Journey from Gram Panchayat to Union Parishad – Exploring the Roots of the Horizontal Learning Programme

By HLP Team of Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), compiled by Dr. J B Rajan, Associate Professor, KILA & Prathap Singh A S, Training Associate, KILA

Mar 07, 2019



A Workshop on Horizontal Learning Programme (HLP) was held at the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) on 11-13 April 2018. The learning event was facilitated by LOGIN Asia and resulted in the development of an action plan for KILA to practise HLP. The plan also covered suggestion for a structured learning visit (SLV) to Bangladesh to learn from real practitioners of HLP.

In this context, Dr. Joy Elamon, Director, KILA took the initiative to arrange the programme with the support of LOGIN and the National Institute of Local Government (NILG), Bangladesh. A team of 12 from KILA attended the programme at Dhaka, Bangladesh. This blog encapsulates our reflections on the HLP practices we witnessed on the ground in Bangladesh; our journey from GP (Gram Panchayat) to UP (Union Parishad).

Shift from P2P (Panchayat to Panchayat) to HLP

  1. Panchayat to Panchayat (P2P)

Kerala, through local governance, has incubated several innovative models at Panchayat level which can also be replicated in other Panchayati Raj Institutions. In order to replicate these best practices, KILA envisaged a programme, 'Panchayat to Panchayat' (P2P), wherein Panchayat functionaries from other Panchayats can visit Model Panchayats and learn from their innovative development activities through direct peer learning process, 'Learning by Seeing'. For the effective implementation of these programmes, KILA identified and documented best practices of such GPs and organised P2P programmes.

  1. HLP

HLP is a peer-to-peer learning process used to identify and promote good practices based on the three principles of appreciation, connection and replication (for easy recall, we coined the principles as CAR – Connection, Appreciation, and Replication). Scaled up good practices can serve as best practices influencing policy decisions.

The SLV, facilitated by LOGIN, was a great opportunity for KILA HLP Team to explore the approach in detail and to work towards initiating institutional HLP between NILG and KILA.

The Learning Visit - August 13 – 16, 2018

Dialogue between NILG & KILA

Mr. Tapan Kumar Karmakar, Director General, NILG, chaired the opening session and recollected memories from his last visit to KILA as well as the MoU between KILA and NILG. He pointed out that HLP is the unique collective initiative of NILG, Bangladesh.

Mr. Golam Yahia, Director, Training and Consultancy, presented the structure of Local Governance System in Bangladesh. Mrs. Manika Mithra of NILG discussed the capacity building of local government institutions in Bangladesh. Mr. Imranur Rahman (Imran), NILG - HLP in Bangladesh explained HLP and its objectives. He focused on HLP in Bangladesh, specifically discussing the platforms at the Union Parishad and Upazilla Parishad levels.

Possibility of Institutional HLP between KILA & NILG

Dr. J B Rajan presented the Model Capacity Building Programmes of KILA, covering the major activities, mandates, unique initiatives of the Institute as well as what KILA expects from and can contribute to NILG.

The presentation was highly appreciated and drew quite a few questions from the NILG team on the selection of trainers, design and development of modules and funding etc. The KILA team also visited NILG’s automated helpdesk system and the Center for Horizontal Learning Programme.

What we learned:

  • Local Government system in Bangladesh:
    • Local governments are under the Central Government
    • Out of total funds, 1/3rd are earmarked for women’s empowerment initiatives
  • HLP process in Bangladesh
    • Evolved through funding from the World Bank, but sustained even after funding stopped in 2015
  • About NILG, activities and their training
  • Potential institutional linkages between NILG and KILA

Long Journey through Rural Bangladesh – Field Visit to Union Parishad

The journey from the capital, Dhaka, to Tangail district was expected to be completed within three hours, but took double the time due to heavy traffic and public works on National Highway 4. The rural landscape and people are very similar to northern areas of India.

Mr. Santhanu Lahiri, Consultant, LOGIN Asia, welcomed us to the workshop and introduced Ms. Rowshan Ara Lily (Executive Director, Rural Poor Development Organisation [RPDO]), who would be accompanying us on the field visit with him. He stressed the need for appreciation, the cardinal principle of HLP. He suggested that during our field visit we should try to “see their spirit behind the process rather than output”. When HLP was initiated, there were enough funds to organise the activities, with Water Aid being the primary funding agency. Despite there being no funds, the process has been sustained, proving that sustainability is the core of HLP.

