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 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.
Action research provides an alternative approach to bringing about changes in knowledge, policy and practice. But to be effective and inclusive, taking into account complex dynamics of power and participation, action research requires capable facilitators with particular skills – such as the ability to give attention to personal and collective processes of reflection and action. This article explores the challenges of learning to do this kind of action research that are faced by practitioners and activists working for social change in diverse contexts around the world. It reviews these challenges, offering insights and lessons from an innovative master’s degree programme called the MA in Participation, Power and Social Change, which uses action research and reflective practice as the basis of its approach to learning.
In recent years there has been a major shift in attitudes to community involvement in health care. Approaches that saw communities primarily as passive recipients of health care have given way to those which seek to make more of the potential that more active community participation might offer for enhanced accountability and improved responsiveness of services. With this shift has come a greater emphasis on issues of governance and on institutional dimensions of participation, whilst the introduction of partnership models in the health sector has further increased debates about participation in health care. In 1999 the IDS Participation and Health and Social Change groups convened a workshop to share experiences of the use of participatory approaches in enhancing accountability in the health sector and to explore some of these challenges. The fifteen articles in this Bulletin reflect some of the richness of experience on the ground in building effective participation as well as some of the many issues that arise in moving towards more active citizen engagement with service provision. They draw experience from current work in countries such as Zimbabwe, Cambodia, China, Nepal, Zambia and Pakistan to reflect on links between participation, accountability and improvements in health.
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.
All over the world we are seeing exciting experiments in participatory governance. But are they working for the young? This issue of PLA highlights how young Africans are driving change by challenging the norms and structures that eclude them, engaging with the state and demanding accountability. It is the result of a writeshop in Kenya in 2011, where a a group of adults and young people involved in youth and governance initiatives across Africa came together to share experiences, build writing skills, form new relationships and write articles for this issue. The articles are divided into four parts: from youth voice to youth influence; rejuvenating spaces for engagement; learning citizenship young, and power to young people.
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.
Indigenous people and local communities (ILSs) are struggling to defend their rights over land and other resources they have traditionally used and over traditional knowledge they have developed over generations. They experience outsiders such as mining organisations being given rights without any reference to them, and receive few benefits from the commercial use of their crops or knowledge. Two righs-based tools – community protocols (CPs) and free, prior informed consent (FPIC) are being used to help claim indigenous rights and negotiate agreements in various biodiversity contexts. This issue of PLA draws on a range of experiences of using these tools, the lessons learnt and ways to maximise the benefits of their use. Some 17 articles are divided into five parts: setting the scene – research partnerships and ABS from the perspective of communities; institutional innovations for FPIC and benefit-sharing; community protocols for genetic resources and ABS; community protocols and FPIC – mining, protected areas and forest partnerships, and tips for trainers.
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 makes a case for using participatory communication in research. It introduces participatory communication as a citizen-led approach to both creating and expressing knowledge: within research this means that researchers are not simply responsible for generating information and communicating about it, neither are they acting alone. From this perspective the emphasis of participatory communication is on communicating rather than extracting or delivering information. Participatory methods can communicate research findings in new ways and add depth and meaning to articulations of knowledge. This knowledge can easily get ‘lost in translation’ when findings are synthesised or communicated through conventional research outputs alone.
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.