This paper reflects critically on 'participation', tracing its history from the high-level declarations of support for 'popular participation' by international development organisations in the 1970s. Within the shifting landscape of development, the paper suggests, diverse and divergent purposes and intentions came to shape the embrace of 'participation' by mainstream development. Seen as a central pillar of the basic needs approach in the 1970s, 'popular participation' sought to transform development practice by involving people in projects intended to benefit them. By the late 1980s, a generalised consensus saw participation in development projects as necessary and desirable to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability. The advent of a new methodology, PRA, answered the quest for technical solutions to meet the challenge of operationalising participation in the early 1990s. Taking up some of the concerns that emerged in the rush to scale up participation, the paper discusses some of the dilemmas of institutionalising participation. Unpacking terms like 'the poor', 'primary stakeholders' and 'women', it also explores some of the implications of participation and non-participation in development initiatives. Demythologising the notion of 'full participation', the paper argues for greater clarity about who participates, in what and how. In drawing out some of the complexities of participation in practice, the paper highlights some of its paradoxes. Moving beyond the terrain of policy-making into the ways in which participatory mechanisms have been used to hold policy implementers to account, the study explores new directions for participation within the context of the 'good governance' agenda and the recent turn to a rights-based approach to development. The study concludes that while 'invited participation' has opened up spaces for popular engagement in the development process, the challenge ahead lies in paying greater attention to enabling people to make and shape their own spaces for engagement, and to processes that enhance the accountability of local and global institutions that affect people's lives.
Swedish International Development Corporation Agency