenge of the unknown, and the struggle towards the light that we see shining in the distance. In order to embark on a path of change, we must have the heart to deeply desire something, and the courage to fight for it. These qualities are a must for you as the development facilitator, and for your community and the development implementor.

Cargo cult mentality and development mentality represent two totally different approaches toward life. In cargo cult mentality, we refuse to accept responsibility for achieving our own aims in life and improving ourselves. Cargo cult mentality is negative and destructive because it undermines motivation, active participation and commitment to working towards a long-term development or life improvement aim in order to achieve it.

In the development mentality we believe that each human being has the potential, or power, within himself and herself to set aims and achieve goals in life. A person with development mentality acknowledges full responsibility for his or her own future. We own our own future, its successes and its failures. We wish to learn from our successes and failures in life in order to understand ourselves better. We fully authorise ourselves to take decisions and real action toward improving ourselves and our quality of life. We take responsibility for our own attitude of mind. By doing so we motivate, empower and commit ourselves to a constructive approach toward ourselves instead of a destructive one. In doing so, we are nurturing a positive attitude towards our self, our community, and our life that, over time, will enable us to develop our competencies in many areas of life, and a mentality of real independence and self-reliance.

God, a religious mission, the government, foreign aid donors and NGOs, logging and mining companies, politicians - is there a cargo cult in your community ? Don't allow your development project to become the next cargo cult.


  1. Build your project on facts and figures, not on wishful thinking and promises. Develop your project concept from a real, firsthand understanding of your community's life style and resources, not on secondhand information and rumours.
  2. Aim for transparency in all decision-making procedures. Who is responsible for what and who is authorised to do what should be public knowledge.
  3. Create a project history file of your project for yourself and your community, starting with the minutes of the very first meeting you hold to gauge community views on your ideas. Document all events, encounters and discussions that contribute towards shaping the outcome your project. This will enable you to review and clarify to others at any time all the decision-making processes that you and your community have gone through throughout the life-span of the project.
  4. Set up a clear structure for sharing responsibility (authority and duties) between the 3 most important social groupings of the village community: adult males, adult females, and youth. When electing individuals to represent these three groupings, make sure that each of the geographical or demographical groupings that are to be involved in the project are also represented.

    Do not structure community involvement along political lines (clan groups, business groups or other competitive factions) as this tends invariably to politicise the character of a community development project meant to be social and non-competitive, and to benefit the community as a whole.

    By sharing responsibility for the project along these lines from the start, you enable each group to 'own' some aspect of the development process, and a sense of community 'ownership' of the project to grow over time as the project progresses . 'Ownership' may mean literal ownership of new assets, if the project aim is a new material or technical resource for the community. But more importantly, and regardless of the type of project, "ownership' in the context of human development means :to own responsibility for the success or failure of the project. It is our fault if we fail to meet our aim; it is our success if we achieve our aim.

  5. Establish a Project Committee with carefully selected representatives for the adult males, the adult females, and the youths of the community. If possible include separate representatives for male youths and for female youths, as each has its own part to play in community life).

    Draft well-structured Duty Statements for the Project Committee for the duration of the project , with a structured time schedule for reviewing the progress of the project, for example once a week on Council (Government) Day. Most community development projects consist of two distinct phases of activity. The implementation phase is the first phase, when the new resource is introduced into the community and set up. It may involve technical construction activities, an education or awareness programme for the whole community, or other 'starting up' activities. A Duty Statement must be developed to adequately cover all aspects of community ownership (responsibility) throughout this phase of community project activities.

    Upon completion of the implementation phase, once the new resource is fully installed in the community, the management phase begins. What has been achieved must now be maintained and sustained materially, socially and spiritually. This phase will continue and be ongoing for the duration of the life-span of the new resource. If the community is serious about reaping the benefits of its successful first phase of the project, a new and appropriate Duty Statement is now required to adequately cover all aspects of the ongoing community ownership of the new resource.
  6. The Lord helps those who help themselves !

