Making it work: community engagement

Key messages

  • Roads are at the heart of inclusive development – roads improve access to services and economic opportunities, road development offer direct labour and skill development opportunities and can be an injection into the local economy; roads stimulate local business and roads change the physical environment in as the topic of this guideline in a beneficial way
  • To optimize all these opportunities requires the engagement of communities within the reach of the road, their representatives and other directly concerned parties
  • The engagement is meaningful but will differ in the different steps of road development: in conceptualization and planning; in design; during construction; in maintenance and aftercare
  • Communities can be a major force in the implementation of roads and green roads programs at scale – in the construction of rural roads, in the systematic maintenance and in undertaking additional adaptive green roads for water measures

Compared to other sectors, community engagement in road development and road maintenance has not developed extensively. This is unfortunate as road development has such an enormous potential impact—also beyond the transport function—that could be used better if roads were developed together with the people directly affected and possibly benefitting. The importance of stakeholder engagement and information disclosure is also highlighted in the Economic and Social Framework (ESF) of the World Bank (2017). To improve the process of engagement and consultation the ESF proposes a documented approach to:

(i) stakeholder identification and analysis;

(ii) planning how the engagement with stakeholders will take place;

(iii) disclosure of information;

(iv) consultation with stakeholders;

(v) addressing and responding to grievances; and

(vi) reporting to stakeholders. Moreover, roads are also development corridors.

They create not only better connectivity, but also opportunities for better work, skill development, business facilitation. They are the back and bones of improved local value chains and access to services. To optimize these functions requires systematic engagement of local stakeholders.

This chapter first discusses the scope for community engagement in different dimensions of green road for water development (Section 14.2). Section 14.3 discusses the practicalities of community engagement in different stages of road development, whereas section 14.4 gives examples and takes lessons from three large-scale community engagement programs.

The impact of roads and transport is well known—on access to new services, on jobs, the flow of ideas and aspirations, but also the effect on water and environment and the danger of unlocking pristine areas. There is a current challenge in many local rural economies in that they have so little to offer to young people. There are not enough jobs; the economy has no diversity and no opportunity for services and commodities to circulate. The local economies are often not inclusive—not for vulnerable people, but also not for aspiring young people in the productive peaks of their life. Instead there is much idling away and empty dreams. There is a need to create vibrant rural economies—with diverse jobs that add value, where services are provided and move from one person to another, where the local economy promotes local specialization in things that individuals are good at and have a talent, where a strong and level relation exists with the larger world and where the natural asset base is well protected. In this respect there is a huge difference between rural economies in different parts of the world—in the diversity of their services, their ability to preserve their land and water resources and their outward outlook.

It is important to consider any investment as a huge multi-facetted opportunity to bring such changes, with roads development and maintenance foremost in this. It is also important to better understand the uses and changed values that roads and transport bring beyond the immediate task of putting in place new infrastructure. Developing roads, however, has the potential to address many issues at the same time and make an enormous impact on inclusive growth:

  1. roads unblock access for rural goods and services, particularly if the development of the road is matched with the promotion of local transport—from carts, bikes and motorbikes, to intermediate means of transport to small buses, trucks and lorries. The development of rural roads and especially rural transport can be “the best thing ever” for local value chains, the local circulation of goods, where are a large part of the economy takes place. The development of highways can open up areas and increase their competitiveness.
  2. road development and road maintenance create direct labor opportunities. There are several examples. The labor-based cut and fill method used in Nepal (see Chapter 5.2), for instance, creates 26,000 labor days per kilometer, helps introducing safety procedures and equal pay for women and is constituting an environmentally best practice. Road development may be directed at labor opportunities for those that are most vulnerable and those who have the largest future potential (young people). With labor opportunities come opportunities to build new skills and set aside small financial reserves. There is a case to see the investment in road development as a “shot in the arm” for the local economy: once people have money in hand they will spent it locally and a multiplier of local expenditures and transactions may start to work.
  3. road development boosts the development of local business—road side stalls, bars, hairdressers immediately, but also hardware shops, repairers, agro-vet dealers, storage facilities, financial services and more. In Ethiopia, it was found that 78 percent of business came in place after the road development. We may go further in investing in local production and services by systematically rooting programs through local business, by stimulating local value chains and promoting more business development in areas that are just opening up.

