What Happened to Integrated Rural Development?

gbchityalsramdanBy: Susan Chase and Elisa Wilkinson
The Hunger Project, August 10, 2015

In 1973, Robert McNamara, then President of the World Bank, was one of the earliest pioneers to boldly describe the alarming facts of absolute poverty in the developing world and to call for a rigorous response based on a moral imperative. In his 1973 Nairobi speech to the Board of Governors, McNamara outlined a strategy toward its reduction or elimination. While recognizing the hurdle that citizens in the developed world would have to overcome to allow increasing sums of money to be used to assist the poorest of the poor, he emphasized that rural development was to be the centerpiece of his plan to raise the productivity of the poor.

Governments of the developing world were called to meet the “basic human needs” of their populations. As time went on, despite countries’ positive annual growth, malnutrition persisted, infant mortality remained high, life expectancy was low, illiteracy widespread, unemployment soared, income distribution skewed, and the gap between the rich and poor countries was growing. McNamara’s obsession to assist those in “absolute poverty” remained the backbone of his presidential tenure.

The Integrated rural development (IRD) approach thus became the prototype for this assistance. These programs grew out of this original excitement of development practitioners, which hoped to transform undeveloped rural settings into cohesive communities, with profitable productive opportunities, and where members could enjoy basic public and social services. While rural development programs went on to benefit millions, rural laborers and the landless benefited, at best, indirectly. As many studies have attested, IRD projects achieved disappointing results. Some projects failed due to serious Institutional weaknesses, and progress was slowest where most needed—in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, we ask the question some forty-two years later: What happened to the approach launched with such confidence and optimism?

In the 1970s, the World Bank and other donor agencies entered poverty reduction and rural development in a major way with IRD programs. These programs focused on participation, community empowerment, and the decentralization of local institutions, arguing that this approach is able to achieve results by aligning development priorities with community goals. In practice, however, the programs suffered the same fate as earlier community development programs, becoming centralized, bureaucratic, and unable to coordinate actors on the ground. Some countries saw decentralization as a means of dismantling command economies, others a tool for poverty reduction, and still others as a path to grassroots empowerment. Regardless of the hope the approach held out at the outset, realities in the world economy sidetracked development practitioners to more pressing challenges.

The world debt crisis of 1982 lasted well into the end of the 1980s, during which time the Bank’s main focus was stabilization and structural adjustment programs (SAP) via macroeconomic and sector policy reforms. At this time, the Bank was forced to face a renewed emphasis on poverty reduction in the midst of needing to mitigate the negative impacts and unintended consequences of SAPs, which had a draconian effect on the poor.

In 1983, a seminal book by Robert Chambers entitled Rural Development: Putting the Last First made the case that billions of dollars had been wasted in rural development programs without meeting community needs or reducing poverty. Again, a well respected economist reiterated that the top-down approach was doomed to fail because it was conceptually flawed, often with patronizing attitudes that viewed communities as passive recipients to be lead, not economic actors whose energies could be harnessed through empowerment. A new participatory development movement applied these ideas to small-scale projects in ways that allowed the poor to act as informed participants, with external agents acting as facilitators and sources of funds.

By the early 1990s, the formal IRD approach was discredited and abandoned by the World Bank and most donors. Large-scale irrigation and rural development project lending was replaced by support for human development sector. Tough lessons had been learned. To improve a community’s “well-being” in social, economic, and environmental terms, outside-initiated transformation does not come easily. Practitioners had learned that target communities—not their national, nor regional governments, nor even their village headmen—must have true ownership over this process or it does not work. Necessary community mobilization requires extensive work for which the international donor community does not have the appetite, expertise, nor patience in pursuing given their institutional priorities, and legal and financial frameworks. Policy makers must keep these considerations in mind as they consider how best to harness the power of communities.

