Juntas de Acción Comunal (JACs) are aimed to help community members in Colombia meet, plan, and discuss ways to develop their community. These boards can take place in neighborhoods, cities, residential complexes, or any local level.
Problems and Purpose
In the early 1950’s, with the hopes of building a new communal school, a village in Colombia organized together and discussed the pros and cons of the new school. From this collaboration and organization, Juntas de Acción Comunal (JACs) were born. The purpose of JACs is to involve Colombia community members in the planning and development of their community. JACs work to promote progress and overall well-being in neighborhoods, cities, and local communities. If there is an empty building in the community, it is up to the local JAC to decide what to do with the building, as opposed to government intervention. This allows community members to feel a sense of belonging and input in their communities.
Background History and Context
JAC models have been a part of Colombia communities for centuries, but in the late 1950’s, the Colombian government passed Law 19 to institutionalize JACs. According to latinno.net, “70 rules were generated with respect to various laws, decrees, resolutions and regulations” and Law 19 was intended to institutionalize JACs. At one point, JACs were taken under the corrupt Colombian government as wings of the two political parties—meaning specific
JACs would represent either of the parties, but by the 1990’s, they were able to withstand partisan involvement and JACs were decentralized from government. The Colombian law decentralizing them states the objective of the law is to “promote, facilitate, structure and strengthen the democratic, modern, participative and representative organization in the bodies of community action...and at the same time, to establish a clear legal framework for their relations with the State and with individuals.” Since then, JACs continue to become more and more autonomous from governmental bodies.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
JACs evolved from village and community development sessions dating back centuries throughout Colombia. Once institutionalized in 1958, JACs have mostly maintained form while continuously becoming more autonomous from government and more community based. JACs have the unique advantage of being able to receive funding from both private and public entities, in Colombia and internationally, as well. Each JAC has its own way of raising and applying for funds. Some opt to completely forgo applying for governmental funding to prevent any possible bias that may come with the money, and some have no issue with applying for governmental funding. Many JACs get funding from nongovernmental entities such as nonprofits. These nonprofits can funnel in money from international organizations, as well. The only governmental entity that oversees JACs is the DAPD, or the Administrative Department of District Planning. They assist with the formation and rule-creation in each JAC on every level.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participation in JACs is completely voluntary. People can attend at their leisure and different JACs hold meetings at different times. That is the beauty of JACs; they have completely leniency on their makeup, meaning each individual JAC has the authority to decide how many people can join, how they will run their meetings, and what system of “government” they will follow. For example, each JAC has a president and other ranking members that they call dignitaries. While the election process is overseen by Dirección General para el Desarrollo de la Acción Comunal y la Participación (DIGEDACP), which is the sector of the Interior Ministry, each individual JAC has the opportunity to elect a president in whatever way they see fit. They could do it through a simple majority, ballots, proportional representation, or even candidate slates.
They also have the opportunity to divide themselves at the national, departmental, or local level. National JACs focus on issues involving the entire county and are considered more “serious,” while departmental JACs and local level JACs are more informal. For all JACs, members must be 14 years or older, live in the respective community, and no one participant can be a member of more than one JAC. Depending on the size of the community, each JAC can internally determine how big their JAC can be. In larger, more urban areas, it is required that there are at least 75 members. Every four years, National JACs are required to hold elections on the last Sunday of the month of April.
Methods and Tools Used
Every JAC is different. They have ways of communicating and developing plans to address issues in a community. According to Law 743 of 2002, each JAC will be able to write and produce their own constitution to abide by. This law also states that each JAC must “promote and strengthen in the individual, the sense of belonging to their community, locality, district or municipality through the exercise of participatory democracy”. JACs in Colombia are a version of collaborative planning, which is described as “a “civics-based model of planning that delegates responsibility for preparing plans directly to affected stakeholders.”
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
There are many principles that exist within JACs that revolve around deliberation and decision making. As mentioned previously, individual JACs have the freedom to make decisions as they please, but the following principles are declared by law: principle of democracy, principle of autonomy, principle of freedom, principle of equality and respect, principle of prevalence, principle of common interest, principle of good faith, principle of solidarity, principle of training, principle of organization, and principle of participation. These principles are somewhat similar to guidelines to remember throughout JAC participation. For example, the principle of equality and respect would be a reminder of everyone to keep equality and respect in mind throughout their participation and membership of the JAC.
There are also guidelines that determine the validity of meetings and the validity of decision. A certain amount of people must be present for a meeting to be held and a decision to be made. It is also stated that while there are dignitaries and presidents within JACs, it is the general assembly, or the “bodies of communal action,” that carry the most power. Depending on how individual JACs choose to run their meetings, the participation, tools, and techniques will vary. One example could be a traditional democratic JAC with a President, Vice President and Secretary. The President would preside over the meetings and allow members to voice their opinion on whatever is on the docket for the meeting. Every JAC is face-to-face.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
JACs have been extremely vital to Colombian citizens and seem to be effective. However, because of their democratic and “emphasis on collective action,” they can be seen as sympathizers with the left-wing guerilla groups. This has led to many attacks on JACs—especially in communities with paramilitary control. According to research, JACs have impacted neighborhoods, pro-community speech, and shaping modern Colombian cities with these community-based action approach.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
JACs are an effective form of participatory governance, and more specifically conventional participation. The idea of them being led by individual communities is particularly intriguing. However, it is questionable how well they would function in America. Optimistically speaking, they would be able to solve certain problems that only certain communities face. However, JACs in America could potentially adopt special interests and almost become an issue politically speaking. It could prove difficult when elections came around and JACs began to “endorse” certain candidates.
From the research done, JACs have been proven to be extremely successful for the Colombian people. JACs have provided voices for Colombian civilians. While there were no found formal evaluations of JACs as of the time of writing, the length of time performed and the amount of research done on these community-based action committees suggests that they are successful and sustainable in Colombia.
 Latinno (2018). Community Action Boards. Latinno.net Colombia. Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://latinno.net/en/case/5111/
 Resource Information Center (2001). Colombia: Information on Juntas de Acción Comunal (JACs), Community Action Boards.
 District Legal Department, 2002.
 Writing of El Pais (2016). 16 questions to understand how the Community Action Boards work. ElPais.com.co. Retrieved November 27, 2018 from https://www.elpais.com.co/cali/16-preguntas-para-entender-como-funcionan-las- juntas-de-accion-comunal.html
 Carlson, T. (2016). Collaborative Planning. Participedia. Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://participedia.xyz/method/4380
 Moreno Orozco, J.C. (2014). From Civic Centers to Community Action Boards. The change of management model and participation neighborhood in Medellín in the second half of the 20th century.
 Network of Scientific Journals of Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal. Retrieved November 27, 2018 from https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/164/16431516010.pdf
 United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved November 27, 2018, from https://latinno.net/en/case/5111/
El Tiempo, "Junta de Accion Comunal": https://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/MAM-26131
The original submission of this case entry was written by Brady Ruffin, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The views expressed in the current version are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.