Concepts and methods of ‘participation’ are used increasingly to shape policy and deliver services. Such approaches throw new light on complex interactions within and between society and state institutions at all levels. They lead to questions about how different kinds of knowledge and values shape policy choices. What are the societal and political processes through which power operates that inform whose voice is heard and whose is excluded? What is power? Is it about making people act against their best interests; or is it the glue that keeps society together? What are the connections between power and social change? These questions are at the core of research and teaching by the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at IDS, and this IDS Bulletin presents current work on the practice of power in development and the entry points for change. Contributions to this issue, and ways in which power is interrogated, are very varied – despite a shared commitment to exploring its meaning for social change. In categorising power in the way the team has, the intention has not been to offer a comprehensive or exclusive framework for analysis. Rather, a positive spiral between reflection and transformation is constructed, concluding that the role of the action researcher/teacher is to explore with others how power can be harnessed for change, and to work alongside them in tracing and learning from the myriad of micro-level efforts, successes and failures.
Participatory processes at the grassroots can have a powerful impact. But what happens afterwards to the learning and knowledge generated? Are these experiences translated into wider organisational learning, and if so how – or why not? And what impact do they have on decision-making or strategic planning within INGOs? This special issue of PLA explores how widely the impacts created from participatory processes spread from their original source. Following an initial overview, the 24 articles are divided into four parts: Part 1 looks at participatory communication practice and how the information is generated; Part 2 is about making sense of the dynamics of interpretation and use of participatory outputs; Part 3 is about learning in organisations and Part 4 explores structures, mechanisms and spaces.
Across the world, as new democratic experiments meet with and transform older forms of governance, political space for public engagement in governance appears to be widening. A renewed concern with rights, power and difference in debates about participation in development has focused greater attention on the institutions at the interface between publics, providers and policy-makers. Some see in them exciting prospects for the practice of more vibrant and deliberative democracy; others raise concerns about them as forms of co-option, and as absorbing, neutralising and deflecting social energy from other forms of political participation, whether campaigning, organising or protest. The title of this Bulletin reflects some of their ambiguities as arenas that may be neither new nor democratic, but at the same time appear to hold promise for renewing and deepening democracy. Through a series of case studies from a range of political and cultural contexts û Brazil, India, Bangladesh, Mexico, South Africa, England and the United States of America, contributors to this Bulletin explore the interfaces between different forms of public engagement. Their studies engage with questions about representation, inclusion and voice, about the political efficacy of citizen engagement as well as the viability of these new arenas as political institutions. Read together, they serve to emphasise the historical, cultural and political embeddedness of the institutions and actors that constitute spaces for participation. The bulletin comprises the following articles: Citizen participation in the health sector in rural Bangladesh: perceptions and reality by Simeen Mahmud; Citizenship, community participation and social change: the case of Area Coordinating Teams in Cape Town, South Africa by John J. Williams; Institutional dynamics and participatory spaces: the making and unmaking of participation in local forest management in India by Ranjita Mohanty; Brazil's health councils: the challenge of building participatory political institutions by Vera Schattan P. Coelho; Civil society representation in the participatory budget and deliberative councils of SÒo Paulo, Brazil by Arnab Acharya et al.; The dynamics of public hearings for environmental licensing: the case of the SÒo Paulo ring road by Angela Alonso and Valeriano Costa; Power, participation and political renewal: issues from a study of public participation in two English cities by Marian Barnes et al.; A sea-change or a swamp? New spaces for voluntary sector engagement in governance in the UK by Marilyn Taylor et al.; AIDS activism and globalisation from below: occupying new spaces of citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa by Steven Robins and Bettina von Lieres; Social strategies and public policies in an indigenous zone in Chiapas, Mexico by Carols Cortez Ruiz; Increasing space and influence through community organising and citizen monitoring: experiences from the USA by Andy Mott. The abstracts for each separate article can be found on http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/bookshop/bulletin/bull352.html
This IDS Bulletin is entirely based on the global action-research project Valuing Volunteering, commissioned by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a UK-based international volunteer cooperation organisation, and conducted by researchers at IDS in partnership with VSO. The project explored how and why volunteering contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable positive change, and the factors that prevent it from doing so.
The research took a participatory and action-research approach and aimed to inform the learning and practice of both VSO and the volunteer for development sectors on how to work effectively through volunteers to achieve sustainable change. It produced 12 rich and detailed case studies, which cover a diverse range of expressions of volunteering: from international volunteers of different kinds – from the global North and South, short-term and long-term, young adults and professionals – through to community members engaged in informal self-help and community volunteering initiatives and national volunteering schemes. This research was carried out by four international volunteer researchers who spent two years in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines.
While the data reflect the views of people in communities, the voice and analysis is that of the international volunteer. The perspectives expressed here are about volunteers’ contributions and their motivation to identify what kind of approaches to working as a volunteer make a difference. The Valuing Volunteering project goes beyond the immediate issues or concerns in the setting, and enables a deeper reflection on how people, processes and the environment that they are situated within influence one another.