OBSTACLE #2 :  PASIN GREEDY, PASIN LES na Kisim Nating Samting

There are very few people in the world who would say 'no' to a free gift. It is tempting to apply for a project simply because it is available, not because it is what you really need.

For example:  We realise that we have a health problem in our community, and that our problem appears to be related to our use of water. A water supply project is available through the Health Department, so we apply for a water supply project because it is on offer. However, in fact our real problem is caused by poor sanitation habits, and a water tank will not solve our problem. What we really need is a pit latrine system. Or our problem is in fact that the relationship between water and good health is not properly understood in our community. So even the latrine system will not solve our health problem. What we need is a health education awareness programme to show us how to change our behaviour. Only then will we be able to improve our poor health. Nevertheless, we apply for the water supply project on offer and receive a water tank but it is a disappointment: while at times it is a convenience for some families to have extra water at hand, and the children enjoy playing with the taps, we are still feeling sick and unhealthy most of the time.

We ignore maintenance of the tank because it has not solved our problem. In fact the tank has now become a problem itself. Certain individuals, who want to maintain the tank for their private use, begin to dismantle parts of it.

Our community now has a bad record with the Health Inspector, and with the donor who provided the community funding assistance for the project, for not looking after the new resource provided to us. When our community goes back to the Health Department to apply for another health project, we are rejected in favour of another community with a good track record in managing its resources.

When we pursue inappropriate ends, the result is a negative experience instead of a positive one. Instead of the satisfaction and self-confidence that comes from successfully achieving our aims, our undertaking becomes a frustration and a disappointment. Moreover, our dream of improvement becomes a new source of conflict between community members. Instead of improving our quality of life, we have worsened it.

We have destroyed the dream of a better future, the confidence in our ability to achieve it, and the trust we had in others to guide us. It will be difficult for these people to motivate themselves for a second try. This is spiritual damage which is difficult to repair.

In development, the attitudes of greed, of getting something for nothing, and choosing what appears to be the easy way out of a problem may cause us to pursue the wrong ends to achieve our aims. Instead of solving our old problems, we create new ones.


  1. An ill-conceived project will not integrate into the existing living patterns of the community or behavioural patterns of individuals. It will not meet the aim of life improvement that has been set. Instead it will become a source of frustration and strife to the community and a negative experience for all involved. Ensure that you have identified needs correctly. Conduct a survey of basic living situation in your community to acquire accurate and up-to-date facts and figures before you begin to develop your ideas. Be certain that you have correctly identified your needs and aims before actioning your ideas.
  2. Nowadays many opportunities for various kinds of assistance are on offer from government bodies, non-government organisations and foreign aid organisations. We must however realise that these project ideas are usually conceived by professionals, administrators and other people with a genuine concern and the best intentions for our welfare, but who not familiar with the particulars of our community', dreams, potential and limitations. The reason why many so-called development projects fail to actually provide the basic improvements to rural community life that they promise, is because they are ill-conceived or unsuitable to the real needs of the community and the everyday way of life of the people.
    No one knows better than yourself what you real problems are. Identify your real needs correctly and accurately before exploring ways and means to implement projects. Pursue what you really need; not a free gift. Do not accept an offer that will not solve your problem.
  3. Introducing a new resource into everyday life is like adding a new ingredient to a soup: it must mix well with what is already there. Sometimes other secondary or supportive projects are necessary in order to integrate a new resource effectively into everyday life. A Maintenance or How-to-Use educational awareness programme may be necessary to support the introduction of a new technical resource into the community. This is especially true if the new resource requires people to change their behaviour or attitudes in some basic way, for example in regard to personal hygiene, the crops they grow or the food they eat.
    Experience in Papua New Guinea shows that it takes at least 5 years (5 to 9 years) for a new resource or development project to truly take root in a community. This is because real development does not mean a change of theory, opinions or views only. Development means to facilitate changes in attitude and behaviour. These changes take place only gradually and over time.There are no quick fixes, so do not become discouraged if progress appears to be slow. Speed is not important in development: it is continuity over time that counts.