Some reasons IRDs fell short of expectations:

  • Communities were not adequately consulted or involved in project design, implementation, and monitoring. Even in projects with the objective of high levels of participation, local knowledge was often a construct of the planning context.
  • IRD projects exhibited the usual top-down approach. Central government officials continued to make decisions on project design and implementation.
  • IRD projects were often too complex, with numerous components and executing agencies, entering into many sectors simultaneously, demanding too much from weak institutions and leaving little to no capacity building.
  • Countries began to view agriculture as a declining sector and thus unimportant for development. As a sector, agriculture growth depends on the successful, simultaneous development of other parts of the rural sector.
  • Political power of the urban elites explains the urban bias so characteristic of policies, institutions, and expenditure patterns in developing countries.
  • Rural communities tend to be more dispersed, poor, inarticulate and disorganized and rural areas suffer from their own inequality: the rural elite.
  • Rural poor have little political voice. Communities with greater capacity, political networks, or wealth are more likely to propose and win subprojects.
  • The rural sector has been discriminated against; the urban bias means that the rural communities suffer from non-existent social services.

During James Wolfensohn’s presidency of the World Bank (1995-2005), the Bank underwent a new focus on rural development and initiatives to overcome the problems that had undermined rural development programs since the 1970s. After extensive reviews of the experience of the Bank’s lending, there was a progressive shift from central sectoral programs to community consultation and participation and then to community empowerment. New rules supported a radical shift away from upward accountability to downward accountability to community members.

It is a very sensitive topic to try to change political dynamics of a recipient country to shift power from the center to the citizens at the grassroots level. Today, the international experience with such programs is better synthesized and policy makers in countries and donor agencies have learned from years of experience of the power of community empowerment.

In 2013, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced the Bank’s commitment to two new goals, with its Global Commission, that would direct its development work worldwide: The two goals are:

  • the eradication of chronic extreme poverty, defined as those extremely poor people living on less than $1.25 PPP-adjusted dollars a day, to less than 3% of the world population by 2030.
  • the boosting of shared prosperity, defined as promoting the growth of per capita real income of the poorest 40% of the population in each country.

Following this announcement, the World Bank Chief Economist, Kaushik Basu has added, “Furthermore, poverty has many other dimensions and it is unacceptable in today’s prosperous world that so many people suffer such deprivations. The Global Commission will advise us on other dimensions of poverty that the Bank should collect data on, track, analyze and make available to policymakers for evidence-based decisions.”

The World Bank portfolio currently shows an extensive amount of Integrated Rural Development projects—dispelling the notion that IRDs are discredited and abandoned. These projects suffer from many of the constraints highlighted above but are being restructured to allow time and lessons learned to reach their full development potential.

Concluding remarks

The IRD approach was well-intended in the face of McNamara’s daunting cry for help. His gamble to empower communities to achieve better results was a good one. Now in hindsight, we can say that decades of its use has afforded many lessons learned, offering policy makers and government officials better tools and methods to design projects with a more realistic, seasoned approach to reach the poorest of the poor. National governments have gained understanding of what it means to listen to their local communities in order to help them. While ownership was never fully achieved with IRD programs, IRDs as a tool in the World Bank’s arsenal have not disappeared from the World Bank portfolio. Some launched in the late 1990s, have gone on to be restructured or followed up with a second and third project, with the ultimate objective of improving, for example, production and returns from food and cotton cultivation. The South Africa Rural Community Project Kgautswane was named a model for development and was touted as a great success due to the ownership of its development agenda and its replicability. “Kgautswane is an example of what can be done when a community takes responsibility for its own development, says Ross Paul, World Bank’s Pretoria office.


  • Binswanger-Mkhize, Hans P., Jacomina P. de Regt, and Stephen Spector. 2010. Local and Community Driven Development, World Bank, Washington, D.C.
  • Brandt, Hartmut and O. Uwe. 2004. Poverty Oriented Agricultural and Rural Development, World Bank, Washington, D.C.
  • Mansuri, G. and Rao, V. 2013. Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? World Bank, Washington, D.C.
    Rural Development: From Vision to Action, World Bank, 1997.

