In Search of Roots
Learnings from a Training Workshop on
"Re-Visiting Participation"
1-12th Sept. 1997

By Upendranadh

Personal narrations form an important source of knowledge generation, as they reflect interpretations and re-interpretations of information and knowledge and provides a perspective of 'getting into ones' own shoes" (as against 'speaking for others' or from other's). This note is my personal reflection, on some of my own learnings from a training workshop organised by PRIA, during 1-12th Sept.1997 at New Delhi.
Learning 1

‘Participation', originated from the critical learning and conscientisation theories and practices of Paulo Frierie meant, in brief means, collective action and reflection process. Such an approach of "joint inquiry" leading to problem solving and action was coined as participatory research. This participatory research approach was later developed by scholars who were involved in movements related to adult education/literacy. These approaches were mainly from the perspective of mobilisation and participation was seen in this case as emanicipatory and liberating.

The Triangle of Participation


Education        Action

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) as a conceptual and development tool has come into existence with a philosophical underpinnings from the above approach and pragmatic outlook in bringing people's knowledge to the centre stage. PRA thus brings with itself, a learning approach, pragmatic action orientation and a set of tools and methods which enables local people to bring out their own information and analyse the same for their problem solving. Here the critical aspects are the role reversal of outsiders and insiders and personal changes within individuals and organisations.

PRA methods, assume the context as "developmental", which was not an explicit assumption in participatory research. But the element of 'action' in PR school, in fact symbolises development but in an indirect way, where the initiation comes from action reflection process. One important break through in PRA is the ability to transfer skills and knowledge in a more systematic way. At the same time the trades-off associated with PRA in the process of large scale trainings, and scaling up are by no means insignificant.

Attitude & Behaviour

Learning        Sharing

Learning 2

Sources of power and the distinction between dominant knowledge and popular knowledge are important to understand to contextualise participation (In lay persons understanding, why some sections do not participate and some others dominate).

Power in the society is exercised through knowledge. The culture of silence associated with powerless is essentially related to lack of articulation and domination of ‘dominant knowledge over people's knowledge. This inhibits the marginal from participation. The paradigm shift associated with participation, essentially means, providing space and articulation for popular knowledge, practices and analysis. This helps the powerless to exercise their control over knowledge generation, distribution and will be able to control knowledge and power, there by demystifying dominant knowledge. Examples are abound in indigenous movements, which sought to bring out traditional knowledge and practices into powerful use.

It is important to understand various approaches research and participation associated with such approaches, through which knowledge generation takes place. Various approaches to research have evolved historically from different perspectives and view knowledge generation, purpose and associated power differently. The purpose of research and the role of researcher varies so as are the methods employed. Similarly issues like, ethics and values play important role in research and knowledge generation.

The dominant modes of research are information extractive and they do not see any role for the subject in generating and analysing information. This dominance of the researcher as an outsider can be seen in terms of the attitude of the researcher, methods used, analysis done and the uses the output is put to. Such type of researcher does not provide any feedback to the subject and initiate any action to address his/her situation. Such knowledge is positivist in nature. Positivist knowledge analyses the problems of the poor on their behalf and explains the powerlessness based on the understanding and analysis provided by the dominant knowledge system.

In contrast, participatory research and PRA believes that it is the processes of generation of knowledge of the people is more important and it should be a joint inquiry of the outsiders and insiders. Such a process entails analysis by the local people and their point of view gets paramount recognition as output of the research process. Such a process is educative, liberative and allows the poor to critically reflect on their situation. This also helps in identifying potential areas in which action can be taken (by the poor with the support of facilitators). In such a research process, outsiders develop sensitivity and role reversal takes place. Outsiders take the role of 'educator' and 'facilitator', depending on the approach (PR or PRA).

Learning 3

"Participation" is also seen as an integral part of empowerment process of the poor and marginal. This is an inevitable process (and outcome at the same time), in ensuring empowerment. This happens in a project frame work or even outside. Many practitioners view that in a development project framework, participation (inter alia empowerment process) should necessarily be seen as an end in itself. Thus participation is part of empowerment strategy. This also means to identify and analyse why non participation occurs. Non participation (of powerless) could occur mainly due to structural causes and attempts should be made to ensure that these impediment are removed. Powerless may not participate due to individual barriers, systemic barriers or by developing uncritical consciousness or internalised oppression. Under each case, the strategies would vary, from advocacy, mobilisation and organisation to emanicipatory education and critical consciousness.