    Picture 14.1: Roadside service providers in Kenya
    Picture 14.1: Roadside service providers in Kenya
  4. road development, as is the theme of this document, changes the physical environment. A survey done among 162 households in Tigray, Ethiopia, living within 2.5 kilometer distance from the road found that 49 percent complained of the dust affecting health and crop production (see also Chapter 12), 41 percent complained of floods from the roads affecting their houses and cropland, 34 percent had witnessed erosion, 21 per cent had seen some sediment deposits in their land and 9 percent complained of water logging in some sections along the road. Environmental impacts of roads are thus significant, and as should be systematically harnessed. Demenge et al. (2015) have argued that this could enhance positive impacts such as ‘improved physical assets (road, irrigated land, new land under cultivation, ponds); livelihoods diversification (sale of water, commercial agriculture, raising fish, increased demand for labour); reduced vulnerability (seasonal water availability reduced, climate change resilience); and saved time in transport /travelling /irrigation/chores.’ It has been argued in this Guideline that the impact of the road on its immediate environment should be managed as instruments for socio-economic development, environmental rehabilitation and climate resilience. An example of complementary measures is the program in Ethiopia, for instance, where sand harvesting is well organized and used to create business opportunities for young people (Box 14.1.).

All of this amounts to a new vision of rural roads: as development vectors, as breakthroughs for change, as instruments for inclusive climate resilience and green growth. It is important to see roads as more than transport lines, but as bringers of change and local development. Roads can bring much change, facilitate chances at the doorsteps, especially when investments are made in the opportunities that go with them: transport, credit, water and trees, capacities and business skills and visions.

Box 14.1. Sand harvesting by groups of young people

Around new road river crossings sand often accumulates. Whereas this may hamper the capacity of the river to convey floods, sand is also a useful asset, much sought after in the construction sector. In many countries the mining of sand is unregulated and often controlled by local strongmen. This may further disturb river hydrology. All this does not need to be so. In Ethiopia, the Regional Departments of Mining mapped all areas with exploitable sand deposits. They next set up programs to give young people a start in business by giving them opportunities in sand mining. The formula is that groups of 25-30 young people—half women, half men—are given a one-year concession to mine sand in a well-demarcated area. The money that they earn, they can set aside if they want to do so as individual savings. After one year their savings are multiplied and they are supported to set up their own business.

In making full use of the opportunities of road development, community engagement best takes place in different stages of road development: during conceptualization, during design, during implementation and during after care (Figure 14.1). To make use of the potential for roads as development vectors, the community engagement should not be limited to the finalization of road infrastructure, but should also look at enhanced connectivity and road use; at the economic development roads can trigger and at the beneficial use of roads for water and other environmental functions. If done well, it will also enhance local ownership and create an interface between the road-implementing organizations and the people living in the area where the work takes place, including their representative organizations. At present, such a positive partnership in many instances does not occur and it leads to discontent—disputes and litigations over land, labor and compensations; frustration about the collateral damage caused by road development. This slows down work and adds to costs, whereas opportunities to align with local knowledge and priorities are missed.

Box 14.2  Roads in development corridors

  • Community engagement is essential to make full use of the opportunities for road development – for beneficial road water management but also for optimizing the impact of roads on access to services, creation of labour opportunities, developing local skills and vitalizing local economies
  • It should be well thought through throughout the different stages of road development and maintenance – not making stereotype assumptions on the composition of communities and optimizing the scope for local initiative and entrepreneurship around the development of roads
  • This will place roads at the heart of ‘green development corridors’.

