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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Apr
27

How China Escaped the Poverty Trap

Yuen Yuen Ang's "How China Escaped the Poverty Trap" (2016) is an excellent read and should be essential reading for all development studies students and actors. This book challenges many assumptions that have long been repeated as mantras in research and practice.

The author summarizes the book as one that "investigates how China escaped the poverty trap and made the Great Leap from a barren communist political economy into the middle-income, capitalist dynamo that it is today. More broadly, grounded in my analysis of China's metamorphosis, this is broadly about how development actually happens… My answer begins with a simple observation: development is a coevolutionary process. States and markets interact and adapt to each other, changing mutually over time. Neither economic growth nor good governance comes first in development." (p. 3)

The argument in summary: "Authors are often asked to give a one-line summary of their argument. Here is mine: Poor and weak countries can escape the poverty trap by first building markets with weak institutions and, more fundamentally, by crafting environments that facilitate improvisation among the relevant players… no particular solution is universally effective or ideal. Particular solutions work only when they fit the needs and resources of particular contexts and the success criteria of the players involved." (p. 16-17) Again, later in the text: "Whether it is in Western Europe, the United States, East Asia, China, or Nigeria, particular solutions work only when they fit the particular demands of their environments. Therefore, it is futile and even self-defeating to search for one replicable model believed to work always and everywhere." (p. 223)

On participation: "it must be stressed that the presence of civil society and public participation does not always produce successful collective decision making. Free-for-all participation can easily degenerate into chaos and deadlock. Indeed, Evans acknowledges, "a public administrative apparatus with the capacity necessary to both provide information inputs and implement the decisions that result from the process is a central element in making deliberation possible." Effective public participation requires a blend of top-down authority and bottom-up participation. Bottom-up participation alone does not magically produce adaptive results." (p. 58) Similarly: "It is well known that Chinese leadership makes ample use of experimentation in policy making, what I further emphasize is that effective experimentation has to be bounded. Free-for-all experimentation invites chaos, not adaptability. (p. 241)

On diversity and diversification: "Having too few or too many alternatives both impedes adaptation; effective adaptation requires a right balance of consistency and flexibility. Translated into the context of China's political system, this brings attention to the role of central leadership in setting a national agenda of change and in signalling the amount of discretion that may be exercised in different policy realms." (p. 100) Also: "The Chinese experience suggests that in order to achieve visible and rapid results, start by defining success narrowly. Focusing narrowly on a few goals (i.e. ends) should not be confused with making a few changes (i.e. means)." (p. 242)

On the downsides of the Chinese development model: "there is the problem of environmental degradation, probably the most widely discussed controversy associated with industrial transfer. Some worry that industrial transfer is merely a disguised scheme of 'pollution transfer' to underdeveloped and investment-hungry areas" (p. 214)

On inequality: "Regional inequality as a consequence of market opening and development is well-known among observers of China. It is less noticed and understood, however, that regional inequality is also a strategy of China's national development. As this chapter illuminates, a key element of China's overall development success has been to exploit highly unequal endowments across coastal, central, and western regions" (p. 221)

Ang also concisely states that "no charity could be better than thoughtless charity" (p. 238).

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351 Hits
Sep
15

The Challenge of Democracy from Below

Edited volumes do not tend to have staying power as a publication – collections of essays pass like most academic articles. Rarely does an edited volume remain an essential reading for decades. "Ethiopia: The Challenge of Democracy from Below" edited by Bahru Zewde and Siegfried Pausewang (2002) is one of those books. A number of the chapters have been widely cited, and remain key sources for research. This text is also unique in that is was co-published by an Ethiopian civil society organization within Ethiopia (Forum for Social Studies)

Providing a summary of an edited volume is challenging. Rather than try to give a few points, I'll overview the structure and highlight some essential readings. The book is divided into four sections: (1) Traditional systems of governance, (2) The peasant and the management of power and resources, (3) Alternative loci of power, and (4) Alternative voices. Of these, contributions by Bahru Zewde, Oyvind Aadland, Svein Ege, Siegfried Pausewang, Dessalegn Rahmato, Mehret Ayenew and Original Wolde Giorgis are excellent. This book is well worth finding.

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431 Hits
Mar
07

New Publication: Participatory Geoweb

Corbett, J. and Cochrane, L. (2017) Engaging with the Participatory Geoweb: Exploring the Dynamics of VGI. In Volunteered Geographic Information and the Future of Geospatial Data edited by C. Campelo, M. Bertolotto and P. Corcoran. IGI Global.


Abstract: Maps were historically used as tools of the elite to maintain and expand power and control. The development of participatory mapmaking and the geoweb have opened new avenues for broader citizen engagement and therefore challenge traditional power dynamics. This chapter analyzes three examples and presents experiential learning around participatory processes and VGI contributions. Specifically we explore who is contributing their information, what are their motivations and incentives, in what ways do users interact with available technologies, and how is this contributing to change? We conclude by discussing the roles of motivations, the type of contribution, organizational capacity and leadership, and objectives. In comparing and contrasting these case studies we examine the individual and organizational dynamics of engagement, and how this can better inform the discourse about VGI.


Full version of chapter available here.

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