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Participatory Analysis for Community Action

Learn about our Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA) and how it builds trust; illuminates key insights that lead to project ideas (or improve upon existing projects); promotes inclusive participation; and leads to lasting, community-led impact.

Our approach to community-led development

It all starts with a greeting. Whether it be a hello, hola, habari, or sawasdee, a greeting opens the space for people to get to know each other and discuss their ideas and aspirations. As we develop relationships that are built on trust and mutual respect, we lay a foundation for working together toward a better future.

The Peace Corps approaches development as a process of partnering with communities; strengthening individual and collective capacity; and using available resources, knowledge, and skills to achieve locally defined goals. Seven principles guide and support our approach to development:

  • Community-centered: We work alongside counterparts and community members to catalyze community-led change.
  • Process > product: We believe that how we make a difference is almost more important as what measurable impact we make.
  • Grassroots solutions: We listen to and leverage practical solutions to address community-defined priorities.
  • Long-term impact > short-term gains: We strive for lasting relationships and impacts, not quick fixes.
  • Participation and inclusion: We engage diverse and under-represented stakeholders in all phases of the development process to foster equity, access, and ownership.
  • Capacity strengthening: We engage as partners in mutual learning, knowledge exchange, and skills transfer.
  • Sustainability: We leverage existing strengths and resources in the community to support sustainable outcomes.

The Peace Corps’ unique approach to development is conducted in people-to-people terms. With cultural humility, Peace Corps Volunteers live within the communities where they have been invited to serve. They learn to speak the local language and work directly alongside individuals and groups to support projects that meet the development goals of the community.

Our approach employs intentional relationship building. Volunteers partner with community members to understand local priorities and opportunities—from their perspective. Together, Volunteers and community members co-design projects to achieve the community’s development goals. Throughout project implementation, Volunteers collaboratively monitor progress and adapt based on lessons learned. As partners, community members and Volunteers reflect on project outcomes and plan for the future.

Participatory Analysis for Community Action

The development methodology used by many Volunteers is our Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA). PACA activities support Volunteers and community members as they work together to facilitate effective and open partnerships to design, implement, and evaluate projects with a distinct focus on participatory capacity strengthening. PACA relies on the active and full participation of diverse and representative community groups so that the skills, knowledge, and resources that result from the development process stay within the community beyond the service of the Volunteer.

Instead of looking at issues from a problem-based approach, PACA examines promotes participation through a strengths-based approach.

PACA is organized into development phases that are designed to guide Volunteers and community members through an iterative process that builds trust, illuminates key insights that lead to project ideas (or improve upon existing projects), promotes inclusive participation, and leads to lasting, community-led impact.

  • Develop relationships: Build trust and relationships, integrate into the community, and bring different community members together
  • Discover: Gather information and gain key insights by observing, learning from, and engaging community members
  • Dream: Make sense of observations, insights, and discoveries to generate or improve project ideas
  • Design: Prototype, test, refine, and improve project ideas

Learn more about PACA through the PACA Field Guide

Development lenses

Every development project involves an interplay of distinct perspectives, skills, and community dynamics. Therefore, PACA incorporates six “lenses” to help Volunteers and community members foster a development process that is inclusive, participatory, and sustainable. These lenses are:

  • Gender: Understanding how existing gender norms affect community members’ participation in development projects.
  • Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (ICDEIA): Navigating the unique combination of culture, experiences, values, identity, and assumptions that everyone brings to a project to promote access, ownership, and belonging.
  • Power: Understanding power dynamics between individuals and groups and how they may impact equitable participation in development projects.
  • Behavior change: Incorporating knowledge about human behavior, knowledge, attitudes, and practices into development projects.
  • Facilitation: Using facilitation skills to achieve meaningful, people-to-people, participatory development.
  • Language: Understanding how one’s language skills or abilities can impact their effectiveness in developing relationships and using PACA.

Facilitating participatory development is not a linear process. It requires ongoing reflection and iteration to bring various voices to the table and promote collaborative relationships. PACA’s phases, tools, and lenses help to ensure that in addition to the implementation of community-driven projects, the skills that are developed along the way remain in the community, ready to be applied to meet future community needs.