It is also important not to be naïve about community engagement. There are a number of misconceptions about community engagement that should be avoided. The first misconception is to consider community engagement as a “good” in itself without being clear on the objectives, the mechanisms and the rules of engagement. Community engagement should be well thought through and planned—not different from how engineering works are planned. It should have clear programs for facilitators and experts. The second misconception is that local contributions in labor, land or in kind automatically create “ownership”, which then suffices for the sustainability of the infrastructure. First is that there are many ways to contribute—not necessarily just local people “participating” in a program designed by others: it may just as well be the other way around—resources being made available to support local initiatives. This often leaves the organizing power with the communities rather than removing it. Second is that there are many opportunities to engage and develop joint programs around roads, beyond the physical contribution to road development—co-developing the opportunities in labor creation, economic development, climate resilience and water management.

Figure 14.2. Different stages in community engagement
Figure 14.2. Different stages in community engagement

A third pitfall is to assume “the community” exists. It is important to be aware of the diversities among the people concerned, their cultural practices and inhibitions and the imbalances in power and access. The latter can also avoid that one “engages with the wrong people” and that community engagement unwittingly becomes a force for exclusion or repression. A special consideration is the engagement of women, to which there are often cultural or economic barriers. For instance, one cannot assume that the presence of women in a meeting is enough. Programs that enable them to take part in economic activities, receive fair equal play, but also by engaging women facilitators who made communication easier but also became role models in their own right—women had moved about freely and had a lot to offer in terms of skills and knowledge.

It is good to have an understanding on the social relations and the perceptions of people. A recommended method is the “well-being” method that tries to understand the opportunities and issues from the life priorities of the persons directly concerned (see Box 14.2). A related technique is participatory rural appraisal—that engages group discussion around mapping, preparation of time-lines, doing a transect walk or priority setting—see also Annex 8.

Community engagement should ideally take place in different stages of road development and should cover the wider ramifications of road development: the development of infrastructure, its usage and transport functions and the promotion of related economic opportunities and economic services, particular the development of green roads for water.

Box 14.3 Well-being method: How to create a connection between the interviewed person and the person interviewing.

Step 1: Common human interest

The first stage concerns the establishment of common human interest. As humans, there are a number of areas that touch us all deeply, whatever our background: our health, our autonomy and security and the future of our children. This we can share and discuss and exchange our experiences. A number of questions that can be asked at this stage:

– How is your health and what are your concerns? – How do you see the life and future of your children? – Do you feel safe and secure? Can you manage with your income? – How do you feel from day to day? – What risks do you see for your family?

Not all questions need to be asked—what is important is the natural flow of the conversation and the understanding that is jointly developing.  It is good to do this as equals and exchange experience—with interviewer/visitor comparing one’s own life with that of the interviewee and also encouraging mutual questions. This stage of questioning establishes the human connection. It also triggers thinking about what is important for one’s self and the choices one is making.

Step 2: Reflections

Following the common human-interest stage, more reflective questions can be asked. These encourage light analysis of one’s situation and that of others and gives a lot of mutual and often unexpected holistic insight. Examples of such reflective questions are: – How are things done? – How do other help each other? – How is your relationship with members of family? – How is your relationship with  your neighbors? – How do you look at things in your life, how do you look at others; how do you look at yourself? – What are your roles, and are you content with these? – Would you say that people help each other? – Do you think things will be different in the future?

One can also ask for examples and relate to what is in the house or immediate environment to illustrate the points. What is important is to listen to what is behind something out of empathy. This will often generate new perspectives/understandings of priorities. It will help one to understand what is driving them, how decisions are made, and what boundary constraints exist.

Step 3: Thematic discussions

From these two stages, one can move to topics that originally triggered the learning visit (e.g. road construction program, mobility and access and environmental effects) and that one wants to understand better. One can raise these in a conversational way and see how they relate to the person’s well-being. By this time there is a good, deep understanding of each other’s lives and the thematic question can relate to these interests. It is best to use a checklist that one either has memorized or quickly glances at.