OBSTACLE #3 :  PASIN JEALOUS na Bagarapim Wok

Pasin jealous is a widespread pastime in many communities in our country. Pasin jealous means that we occupy ourselves not with constructive and productive thinking about how we could improve ourselves, but with destructive plans as to how we can destroy the success and reputation of others (individual or groups) who have managed to improve themselves through their own efforts.

Pasin jealous prevents every long-term and permanent improvement to our community or private life. It usually ends up leaving us spiritually and materially even poorer than we were in the first place because the material resources and positive attitude that we invested in achieving our aim have been destroyed. Before engaging in pasin jealous behaviour, remember : For positive change to take place , there must always be one person, (or group) to provide the example for others to follow. Every human being learns from example. This is the principle of all learning and teaching.

If you won't allow another person or group to advance, then you will never learn anything new in your life. You will never improve your life and you will never get ahead in any way. So if pasin jealous is a popular activity in your community, you had better forget altogether about development .


PASIN JEALOUS na Bagarapim Wok occurs when an individual or a group feels excluded from some benefit or advantage that they believe others are enjoying. It may concern a material benefit (access to money or resources) or a social benefit (increased status and power). Those who perceive themselves to be disadvantaged either feel that they are not sharing in the benefits and glory of a successful undertaking, or fear that the success of others will in some way bring disadvantage to themselves.

Prevention is the best cure for pasin jealous. Prevent arousing feelings of jealousy the from the start of a new community undertaking by inviting everybody to participate and by encouraging everybody to become actively involved.

Nowadays we frequently hear the terms 'participation' and 'involvement' being used by the government, donor organisations and NGOs alike when discussing rural development and the implementation of projects in at the local level. In fact, 'community participation' and 'community involvement' have become the catch phrases of the 1990s. In fact these terms are confusing and misleading: How can a community not be involved and participate in its own future ?

What these catch phrases really mean to say is: Does this community get beyond the stage of wishful thinking and mauswara nating? How does this community translate its desire to change, into actions? How actively does this community pursue its own development ? How does this community demonstrate its commitment to improving itself ? How does this community manage to put its ideals into practice ? So we are in fact talking about a community managing its own affairs.

In order to manage affairs as a community, everyone in the community must feel that he/she is involved and partaking in the experience, whatever it may be. Participation means participating in the benefits and responsibilities, decision-making processes and duties, privileges and obligations of an undertaking. When all the individuals of a community accept full responsibility for the outcome of an undertaking, and all individuals involve themselves actively in all aspects of a project, we say that the community is 'owning' the project. This means that the community accepts that it is responsible for the (possible) future success of the project, but also for its (possible) failure.

Of course it is impossible for each individual to participate as an individual. Individual participation needs to be structured by means of appointed representatives of the major social groupings in the community. In Melanesian societies, community members' interests are best represented by a structure comprised of adult male ( ), adult female ( ) and youth ( Y ) representatives. This is because the major divisions of labour and of social responsibility and authority in a rural community are largely based on gender and age.

It is not a good idea to structure community involvement along political lines (clan groups, business groups or other competitive factions) as this tends invariably to politicise the character of a community development project meant to be social and non-competitive, and to benefit the community as a whole. However, it is of naturally very important that the socially and politically correct adult males, adult females and youths are selected to the committee to represent their group's interests in the undertaking.

Depending on the type of undertaking, it may be practical to subdivide the representation of youth into male youth ( Y ) and female youth ( Y ) . If the project involves more than one geographical or populated area (for example the community comprises one main village and three hamlets), it is important that each area is represented in the committee structure.



