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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Community Involvement in the Management of Environmental Pollution, Tunisia


This case study describes the effort of the United States Agency for International Development to curb environmental pollution and achieve improvements in well-being in two Tunisian communities. It illustrates the importance of involving local citizens as well mid-level officials and high-level decision makers to bring about desired behavioral changes to improve environmental and community health. It further demonstrates the importance of involving the local community in determining and defining the issue or problem to be addressed.

Sponsoring Agency

  • United States Agency for International Development


In January 1995, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Environmental Health Project (EHP), initiated an 18-month pilot project in Tunisia focusing on the peri-urban poor of two secondary cities: Sousse, a resort city on the coast, and Kasserine, an inland, industrial town. Titled "Community Involvement in the Management of Environmental Pollution (CIMEP)," this project was designed to develop partnerships among national decision-makers, municipalities and local communities so that, together, these stakeholders could extend municipal services to peri-urban communities.

In cities with inadequate infrastructure and services for residents, those living in urban or peri-urban neighborhoods are exposed to numerous environmental health threats. Most of the peri-urban poor live in crowded areas without basic sanitation or clean water. They are often ignored by central governments, given inadequate services, provided with ill-suited projects by local governments, and have minimal influence over public moneys.

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Public Participation Goal and Level

The public participation goal of this project was to involve local citizens, municipal officers, and high-level decision-makers in extending municipal sanitation infrastructure and services to peri-urban communities to help achieve long-term improvements in well-being.

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Public Participation Approach

The CIMEP program evolved out of the lessons learned from USAID's 14-year Water and Sanitation for Health (WASH) Project -- the predecessor to EHP. The most important lesson learned was that infrastructure investment alone was insufficient for achieving long-term improvements in well being. The CIMEP methodology includes four main components: policymaker roundtables, skill-building workshops, follow-up activities, and microproject interventions. CIMEP's key characteristics are that 1) training happens over a long period; 2) it targets participation and behavior change of both municipal officers and local citizens; and 3) it includes buy-in of high-level decision-makers to overcome constraints and to support scaling up the approach. The public participation approach consisted of the following activities:

  • Assessment and Establishment of Management Team: After EHP selected the specific cities and communities, a local Tunisian team conducted a four-week assessment of the environmental health, socio-economic conditions, and municipal context within each city and community. EHP then formed a CIMEP management and monitoring team with key in-country specialists that included an economist, a trainer in community participation, and a public health hygienist.
  • Selection of Municipal Teams: The CIMEP team facilitated the selection of members for the equipe municipale elargie (EME), "enlarged municipal team." The actual selection was done by government officials based on clearly agreed-upon criteria. The EME included a variety of technical and municipal administrative staff from the chosen community sites as well as local community leaders and NGO representatives. There was one EME for each city. Seven people, ranging from municipal engineers to nurses and teachers, were chosen for each team.
  • Roundtable Dialogues: EHP recognized that having the support of policymakers at all levels would be critical to CIMEP's success. Before starting work on the project, EHP sponsored roundtable meetings in each city to bring together elected municipal officials, high-level administrative staff, and NGO representatives. The purpose of these roundtables was to determine existing constraints to participatory efforts to improve the overall functioning of the municipality, to build the policy support needed to sustain the project, and to enlarge the circle of stakeholders. The roundtables were held throughout the life of the project to keep national-level officials aware of the CIMEP program and thinking about constraints and solutions for implementing this program as well as future environmental health programs. These day-long meetings included staff from the Ministries of Health, Environment, Housing and Interior; the mayors and city managers of Sousse and Kasserine; and the EME team leaders. These meetings gave EME teams an opportunity to inform the ministries of project progress and future activities as well as to discuss constraints to the CIMEP process, such as a need to modify municipal working hours to enable staff to meet when community members were available.
  • Skill-building workshops for EMEs. Based on the findings of the four-week assessment, the CIMEP team developed and overall work plan and designed three skills-building workshops for the EMEs. The goal of the training workshops was to establish cross-sectoral teams that would ensure that appropriate community-level environmental health interventions would be implemented and sustained. Workshop topics included understanding environmental health, data gathering skills, and participatory assessment and problem-solving skills. Three five-day training workshops occurred between June and December 1995. At the end of each workshop, the teams developed a detailed plan of action for the following two months to ensure that the newly acquired workshop skills were put into practice. A local trainer worked with the EME teams in the local communities to implement the newly learned methods and to make note of the findings and observations. The last skill building workshop focused on implementation of community-level interventions, or "microprojects,” discussed below.
  • Development of community-level projects. EMEs conducted community meetings involving municipal staff and community residents to identify and prioritize environmental health problems. Using a consensus-building process, municipal technicians and community representatives discussed environmental health problems and alternative solutions, and then chose interventions that best addressed their needs. Microproject proposals were developed and submitted to a committee of municipal technicians and community representatives, and microprojects were selected based on criteria developed by the EME, policymakers and community members. Local NGOs administered the funds for each project. The microprojects included rehabilitating houses, paving streets, widening wastewater pipes, building a bridge, and providing color-coded waste bins for separating organic and nonorganic waste.