The type of engagement changes with the different stages in road development. In the early stage of conceptualizing and planning, when decisions are being taken on where to build the road, under what specifications and contractual arrangement, the interface is with local government and with representative interest groups, such as associations of traders or transporters or farmers groups. Important decisions at this stage concerns the alignment of the road and the main specification—for instance, to make a low embankment road with a designated spillover in a lowland area or go for high embankment roads, or to plan a road that will protect and help manage a watershed or a mountain environment with appropriate gradients and water harvesting structures, or in low-lying areas how to use the local road network to optimize water management in the extremely flat terrain (see Box 14.3). The conceptualization stage is also the time to discuss the inter-linkage with transport and the development of economic opportunities—such as measures to stimulate local business as part of road development or the designation of road reserves and land for economic activities along the road. The increased value of such designated lands can make an important contribution to the financial and economic viability of the road.

After the planning stage, the design of roads will put the specific details in place (Wattam, 1998). At this stage, representative groups and local government may still play a role, but structured discussions with roadside communities will be important too. Such discussion need to have an official character—with the persons talking mandated to do so and the results of the discussion recorded. The nature of the consultation should be clarified: informing or binding or something in between. It is important to manage expectations on what suggestions are practical to follow up and what recommendations cannot be accommodated. The engagement with local communities will add much value in this stage: the detailed understanding of the terrain, the local priorities and also setting the ground for implementation—through land release, work arrangements and sourcing of building materials, such as planning the location of borrow pits with an eye to later reuse for water storage (chapter 8). This is also the opportunity to discuss and agree on roadside tree planning—the location, species and modalities. As much as possible the planning of complementary economic activities and road water management measures should be in the hands of those in charge of it—not just by a road agency. This requires cooperation with agricultural and water management bureaus, organizations for business promotion, educational and health service providers and transport agencies. In the case of road water management measures, this is also the stage to discuss operation and ownership of the additional water resource—to which land the water is distributed and under what conditions to operate, for instance, gated culverts, roadside dams or overflow structures.

Box 14.4. Using modeling to inform the road network in coastal areas in Bangladesh

Based on discussion with local government and key stakeholders, the likely future road network in a polder was mapped—in addition to the current network. In the current network a large number of bottlenecks were identified where the roads impede drainage—seriously reducing farm production and also causing vector-borne diseases. With the help of a detailed digital elevation model the drainage patterns could be traced. With the juxtaposition of the current and future road network it helped to: (1) locate the most important cross-drainage works (bridges and culverts) and define the bed sill of these; (2) calculate the amount of water to be stored in the lower part of the polder with the help of road embankments to be released during dry seasons; (3) identify the higher and lower lying areas of the polders and explore the scope to place the road on the boundary lines so as to compartmentalize the areas and have a better dry-season water control, using gated culverts and pipes, and (4) identify most the flood-prone area where roads at a higher elevation could be a source of relief during flood events. These models were made with the inputs of different local stakeholders and then were re-discussed so as to become part of district infrastructure plans.

The next phase is implementation. This offers large opportunities for local employment, skill development, and economic business development. First, the road itself may be constructed by young contractors, in the case of paved roads, as was done in Ethiopia—whereby groups of university graduates were supported through training, credit and access to heavy equipment to take on local road-building contracts. This helped build up local and national capacity in the construction industry. In the case of unpaved roads, the work can be allocated to local contracting groups, as with the Labour Contracting Societies in Bangladesh (see Section 14.4). The performance of these groups in terms of quality of work and entrepreneurship has often been very high—amazing considering the level from which these groups started. These groups are composed of people living below poverty lines: landless and marginal labor. The engagement of such groups in basic road building has had an enormous impact on poverty alleviation, encouraging members to use the earning for productive assets. Road construction also provides other economic opportunities—the operation of community borrow pits and quarries and the development of support services to the road construction (shops, restaurants, etc). The money that is spent in the local economy can be a boost to further economic activities. At this stage, work can also start with additional road water management measures—individually or as part of a community effort, as in the mass mobilization campaigns in Ethiopia.

