The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls repeatedly for transformed approaches to humanitarian work. Taking a community-led approach is a vital step toward implementing a transformational process that supports high levels of sustainability.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the transformational process involved in doing community-led work. Its objectives are to:

  • increase awareness of how we as child protection practitioners need to change our own roles and ways of thinking;
  • describe how agencies who work on child protection need to reorient themselves;
  • reflect on the importance of creating an open, inclusive space within which communities act and make key decisions; and
  • emphasize the importance of flexibility, since community-led work does not follow a recipe.

Key Question for Practitioners

Are there changes that we as practitioners need to undergo in order to strengthen our work with communities and enable a community-led approach?

Relevant tools from the Toolkit: FAC 1, FAC 2, FAC 3, FAC 4 and FAC 5.

To transform our agencies and child protection practices, we first have to transform ourselves. An essential first step is to reflect on our own mindsets, values, and attitudes.

As discussed earlier, many practitioners and agencies assume that they are the “experts” or specialists on child protection. Although communities are regarded as partners, specialists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) typically define the issues to be addressed, design and develop the interventions to be used, and lead the implementation and evaluation of the interventions. The NGO leads the “program,” a term that embodies a focus on its own activities.

Top-down approaches provide relatively little space for community decision-making and action since the NGO makes the main decisions and guides the intervention. Community-led approaches reverse this by assigning the decision-making power to communities. However, this power will be meaningful only if communities have sufficient room or decision-making space to choose which harms to address, which actions to take, and to work according to their own timetable and process. This approach requires greater flexibility on the part of the NGO.

Most child protection work in humanitarian and development settings entails attention to both content and process.

The content pertains to the “what”—that is, to the child protection issues that need to be addressed, the actions needed, the measures to achieve accountability, and so on.

The process pertains to the “how,” meaning how human relations form and evolve, how decisions are taken, how local people are engaged or not engaged, and how the actions are implemented and by whom.

In ending this chapter on process, it is appropriate to underscore the importance of taking a reflective, self-critical stance and of challenging our assumptions. At every stage, we need to interrogate our assumptions that a particular approach to community-led work is most appropriate.