Participatory development - does the practice support the rhetoric?
Participatory development has been informally adopted as one of the major 1990's approaches to implementing development initiatives, and features prominently on the development agenda. Advocates of participatory development believe that by ensuring local people have influence and share control over decision-making in project activity, they will have an increased sense of ‘ownership’ of the project. Past experiences demonstrate this level of involvement is likely to increase the project's success and sustainability. While participation enjoys increasing support throughout the development community, it is difficult to gauge individuals and agencies level of sincerity and commitment to a participatory approach. Disparity exists between those simply using the terminology to fulfil official development agency requirements, and those conscientiously adopting participatory methodologies. The term ‘participation’ is currently used to describe a myriad of activities in which local people have some involvement. Unless, however, their involvement initiates a shift in traditional power relations, it is often nothing more than ‘consultation’. In other words, local people are informed as to what development initiatives are about to take place, but play no part in decision-making regarding project priorities and direction. As a result, participation has become blurred in its definition, and the approach risks failing to achieve its fullest potential. Using qualitative methodology this exploratory study examines the current status of participatory development within a New Zealand context and seeks to investigate both MFAT's and practitioners’ understanding and implementation of participatory development. Through the use of focus group and key informant interview techniques, research reveals that MFAT and practitioners display similarities with global trends in being quick to recognise the importance of participatory development; to adopt the terminology; and incorporate ‘participation’ into project activity. However, when MFAT and practitioners profess to be implementing participatory development, they are often simply ‘involving’ local people in various stages of the project. The degree of participation commonly utilised does not extend to the devolution of control or empowerment end of the participation continuum. Research examines the main constraints to, and issues regarding, participatory development and identifies the critical need for closer communication and cooperation between MFAT and practitioners; consistency in project management; training in participatory development rationale and techniques; institutionalisation of the approach; and budgeting reorientation. Specifically, research reveals the need for commonality in language between MFAT and practitioners and a closer working relationship in order to develop participatory processes achievable for both parties.... [Show full abstract]