E.1 Participatory human settlement development

Very often, the success of a development project is dependent on the degree to which all role players actively participated in the implementation process. However, those responsible for implementing a development project (specifically a housing project in a low-income community) do not always have a clear understanding of the process that needs to be followed to involve the community and other key stakeholders, and they do not always see the benefit of doing this. Also, built environment professionals and technical consultants do not always have the capacity and skills to effectively engage with communities.

E.1.1 Participation versus consultation

A common misconception is that the involvement of the community and other key stakeholders is simply a step in the implementation process. Often it is seen as an event, or a few workshops that need to be held to satisfy certain requirements before moving on to the next step in the process. However, it should be an integral part of the entire process and the fundamental approach that governs all aspects, from inception through to implementation. Participation involves much more than consultation or information-sharing sessions. Participation, as opposed to consultation, allows for the active involvement of communities and key stakeholders in the decision-making process, rather than requiring them to (for instance) simply choose a type of technology or house from a set of pre-determined options presented.


There is a difference between community participation and consultation. When implementing a project, a consultative process often merely involves asking key stakeholders for their opinions about proposed interventions. This does not allow for meaningful involvement in the decision-making process. A participatory process, on the other hand, requires people to be actively involved in decision-making from the very beginning of a project that would affect them. They should participate in the planning, design implementation and management aspects, rather than only being involved after most of the critical decisions have been made.

Community participation means that all stakeholders are equal and active partners in the decision-making process, and it provides everyone with the opportunity to contribute, exposes them to challenges faced, and lets them share the responsibility of developing practical responses to deal with these challenges. A participatory process could assist in changing perceptions, empowering people and developing a common understanding.

A participatory process could be complex and time intensive. It is often worth it to include specialists in the field of community participation in the project team. Since the process should be as inclusive as possible, it is important to identify and involve all key stakeholders and the recognised leaders in the community. Stakeholders could include municipal councillors, faith-based organisations, schools, businesses, civic organisations, sport groups, residents’ associations, informal trading organisations and other community-based organisations.

E.1.2 Co-production

For this Guide to make a tangible, positive difference in practice, an implementation approach is encouraged that is based on equal partnerships between a range of role players – from those involved in the planning, design and delivery of services and infrastructure, to those utilising these services and infrastructure. Such an approach, which requires citizens to be involved in all aspects of the delivery of services and infrastructure (including the conception, planning, design, delivery and management phases) rather than mere passive recipients, is often referred to as co-production.


The concept of co-production can be described in various ways. Essentially it means that those providing a service, and the citizens who make use of the service, all have contributions to make. The process is based on the notion that those who make use of a service are often in the best position to assist with the development of the most appropriate service


Co-production descriptions

“Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co-produced in this way, both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change.”43

“Co-production of public services means the public sector and citizens making better use of each other’s assets and resources to achieve better outcomes and improved efficiency.”44

“Co-production enables citizens and professionals to share power and work together in equal partnership, to create opportunities for people to access support when they need it and to contribute to social change.”45

Photo credit: Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) Figure E.1: Community members participating in the decision-making process


E.2 Inter-disciplinary collaboration

The range of disciplines involved in a development project need to work closely together in a coordinated way to achieve the objectives of this Guide. From the outset, built environment professionals need to cooperate on an ongoing basis to ensure that the planning and design process continues as effectively and efficiently as possible. Engineers, planners, architects and other built environment professionals involved in the planning and design process need to continuously communicate to ensure that the decisions made are not in conflict with each other.

Communication and coordination between the different disciplines is essential within both the municipal and the professional consulting team. From the outset, decisions made by the various professions need to take into consideration all aspects of the development and not only those that they are traditionally responsible for. For instance, decisions regarding the layout of a new development should be taken after considering the potential consequences they may have for the provision of engineering services and vice versa.


“The key to successful interdisciplinary collaboration is in understanding that it is not a technology but rather a psychology. Collaboration is not a process that can be codified into a set system; it is more of an attitude that needs to be inculcated in the culture of a firm.

It begins with every participant acknowledging that each of the others brings something valuable to the project and that their combined intelligence is more likely to deliver positive results than working in isolated silos."46


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The Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide
Creating Sustainable Human Settlements

Developed by
Department of Human Settlements

Published by the South African Government
ISBN: 978-0-6399283-2-6
© 2019