The final stage is the aftercare of roads. In this stage the interaction is again with local groups and local government and possibly special interest groups, such as transporter organizations. Also, with the roads constructed, more road water management measures can be developed, following the need and opportunities that have emerged. As has been mentioned throughout the Guideline particularly, the maintenance of unpaved roads is a challenge, as budget provisions are often inadequate. The combination of maintenance and road water management is thus very powerful, and should be combined where possible with road maintenance groups taking care of maintenance (as in Nepal see Section 14.4) or with individuals taking care of designated road sections and the water harvesting opportunities contained therein. This is also the stage to fully use the economic activities by promoting transport and facilitating business opportunities in local value chains. Table 14.3 gives a snapshot of the opportunities and the interstices for community engagement in different stages of road development and in different fields of road impact. The next section discusses a number of programs where community engagement in road development was undertaken on a large scale.

Table 14.3. How to engage communities in road development

Infrastructure Development StageEngagement through:Infrastructure developmentInfrastructure usageRelated economic opportunitiesRelated environmental services
Conceptualization and planningLocal government

Representative interest groups

Stake holder dialogue

Road alignment selection

Decisions on type of contract and construction method

Choices on supporting transport measures



Choices on type of economic opportunity to promote

Decisions on use of road reserves

Special economic zones

Major choices on multi-functionality

Road alignment to optimize environmental functions specific to local opportunities

Design and preparationCommunity discussion

Local government

Participatory methods

Consultation with other parties

Design of roads and water crossing and additional measures

Freeing up land for road and road reserves

Community contracts

Agree on interface in participation

Design to accommodate specific transportFreeing up land for side activities

Roadside tree planting concessions

Identification of measures and locations for road water management

Consultation on location of road drainage structures

Consultation on location of water harvesting structures and borrow pits

Construction of road and water infrastructureCommunity groups

Local government

Participatory methods

Community road construction groups

Start up contractors

Community contributions in land and labor

Complaint handling mechanisms

Community concessions

“Start up” contractors

Training in income generating activities

Additional provisions

Community and individual development of roadside water management infrastructure
Maintenance and continue careCommunity groups

Local government

Community road maintenance groups/contracting societiesCommunity road safety measuresRoadside tree plantingMaintenance and rebuilding of water structures part of individual responsibility


Community engagement is often organized on a project basis, but if it is part of a national system it is easy to reach scale. In this section we discuss three examples of nationwide systems for community engagement in road development and maintenance: the road for water activities in Ethiopia, being part of the large watershed movement; the engagement of labor contracting societies in road development in Bangladesh, and the road maintenance groups in Nepal.

Ethiopia: implementing road for water activities at scale

In Ethiopia, soil and water conservation programs have been in place for many years. Since 2014, road water harvesting is included in the repertoire of measures that are considered in the local planning processes.

Soil and water conservation “watershed” programs have been in place in Ethiopia since the 1990s. Several techniques were introduced over the years: afforestation, gully control and stone bunds. The earlier programs were often associated with food-for-work programs and the main purpose was sometimes the creation of work opportunities rather than building lasting productive land and water assets. The area covered was substantial. The main focus was reducing erosion through trapping and retaining sediments. In spite of the effort, the results were often unsatisfactory—due to a lack of effective community engagement, a limited sense of responsibility over assets created—and unmanageable.

