Is your work community-led?

Alexis BanksDevelopment Revolution, Reimagining Projects, Rethinking Organizations

How can all of us in the social sector become more accountable to the communities we seek to serve? How can those of us on the outside, who act as funders, implementers, or intermediaries identify and support community-led approaches to change? 

GlobalGiving, in partnership with Root Change and other members of the Movement for Community-Led Development, has been shepherding a two-year, feedback-driven research process to develop tools to identify and support community-led approaches to change. This extensive research has included:

  • A definition and survey tool, crowdsourced by hundreds of GlobalGiving partners;
  • A field test in India with 30 organizations and third-party evaluators;
  • A nonprofit survey completed by 650 GlobalGiving partners;
  • A review of literature by Inspiring Communities, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, World Bank, and more;
  • Another nonprofit survey, this time with 1,000 of GlobalGiving’s partners;
  • Feedback and revisions by a Movement for Community-Led Development working group; and 
  • A final round of survey feedback by 30 development practitioners!

At the recent Feedback+NYC event, Alison Carlman, GlobalGiving’s Director of Evidence + Learning, and I had the chance to share the following definitions of “community” and “community-led” that emerged from this work and introduce a survey tool that organizations can use to evaluate the extent to which their work is community-led. 


Community: There are many different definitions of “community.” In this case, we’re using the term “community” to refer to “those most affected by the work.” This would include people directly served AND those you seek to influence in order to serve that group. (For example, if you work with children, “community” might include the children themselves and their caretakers.) 

Community-Led: Community-led means being accountable to the vision and priorities set by a community. Community-led approaches put the people most affected by the work in the lead, ensure diverse representation in planning and decision-making, mobilize the community’s own resources, and use feedback to improve.

Sample Survey Questions

These sample survey questions were developed by the Movement for Community-Led Development working group. Validity and reliability testing will be carried out in the coming year (see our “next steps” below).

  1. OVERALL SELF REPORT:  To what extent would you describe your work as “community-led” by this definition?  (0=not at all, 10 = completely)
  2. Follow up: Why did you choose that number?  
  3. OFFICIAL LEADERSHIP INFLUENCE: To what extent do current or former members of the community hold official leadership and/or oversight roles in the programs, projects, or organization?  (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  4. UNOFFICIAL LEADERSHIP INFLUENCE: To what extent do members of the community who are NOT in official leadership roles have power to make decisions about how programs and services are designed and delivered? (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  5. DIVERSITY/REPRESENTATION: How well do these community members who have this influence (either formal or informal) represent the diversity of the community? (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  6. COMMUNITY ASSETS/OWNERSHIP: To what extent is the work supported by community members’ own time, money, property, or other resources?  (0 = not at all, 10 = completely)
  7. FEEDBACK COLLECTION: Does the team collect feedback from the community (in the form of surveys, focus groups, consultations, etc.)?
    1. No, the team does not collect feedback and does not plan to
    2. No, the team does not collect feedback but would like to begin to 
    3. Yes, the team has collected feedback once
    4. Yes, the team occasionally collects feedback
    5. Yes, the team frequently and regularly collects feedback
  8. If your answer involved a “yes” for question 7, please answer question: FEEDBACK USE: How is the team using the feedback? Please select all that apply. [Make option G. exclusive – i.e., if G is selected, nothing else can be.]
    1. To identify and remedy poor client service experiences
    2. To make changes to programs and/or operations
    3. To inform new program design or  the development of new programs/projects 
    4. To stay connected to the community 
    5. To identify where the programming  is less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups
    6. To strengthen relationships with people served
    7. The team doesn’t actively use the collected feedback
    8. Other ____________

What’s next?

In 2020, GlobalGiving will continue to conduct research within communities in at least three countries to learn more about what community-led approaches really look like and further inform the definitions and survey tool. The goal of this research will be to develop a reliable, valid way to identify and measure community-led approaches to change. Keep an eye on the GlobalGiving site for updates. 

In addition, Root Change will continue to engage in the Movement for Community-Led Development’s multi-year research, which aims to map the spectrum of community-led work around the world and explore its impact through a meta-synthesis of the evaluation reports of 57 member organizations. Learn more about this work here

In the meantime, we would love to hear from you! How are you evaluating your community-led work? What do you think of these definitions? Are we asking the right questions? Contact us to share your feedback or get involved.