Return to the UEM Homepage
Habitat Best Practices: Lessons learnt

What defines a Best Practice?

The definition of a best practice was adopted by the general assembly of the United Nations as follows:

PARTNERSHIP between two or more public agencies, local authorities, non-governmental and community-based organizations, the private, professional and academic sectors etc;

IMPACT in the form of tangible improvements to people's living environments;

SUSTAINABILITY as evidenced by lasting changes in legislation, institutional capacity, management systems, decision and resource allocation processes, financial and environmental management.

Several additional aspects are also covered, including - leadership in inspiring action and change; promotion of accountability and transparency; community empowerment; responsiveness to social and cultural diversity; potential for transferability; appropriateness to local conditions; gender equity and equality and social inclusion.



An analyses of the 104 best practices reveal several commonalities and contributing factors to success. These include:

  • Partnerships and participation:
    One of the most important lessons learned from best practices is the contribution of effective partnerships - Concept which goes beyond participation. Among the most compelling practices are those where formal recognition accorded to all stakeholders irrespective of their ability or capacity to contribute financially or technically. Ideas, points of view, in-kind contributions however small, are valued as much as those partners bringing substantial financial or political commitments to the endeavour. In Fortaleza, Brazil, for example, what was once a water-logged rubbish dump has been transformed into a housing estate complete with small-businesses, training programmeís and social services. The cornerstone of this success has been the evolving partnership between an NGO, a capacity-building organisation; a research institution and the municipal government. Their combined efforts have produced new municipal policies towards low-income, and squatter settlements.

  • Community visioning process:
    A salient feature ,of several best practices is the broad-based involvement of the community in problem identification, action planning, project design and implementation. In one notable case in Chattanooga, Tennessee the community visioning process was initiated to solve an airípollution problem but has been going on for more than 10 years addressing progressively more complex issues and resulting in changes in policies and strategies, on the one hand, and capital investments in,excess of US 700 million by a wide variety of public private and community groups, on the other hand.

  • Capacity-building:
    Although many best practices may have been initiated as projects, those that have proven to be self-sustaining show that the learning of process skills or competencies are as important as technical know-how and expertise. These process skills include effective leadership and team-building, conflict resolution and negotiation, participatory planning, community mobilisation and organisation and information management (production, use and dissemination). The involvement of multiple stakeholders and partners in these systemic processes becomes a capacity-building exercise for the entire community, thus ensuring that these skills can be continuously applied beyond the initial planning and implementation stages to the management of the local development process. In many cases, these competencies have allowed for the better use and integration of technical and professional expertise within the design, implementation and management continuum.

Nicholas You, "LEARNING FROM THE BEST: New Paradigms and Tools for Decentralized City-to-City Cooperation". South-South Mayors' Conference, 3-4 July 1997, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Return to the Insights page
Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org