May
18

Participatory Development Practice

Book review: Kelly, Anthony and Westoby, Peter. 2018: Participatory Development Practice: Using Traditional and Contemporary Frameworks.

There is an emerging recognition that many of the ideas, practices and approaches within development studies and practice can replicate colonial attitudes, be paternalistic and disempowering, and may entrench marginalization. The emergence of a wide array of participatory methodologies has in part been in response to these challenges, however they too struggle and despite an ethos that aims to create new pathways have not been a panacea. In Participatory Development Practice, Anthony Kelly and Peter Westoby build both on their depth of experience as well as their grounding in the Gandhian tradition, to facilitate a rethink of a range of 'how' questions. A key concept throughout the book is relationships; with oneself, between individuals, within groups, in an organizational structure and culture, in coalitions of organizations and in engaging with the world. This book offers ideas, practices and approaches, that provide avenues for critical reflection and new forms of practice. For students, workers and practitioners who find themselves asking 'how could we do this better?', this is a work full of insight. 'Framework' in the title might suggest a checklist, instead what this framework offers are multiple levels of introspection, of doing and being better. Participatory Development Practice is a book for everyone working alongside others who want to gain deeper connections and to build stronger relationships. This is, the authors argue, the root of it all. People are lost in projectized development. What needs to change are the layers of relationships that build, guide and direct development action.

The chapters of the book are structured around levels of participatory development practice (individual / self, micro, mezzo, macro, and meta methods). The emphasis on the self as well as macro and meta are valuable additions to the participatory practice dialogue as often participation is framed in the micro and mezzo spheres. Each chapter outlines respective methods in a clear and thought-provoking fashion, which they present as being interconnected and facilitating purposeful and systematic practice. While informed by theorists throughout, the ideas of theory are presented in an accessible way with relatable examples. At its core, the book outlines pathways for how development can be oriented to be human-centered or people-centered, offering practical ideas, practices and provocations to do so.

While outlining a framework, and a wide range of principles and steps, Participatory Development Practice is grounded in a call to reflect on character traits, akin to calls made by Robert Chambers. In this regard, participatory development practice is about what we do, but more importantly is it about how we do it. Better tools are important, but Anthony Kelly and Peter Westoby also call us to be better people; working with humility, integrity, commitment, openness and honesty (what the authors call principles). In the concluding remarks, the authors specifically explore how we can cultivate gentleness, reflect on motivations and commitment and foster comradeship. These values and traits permeate the book. In Chapter 2, the "implicate method" the authors explore positioning oneself, and frameworks of doing so, with examples being drawn from Gandhi, McCauley, village workers in India and Fanon. Introspection continues in Chapter 3, as the authors explore questions of relationships and dialogue, building on Tagore, Buber and Freire. In this regard, Kelly and Westoby have offered something quite unique, these traits are not prefaces but are the process; the means being the end, the end being the means. The framework and various processes are not technical ones, but of cultivating relationships, traits, skills, ideas and principles.

In a recent review of Chambers' Can We Know Better (2019), I reflected on the dichotomy between mechanical, 'expert-driven' approaches (e.g. fiscal policy, standards for regulating environmental toxins) and participatory approaches (Cochrane, 2018). This is because learners often grapple with which approaches to apply when, and for which challenges. Kelly and Westoby make a useful distinction between service delivery (health, education, water, electricity, transportation, communications, public safety) and participatory development. The former, they argue, has failed those who most need it, often passing them by and leaving them behind. They state that "service delivery on its own fails the poor" (p. 15). Instead, they argue that there needs to be a new pathway; "a different type of program delivery whether the programme is about livelihood, health, education or any other matter of importance to the people" (p. 15). The answer is the participatory approach, "which involves people doing things for themselves" (p. 16). The self-help ethos and bottom-up framework is laudable, but also raises questions. Is it just? In so doing, are we tasking the most marginalized and vulnerable with the roles and responsibilities of government? And, conversely, are we reducing the accountability of government to be more inclusive and respectful the rights of all? In wondering about where these lines are drawn, Green's (2012) book on active citizens and effective states may provide some balance. However, there are also other questions of ethics that could be asked: Might a bottom-up approach neglect historical injustice and calls for distributive justice? The authors describe participatory work as equality-driven, but ought not the question also be one of equity, which would necessitate the involvement of different actors, specifically challenging questions of power and privilege that may lie beyond the community? The authors might suggest that fostering the kind of relations they speak of in the book may lend to that. The historical experience, including of those theorists the authors rely upon, suggests different configurations, scales and actors may be required for the desired change to come about. While the authors do not raise these questions, they are cognizant of the challenges. The book navigates between a critique of the failures of service delivery as well as its potential as a pathway to improve the human condition (p. 17).

This book will be a valuable addition for students, workers and practitioners because it presents complex ideas in clear ways with relatable examples. Far too often theory in inaccessible, or the direct linkages to practice are challenging to tease out. Kelly and Westoby have made these ideas accessible as well as actionable. Participatory Development Practice is suitable not only for undergraduate courses in development studies but also for the broad array of workers and practitioners seeking to make their communities better places.


References

Cochrane, L. 2019. Book Review: Chambers, Robert. 2017. Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development. Progress in Development Studies 19(1): 84-86.

