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Participatory 3D modelling as a means of increasing synergy between village projects and contributing to more holistic development

Community development in Madagascar is often hampered by a lack of synergy between different local initiatives. Now project managers in areas where the Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM) process has been developed are hoping that this new technique can help harmonise and coordinate different development actions.

"Help! There's too much aid!" This headline on a rural affairs magazine probably stopped development project promoters and readers in the Madagascan capital in their tracks – but it reflects a growing feeling among beneficiaries that poorly coordinated interventions have created chaos rather than harmonious development. "Things would be so much better if partners gave the matter just a little concerted thought" sighed a farmer's leader in Anjazafotsy (Betafo District). The negative effects of the situation are all too clear in this rural commune of Andranomafana, where local development is confused, chaotic and hampered by resistance to change, inability to commit to projects and problems preparing development plans ...

Lack of coordination

Unbalanced development is one of the first signs of a lack of coordination that has left some communities in certain areas inundated with projects while their neighbours have none. The commune of Andranomafana is a case in point, as there are five projects in the north of this small community (48 km²) and none in the south. One woman thinks this is because "people the south are less educated as they're a long way from the highway," but deputy mayor Solofo Marc Rakotondrafara blames it on lack of coordination, arguing that intervening agencies are disorganised and choose their intervention areas and themes without consulting other actors. Rajorosoana Razafimahatratra, a technician with the Liaison Office for Rural Training Institutions (BIMTT) reckons that "Everyone's out for themselves, there are no understandings between different agencies". Local people are baffled as to why two projects are getting ready to conduct similar activities in the same village – one providing drinking water while the other tackles open defecation. The village chief thinks "it would have been better to combine both activities in a single water and sanitation project, which would avoid creating divisions between beneficiaries and make it much easier to mobilize people behind the project." The situation is exacerbated by the fact that poor organisation affects the quality of services, and contradictory messages sent out by these development projects make many beneficiaries reluctant to engage with them. The administration encourages people to register their parcels at the local land office in order to obtain land certificates, but they still can't get credit because financial institutions don't recognise these certificates. "I wish they'd come to some kind of agreement" said one farmers' leader who needs money to fund his next production cycle. While technicians worry that this situation will make local people resistant to innovation, project beneficiaries are not the only ones who are missing out – the managers of development programmes are finding it increasingly difficult to get their initiatives off the ground. The regional director of rural development in Miarinarivo, Serge Andriamiarinera, says that preparing development plans for his constituency is a real challenge: "It's hard to set up development projects when all the project promoters have different, sometimes conflicting visions."

This context makes it virtually impossible to take a holistic view of the situation and formulate an overarching development plan for the region – leaving promoters wondering how they can ensure that projects in Madagascar address beneficiaries' needs, interconnect with and complement each other, and contribute to a shared vision.

The P3DM process to the rescue!

A possible solution to this embarrassing situation may have been found in the three regions of the main island where participatory 3-dimensional modelling (P3DM) has been developed. BIMTT secretary general Rajoelisolo Kotondrajaona sees P3DM as a unifying process that can encourage greater synergy between village development actions: "P3DM can play a major role in local development ... In fact, I'd say this is its primary purpose, as the three pillars of the process – dialogue, information and solidarity – provide everything that is needed for greater synergy." Participatory modelling is a powerful tool for coordination that encourages dialogue between different actors, provides reliable factual information about the intervention area, and fosters a spirit of solidarity in the action zone.

The case of two communities that had fallen out over local development in north and south Anjazafotsy shows how participatory 3-D modelling can encourage dialogue. The P3DM process drew protagonists together around a map of their two localities, enabling them to overcome their mutual mistrust and talk calmly about the issues surrounding drinking water and reforestation. They are now starting to discuss local development, and several projects are getting under way in the south. The deputy mayor noted how "The fact that everyone met around the model allowed us to start talking about the problem instead of skirting around it as we'd done before."

These 3-D models are also highly informative. Many initiatives are compromised by a lack of information that makes it impossible for actors to get organised and hard for intervening agencies to work together and coordinate activities. In Mahiatrondro, in the mid-western rural commune of Ampefy, information shown on the map about the extent of silting, lack of cultivable land and availability of nurseries alerted participants to the imminent crisis, sharpened everyone's focus on their respective tasks and galvanized them into action to prevent further environmental degradation. This common purpose created its own synergies and coordination as the community took charge of reforestation, the commune identified spaces that needed replanting, and the NGO AGRISUD provided free saplings.

Finally, these models foster solidarity, helping generate the mutual support and sense of unity needed for harmonious development. The village chief noted how the model cultivated a spirit of solidarity in the village of Mahiatrondro (population 3,000): "it was as if everyone was driven by the same spirit of mutual aid and desire to move forward together." Residents held various meetings to show what they had learned from the 3-D model of their village – from the routes used by thieves to sources of water, available land, etc. Working together enabled them to stem the resurgence of road bandits (Dahalo), reduce the damage from bushfires, develop their own village charter (Dina) and, thanks to their courage and tenacity, get it recognised by the local court.

A holistic vision of territorial development

One of the most valuable aspects of P3DM is its ability to create a holistic representation that includes the socio-cultural, economic and environmental aspects of a particular area. The bird's-eye view provided by the models gives all participants a shared perspective of their locality and, according to one BIMTT technician, "generates natural synergies." Having seen the results of the P3DM process in Miarinarivo, the regional director of rural development is keen to scale it up across all the areas under his jurisdiction. "I'm setting up a regional development project, and know that it will be greatly helped by the information the model provides, the atmosphere it creates and the dialogue it generates." He emphasises the important role that a global vision of the community, the land and the natural resources in the locality plays in producing a comprehensive and relevant development plan. "It enables us to take account of every aspect of the situation, ensure that projects don't overlap with each other and inform intervening agencies about what their counterparts are doing." On the east coast of Madagascar, the Director General for Fisheries, Jean Razafimandimby, is encouraging other areas to produce participatory models as they provide invaluable marine data that can be used to make informed decisions and coordinate actions to promote responsible fishing in this severely threatened marine area. Actors in the marine fishing sector, such as the Regional Directorate for Fisheries, officials in Fenerive-Est town hall, operators and fishermen are planning a workshop to discuss how to coordinate actions and take measures against illegal fishing in the commune.

Having seen how participatory 3-dimensional mapping encourages synergy between development actions at the village level, there are now calls to model larger areas covering one or more communes in order to create synergies on a much larger scale.

Mamy Andriatiana