Bellagio Library/

Making Things Happen: Community Participation and Disaster Reconstruction in Pakistan

by Jane Murphy Thomas

Jane Murphy Thomas participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2018. During this residency she worked on Making Things Happen: Community Participation and Disaster Reconstruction in Pakistan. Jane is an applied social anthropologist with 30 years of experience, specializing in community participation in international aid projects in development and crisis recovery in conflict areas, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Making Things Happen won the 2021 Praxis Award from the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists for excellence in translating anthropological knowledge into action in the Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Program. It has been nominated for the 2023 Book Prize of the American Institute for Pakistan Studies.

A few words with Jane

“By the time I arrived at Bellagio, several parts of the book were in rough draft stages. The writing was still rough when I left, but from all the time without distractions and terrific discussions with the residency fellows, I was more focused.

“The best part of being at the Bellagio Center was being with people who are experts in a wide range of fields, none of which were the same as mine and who spoke none of my field’s jargon. I closely listened to their questions and reflected on how they seemed to understand what I said. That strongly guided me on de-jargonizing, and deciding what and how to explain certain things in my book.

“In all my work, including writing, my key influences are the perspectives of local people as well as those who wished to ‘assist’, along with various thinkers and a few outstanding models of community participation.

“Practically every field of endeavor aspires to having better community involvement in one way or another. This book is a highly detailed analysis and account of how communities participated in one project, which could be a springboard for others to think out the why and how of community involvement in whatever they do.”


Drawing on the Pakistan Earthquake Reconstruction and Recovery Project (PERRP), Making Things Happen explores the sociocultural side of post-disaster infrastructure reconstruction. As the latter is often fraught with delays and even abandonment – one cause being ineffective interactions between construction and local people – PERRP used anthropological and participatory approaches.

Along with strong construction management, such approaches led to the rebuilding being completed on time. As disasters are increasing in number and intensity, so too will be the need for reconstruction, for which PERRP has lessons to offer.

Explore More

To find out more about Jane’s work, read her interview with the publisher about the book, or watch the 2021 Praxis Award ceremony, where Jane discusses the work in detail.

The full text of Making Things Happen is also available to read or download for free in PDF or ePUB formats, thanks to Knowledge Unlatched.