Green, D. 2012. From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World. Practical Action Publishing: Warwickshire.

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246 Hits
Apr
08

Silences in NGO Discourses

Issa G. Shivji is one of East Africa's well-known critical scholars, researchers and professors. Much of his work has appeared in shorter essay form, as opposed to academic articles or books (although he has published several books as well). "Silences in NGO Discourses: The Role and Future of NGOs in Africa" (2007) is one of those books, although it is a compilation of two essays. This book might not be readily available at your local bookshop, but fortunately is can be found online. The first essay (Silences in NGO Discourses) is available here. The second essay (Reflections on NGOs in Tanzania) is available here.

Opening quote: "…the transformation from a colonial subject society to a bourgeois society in Africa is incomplete, stunted and distorted. We have the continued domination of imperialism – reproduction of the colonial mode – in a different form, currently labelled globalisation or neoliberalism. Within this context, NGOs are neither a third sector, nor independent of the state. Rather, they are inextricably imbricated in the neoliberal offensive, which follows on the heels of the crisis of the national project. Unless there is awareness on the part of the NGOs of this fundamental moment in the struggle between imperialism and nationalism, they end up playing the role of ideological and organisational foot soldiers of imperialism…"

Assumptions: "I believe I have shown sufficiently that the 'common sense' theoretical assumption of the current period underpinning NGO roles and actions is neoliberalism in the interest of global imperialism. It is fundamentally contrary to the interests of the large majority of the people. Taking for granted the fundamentals of neoliberalism and financial capitalism, or challenging them only piecemeal on specific issues, for example debt, environment or gender discrimination, actually draws the NGOs as protagonists into the imperial project. Brian Murphy argues that many mainstream NGO leaders have internalised assumptions and ways of neo-conservatism, and are convinced that globalisation akin to neoliberalism are inevitable and irreversible." (p. 36-37)

Contextualization: "how can you make poverty history without understanding the history of poverty? We need to know how the poverty of the five billion of this world came about. Even more acutely, we need to know how the filthy wealth of the 500 multinationals or the 225 richest people was created (Peacock 2002). We need to know precisely how this great divide, this unbridgeable chasm, is maintained; how it reproduced itself, and how it is increasingly deepened and widened. We need to ask ourselves: What are the political, social, moral, ideological, economic and cultural mechanisms which produce, reinforce and make such a world not only possible, but seemingly acceptable?" (p. 37-38)

The non-political: "The political sphere is built on the sphere of production, and there is a close relationship between those who command production and those who wield power. Yet the NGO sector, which according to its own proclamations stands for change, accepts the ideological myth that it is the third sector: non-political, not-for-profit, having nothing to do with power or production. This bourgeois mythology mystifies the reality of capitalist production and power, thus contributing to its legitimisation. NGOs by accepting the myth of being non-political contribute to the process of mystification, and therefore objectively side with the status quo, contrary to their expressed stand for change." (p. 41-42)

New directions? "Just as the African people have struggled and opposed structural adjustment in the streets, African intellectuals have critically scrutinised its neoliberal underpinnings and exposed globalisation as a new form of imperialism. African NGOs must creatively appropriate these intellectual insights. They must learn from the actually existing struggles of the people before evangelising on donor-fads of the day: gender, human rights, female genital mutilation, good governance, etc. The educators must first be educated." (p. 45)

NGO business: "We activists are not in the business of brokering power where expediency and compromise rule. Our business is to resist and expose the ugly face of power. We are guided and our work is informed by deeply held human values and causes. It seems to me that consistency of principles and commitment to humanity should inform all our work, thought, activism and advocacy." (p. 59)

Self-reflection: "In 2003 the whole world was shaken to the core and basic human values were cynically challenged when the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. Millions of people all over the world demonstrated and protested in great defiance of this monstrosity – as individuals, as NGO activists, as simple decent human beings. Here in Dar es Salaam, our NGO world was shamefully silent. A small demonstration organised by the university student union attracted a few NGOs and activists. But well-known human rights NGOs and advocates were conspicuous in their absence. The umbrella NGO organisations did not so much as issue a simple statement, either on their own or in solidarity with others. How can we who espouse democratic values of freedom and self-determination explain such silence?" (p. 60)

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92 Hits
Jan
21

Who Are You and Why Are You Here?

I have previously noted my interested in the expanded journal version of people recounting their experiences (e.g. this recent book on the Ebola response). The style (and title) of Jacques Claessens "Who are you and why are you here?" (2018), which was originally published in French in 2013 and translated in this version by Nigel G. Spencer, looked appealing. While interesting, I did not as much enjoying the fictionalization of the book. At least for me, this reduced the interest that I typically have of first-hand personal narratives. The book does open some doors and windows into problematic behaviours and decisions in the sector and might be a starting point for discussions, particularly for those unfamiliar with the sector.  

  158 Hits
158 Hits
Dec
09

Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development

If you are looking for an accessible introduction to research within thew broad umbrella of livelihoods that is well researched and provides a clear outline of what we have learned and what we need to know more about, this is it. Ian Scoones book "Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development" (2015) would do well for undergraduates or those from other disciplines seeking an overview. This is not a book for experts, but part of a series of short, informative books on selected topics related to Agrarian Change & Peasant Studies.

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