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As a result of the CIMEP process, government officials and the local population better understood the ways that environmental conditions impact physical and mental health. People began to corral animals, build latrines, use trash containers, and clean up neighborhood garbage. The behavior of municipal officials also changed. They came to see that poor communities have resources to offer and began to use participatory methods with community members to identify and develop activities dealing with the priority environmental health issues.

At the end of the training sessions, EME members and government officials attended a project finalization workshop to evaluate the CIMEP process. Participants discussed the lessons learned from CIMEP and developed a strategy for scaling up. A train-the-trainers workshop was held to develop a cadre of CIMEP trainers. The government of Tunisia later secured funding through the World Bank to scale up the CIMEP approach to other cities in Tunisia.

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Lessons Learned

This case study offers lessons with respect to changing the concept of public participation, including communities in defining the issue or problem to be addressed, establishing procedures for data collection, and providing time and resources for project team formation and support.

Differing concepts of participation can hinder the use of participatory techniques by stakeholders and the policy changes required to sustain them. Initially, Tunisian officials defined participation as the government choosing a project with the community "participating" by providing labor and money. In redefining the concept to one in which community members participated in choosing and directing their own projects, there was fundamental change in the way municipal actors interacted with their clients.

How an issue is defined or framed will impact the range of possible solutions. EME members found that, within the communities, environmental health issues were defined as more than just sanitation or solid waste and wastewater problems. For example, they discovered that in certain communities the women discarded waste on the streets not because they failed to notice newly installed bins, but because the waste was feed for their sheep and goats. In terms of municipal planning, defining the problem changed from "how do we bring sanitation to an entire neighborhood?" to "why do some neighborhoods dispose of their organic waste indiscriminately?" By reframing the problem definition to focus on behavior that could be changed, municipal teams began to address the root causes of environmental health problems.

There is a great degree of sensitivity regarding environmental health data. This is especially true in countries, such as Tunisia, where tourism is an important source of revenue. This makes it all the more important to involve local officials in the data-gathering process so they will have "ownership" of the results. For example, although useful and informative, the initial four-week assessment did not create support and consensus for CIMEP as it should have. Even though the team conducting the assessment was all Tunisian, local- and high-level officials did not accept the results as valid. The lesson learned here was that stakeholders must own the data if it is to be used by them. In response to this lesson, in other countries CIMEP involved government officials before the assessment.

EME team formation was assisted by formal workshops that helped provide orientation and team formation while the follow-up activities ensured that the newly acquired workshop skills were applied in a practical way. On-going involvement by the trainer, however, has a much greater impact that the actual workshops. The trainer made follow-up visits, during which s/he made a list of findings and observations about project implementation. These follow-up activities and visits laid the groundwork for the EME to establish a formal process of self-evaluation.

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.

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For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:

Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460