Today’s post is written by Mike Sohm.

Without ownership on the part of local participants, projects are very likely to fail. Thus, one of CAMA’s core values is local collaboration—which includes local ownership.

Ownership, in this case, is similar to buy in. It reflects participation in the decision making process and a commitment to support carrying out that decision. It is viewed as critical to success and a quality that must be developed at the very beginning of any new initiative.

Why is ownership so critical to the long term success of development projects? Paul Lachapelle, in his article “A Sense of Ownership in Community Development: Understanding the Potential for Participation in Community Planning Efforts,” writes, “If individuals are intimately and authentically engaged, dedication to the process and outcome will be created, leading to greater chances of political support and implementation.”

Digging deeper, what are the essential characteristics of ownership? Lachapelle states there are three essential characteristics: ownership in the process, ownership in the outcome, and ownership in distribution.

To understand how to develop ownership in the process, ask the question, “Who has a voice, and whose voice is heard?” How you answer this question determines who defines the problem. This in turn influences the strategies taken to resolve the problem.

Developing ownership of the outcome is clarified by asking, “Who has influence over the decision and the results from this effort?” The answer to this question will determine, to a large degree, the amount of ownership that develops. If local partners have direct influence on decisions that impact them, they are much more likely to own those decisions. When they do not have influence, they become indifferent. A helpful insight from Barber, in his book Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age, emphasizes this observation: “People are apathetic because they are powerless, not powerless because they are apathetic.”

The third characteristic, a sense of ownership distribution, is understood better when you ask who is affected by the process and outcome. “This last characteristic involves analysis of those who are affected by a decision as well as how the effects of a decision are distributed, accepted, and ‘owned,’ both spatially and temporally,” says Lachapelle.

If ownership is so critical to success, how is it developed? To answer the question in brief, let me again reference Lachapelle. He states that trust is the key to establishing and developing ownership. More specifically, he talks about trust not as a behavior or choice, but as an underlying condition that is responsible for such actions—an “underlying condition” that sounds a lot like the character trait of integrity.

Lachapelle, P. (n.d.). A Sense of Ownership in Community Development: Understanding the Potential for Participation in Community Planning Efforts. Community Development, 52-59.

Barber, B. (2003). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age (20th anniversary ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press.