From 2007, the program was thoroughly revived and reoriented. Particularly from the year 2009 onwards, a new thrust in soil and water conservation was introduced in different regions in Ethiopia. The new impetus had several elements. First, soil and water conservation was to focus on cultivated and uncultivated land. The farmers who farm the land should primarily conserve the cultivated land, and watersheds should be conserved by public mobilization. This helped to create a density of interventions that ensured a systemic change in the landscape—compared the more scattered intervention earlier. Second, there was—in addition to erosion control—more emphasis on harvesting water and retaining moisture. In this practice this meant several new techniques. For instance, in low rainfall zones infiltration ditches were added to the stone bunds so that more water recharged the land and storage ponds were added to the range measures.

The work was undertaken through free labor in the off-season under the so-called “mass mobilization” campaigns. Under this arrangement every able-bodied community member was required to work 20 to 40 days in a year, free of any payment. There were norms as to what was to be done in a day’s work—for instance: for a man, 5 m of stone bunding was to be completed in a day’s work. The norm for women was half of that for men. The work was done in the off-season: January to March, with a smaller campaign in June/July. In addition to the free labor, contributions from the so-called Productive Safety Net Programme were integrated with the soil water conservation program. Under this program, chronically food insecure people were registered and provided with work opportunities against payment in cash or kind.

The amount of work that can be done is enormous. In contrast to the earlier initiatives, the program was very popular as the starting point was local planning and the results were significant. The work was usually accompanied with festive events, such as rallies and meetings. By concentrating on one section of a watershed at a time, and not spreading thin, the result of all the intense efforts was usually quickly noticeable.

Figure 14.3:. Community mobilization for road water harvesting in Amhara, Ethiopia
Figure 14.3:. Community mobilization for road water harvesting in Amhara, Ethiopia

Apart from the collective work, farmers also invested considerably in their own land improvement (leveling, terracing, soil amelioration) and in some places well development. Key to the success of the program has been local planning and implementation—something that was missing in the earlier efforts. Capacity building consisted of:

  • The regional Bureau of Agriculture providing training and planning support to the districts (woredas).
  • Woredas giving training and support to village clusters.
  • Village clusters (in coordination with woreda representatives) offering training to farmers at sub catchments.
  • For each watershed, local experts and farmer leaders made a watershed plan.
  • Groups of five farmers worked together and combined their efforts in combined groups of 25. The location of the structures is planned locally with farmers setting out stakes

The strong local-driven implementation meant a break with earlier soil and water conservation efforts—where people mainly participated to receive food for survival. In the past there was often little awareness of the effect that soil and water conservation activities could achieve. Implementation at scale also meant a change in environment—as witnessed from the re-emergence of springs, the regulation of local flows and the growth of indigenous trees—causing larger momentum. It created an effect of “success breeds success” —as it encouraged experimentation with new crops (fruit trees) and new land management methods. The road for water activities were integrated in the implementation from 2014 in Tigray and from 2015 in other regions of Ethiopia, in particular in Amhara, SNNPR and Oromyia. The measures consisted of flood water spreaders from road surfaces, flow dividers at culverts, infiltration trenches parallel to or perpendicular to road alignments, storage ponds and recharge ponds supplied by the run-off guided by road bodies. These measures gained in popularity quickly and from 2016 formed 25 percent of all the measures undertaken under the watershed campaigns. In the campaigns from 2016-2018 1,670,000 people were involved, if calculated on a full-time engagement (40 days) (ITAD 2018)—hence mobilizing 67 million labor days.

Bangladesh: labor contracting societies working on road development

To create labor opportunities for the landless and marginal farmers (owning less than 0.2 ha) in the construction and maintenance of small infrastructure the model of Labour Contracting Societies (LCS) was developed, since the 1980s. The LCSs are usually groups of 50 either ultra-poor male or female landless farmers for whom this income opportunity is very important. To facilitate this form of community engagement, the Public Procurement Act, 2008, and Public Procurement Rule, 2008, endorsed “direct contracts” with LCSs. The concept is to bypass the conventional mode of works contracting to facilitate the involvement of local people where the poor members from the neighborhoods directly benefit from development projects. A public procurement entity—such as the Local Government Engineering Department in case of local roads—has the legal mandate to make such contracts with groups of local people in a bid towards their poverty alleviation.