OBSTACLE #4 :  MISMANAGEMENT Pasin Faulim Mani na Wok

One of the major reasons why community projects fail due to mismanagement is that men do not allow women to participate as equal partners in development. This attitude is foolish and self-defeating. Because women carry the burden of providing all of the daily basic needs of the family, women are the ones to benefit most from any little improvement that will ease their heavy workload. Therefore women, as a social group, are more highly motivated for every development, however modest, that will bring improvement to the quality of life in the community. Women, not men, are the carriers of development in the family and in the community. When given the opportunity, women pursue basic improvements more aggressively than men, and perform whatever tasks are required faster and with more continuity than men.

Another important reason is that it is not made clear to the whole community who is responsible for what. When there is a lack of structure, a new project becomes the breeding ground for confusion. When you have no overview of what you are doing, there is confusion and it is very easy to lose your way. It is also easy for anybody to make misuse of a confused situation.

Structure in any process or undertaking is easy to establish by keeping regular and accurate written documentation of events as they occur. Unfortunately, the life style in most rural communities does not provide much opportunity to practice and improve reading and writing (literacy) skills on a regular basis. This is why keeping written records is a difficult assignment for most rural communities and is rarely done.

When the management of money is confused, it is only one step away from becoming misused. When we misuse community funds for our own personal purposes and are caught out, we say that we only 'borrowed' the money. This concept of 'borrowing' community funds for personal use is widespread in our country. It is called misappropriation and is a criminal offense punishable by law. It is the main cause of financial problems in community development project implementation. Our rural life style does not require regular practice of the mathematical skills we learned in school. Money management is a discipline that demands mathematical and literacy skills, a good memory and the ability to keep accurate records over time, as well as an honest character. When these abilities are not present, mismanagement of funds follows not far behind, whether as a consequence of honest confusion, or by the deliberate intent of some individuals to cheat on the rest.


  1. Consider establishing equal participation in development in your community. Aim for an equal number of male and female representatives on your community project management committee. Consider initiating equal participation in decision-making in your community. Aim for an equal number of female and male nominees for the executive positions on your committee.
  2. While women are rarely the public decision-makers in Melanesian communities, the daily life of every family in the community is invariably run by women. As managers of households, women are managers of the business of living.
    Every Melanesian woman is a storehouse of management experience in complex and sensitive community operations. Women are the most under-utilised, yet most widely available management resource available to every community in Papua New Guinea today.
    Consider nominating a female community member as chairperson or vice-chairperson of your project management committee.
  3. Women are better money managers than men. Because women are responsible for the needs of others on a daily basis (family and household relies on the mother for everyday needs), women understand the real value of money better than men.
    While as a rule women have less money available to themselves than men, women have more basic needs to meet. Women understand better than men the value of small amounts of money. By necessity women learn through experience how to make money and how to make ends meet.
    So women often know more ways to raise funds, and better how to manage effectively what limited funds they have. Consider nominating a female community member as Treasurer of the project management committee.
  4. In most communities in PNG, politics is fundamentally men's affair. A balance of gender (male/female) in decision-making, management and implementation of a community project is a safeguard against politicisation of the project. Prevent the community's project from manipulation by any one person or group for their own political ends. Involve more women.


In Melanesian societies we create our own history orally. In telling stories, we pass on what must be remembered by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Stories are repeated generation upon generation, so that memories and knowledge are kept alive. The shape of our world is reestablished and reconfirmed each time the story is retold, and the story is not meant to change over time, regardless of whom the storyteller is or how many times the story is told.

While oral history focuses on the past and on bringing the past into the present, a development process is a growth process and is forward-looking. A development process focuses on the present, and on bringing the present forward into the future. In development we are not concerned with repeating an event that has taken place in the past , or maintaining a situation that already exists. Our purpose is to open up new roads to allow for growth in some area of our life that we wish to improve.

In creating the history of our own development process, we are continually updating it with new facts, new events and new experiences. This means that, if our development process is truly a process of growth, our story changes each time we tell it, and develops as a reflection of the change taking place within ourselves and in our life style.