Some Characteristics of World Bank Experience with Community-Driven Development (CDD)

By the 1990s, economic failure and rural neglect in many countries were attributed to excessive centralization and top-down approaches.  While Community-driven Development (CDD) emerged as a response to this concern, it is not panacea nor a one-size fits all and many factors contribute to its success or failure. The centralization-decentralization dilemma remains a struggle about power and the perspective that there is a finite amount of economic and social resources.  The following touches upon what CDD is and its history, when and why it works, and the challenges surrounding the approach.


Community driven development (CDD) is a phrase that has had different meanings for different development agencies, ranging from consultation to empowerment (see Table 1 below).  CDD is an approach that emphasizes community control over planning decisions and investment resources.  CDD programs evolved out of an attempt to reverse traditional  “top-down”  service delivery  by  letting  communities  identify  and implement small-scale investments among several sectors. CDDs vary enormously, depending on country  contexts, government champions, and project task teams but the approach has been typically (although not always) used in one or the other of three contexts:

  • situations of fragility and/or post-conflict;
  • financial and economic crises; or
  • in middle-income countries where government bureaucracy and local administrations have failed to meet the needs of the poor and excluded.

The purpose of participatory programs is to enhance the involvement of the poor and the marginalized in community-led decision-making bodies to give citizens greater say in decisions that affect their lives. Community-driven development refers to projects in which communities, functioning outside a formal system of government, are given funds that they manage to implement interventions they have identified (Mansuri and Rao, 2013).

Devolving resources to communities required the development of new disbursement, procurement, and accountability mechanisms. In this respect, CDD by definition must rely on community empowerment to plan and execute sub-projects according to the community-defined priorities. Along this continuum,  Local and community driven development (LCDD) is not a project; it is an approach that aims to empower both communities and local governments with the resources and authority to use them flexibly, thus taking control of their development.  Empowering means the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives. It means giving people access to voice and information, greater social inclusion and participation, greater accountability, and organizational strength (Binswanger-Mkhize, de Regt, and Spector, 2010).

Table 1  Timeline of Development Approaches

Indicator 19050s 1960s 1970s-1980s 1990s 2000 2005
Development approach Centralized, Decentralized Sectoral, technology-led, green revolution, irrigation development Special area or target group, ADP, and IRDP, NGOs and private sector CBD, SF and SAP CDD LCDD
Community Involvement Minimal Consultation Participation   ⟶⟶⟶⟶⟶ Empowerment

Source: Binswanger-Mkhize, de Regt, and Spector, 2010; and this author’s additions.

Legend:  ADP: area development program; IRDP: integrated rural development program; NGO: nongovernmental organization; CBD: community-based development; SF: social fund; SAP, social action program; CDD, community driven development; LCDD: local and community driven development.

CDD by the Numbers over time.  During Wolfensohn’s presidency 1995 to 2005, Mr. Wolfensohn was personally convinced that community decentralized approaches yielded better outcomes than top-down centralized.  He ordered a review of Bank lending experience and created a Bank-wide CDD working group to come up with clear definitions of CDD approaches and to review the portfolio of CDD lending.  Between FY 2000 and FY 2008, $16 billion was lent for 637 operations that contained elements of the CDD approach, or about 9 percent of total lending of the World Bank Group. For IDA lending, this percentage was higher about 16 percent.  According to a World Bank 2005 review entitled The Effectiveness of World Bank Support for Community Based and -Driven Development, during 1989 to 2003, the share of Bank projects with CDD components grew to 25 percent.  Over time, the results of social funds and CDD operations had better satisfactory outcomes and quality of supervision than Bank-wide averages.   In Wong, 2012, the paper states that the World Bank has supported 400 CDD projects in 94 countries, valued at almost $30 billion.  In Mansuri and Rao, 2013, the paper states that over the past decade, the World Bank has allocated almost $85 billion to local participatory development.