The LCS groups are largely self-selected and as such present themselves to the contract issuing authority. The criteria for membership are age (18 -50 years), fitness, local residence and interest in joining the LCS. Each group has an executive committee. The remunerations are such that it provides an attractive opportunity for those poorest in the lean agricultural season. The process is that the work to be done under LCS is identified by the contracting authority that undertakes a pre-work assessment. Next, a work order is prepared for the LCS based on the estimated volume of work. The standard rates for construction work applies as determined periodically for every region of the country. The payment to the LCS is made as is done with other contractors—an advance payment and then several installments. The final payment is based on a post-work assessment of the work—in which the actual volume of work is calculated. A security deposit is also taken, which is paid at the finalization of all contractual arrangements. Payment is made to the bank account of the LCS—from which individual members are paid based on their contribution to the work.

Under several programs in Bangladesh, large volumes of work have been completed and the LCS formula has placed money in the hands of poor—who have typically used this to acquire some household economic assets, such as a cow or goats for fattening. This has remained popular. In road building also, equipment was introduced that facilitated the work and enhanced its quality, such as compact rollers and wheelbarrows. The smooth implementation of the LCS activities hinges on several factors:

  • Sincere selection of landless and marginal farmers as group members.
  • Preventing contracts from being captured by local contractors who then engage outside labor and mechanical equipment.
  • Timely issuance of work orders so that work can be comfortably undertaken outside the monsoon season or the season of peak agricultural labor demand.
  • Correct pre-work assessment so that there are no major discrepancies post-work—leading to payment deductions and disturbed relations among LCS members.
  • Smooth handling of all payments – including the return of the security deposit.

Nepal: involving road maintenance groups in mountain road maintenance

In the past fifteen years, Nepal undertook an ambitious road-building program, lifting its road coverage above the average of neighboring countries. To ensure the sustainability of these roads in often very challenging terrain, Road Maintenance Groups (RMGs) have been formed in several parts of the country. The functioning of these groups is formalized in a number of guidelines. The RMG activities have been determined by selecting those maintenance activities that can be carried out by unskilled workers using basic hand tools. The main objective of the RMGs is to ensure the proper functioning of the road and to reduce damage to the road by ensuring the proper working of the road protection measures, particularly the drainage system and support walls. They are also responsible for recurrent maintenance aimed at repairing minor damage to prevent the damage from becoming more serious. Some of their activities are: clearing culverts, clearing and cutting vegetation on roadsides and drainage structures, clearing drainage ditches and landslides. They carry out minor specific maintenance aimed at creating basic road protection structures to prevent damage to the road. Some of these measures could also include the road water management techniques presented in previous chapters of this Guideline, such as creating side drains that divert water to farmland, stone-paved water crossings to prevent erosion, and the protection of slopes by planting vegetation.

For rural road network a “length worker” system is applied where the workers engaged for a road are grouped together for maintenance for the entire road. Rather than having one person working on a dedicated stretch of road, as is common in many countries, the RMGs can allocate their members according to need, which allows them to spent more time on problematic road sections. In this way, with the RMGs an important administrative bottleneck is removed in contracting, supervision, planning and inspection. This is particularly convenient on unpaved rural roads, where maintenance often is cumbersome. The RMGs model is used for all the routine road maintenance activities, but also for recurrent and specific maintenance and emergency maintenance that do not required skilled labor, equipment or special materials.

Figure 14.4. Road maintenance group in Nepal with work safety measures
Figure 14.4. Road maintenance group in Nepal with work safety measures

The size of RMGs is flexible and depends on the length of road, required work input, and estimated number of person-days to be used by RMG members each year. The input of person-days depends on the characteristics of the road (condition, topography, and road surface type, traffic levels and existing road protection structures). An example of the work norm used in Nepal is given in Table 14.4.

