It is widely accepted that community engagement is vital for achieving sustainable development outcomes. While governments in several low-income countries have introduced community engagement for their electrification initiatives, the adequacy of traditional top-down approaches to capture community needs has been contested. In this paper, we holistically assess the barriers to needs-centric community engagement. Based on a community survey with 1.016 participants and 54 semi-structured interviews with government institutions and energy businesses in Uganda and Zambia, we unpack the relationships between communities and the public sector, and between communities and energy companies to interrogate the realities of community engagement in rural electrification. We find considerable gaps between community preferences for needs-centric engagement and how public and private sectors are currently engaging. Key institutional barriers for needs-centric community engagement are vertical and horizontal disconnections within the public sector as well as challenging and ineffective sharing of crucial information. For energy companies the main obstacle is the limited value attributed to a deep understanding of community needs. Based on our results, we develop an integrated model for community engagement focused on capturing energy needs. The model combines top-down and bottom-up engagement approaches where public institutions play a catalytic role in setting a flexible enabling environment for energy companies to establish deep connections with local communities, and where communities are given a platform to define and communicate immediate and long-term needs through context-specific means.
Towards people-private-public partnerships: An integrated community engagement model for capturing energy access needs
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