Participatory Development Enhancing Equity And Sustainability

Jhabindra Bhandari

IN general, participatory development is broadly considered as a process through which stakeholders can influence and share control over development initiatives, and over the decisions and resources that affect themselves. While ensuring participatory process in development, it is increasingly evidenced that public transparency and institutional accountability have been profoundly gained, and the results are significantly enhanced for sustained impacts.

Considering the increasing demands and relevance of participatory development process in the new structure of federal governance, Nepal Participatory Action Network (NEPAN) in coordination with the Kathmandu University, School of Education (KUSOED) recently organised an interesting discourse to debate the issues around participation and development which was attended mostly by emerging research scholars, development practitioners, civil society activists, academia, representatives of local government officials and the media.
Over the last two decades, NEPAN has been continuously working in the areas of promoting and advocating the essence of participatory development process at national and local levels. While doing so, NEPAN occasionally organises a series of capacity building workshops, sharing meetings and participatory discourses in the contemporary issues of citizen participation, governance, accountability and human rights dimensions of development policies and practices.
Highlighting the relevance and purpose of the discourse, Chet Nath Kanel, chairperson of NEPAN said, “ We are trying to enlarge the space where multi-stakeholders come together to share and debate on a range of issues related to both theoretical and practical aspects of participatory development processes in the new political context of federal governance.” This also supports and reinforces the important role of civil society organisations and research networks to further enhance the broader understanding and culture of participatory approaches in development.
Additionally, there are critical issues to be re-visited while we define development in the present context. While referring to academic perspectives, Prof. Dr. Mahesh Nath Parajuli, Dean of KUSOED appreciated some remarkable progress on income, health, advancement in education and technology across the globe. “However, we need to critically question ourselves whether the development efforts are really leading to equity, diversity and sustainability,” he added.
Shedding light on the historical evolution of participatory development process in Nepal, Dr. Shibesh Chandra Regmi, Country Director of Ipas Nepal pointed out that without the meaningful participation and ownership of community members, the development efforts cannot yield desired results. Since early 1990s, the efforts to promote and scale up participatory approaches to development have been visible and hence appreciated by the governments, civil society organisations and development partners.
By now, there is increasing realisation that development cannot be achieved without empowering local people. Commenting on the core philosophy of the participatory development in terms of challenges and opportunities, Dr. Shibesh emphasised that the local people should be regarded as partners in the development process so that they feel ownership of the development projects.
In this context, the key stakeholders in the development process have timely raised the importance of people’s participation to enlarge their choices which is more likely to impact on their sustained livelihoods. Reflecting the essence of participation, development practitioners often claim that it is a significant political process that aims to empower the poorest and most marginalised populations in the society. Through participation, people can identify their own opportunities and strategies for action, and build solidarity to effect change.
Undoubtedly, there are many different, overlapping threads and traditions of participatory practice across the globe. One of the concerns discussed in this discourse is about the participatory methods that include a range of activities with a common thread: enabling community members to play an active and influential part in decisions which affect their lives. This means that people are not just listened to, but also heard; and that their voices shape outcomes.
Historically, the first set of methods in this context emerged as Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) which particularly focuses on how outsiders quickly learn from community people about their realities and challenges related to livelihoods. As a matter of fact, the experiences and reflections on RRA led to the development of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which has a very clear focus on facilitation, empowerment, behavior change, local knowledge and sustainable action.
In the recent years, this has now been interchangeably used with Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) which articulates reflection, learning and an understanding of power and relationships. Some of the key principles of the PLA are the rights to participate, hearing unheard voices, seek local knowledge and diversity, reversing knowledge and using diverse methods. These approaches and methods are widely used in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of community-based development projects.
Now is the time to critically review the status, issues and opportunities of participatory development process in Nepal. Often times, there are still comments on the methodological issues of participatory processes in terms of quality and generalising of the results. This can be further shared and debated for validations and broader consensus to maximise the use of participatory tools and methodologies as appropriate.
Much more needs to be done to institutionalise the participatory process and culture at all levels. Local government officials also realise the merits of participatory planning and management of community-based development projects in terms of enhanced participation and local ownership for continuity and sustainability. While there is still clear lack of capacity to facilitate the participatory planning processes at the local level, the role of trained and experienced development practitioners would be instrumental in enhancing the capacity of local governments towards institutionalising participatory and inclusive governance.

To sum up, participatory development process supports equity, diversity and accountability as well as promotes innovation, responsiveness, and sustainability. Of course, this is ultimately linked to the effectiveness of investments for development. Therefore, there is a critical need of developing a broader framework for mainstreaming participatory development process across national governments, civil society and private sectors to ensure that local people are key stakeholders in planning and management of development initiatives at all levels.
(Bhandari is PhD scholar in Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)


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