The meaning of “participation” is often a rendition of the organizational culture defining it. Participation has been variously described as a means and an end, as essential within agencies as it is in the field and as an educational and empowering process necessary to
correct power imbalances between rich and poor. It has been broadly conceived to embrace the idea that all “stakeholders” should take part in decision making and it has been more narrowly described as the extraction of local knowledge to design programs off site.
Differences in definitions and methods aside, there is some common agreement concerning what constitutes authentic “participation”.
Participation is involvement by a local population and, at times, additional stakeholders in the creation, content and conduct of a program or policy designed to change their lives. Built on a belief that citizens can be trusted to shape their own future, participatory development uses local decision making and capacities to steer and define the nature of an intervention.
Participation requires recognition and use of local capacities and avoids the imposition of priorities from the outside. It increases the odds that a program will be on target and its results will more likely be sustainable. Ultimately, participatory development is driven by a belief in the importance of entrusting citizens with the responsibility to shape their own future, systems and as resources, from salaries to food parcels and reconstruction materials are delivered. With no awareness of social or political context it is never certain if an intervention is warranted at all. And when there is blind engagement, ignorance of context makes each choice a round of roulette, potentially explosive and liable to overrun the self-development potential of the target population while undermining the effectiveness of assistance delivery in the first place. At worst, we aid and abet the violence and become accomplices to adversity.
Participatory methodologies, as part of political development programs or not, increase awareness of the social and political context and better the odds this will be avoided. Four separate studies of participatory programming have found that such methods often
cost less in the long run and are consistently more effective at getting assistance where it needs to go. Such methods were also found to be unmatched in fostering sustainability, strengthening local self-help capacities and in improving the status of women and youth. Finally, by establishing platforms where organizations may access and involve citizens in their programs, participatory development methods often extended the reach of traditional development approaches by leveraging local resources with national and foreign assets.
Benefits of Participatory Development
Coverage- to reach and involve on a wider scale the disadvantaged rural people through institution building that is the creation of adequate “receiving” systems at grassroots level as well as of corresponding “delivery” systems Efficiency- to obtain a cost-efficient design and implementation of a project. The beneficiaries will contribute more in project planning and implementation by providing ideas, manpower, labour and/or other resources (cost-sharing). Consequently project resources are used more efficiently Effectiveness- the people involved obtain a say in the determination of objectives and actions, and assist in various operations like project administration, monitoring and evaluation. They obtain also more opportunities to contribute their indigenous knowledge of the local conditions to the project and thus facilitate the diagnosis of environmental, social and institutional constraints as well as the search for viable solutions;
Adoption of innovations- the beneficiaries can develop greater responsiveness to new methods of production, technologies as well as services offered;
Production- higher production levels can be achieved while ensuring more equitable distribution of benefits;
Successful results- more and better outputs and impact are obtained in a project and thus longer-term viability and more solid sustainability. By stressing decentralization, democratic processes of decision-making and self-help, various key problems can be better solved, including recurrent costs, cost-sharing with beneficiaries as well as operation and maintenance;
Self-reliance- this broad, ultimate objective embraces all the positive effects of genuine participation by rural people. Self-reliance demolishes their over-dependency attitudes, enhances awareness, confidence and self-initiative. It also increases people’s control over
resources and development efforts, enables them to plan and implement and also to participate in development efforts at levels beyond their community Supporting institutions like government agencies and NGOs can fulfill better their mandates