Features of HLP

We were asked to discuss and identify the key features of HLP, which include:

  • Connection, Appreciation and Replication
  • Evolved within, not from outside
  • All are trainers as well as trainees (horizontal relation)
  • Mutual learning (both guest and host are learning)
  • Sense of ownership
  • Good to best (good practices become best through replication)
  • Practice to policy
  • Sustainability

 Planning for Structured Learning Visit

We were organised into groups and asked to prepare questions on HLP which would be posed to selected persons (Union Parishad officials and members and citizens) during the field visit. The questions were finalised after a round of review. Each of us was designated as an interviewer, reporter or presenter. Through the process, we derived valuable learnings on how to design SLVs:

  • Go to the field as bees not flies
  • See the spirit rather than outcomes
  • Conceptual clarity is important before going for SLV
  • Responsibility mapping for effective conduct of SLV
  • Field visit vs SLVs (in the latter, functionaries are grouped as are visitors)

HLP Best Practice Visit to Baghail Union Parishad

We travelled to Baghail Union Parishad to learn about HLP good practices. The journey was tough, since the road is kutcha, made up of bricks. We saw jute fields on the way. The Chairman of the Union Parishad, Mr. Ratikul Islam Sohag, welcomed the team.We were told that in Bangladesh, it is very rare for a local elected representative to get elected for a second term. The Chairman of Baghail Union Parishad is an exception, which shows his influence and respect within the community.

Baghail Union Parishad has 27 villages including nine wards. There are nine elected members and three women elected members. We noticed a good thing which is that in all nine wards, there are village police officials appointed by the Police Department, Government of Bangladesh and the cost is shared equally by the UP and the government. Ten department officials function under UP, namely health and family planning, agriculture, food, environment, veterinary, fisheries, social welfare, engineering, education and public health.

Our visit began with paying homage to the martyr memorial outside the UP office – 46 freedom fighters were from this UP. We then visited a site of a good practice where a bamboo bridge has been converted into a concrete bridge - the work is still in progress. The 66-metre bridge connects two villages namely KasuvaJuvali and Banghal, and will reduce the time of travel to Bengla Bendhu from 3 to 4 hours to just 20 minutes.

The bamboo bridge project was covered extensively in print and social media. A Member of Parliament (MP) visited the site and realized the need for a concrete bridge, as the bamboo bridge’s key limitation was passage way for vehicles. Construction of the concrete bridge started, with the resources as below;

  • 20% from MP Fund
  • 20% from UP/Community
  • Community land

Around 6,000 people from UP and about 25,000 from other UPs have benefited from this project. Over time, communities in other areas started demanding a bamboo bridge to enable easy connectivity.

As of date, the MP has sanctioned construction of 26 bamboo bridges during his first term and 3 during second term, using funds from UP and Upazilla Parishad.

Promoting HLP at the UP level

  • The UP representatives attended initial workshops at NILG to understand the idea of HLP:
    • Parasparya Shikkha Workshop -24 Union Parishads at NILG
    • One-day training for selected UP Chairs at NILG
    • Workshop for high-level officials at Sylad Division
  • 10 UPs visited Bhaghi UP to see the best practice - Bamboo Bridge. Tangal UP and Nagarpur UpaZilla replicated in the same scale.
  • The Chair of Bhaghi UP also visited nine other UPs and key good practices were observed.

Our team divided into four groups which had been already formed the previous day. One translator each joined the groups. As planned, one group interacted with the Chairman; the second group with elected members, both male and female; third group with the Secretary; and the fourth group interacted with the community to know more about the best practice.

Another best practice that we learned of in the UP was the Village Court. The Village Court team includes the Chairman, concerned Ward Member and a person nominated by the Complainant. The Chairman is the presiding officer. In the absence of the Chairman, a member nominated by the Chairman can oversee the proceedings. After reporting a case, the two parties sit together and try to settle the case. If no settlement is possible, the complainant can go to the court.  Around 364 cases were solved successfully through the Village Court and only 14 cases remained unsolved during the last five years. The Village Court handles disputes and does not deal with major issues such as murder, rape, harmful injury, etc.

During the visit, the Panchayat Secretary was busy with the distribution of free rice to the underprivileged. It is a practice of Bangladesh’s central government to distribute rice to poor during festival season through local bodies.

Land of Freedom Fighters -Shakhipur Pourashava (Municipality)

Shakhipur Pourashava was established in the year 2000. The word ‘Shakhipur’ means the land of freedom fighters. The Municipality is the home of 17,000 freedom fighters.

We observed the construction of ramp and the disabled-friendly toilet and waiting room. Then we again divided into four groups and visited the solid waste management centre. At the centre, the project manager explained to us the faecal sludge service chain (process). The capacity of the plant is 1000 litres and coverage of the project is approximately 30,000 people. This project has been replicated in City Corporation Dhaka and Swayathpur Municipality. The Joint Director of State Ministry, Bangladesh visited the plant and planned to replicate it in other parts of the country.

The land was provided free of cost by the Chairman, initial cost of setting up the plant was approximately one crore thirty lakhs. Technical support is provided by Bangladesh Association for Social Accountability (BASA) and Water Aid. The monthly operational cost is approximately one lakh fifty thousand, monthly earning amounting to 80,000. There is no profit because the resultant manure is sold at a highly subsidized price.

Next, we visited a slum village which was converted by the municipality into a colony of 80 families. The families include members with disabilities. Water Aid provides drinking water through a project with drinking water taps in different parts of the colony. The key attraction is the common waste management project funded by Water Aid and BASA under the supervision of the municipality.

