Participation, empowerment and Participatory Rural Appraisal: an illustration with two case studies from Ghana
This paper, in examining whether 'participation' is 'empowering', starts by looking at the theoretical context and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methodology. It then critically examines two case studies from Ghana, which draw on participatory projects carried out by the Centre for the Development of People. The first concerns the training of local Assembly persons so as to support District Assemblies in implementing decentralised planning and decision-making, while the second is about Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs). The two case studies show that 'participation' involved marginalised people in activities that affected their lives - but that the agenda was set from outside, with locals having little control over it. The assumption that participation leads to the empowerment of the marginalised in decision-making on issues that concern them is thus challenged. What participation does allow for is the voice of the marginalised and often excluded to be heard and to have a degree of influence. Participatory practitioners must be aware of whose agenda it is in which they participate or encourage others to be participants. It needs to be noted also that while participation has the potential to challenge patterns of domination, it could also serve as the tool through which existing power relations are entrenched.