Table 14.4. Example of work norms for Road Maintenance Group in Nepal

Road TypeApproximate Input Level
Tarmac Road
Road in good/fair condition in dry season, i.e. road is passable by normal car at min. road design speed (20 & 40 km/hr for hill and Terai respectively)65 person-days/km/year
Road in poor condition in dry season, i.e. road is passable by normal car in below road design speed (20 & 40 km/hr for hill and plains respectively)104 person-days/km/year
Earthen/Gravel Roads
Road in good/fair condition in dry season, i.e. road is passable by normal car at min. road design speed (20 & 40 km/hr for hill and Terai respectively)80 person-days/km/year
Road in poor condition in dry season, i.e. road is passable by 4*4 bus, truck or tractor or normal car in below road design speed (less than 20 & 40 km/hr for hill and Terai respectively)104 person-days/km/year
Road in poor condition in dry season, i.e. road is only passable by 4*4 bus, truck or tractor and required heavy maintenance156 person-days/km/year


Members are selected from communities along the road (sections) to be maintained or from those communities nearest to the road. Before the start of the selection process, the district development committee (DDC) body conducts a meeting and approves selection criteria and modality. Group members either apply through interview or are selected in a mass meeting by the Village Development Council. The common criteria for the members are:

  • The workers must be above 18 years of age;
  • They must be physically and mentally able to do road maintenance;
  • They live near the road to be maintained. This reduces travel time;
  • The candidates must be unemployed or employed less than 25 per cent of their time;
  • The priority need to be given to poorest and marginalized people of the community;
  • Preference to female candidates. Women participation should not be less than 33 per cent but can go up to 100 percent too;
  • At least 40 percent of the group must be from disadvantaged groups.

Once the selection is finalized, the RMG is registered with the local government. The RMG should also elect the representatives of a group, in particular the general chairperson and treasurer. Individual bank accounts are opened for the payment of wages for each member of the RMG. The local government will be responsible for payment to each member based on their monthly performance and certification by the technical team. Alternatively, a bank account is opened in the name of the RMG with at least two nominations from the RMG members. This prevents the mismanagement of the payment and secures timely payment.

Prior to the works, training is provided on technical issues concerning the maintenance contract (what is road deterioration, how, when, and where to implement the different maintenance activities, how to do, what tools to use?), as well as the managerial aspects of the maintenance contract (how the work effectively, how to distribute the work activities, how to plan, how to supervise, how the payments are made, what documents need to be presented).

Once the member has been trained, the RMG group can sign the maintenance contract. The payment for the maintenance activities is made according to performance, based on the conditions of the different road sections. Because it is not possible to maintain the entire section of road at one time, the RMGs are expected to prepare monthly work plans on a monthly basis to determine which road elements and on which sections of the road the performance-based system is applied. The frequent inspection of the work plan and work at the road is needed to ensure the condition of road elements and road section included in the plan is appropriate. Inspection forms a basis of the payment made to the RMGs. Inspection, supervision and monitoring work is carried out by technicians or engineers in DDC/DTO from the project/program on a weekly basis.

For payment, the district rate is used for the payment to unskilled labor There are two methods of payment: either payment to each RMG member directly in their personal bank account or payment to the RMGs with the RMG is responsible for paying each member according to their attendance. In the latter case, the local government monitors the payment distribution regularly. There are also allowances like for tool maintenance, for safety equipment, for transport, and  for the expenditures made by the chairperson, treasurer and other office bearers

There is considerable scope for community engagement in road development, to not only introduce the water management measures, but also to make use of the wide range of benefits that roads can bring. It requires a careful thinking on the methods used. In effective community engagement, the devil is in the operational details as much as it is in the overall remit.

It is important to structure community engagement in road development as in many instances the interface is not there and the interaction is defined by litigations and complaints. Given the opportunities for roads to work as development vectors, including having green roads for water or having roads as the center of development corridors, systematic community engagement is a ‘must have’.