How do CDDs figure into the World Bank organization?  Key staff using or analysing the CDD approach work at the center of the World  Bank in the Social Development Department, Social Development Network created in approximately 1997.  Most Task Team Leaders who take CDD projects to the World Bank Board of Directors and are in charge of their implementation, disbursement and supervision are in the Human Development or Social Sector Divisions of Six Country Regions throughout the Bank, which include: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, European and Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia (not all regions have CDD projects).

Conceptual Framework for CDD.  Development policy that uses participatory processes needs to be informed by a thoughtful diagnosis of potential civil society failures, so that policy makers can clearly understand the tradeoffs involved in devolving decisions to local communities and can identify potential ways of repairing such failures.  Market and government failures are now reasonably well understood. Policy makers are less likely to assume markets will work perfectly or that governments can provide effective solutions to market failures. The policy literature is rife with solutions to market and government failures that assume that groups of people—village communities, urban neighborhood associations, school councils, water user groups—will always work toward the common interest.  Rarely is much thought given to the possibility of “civil society failure.” Organizing groups of people to solve market and government failures is itself subject to problems of coordination, asymmetric information, and pervasive inequality.  Civil society failure at the local level can be thought of as a situation in which groups that live in geographic proximity are unable to act collectively to reach a feasible and preferable outcome. It includes coordinated actions that are inefficient—or efficient but welfare reducing on average. (Mansuri and Rao, 2013)

The Internal Evaluation Group (IEG) is charged with evaluating the activities of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA) projects of the World Bank).  In 2005, it undertook an evaluation of social funds—one of the early types of community-driven development—and looked at the period from fiscal 1987 to fiscal 2000 and at the results available for the 98 social funds in 58 countries worth a total of $3.5 billion.  The evaluation found that 96 percent of closed  social funds had satisfactory outcomes against 71 percent for all Bank projects.  Social Funds worked especially well in post-conflict situations such as Cambodia and Nicaragua. IEG rated institutional development as substantial in 65 percent of projects (better than 36 percent for all Bank projects). Social funds demonstrated that they could help build the capacity of local governments, communities, and NGOs.  Their effectiveness was attributed to their autonomy from the line ministries of central governments.  Sustainability is likely for only 43 percent of projects against 51 percent for all Bank projects.

The design of CDD programs has evolved over the last two decades, with varying levels of decision-making authority (Wong, 2012).  Thinking of local development policy as occurring at the intersection of market, government, and civil society failures increases appreciation of context. Such interactions are conditioned by culture, politics, and social structure, and vary from place to place. A policy that works in one country, or even one municipality, may fail in another.   Factors to consider:

Country’s political system and context matter a great deal.  In democracies, electoral incentives shape participatory interventions.  Stable democracies allow stable trajectories of decentralization.  They have an affinity for empowered participation functioning in the presence of strong civic institutions.  At the national level, nationalist ideologies—the manner in which the state (colonial and postcolonial) has created and propagated identity—can create symbolic public goods that facilitate collective action.

History matters: Policy and  institutional reform—education systems, the judiciary, the media, and efforts at social inclusion—influence government responsiveness to civic mobilization.  Some countries have a long history of organic civic participation, developed in the struggles for independence from colonial rule or against the rule of entrenched elites. Such social movements have given legitimacy to civic activists and created a culture that facilitates civic mobilization. A history of organic participation creates a community of peer educator and an enabling environment within which social entrepreneurs can spark participatory innovations.

Social, economic, demographic, and cultural contexts matter: The nature and extent of social and economic inequality and the composition and diversity of groups affect induced and organic participation. Inequality and heterogeneity affect the cultures and norms of cooperation that evolve within a community. These norms have a bearing on collective action and on the role of local leaders.

Geography matters. Remoteness from more developed areas, difficult terrain, and harsh weather conditions can increase vulnerability, leading to weaker development outcomes. Both social heterogeneity and geography have a bearing on the local cooperative infrastructure—the community’s capacity for collective action.  If a village has a long history of successfully managing common property resources, that capacity can be drawn upon.

