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close this bookProjects with People - The Practice of Participation in Rural Development (ILO - WEP, 1991, 304 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentPreface
Open this folder and view contents1. Understanding participation
Open this folder and view contents2. Sectoral project approaches to participation
Open this folder and view contents3. Case studies in the practice of participation*
Open this folder and view contents4. Participation as a strategy
Open this folder and view contents5. Emerging methodologies of participation
Open this folder and view contents6. Evaluating participation
View the document7. Conclusion
View the documentBibliography
View the documentOther ILO publications
View the documentBack Cover


It could be argued that, in terms of thinking and practice about development, we are currently in the age of “participation”. For the past 30 years or so those concerned to begin a process of development in some of the less developed countries have continuously sought and experimented with alternative solutions to the poverty that is endemic in much of the world. The literature which has accompanied this search reflects the periodic emergence of new strategies that have greatly influenced thinking and practice. In the past major strategies of “community development”, “integrated rural development” and “basic needs”, for example, for a time predominated and received widespread support. All too often, however, disenchantment sets in, a temporary “crisis” in thinking emerges and the search for a more relevant strategy continues.

While it is historically impossible to pinpoint the emergence of these strategies with complete accuracy, it could be said that disenchantment with development strategies in the mid-1970s led to the emergence of “participation” as a major new force in development thinking. Interestingly, two broadly different schools of thought came to the same conclusion in arguing that “participation” was a critical element in tackling the problems of poor people in the Third World:

· One school saw “participation” as the key to the inclusion of human resources in development efforts; previously development planners had overlooked the contributions that people could make and the skills that they could bring to development projects. If, therefore, one could incorporate the human element in such projects and persuade people to participate in them, then there would be a stronger chance that these projects would be successful.

· The other school saw this “participation” in a very different light. It saw participation as more linked to tackling the structural causes of people’s poverty rather than as yet another input into a development project. People are poor because they are excluded and have little influence upon the forces which affect their livelihoods. Participation is the process whereby such people seek to have some influence and to gain access to the resources which would help them sustain and improve their living standards.

Since the late 1960s there has been considerable support for the view that development in the Third World has for too long benefited the few and excluded the many. The means by which this trend would be reversed, it is argued, is a process of participation. In the past seven or eight years the literature on development has highlighted this increasing support for the concept of “participation”, and the term is now commonly added to existing terminologies to suggest a major change of emphasis. Today we have “participatory planning”, “participatory research and evaluation”, “participation in communication”, “participation in water supply”, “participation in health development”, and so on. Several of the major international agencies such as the FAO, the ILO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) have either launched substantial research programmes on participation or have sought to incorporate participation in their development practice; others, particularly the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), have strengthened existing commitments. Academic and research institutions have similarly explored the concept of participation, with the result that there is currently a large amount of literature on different dimensions of participation in development.

The purpose of this study is not merely to review and synthesise this vast corpus of literature. Several substantial reviews of the concept of participation have already been undertaken and there is less need for further theoretical analysis. Participation, however, has not remained on the drawing-board or in academic libraries but has begun to influence, in many areas substantially, the practice of development.

This study is concerned with that practice. It is, of course, possible to study “participation” in a range of different dimensions: participation as part of the process of political democracy; participation in an anthropological sense as communities extend their contacts with the wider environment; participation in organisations (e.g. trade unions or co-operatives), and so on. Here we consider the practice of participation in rural development projects that have been largely initiated and designed by an external agency and that seek to bring about some form of development. In this respect the term “external agency” is used in a very broad sense to encompass any form of structured or planned intervention. Development projects are a basic instrument of intervention to bring about some form of change and the means by which external assistance is brought to influence the development of a particular area or region. The majority of development agencies function on the basis of projects and it is by means of such projects that they seek to promote people’s participation.

To date the literature on participation has been dominated by conceptual analyses, broad explanations of participatory strategies and arguments in support of them; but there is less literature on how this participation occurs. The study will therefore concentrate upon the issues of practice and methodology in order to examine how development projects go about promoting participation and what successes they have had. The aim is not to examine the details of one or two substantial examples of participation (and leave the reader to extrapolate his or her broader conclusions) but to cast the net widely and to include as many examples as possible for a better understanding of the nature and extent of participation as currently practised in rural development projects. The purpose is not to develop a single understanding of the practice or a single methodology of participation but to review the practice of participation widely across sectors, to draw this practice together and to see what methodologies are emerging from a range of projects to promote participation.

