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Perspectives in the community

Watch the video on engaging stakeholders in a Community Based Research project to make a Beirut street more pedestrian-friendly.
We’ve already discussed the importance of getting the perspectives of the different types of people within a community. But how do you do that? We’re now going to take a look at a case study of a particular community project. Remember the project to make Jean d’Arc Street in Beirut more inclusive? The
issue was clear enough: that many people do not have good access to the streets - neither the visually impaired, nor the people on wheelchairs, nor the mothers with with strollers, nor the elderly. They all have problems with walkability. There’s not one single in sidewalk in Beirut where you can actually cross safely. But to turn this kind of street into one where disabled and elderly people could walk safely needed some drastic proposals. So we combined all these and we came out with this proposal to actually delete a parking lane on the right side of the road and give it …
improve the sidewalk by making it wider by having a safe passage that takes you all the way from Bliss Street to Hamra. A passage that’s one metre fifty that will not be interrupted not whatsoever all along that stretch. And this is something that’s unprecedented in Beirut and it wasn’t easy. But this is just one side of the story. We know one group of stakeholders very clearly but at the beginning of a project you have to find out more about the issue. First identify the problems that you want to solve. Identify the stakeholders that these problems mean something to. Talk to the stakeholders and put yourself in their place. Give them the scenario that would give them …
show them a positive aspect to what you’re doing. Have it backed up by research, backed up by data, backed up by surveys. And then you combine them together. And then you have to find somebody to implement. So you have to identify the the implementing side. For us it was the municipality of Beirut, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism. We had to approach all the political parties to actually get support - we told them “take it - we’re giving you something to be proud”. Until today improving a street in Beirut means removing the tiles from a side road and putting newer tiles so nothing really changes on the level level of the lifestyle.
We showed them that you can do exactly the same budget but if you do the correct study you change the quality of life of the people. To succeed with a community project it’s essential to identify the key stakeholders - the shopkeepers - to preempt any problems. The first problem was the stakeholders themselves weren’t convinced that this is for their best … to their advantage. They wouldn’t understand that deleting the parking from from next to their shop would actually end up giving them more business, because to them “I don’t have a parking space anymore…” There’s a strong car culture in Beirut which takes precedence over everything.
It was the biggest challenge to convince the stakeholders that “let us give you this example, please give it a chance. It is the future, this is where we’re going”. How did they work with the stakeholders, the shopkeepers on the street? It took a lot of time. We had to go case by case, shop by shop - really, shop by shop. There are 71shops in Jeanne D’Arc. We went to them one by one. We made almost a personal, you know, scenario for each and every one of them depending on what their resistance was. So it’s not easy and you would think many times that you should give up and it will not work.
So this is an important aspect of working with stakeholders in the community to really work with them, to build their trust you have to be persistent you have to be patient, you have to put yourself in the in this place of the stakeholder and see exactly his viewpoint to be able to convince him with your viewpoint. You can’t see it from your side, your perspective, at all. Your perspective is not important at all. Your perspective is for your study, but with the stakeholders you look at what they want and try to give them what they want so when they feel that it will be positive then you start to hit a positive note. And did she succeed?
Out of the 71 we have only five that are still resisting so this is a huge success. After almost one year on the implementation, we have most of the people feeling how the street has changed their lives. Just just hearing one one lady who walks her husband on the wheelchair every day saying “this changed my life, thank you” was enough for us to say this is a successful project. This project was very good, they made the pavement wider, for the pedestrian is very good. The infrastructure is also very good.
But the disadvantages: there are no parking spaces for cars like before. But the street is generally better than before … I don’t know if it will cause a problem for the future, but for the time being its OK. It is all indications that this, this street has improved the lives of stakeholders. The businesses, many of them now have their lunch on the benches outside - outside their shops. They sit next to each other, people who never talk to each other, because we’re not… you know, the war has still… you know, it’s 27 years after the end of the war - we still feel it. People from different factions, from different educational backgrounds, still feel the differences.
This becomes a pilot project for the municipality to take and apply to many, many other places in Beirut.

The video shows the different perspectives on a neighbourhood development initiative to improve a street in Beirut. The video features Mona Hallak, Director of the Neighbourhood Initiative, American University of Beirut and Harrag Arsalian, Shopkeeper, Jeanne d’Arc St, Beirut. We recommend watching the videos with English subtitles as they contain both English and Arabic.

How did Mona Fallak identify different stakeholders in the community? What are the different perspectives held by different people in the community?

Your community based research project will have a goal intended to help a community, but who are the people who should help you define that goal? What kind of data and analysis would help you with reaching the goal?

There are different views on what counts as improvement in the prosperity and well-being of a community. Some people might see pedestrianisation as an important improvement – because residents can more easily meet and enjoy their surroundings. Others may see it as a restriction – the motorists, certainly, but maybe also the shopkeepers, who think they will lose customers.

So the goal of the project has to be carefully negotiated with the the different stakeholders in the community – can there be a consensus about the best solution?

The success of the project will depend on the involvement of the community in an agreed and negotiated goal.

Over to you

What do you think? Who are the stakeholders for your project? Who should be involved in negotiating the goal?

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