Lessons for success include:

  • Strong political leadership to decentralization and empowerment is essential;
  • Committed country leader and donors need to be opportunists, seizing occasions;
  • Successful scale-ups put money in the hands of communities to harness their latent capacity through learning-by-doing, supplemented by capacity building;
  • Successful scale-ups must have sound technical design (Binswanger-Mkhize, de Regt, Spector, 2010)

Local participation tends to work well when projects are based on well-thought out designs, facilitated by a responsive center, adequately and sustainably funded, and conditioned by a culture of learning by doing and where projects ensure that:

  • Structures allow for flexible, long-term engagement;
  • Design and impact evaluations are informed by political, social, and economic analysis;
  • Monitoring, using cost-effective tools for reporting, is a priority;
  • Facilitator feedback, as well as participatory monitoring and redress systems, are created; and
  • Honest feedback where failure is tolerated and innovation can take place.  (Mansuri and Rao 2013)

Cautionary lessons from history:

  • While empowering civic groups may lead to good outcomes, it is not clear that inducing civic empowerment is always superior to a market-based strategy or a strategy that strengthens the role of central bureaucrats. Policy makers need to keep this in mind as they consider how to harness the power of communities;  
  • CDD projects can be driven by sector specialists who do not necessarily see the institutional, social, and economic policy environment;
  • Governments are not always willing to devolve resources, power, or responsibility to communities or local governments.
  • The decision-making black box.  Impact evaluations tend to focus on outcomes and outputs, and communities expressed satisfaction with the programs and services in general but understanding the decision-making process in the allocation of resources and whether or not they are participatory or are they reinforcing established patronage systems has not been determined.  Why are some subprojects chosen and not others?  How to traditional power holders in the community view these CDD programs and their mechanisms for decision making?
  • Sustainability and social capital building and governance spillover requires training and capacity building of reform-minded local leaders to improve community ownership and buy-in.  Scaling-up can take as long as 15 years requiring a long-term commitment from donors, governments, and community leaders.
  • Financing can be provided through multi sectoral, ministry channels, block grants, district level resources, independent auditors/corruption.  Several CDD programs allocate community block grant amounts per village, municipality or area.  The grant amounts are determined by criteria, such as level of poverty, remoteness, number of villages per municipality, and/or population.  Often, later stages of CDD programs are supplemented with additional financing (AF) to keep programs sustainable.

Scaling-up feeds off of this idea of success.  The core philosophical underpinning of well-functioning, successful CDD are the values, elements, overall processes, and goals to adapt to and within the local context without undermining the universal philosophical underpinnings.

Few Scaling-up successes because:

  • The institutional setting may be hostile to CDD, vested interests, central government, competing NGOs.  Laws and regulations may not allow money to be disbursed directly to communities.  Central government may not allow local governments or communities provide their own education and/or primary health or to levy user fees or taxes.The social environment may deprive wom
  • Minorities of voice—Ethnic, religious and class conflict may undermine real participation by all.
  • Some CDD islands of success are not replicable because like many “boutiques,” they are too costly for the masses.   Where political resistance is strong, scaling up should not be attempted as the risks are too high.
  • Participatory interventions work best when they are supported by a responsive state.

Impact Evaluations

There are a minuscule number of CDDs that have benefited from a rigorous impact evaluation.  Out of 400 active CDD programs and 25 years of implementation, there are only 17 or so impact evaluations available at this point.  Technical expertise is one reason as they must be designed at the outset of the project implementation and this expertise is often lacking in local contexts.  More research and resources are needed to learn from the world’s experience from CDDs to date.


Hans Binswanger-Mkhize, de Regt, Jacomina P. and Stephen Spector, 2010, Local and Community Driven Development: Moving to Scale in Theory and Practice, Washington, D.C.: World Bank.

Mansuri, G. and V. Rao, 2013.  Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?
Wong, Susan, What Have Been the Impacts of World Bank Community-Driven Development Programs?, 2012. CDD Impact Evaluation Review and Operational and Research Implications, The Social Development Department, Sustainable Development Network, Washington, DC: World Bank.