Key Takeaways

  • Community participation
  • Leadership and vision of Chairman and Mayor
  • NGO interventions
  • Innovative and replicable waste management system

HLP Experience Sharing

Chairmen, former Chairmen and Secretaries of UPs summarised their good practices that became the best ones to be showcased as examples of HLP. These included Open Budget, Tax Collection, Tax Book and Name Plate at each building, Water Point Registration (Hand pump), Arsenic Screening and Testing, Pipeline Water Supply, and Supply of Hygiene Kit with First Aid to Schools.

  • Rezaur Rahman, Secretary of Ranihati UP said that they got the idea of Open Budget from Madhai Nagar UP in a HLP workshop. Even though open budget is provided for in the UP Act, nobody had put it into practice. Now all the UPs practise open budget and the sessions are even telecast live on the local cable television network. The UP also innovated with tax collection by digitalising the process in 2014-15. In 1996, the UP’s building tax collection was just 16,000 Takas; in the last year, they could collect 6, 24,000 Takas and also achieve 96% tax collection. However, this digitalised taxation system is not mandatory. Several other UPs visited them and replicated this practice.
  • Arsenic was found in the water in Ranihati UP which led to several deaths. The UP then started water point (hand pump) registration. Arsenic screening and testing wasundertaken. The tube wells found contaminated were painted in red colour, while the safe tube wells were painted green. This marking of tube wells saved many lives. The need for piped water supply arose in the areas where the water was contaminated, which led to the supply of good quality water to those communities.
  • The Ranihati UP also initiated the good practice of supplying hygiene kits with first aid to all the classrooms in their schools.

HLP practitioners from the UPs and members of partner agencies joined us in a walking brainstorming session (walk and talk).

Fishbowl Exercise

The next session was a fishbowl exercise, which was a new modality for our team. One member from KILA and one member from a partner agency were asked questions about HLP by the HLP practitioners assembled there. While there were a few queries on HLP,all other questions were about KILA and Kerala’s decentralised governance model.

After the fishbowl session, all the groups were asked to present their good practices. Our team decided to showcase our good practices - child-friendly local governance (CFLG), training of elected representatives, capacity building on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and online courses - through posters. All the partner groups and UPs presented their good practices. After the presentation, the participants excluding KILA team were asked to vote for the most interesting presentations - CFLG and training of elected representatives (both KILA presentations) were the most preferred.

Key Observations

  • Enabling environment for HLP exists in Bangladesh, in terms of policy framework and committed team to promote the process. There is a well-designed framework for organizing Structured Learning Visits and HLP.
  • Government-NGO interface is strong and well promoted by the Government,
  • Many of the HLP interventions are knowingly or unknowingly targeted towards the attainment of SDGs.
  • Availability of experienced and committed resource persons for HLP
  • Need more orientation for stakeholders on strengthening HLP
  • HLP is still a work in progress stage.
  • More structured connections are needed for institutionalising HLP.
  • HLP practices are seen as a project requirement and not in its letter and spirit; hence its sustenance may be affected badly.

 Key Learnings

  • Need for continuum: There are different stages of HLP, conceiving stage, initial stage, upscaling stage, etc. These stages need to be considered while designing HLP.
  • Role clarity between partner and practitioner is required: The partner agency of HLP has a major role during initial stages, while practitioner has major role during upscaling stages.
  • Entry-Exit Plan: Considering the peculiarity of HLP, well-designed entry-exit plan is required. The partner agency of HLP has entry plan, but no exit plan. They should have a clear idea of when to withdraw so that HLP will be institutionalised and sustained.
  • Managing role models: During the process of HLP, role models would also evolve and often bypass the spirit and process of HLP. This needs to be kept in mind by the partners of HLP.
  • Need for clarity in Structured Learning Visits: distance of venue, status of practices, etc.
  • For HLP to sustain, structured connections have to be made consciously.
  • HLP within the institution and between institutions to be envisaged in the design
  • Change our ‘cubic lens’ (rigid and pre-conceived approach of seeing things), and approach learning with flexibility with respect to local situation.

 Next steps:

KILA will work to promote and facilitate HLP in Kerala by:

  • finalising relevant module
  • organising workshops for resource persons
  • organising orientation workshops for local self-governments
  • initiating HLP platform

Efforts will also be made to facilitate HLP between institutions

  • Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP) and LOGIN can link KILA with other countries of the region
  • KILA with other institutions of India

NILG identified opportunities to collaborate with KILA:

  • Induction Training of Elected Representatives of Local Governments
    • Training for resource persons (1st stage)
    • Training within 45 days immediately after election (1st stage)
    • Two-day training within six months (2nd stage)
  • Online Training
    • Open source software based trainings
    • Low cost trainings

TAGS: Best Practices Capacity Building Good Practice Gram Panchayat Horizontal Learning Programme Learning Local Governance Local Government Peer Learning Peer-to-Peer


 prathap singh a s |  Mar 07, 2019

Theory into practice-as per our action plan which was prepared at the end of visit in Bangladesh KILA has scheduled to conduct National level Workshop on HLP for equipping national level Resource Team.

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