Learning 4

The debate on "participation" as a means or as an end reveals the contradictions that appear in the development sector on the perspectives that they take in facilitating participation. While dominant thinking (through economics) sees "participation", as a rational choice for project effectiveness and impact, the other side looks at the long term externalities that are associated with the process of participation (empowerment of the poor). Naturally, in such diverse contexts, the approaches would vary. The debate on participation among World Bank and other UN agencies and NGOs provide insights into various approaches that these organisations take when it comes to "participation". For World Bank, participation means from an economic sense stake holder participation in an activity (to make it more effective). They do not take recognition of unequal distribution of power within the society and the role of participation in reversing power relations. In contrast some UN agencies and NGOs view participation as an end in the process of empowerment of the powerless and explicitly recognise the role reversal and power reversal processes associated with participation.

Learning 5

Participation is also closely linked to attitude, behaviour of individuals and organisations that promote participation. Institutional culture, organisational structure would also influence participation. Attitudes and behaviour is also closely related to the issue of dominant knowledge Certain commonly held beliefs such as villagers do not know priorities, expert orientation etc are stumbling blocks for effective facilitation of participation. Such a rise of "expertise" deligitimises popular knowledge and inhibits the poor from participation. Thus there is a need for outsiders to "hand over the stick to the local", which is the central message of attitude and behaviour change. Such a change occurs if the "outsider" develops respect for popular knowledge and acknowledges the capacities of the poor to analyse and prioritise their problems and needs. In such a process the role of facilitator will also become "educator" in Frierian sense. Thus there is a synergy between the roles and approaches (between PR and PRA).

Learning 6

Scaling-up / Scaling-out implies identifying ways in which participatory approaches can be incorporated in large scale development and deepen participation. While PRA offers tremendous potential to practice participation on a large scale, there are also dangers. Scaling-up means choice between two sets of approaches. One, small, safe, beautiful and the another big, risky and patchy. Scaling-up has diverse meanings. It can mean expansion geographically, increase types and quality of participation and affect institutional change to adopt participation in new organisations.

The issues here are, how to increase participation in large organisations and how to deepen participation. The pre-requisites are enabling policy environment and implementation designs. In countries like India, democracy as a system of governance enables people to participate. International agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other UN agencies (and conferences) have provided enabling environment for participation in large scale projects that they started supporting. At the same time not all organisations and departments are serious enough to affect changes at the field level for implementation of participatory approaches. For this, organisational change is necessary. Improving quality participation is also closely connected with increasing participation in terms of using in large scale organisations and projects. To increase participation on large scale, some important issues are quality, inter institutional procedures and connections across the institutions. Scaling-up is again linked to strategies for personal, institutional change.

It is also important to know when not to scale up. The need to learn from pilot implementations before scale-up is necessary, since participation and scaling up involve resources.

In summary, Scaling up thus can be seen as a F (time, system loss benefits, quality) + (institutional change, linkages, resources)

Learning 7

This is critical issue. Because, the definition, diversity and context of participation will change from organisation to organisation and creating standards is fraught with danger. In a project frame work, processes such as monitoring are also seen as subjective and difficult to quantify. Participatory monitoring involves issues like identification of accepted indicators ( agreed by all stake holders), the process, and people involved. Participatory monitoring and monitoring participation are two different things and the approaches will vary in these two. In a project M&E outputs and outcomes are usually in terms of standardised indicators and measures are possible. The same is not the case with PM&E. Here there is a need to identify and develop indicators along with primary stake holders in order to undertake a participatory M&E. In conventional M&E it is the perspective of externals / outsiders that takes predominance and in PM&E it is the primary stake holders (and may be intermediary) that takes importance. PM&E is a learning process for the organisation.

Monitoring participation involves evaluating all the processes in a project cycle. This means, to analyse and verify whether the processes of decision making at all stages of project cycle are participatory. Here again, the definition and the approach would vary based on the context and the perspective of stake holders ( whose perspective counts ??).

Hari Srinivas -
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