During a 20-year involvement in development I have visited or been in touch with a number of the projects reviewed; the study, however, is primarily a literature review, although the literature has not all been located in the conventional sense. There are few conventional texts on the practice of participation; but development agencies hold a vast reservoir of project literature, studies, evaluations and other documentation which illustrate the practice of participation. While this study has drawn upon available literature, it is also based to a large degree on written material in project files held by agencies such as FAO, ILO, UNDP, UNIFEM, WHO, OXFAM, Christian Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD), War on Want, NOVIB and CEBEMO. Staff of the above agencies made selected files available to me and provided me with a rich fund of material. I deliberately sought a balance between international agency and NGO project documentation in order to ensure a wide range of examples of participatory projects. In all I have reviewed file material from some 120 rural development projects across sectors, all of which were selected for me as projects which sought to promote and develop popular participation.

This study is not directed primarily at an academic audience but at the wide range of development practitioners working with development projects in different parts of the world. Many work with a commitment to “participation” but with only limited guidance on how to put it into practice. As I have said, this study is not intended to be a model, but rather a resource document that development practitioners in different sectors can consider and use as they confront the issue of participation in their own contexts. There is no one model or one way of implementing participation, but there are now a number of rich experiences which could help practitioners confronting a similar situation. The study sketches the broad dimensions of participation and encourages practitioners to explore the issue further in their own sectoral literature and documentation.

Chapter 1 briefly discusses the concept of participation and examines a number of key issues related to its practice. Chapter 2 reviews the practice of participation to date in the different sectors involved in rural development, while Chapter 3 brings together examples from a number of development projects. In this chapter contributors have not had to rely on a few already well-documented studies but present case studies drawn from their own direct involvement. Chapter 4 outlines and discusses the study’s interpretation of participation as a strategy in rural development projects and examines in detail the key characteristics and elements of this strategy. Chapter 5 is a review of emerging methodologies of participation and a detailed examination of some of their more common elements. Finally, Chapter 6 examines the issue of the evaluation of participation in rural development projects.

This study should be read as a sequel to one I wrote with David Marsden in 1984,1 which reviewed conceptually current interpretations of participation and which was sponsored by the Panel on People’s Participation of the United Nations Task Force on Rural Development. I am particularly grateful to Philippe Egger and Anisur Rahman (ILO), Niko Newiger and John Rouse (FAO), Haile Mariam Kahssay (WHO) and Margaret Snyder (UNIFEM) for their organisations’ support in the preparation of this study. I am also most grateful to Brian Pratt (OXFAM), Paul Spray (Christian Aid), John Cunnington (War on Want), Han de Grot (NOVIB), Stephen King (CAFOD) and Koenrad Verhagen (CEBEMO) for their willing collaboration with my researches and for allowing me to examine some of their agencies’ project files. I trust that the end product does not betray their confidence.

1 Peter Oakley and David Marsden: Approaches to participation in rural development (Geneva, ILO, 1984).

Special thanks are due to Dharam Ghai (UNRISD), David Marsden (University College, Swansea), Norman Uphoff (Cornell University), Bernard Van Heck (Institute for the Promotion of Economic and Social Development - ISPES, Rome) and Koenrad Verhagen (CEBEMO, Netherlands) for reading the study in draft and for their most thoughtful and challenging comments. My thanks also to Charlotte Harland, Nick Leader and Wani Tombe Lako who worked with me at various stages of the book’s preparation. Given the qualitative and essentially ideological nature of participation, it is impossible to write a text on this subject with which even a majority of readers would agree. Interpretation is critical and perspective fundamental. The final content and perspective of this study, therefore, are entirely my own responsibility.

Finally, more than a word of thanks to Diana McDowell for, as usual, taking full responsibility for typing and preparing the manuscript with her customary efficiency and to Jane Thompson for willingly throwing in her support whenever it was needed.

Peter Oakley,
Agricultural Extension and Rural
Development Department,
University of Reading