Civil Engineering (B.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Ashley Coles


Located within the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, CINARA is an academic institution, comprised of both engineers and social scientists, that has almost three decades of experience regarding participatory approaches to water supply and environmental sanitation. In this paper, I argue that CINARA’s work is important due to its emphasis on meaningful community participation that significantly involves communities in decisions on technical matters that are usually allocated exclusively to “experts.” Furthermore, the valuation of social considerations and non-technical knowledge found amongst CINARA’s engineers stands in distinct contrast to traditional development practices and engineering mindsets. This paper will go on to discuss several factors that have enabled the development of CINARA’s participatory approach, such as its position as an academic institution, the commitment found amongst its engineers, and the fruitful depth of dialogue between its engineers and social scientists. Finally, challenges that continue to face CINARA will be discussed, such as the personal and collective transformation of its engineers, financial limitations, relationships with outside institutions, and issues with legal frameworks. Examining the factors that have enabled and inhibited CINARA’s activities provides lessons for other organizations interested in including citizen participation in all aspects of water issues and development more broadly.