If we want to be able to look back, follow, understand and learn from our journey along the development path over time it is necessary to capture our experiences on paper in writing. Rest assured that there will be times when we need to retraces our footsteps in order to set ourselves back on track.

  1. It is the first responsibility of a management committee to manage itself and its members properly. The structure by means of which we achieve this is the Duty Statement. A Duty Statement is like contract between a community and a committee and its members, outlining how the community and the management committee will work together to achieve their aim. It may be altered or adjusted over time. A Duty Statement must always be put in writing. A Duty Statement must be prepared for each implementation phase of the project. For example, if two implementation phases are outlined in the project concept, then a duty statement is required for each phase, taking into account the particular activities, aims and management requirements of each phase.
  2. The changes that a development process brings may lead a community into confusion before achieving its final aim of life improvement. A major task of a community project management committee is to facilitate correct understanding among its community members of the development process. By understanding the nature of the changes we have initiated, we can transform temporary confusion into a new beginning. Lead the way by creating a project history file for the community's own reference and future use.
    Develop a structure to document the project, and stick to it. Maintain, update, and utilise your documentation to facilitate awareness and a correct understanding of the development process in your community. This is the most important contribution you as an individual can make, and it may mean the difference between success and failure of your community's long-term aims.
  3. When people embark on a path of development, they have questions and uncertainties about their future which, if left unanswered for too long a time, may cause suspicion to fall onto the competence of the management committee or upon the motives of individual committee members. When people have questions and are uncertain, they need to know where they can seek reassurance, from whom and when.
    As project management, always be open to questions from the community at large as to how the project is running and being run. Resist the temptation to 'fast-track' implementation of your project by excluding the public forum from your implementation schedule. Do not 'short-change' your community by attempting to 'shortcut' its development process.
  4. Continuity and clarity of presentation are a must. Hold meetings on a regular basis for the interested public, and according to a schedule. Use a language and choose words which are understood by everybody. Develop visual aids to explain to other community members what you or your committee are doing and how decisions are taken.
    By using visual materials it is possible to make abstract ideas visible and clear to everyone. Show and explain important issues in pictures and diagrams : committee structure, lines of communication, decision-making procedures, time planning, project phases, long-term means and aims. Show how various project activities relate to each other and lead to the desired end result. Draw basic bookkeeping practices on a large sheet of paper or medium-sized blackboard to shows how the project funds are managed. The diagrams and pictures that you develop will remain valuable in facilitating awareness, discussions, assessments and reviews for the duration of the project.

THE POSITIVE CIRCLE - When we understand why we are doing something, we become motivated to do it. When we are motivated to do something, we participate actively in it. By actively participating in something, we will understand it better, and the more motivated we will become.


Build your project on facts, figures and a first-hand understanding of your community's circumstances and not on wishful thinking and second-hand information. This particular survey was designed to support a water supply project in a coastal village. Certain questions and response options presented here may need to be adapted to suit other types of projects and other cultural-geographical communities. Remember the purpose of a survey is to acquire as much and as accurate information as possible.


The following structure for implementing a community water supply project shows that this community has identified its needs as:

  1. a health awareness programme for the whole community (education)
  2. construction and installation of the technical resource (a water supply system)
  3. maintenance skills training for project committee members and how-to-use-properly training for the whole community members (education)

In this project design, the community also acknowledges that their project consists of three distinct phases (Preparatory, Construction and Management), each with different activities and responsibilities (duty statements) for the Project Committee.


This community's committee structure incorporates adult male, adult female youth male and youth female leadership for each of its 5 geographical (demographical) sections. It also provides a simple chart with the population spread for easy reference. Such information is very useful , for example when estimating the volume of daily water needs of a (sub)community, or when organising community labour to carry out project work:


....... to be continued

By:   Marsha Berman, Papua New Guinea © 2000
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