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PPM&E Resource Portal - Participation

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Go to the People
Live with them
Love them
Learn from them
Work with them
Start with what they have
Build on what they know
And in the end
When the work is done
The People will rejoice:
‘We have done it ourselves!’     
(Burkey, 1996).

Participation in a project leads to increased empowerment, sustainability, ownership, relevance, impact, effectiveness and efficiency! 

The term 'participation' has different meaning for different people. Pretty (1995) has identified 7 different types of participation.

Pretty’s typology of participation

Passive Participation: People participate by being told what is going to happen or has already happened. It is a unilateral announcement by an administration or project management without any listening to people’s responses. The information being shared belongs only to external professionals.

Participation in Information giving: People participate by answering questions posed by extractive researchers using questionnaire surveys or similar approaches. People do not have the opportunity to influence proceedings, as the findings of the research are neither shared nor checked for accuracy.

Participation by consultation: People participate by being consulted, and external agents listen to views. These external agents define both problems and solutions, and may modify these in the light of people’s responses. Such a consultative process does not concede any share in decision-making, and professionals are under no obligation to take on board people’s views.

Participation for material incentive:  People participate by providing resources, e.g. labour, in return for food, cash or other material incentives. Much on-farm research falls in this category, as farmers provide the fields but are not involved in the experimentation or process of learning. It is very common to see this called participation, yet people have no stake in prolonging activities when the incentives end.

Functional Participation: People participate by forming groups to meet predetermined objectives related to the project, which can involve the development or promotion of externally initiated social organization. Such involvement does not tend to be at early stages or project cycles of planning, but rather after major decisions have been made. These institutions tend to be dependent on external initiators and facilitators, but may become self-dependent.

Interactive Participation: People participate in joint analysis, which leads to action plans and the formation of new local institutions or the strengthening of existing ones. It tends to involve interdisciplinary methodologies that seek multiple objectives and make use of systematic and structured learning processes. These groups take control over local decisions, and so people have a stake in maintaining structures or practices.

Self-Mobilisation: People participate by taking initiatives independent of external institutions to change systems. Such self-initiated mobilisation and collective action may or may not challenge existing inequitable distributions of wealth and power.

A brief history of Participatory approaches for sustainable development

TimeParticipatory ApproachCharacteristics

1960s/'70s/ '80s/'90s

Farming Systems ResearchFarmers participation in research development in complex, diverse and risk prone farming systems
1968Activist Participatory Research - Paolo FreireDialogue and joint research for (political/personal)empowerment.
Late 1970 / '80sRapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)

Offset anti-poverty biases of rural development tourism
Avoid many defects of large questionnaires.
Make use of benefits of other approaches.
Flexible and cost-effective trade-offs between quality, accuracy.
Relevance and timeliness of information.
Outsiders insight into local conditions.
Semi-structured interviewing, management of team interactions

1980sAgro-Ecosystems analysis

Analysis of systems patterns of analysis of space, time and relationshsips, relative values and decisions.
Mapping, transects, diagramming, scoring, ranking

1980sApplied anthropologyParticipant observation, attitudes, behaviour and rapport.
Late 1980s / '90sParticipatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)'Participatory' applied to RRA
Over 30 tools to guide teamwork, do sampling, structure discussions and visualise analysis
1970 / '90sGRAAP, PALM, Theatre for Development, VIPP, Training for Transformation etc. etc.
1995Participatory Learning & Action

Combination of approaches focusing on emancipating disempowered people, thus focusing on diversity:
participation (P)
adult education (L)
action research (A)
Participation is not application of methods, but is part of a process of dialogue, action, analysis and change.

Adapted from:

  • Chambers (1997): Whose Reality Counts? Putting the first last.
  • Pretty et al. (1995): Participatory Learning and Action. A trainers' Guide.
  • Chambers (1994): Challenging the Professions. Frontiers for Development.