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
The landscape of research communication in development has been undergoing a significant shift in recent years. The very visible emergence of new technologies has been accompanied by other shifts in the politics and business of development knowledge: the understanding of what constitutes “expert knowledge” in development, a growing emphasis on process over product in development research and new understandings of what drives social change and policy influence.
With the rise of participatory and co-constructed communications have come suggestions that we have neglected the rigour and “hard evidence” needed to influence policy. As some have turned back to grassroots forms of communication such as community radio, they face ambivalence from others struggling to see what is new or innovative about such ‘archaic’ approaches. As such we find ourselves at an interesting juncture, one that this Bulletin aims to explore by drawing on the experiences of practitioners, theorists and community intermediaries from a wide range of disciplines.
This article reports on a scoping study called Power in Community in which the author carried out Power Talks with community activists in the north of England. She gives a comprehensive analysis of the meaning of power ranging from dominating power, to the power to co-operate, to empowerment. She then concludes that these community activists were using non-dominating power: describing power as enabling others, sharing and listening with others. The article argues that the evidence of practice on non-dominating power should be used to shift the debate from empowerment to transforming power.
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.
This 66th issue of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) includes general articles on participatory approaches to development submitted by readers and explores the links between participation, sustainable natural resource management and improving livelihoods. It also includes a selection of other articles, including how urban community groups in Chile have opposed two urban redevelopment projects; the use of participatory impact assessment tools to define, measure, monitor, review and analyse progress; and a discussion of ethical issues and standards for participatory work. There are also reflections from members of the international Resource Centres for Participatory Learning and Action (RCPLA) network, a foreword from IIED’s Camilla Toulmin and reflections from Robert Chambers of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The PLA series was 25 years old in 2013 and at this milestone, IIED decided to take stock to look at PLA’s legacy and future direction. After this issue, the series will be put on hold, pending the findings from an external evaluation.