Study of dialogic approaches and responses in planning low-income communities in Maracaibo, Venezuela : the "Promotion of Full Citizenship" plan
The research followed up a local development initiative in Maracaibo, Venezuela, named Programa Promoción de la Ciudadanía Plena (Promotion of Full Citizenship Program), a joint initiative that has sought to bring the population of low-income communities to the sphere of citizen participation with a revaluation of citizenship and the promotion of participation. The research included first, a preliminary bibliographical review of the theoretical framework to understand the significance of citizenship and participation at the community level and the implications of organizational development and self-improvement approaches in development projects and institutions, and second, the review of the principles of the local program and the social-economic data of the four communities considered in the study. The results of a preliminary survey (secondary data provided by the municipality) of adult heads of household from the four communities, who openly expressed to the institutions their interest in participating and benefiting from the program, and the passive observation of local meetings and workshops in the communities contributed to the analysis. A series of open-ended interviews to facilitators (3 individuals) were conducted in 2006 in order to assess the facilitator's identification with the program's objectives and the possible bond between the learning assumptions and their personal experiences while working in these communities. That same year, a final series of open-ended interviews to a sample group of 39 beneficiaries (30% of the group that successfully completed the citizenship and technical education), provided the input to assess the impact of the program in the motivation of people toward participation and self-improvement. In these events, information was extracted, which contributed to the evaluation of people's expectations and attitudes, as they differed or not from the initial condition. A methodological guideline, in the form of field notes and questionnaires, was needed to address and manage conversation and dialogue. Following an interpretive and constructivist approach, evidence was inferred from the logic of the narratives gathered in meetings and interviews, and a coded frequency of responses. Findings suggest that the initiative strengthened local people's empowerment by involving them in the collaborative identification of problems and issues affecting their lives, in all activities planned to tie the relationship among stakeholders, and in every recognition and public ceremony. People's improvement depended on economic growth, but it was necessary that beneficiaries develop and exercise their capacities, abilities, knowledge, information and motivation, which were necessary conditions to improve the quality of life of local residents, and consequently, to strengthen the local social capital. Project agents did it with a respectful dialogue in the decision-making concerning the design and construction proposal, and recognizing people's own capacities, which assured collaboration and feedback. People did not participate unless they believed that an interest or individual benefit was possible; and for them, the immediate interest was economic. People associated changes to the following values --from high to low frequency of response: being more confident, reaching mutual support, improving communication, strengthening unity, consciousness, and achieving better social relations. Empowerment of the individual as head of household was strengthened by his or her involvement in the collaborative identification of household limitations and housing-related issues. Nevertheless, beyond the individual and household levels, the success of the educational strategy was not sufficiently effective to reach changes on people's attitude and motivation to confront and interact in the solution of community-related issues, but the increase of 6 percent in this indicator indicated that change was possible but required the sustainability of the educational approach in the communities. By the time the field research ended, a perceivable empowerment and partnership approach, with all the complex administrative and intellectual assumptions, guided Ciudadanía Plena toward its set goals. The attention and dedication in the four barrios were based on the need to materialize an ideal that was expected to expand in order to reach more communities in the near future. The transparency, the material incentive and the citizenship education to achieve self-improvement and empowerment were key elements to achieve change and improvement.