A person who is going to build a house usually plans how the house is going to look before he starts building; otherwise he may find that he has forgotten the door, or not made the wall strong enough to support the roof. In the same way, a family can plan how they are going to use their land, or a village can plan its development on the basis of all its available resources.
Governments and businesses often make economic development plans, in which they decide how much they want the economy or business to grow each year, and it what directions. They then usually work out what they have to do to achieve this. In a community, there is more often a need for a resource development plan which shows how resources can best be used, or a physical plan which shows how the community should grow or be laid out or how land and water resources uses should be arranged in the space available.
A plan is usually for a certain period of time, say 3 years or 5 years. It may be hard to make realistic plans for longer periods since things may change in unexpected ways. Sometimes a master plan for a town or land development may show how it will look after perhaps 20 years, or when the development project is finally completed.
A plan always has goals or objectives which show what you want to do or achieve at the end of the plan. It usually also has a description of how this is going to be done, often broken down into different steps or stages and perhaps with a time schedule giving the amount of time required for each stage.
Making a local development plan
A local development plan can help to make the best use of local resources. It can also help to identify and thus avoid environmental problems. Such a plan can be made by a family for its own land and resources, or by a community, tribe or district for its land and coastal waters.
The following steps can be followed in developing a local plan.
1. Collect as much information as possible on the resources and environment of the area. This is often simplest to do on a map or a series of maps, and may be the hardest part of making a plan. This information should include:
a. the size and shape of the area, its boundaries and coastline, showing mountains and flat places, streams, coral reefs, the separations between watersheds, and other topographic features;
b. the kinds of soil or rock on the land, and the type of bottom or coral reef in the sea;
c. where the water goes, including the outlines of the water catchments, streams, springs, wells, pipelines and other water supplies, the direction of runoff in storms, areas subject to flooding, etc.;
d. the living resources of the land and sea, such as forests, vegetation, gardens, pastures, degraded land, mangroves, seagrasses, corals, fish, birds and animals, etc.;
e. people, the things they have built and the places important to them: houses, schools, places of worship, buildings, roads, footpaths, power lines, sacred sites, taboo areas, recreation areas and other features.
Some of this information may already exist on topographic maps, land use plans, geological or vegetation maps and other sources. It may not at first be sufficiently detailed for local use, but the detail can always be added by making observations on the site.
It is important to have not only the location of these features, but whatever information may be available as to the amounts, such as the population in each household or village, the amount of water, the areas of different crops, the number of fruit trees or coconuts, the catch of fish, etc.
2. Evaluate the present land and resource use in relation to the number of people who depend on the resources. For instance, how much land, reef, etc. is required per person to provide all their food, fuel, water, waste disposal, and other needs? It may be possible to calculate this from past and present experience. How much of the total available for each resource is now being used to meet these needs? What is already in short supply, or is being used in a way that cannot be sustained into the future?
3. Evaluate the potential resources that are available but not yet being used. Is there unused land, extra water, fish or other resources? How much agricultural land should be left in fallow to rest, and for how long? What is the need for conservation areas? What are the requirements for the sustainable use of resources?
Also evaluate the needs for resources. Is the population growing? What are the needs for increased income that can reasonably be met from the resource base?
4. The final step is to develop the objectives and recommendations of the plan. What resources can or should be developed, and in what order? What measures need to be taken to protect resources or to ensure their sustainability? Where will the new population, facilities, developments, and protected areas be located?
The overall goals can be broken down into stages, or into year by year plans for action. Intermediate steps can be worked out, and outside resources, finance or technical assistance that may be required can be identified.
The plan can then become a guide to immediate action with the assurance that the actions will build toward a well-defined objective and meet important needs.
Community participation in planning
A local plan will only be effective if it has the understanding and support of the community. The best way to get this support is to get everyone involved in making the plan together. People are more apt to support something if they know that their needs and ideas were listened to and incorporated where appropriate, and if they understand why certain needs could not perhaps be met. When the number of people is not too large, as in the case of most villages or small towns, ways can be found for people to participate directly in the planning process.
Local community planning will probably require a series of meetings of the people concerned. These could be held with everyone consulting together, or if necessary in smaller groups where everyone will feel free to express themselves (elders, young men, women, youth, etc.). If smaller groups are required, then someone will need to provide the link between the groups, exchanging needs and ideas. There may then need to be a final meeting of everyone at which the community consensus is worked out on the basis of everyone's inputs. Obviously any plan will need to have the agreement of any authorities with responsibility over the area concerned, such as the heads of families, chiefs or elders, the mayor, or the village or island council.
At the start of the planning process, there will have to be an explanation of what planning is, why the local plan is needed, and what are some of the important principles to keep in mind. Specific examples can be used to supplement the ideas presented in these training units, or an audio-visual presentation on the subject could be developed if resources permit.
If a physical plan of a local area is being developed, it may help to first make a large map or model of the area, which can be drawn on a piece of paper, or even on a smooth area of sand or dirt. Houses and buildings can be symbolized by little models or blocks of wood, and roads by strips of paper. Make enough of these both for those that exist already and for those that will need to be added during the period of the plan. People can then use the little models or the tracings in the sand to try out different placements and to visualize what their plan will look like, and this will make it easier to discuss the effects of the plan and to make comments and adjustments. When everyone is in agreement on the plan, or at the end of the meeting, someone should draw or write down the result. This will help to prevent later disagreement as to what was decided.
Such techniques allow everyone to participate in planning without any previous experience in planning concepts or procedures, although it may help to have the comments of an experienced planner to ensure that no important factors are overlooked. The result may even be better than that of an outside planner because it will be based on the intimate knowledge of the local environment contributed by the people who live there.
Implementing and monitoring
A plan is not an end in itself; if it is not put into practice it is worthless. Therefore some thought should be given to how the plan will be implemented. If the community is large enough, it may be necessary to give an individual or a body like a village or island council the responsibility for putting the plan into effect and seeing that its provisions are observed.
If the whole community has participated in the preparation of a plan, then there should be no real problem with its implementation. Everyone will be familiar with the plan and the reasons behind its provisions, and should thus want to put it into effect. If a plan has been developed by a smaller group, then it will need to be explained to those who are directly concerned by it. In particular, if the plan calls for them to stop or change some of their activities, they will need to understand why the changes are need and why it is in their own interest to follow the plan.
One danger is that a plan may be implemented initially, but then people start to forget about it and stop following it. Or conditions may change and the plan may seem less appropriate than it was at first. There may then need to be regular monitoring of progress made under the plan, and perhaps meetings to review progress and to consider the necessary modifications or updating.
All plans go out of date, and thus need to be revised or replaced with a new plan more suited to the changing circumstances, or building on the progress that was made in the previous plan. Revising a plan is similar to making a new one, except that there is already the information and experience from the earlier plan to build on.
These periodic reviews or revisions of a plan are also a good time to
monitor trends in the loss or maintenance of environmental resources, and
to identify changes and conflicts that require action or decisions. This
can be an important contribution to the broader goal of managing environmental
What is a plan?
Why is it useful to make a plan?
Who can make a plan?
What are some different kinds of plans?
What kind of plan would be most useful where you live?
Do you know of any plan already being used in your country?
What are the steps in making a plan?
Why is it good to have community participation in planning?
Why should a plan be monitored when it is implemented?