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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Matruh Resource Management Project, Egypt


This case study describes the efforts of the World Bank to develop a project to improve environmental resource management practices in a Bedouin community. It illustrates the importance of building trust with the affected community, in this case through community participation in development and verification of information to serve as the basis for a project plan. It further demonstrates the importance of seeking out and consulting “missing”stakeholders who are critical to project acceptance and implementation.

Sponsoring Agency

  • World Bank at the Request of the Government of Egypt


The government of Egypt asked the World Bank in 1990 to help identify ways to improve agriculture in the Matruh Governorate in Egypt’s Western Desert. The Matruh Governorate borders Libya to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Sahara Desert to the south, and the Nile Delta to the east. At the time, this region was inhabited by poor Bedouin farmers who were generally distrustful of the government and with whom government officials had little effective contact.

The World Bank (Bank) became involved when the Egyptian government requested a livestock project for the Matruh Governorate (Matruh). When World Bank officials visited the region, they observed clear evidence of environmental degradation as a result of overgrazing and poor resource management practices. It was clear that a traditional livestock project was not the appropriate solution to improve agriculture in the region. Resource management, particularly the ability to catch and retain rainwater, had declined severely through a cycle of poverty, lack of viable production alternatives, and uncoordinated regional development.

The Bank believed that the involvement and effort of all stakeholders would be necessary to change conditions in the region. Local people would have to change the way they behaved, individually and collectively; government would have to learn how to work with the local people and develop their trust and confidence; and the Bank itself would have to learn how to contribute its knowledge and resources to fit what the local people were capable of and willing to do. This required a new approach (at that time) in which central and local government officials and the Bedouins would work together to identify and prepare for the project.

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Public Participation Goal and Level

The specific public participation goal was for the central and local government officials to collaborate with the Bedouins to address the fundamental issues of natural resource management in the area.

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Public Participation Approach

The Bank’s first step in setting up public participation process was establishing a local task force consisting of ten people from the central government, twenty from local government, and ten from the Bedouin community. This task force set out to learn as much as it could about Matruh and its people. Initially this involved review of background information to learn about geography, topography, economics, history, and culture. While information gleaned from this review was helpful, the task force realized it needed to engage the locals directly.

The task force decided to conduct a participatory rural assessment of the Matruh region. This method would provide the task force with a good understanding of the people and their needs through intensive and participatory contact with them. The purpose of the assessment was to have affected populations and other stakeholders participate in the development of information, policies, activities, and institutions that would constitute a sustainable project to help the Bedouins as well as meet the Bank’s quality standards. The task force formed itself into seven teams and used the following techniques to identify what should be included in the project and how to implement it.

  • Semi-structured interviews: This technique was used to interview a group of households together. While the team had scripted questions covering specific topics, they allowed time for local people to talk about their own interests in their own way. These interviews not only provided data about the households but helped the team members and interviewees develop an understanding of one another other.
  • Participatory mapping: A team engaged the local participation in development of maps. The maps enabled the team to collect and position a lot of information, recognize spatial relationships, and understand differences in farming practices. The shared production of maps created consensus and facilitated communication among respondents. They also help the team gain insights into the way people think, including their priorities and reasons for wanting or not wanting to do something.
  • Transect Walks: A team walked the periphery of settlements, along with a select group of local people, to observe differences in land use, vegetation, soils, cultural practices, infrastructure, trees, water availability, and so forth. The locals observed as the team recorded its observations, and pointed out things that the team missed. The team then produced a transect diagram (a stylized representation) of the area covered by the walk.
  • Seasonal calendars: A team developed these calendars based on interviews with local people. These calendars focus on local livelihood systems and show month-by-month patterns of rainfall, crop sequencing, water use, livestock fodder, wild harvests, labor demand, labor availability, and so on. These calendars were often developed at a meeting involving several households during which people decided among themselves the appropriate answer to questions asked. These calendars were created on the spot so that the locals could check data accuracy immediately.
  • Social and historical profiles and time trends: Large groups of Bedouins were interviewed to help the team understand key changes over the years in land use, erosion, rainfall, population, tree cover, common property resources and so on. They were also asked to forecast how they expected things to be in the future and how they would like them to be.
  • Matrix ranking: This technique was used to learn from people what they thought about particular matters in absolute and relative terms. The team began these sessions by listing measures on which the team needed the locals’ judgment. Then they asked a group of people to state their negative and positive feelings about the measures. They were also encouraged to add their own measures and then rank order the various items on the list. This process was repeated a number of times with groups of people representing different tribes, areas, and wealth. These sessions produced the participatory, community-based implementation arrangements that form an important part of this project.
  • Focusing on women: The team noticed that only men showed up for meetings with the team, but women were important for the project to succeed. Women take care of small animals, produce crafts for sale, haul water, harvest food, and perform other tasks. The team enlisted the help of a female member of a British consulting firm and paired her with a female Bedouin veterinarian. Together, these two held meetings with women to cover much of the same ground covered at the all-male meetings described above. This proved vital as the contents of the project had to be socially acceptable and that women would have a strong voice in deciding what was acceptable.

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The proposed project plan that resulted from intensive participation was expeditiously approved by the Bank; this was largely due to the understanding and consensus developed through the participatory preparation process. Each of the plan’s components was thoroughly vetted within the large preparation team and within the constituencies the team members represented. Features of the plan included:

  • Natural resource management would conserve the water, land, and vegetation of Matruh. The project provides 800 underground cisterns, earth and stone contour dikes, cement stone or gabion dikes across wadis (intermittent streams or dry riverbeds that contain water after heavy rains) to intercept the water flow and create new fruit orchards, and rangeland improvements.
  • Adaptive research and extension would focus on dryland farming and livestock production systems, range management, sustainable agriculture development, and training directed at local communities. Four sub-regional resource centers would be built and supported to bring services closer to the local communities.
  • Rural finance would be provided in modest amounts to assist small farmers, the landless, and rural women for on-and off-farm producing activities.

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Lessons Learned

This project offers a few lessons about the impact of well-conceived and executed public participation processes. First, as noted above, the project received rapid approval from the Bank based in part on the understanding and consensus that were developed among stakeholders during the participatory assessment. Consensus was the result of participation of Bedouin communities in the project design. Their participation increased the likelihood that the project incorporated local knowledge and would meet the Bedouin’s needs and interests.

Second, in any project, the goal of a public participation project may shift over time depending on conditions on the ground. While this project began at the collaborate level of public participation, it ended at the empower level because of the community-based implementation arrangements. Community groups, which build on the traditional Bedouin lineage structures – the bayt – will prepare community action plans to tailor the objectives of the project to local circumstances and capabilities. Once the plan is prepared and approved, the community groups will be involved in implementing it and monitoring results.

Third, the greater the level of public participation, the less control a sponsor agency has over the outcome. However, loss of control may result in increased public or stakeholder ownership of the project. In this project, through participation the World Bank lost “control” of the project, but in so doing gained local ownership of a sustainable project. By demonstrating openness to the local peoples’ ideas and suggestions, the World Bank built trust with the Bedouins, who in turn were more open to listening to the Bank’s suggestions.

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