Journal Issue

Participatory Development: Getting the Key Players Involved

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 1994
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PARTICIPATORY development—getting all the key people and institutions involved in the development decisions that affect them—is increasingly being recognized and adopted as an indispensable ingredient in making development assistance work.

The growing emphasis on participatory development—participation—comes at a time of increasing concern about the relevance and effectiveness of international development efforts to reduce poverty and improve the general well-being of people in developing countries in a sustainable manner. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that development efforts have a greater chance of being successful in the long run if the key players—governments, donors, and most important, local people—feel they have a genuine stake in the outcome. This involves enabling them to influence and share control over the development initiatives, decisions and resources that affect them.

Over the past few years, the Bank has undertaken a learning process on participatory development approaches, reviewing its own work from a participation perspective and identifying where improvements can be made. At the end of 1990, a Bank-wide “learning group” on participatory development was launched, and was charged with examining the issue of participation and the challenges to the Bank it entailed. This learning process has drawn on the experience and ideas of Bank staff, as well as outside experts from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), research institutes, governments and other donors. To assist the learning process, more than 30 studies were conducted to examine a wide range of participation-related issues, including its impact on the effectiveness of development projects, and the costs and risks to the Bank of adopting a participatory approach. Much has been learned, but the main lesson is that participation is an essential part of an effective sustainable development strategy.

What is participation?

Participation, as defined by the Bank’s learning group, is “a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, decisions and resources which affect them.” Who are the stakeholders? Stakeholders are those people—as individuals or institutions—who either affect or are affected by the Bank’s policies and actions. In one sense, the Bank itself is a stakeholder, as it is concerned and responsible for the quality of its lending portfolio. In the Bank’s work, it is governments, representing borrowing member countries, who are the most significant stakeholders. They, in turn, interact with a range of primary and secondary stakeholders. Given the Bank’s over-riding objective of poverty reduction, the most important primary stakeholders are the poor, who often lack information and power, and tend to be excluded from the development process. Other primary stakeholders include those expected to benefit from or be adversely affected by projects.

Secondary stakeholders are institutions and individuals with an interest in a policy or project, including NGOs, intermediary organizations, public interest groups, private sector businesses, and technical and professional bodies. Although often not representative of the poor, some secondary stakeholders act in the interest of disadvantaged groups. And, as intermediaries, secondary stakeholders can help foster processes that allow primary stakeholders to become directly involved. Who the stakeholders are varies from project to project. For participatory approaches to be broad-based, they need to seek the involvement of all three stakeholder groups.

Participation in practice

The learning group set out to identify the actual costs and benefits of using participatory approaches in the Bank’s work. Comparative studies indicate that the potential benefits of increased stakeholder participation include an increased commitment by stakeholders to policies and projects, a willingness to share costs and an interest in sustaining the benefits, and a check on the relevance, especially to the poor, and on the appropriateness of development efforts.

There is evidence that these factors improve the overall performance of development assistance and help sustain its benefits (see box), and that not adopting participatory development approaches has many costs. These costs include: a lack of support that can impede the use of services, reduce the sustainability of the intended benefits, and limit the cost-recovery of projects; a sense of indifference and dependency on the state by citizens who see they have little or no say in development; and the harboring of resentment and willful obstruction when projects or policies are imposed.

Stakeholder participation does, however, entail a number of costs and risks to both the Bank and stakeholders themselves. These include the upfront financial, time, and opportunity costs to the Bank and stakeholders of engaging with each other; and co-optation of the process by powerful and more articulate elites to the exclusion of the poor and disadvantaged.

In addition, broadening stakeholder involvement may be subject to cultural or political limitations. Women, hereditary castes, and minorities are often overlooked or given token recognition. Assertive disadvantaged groups may be perceived as threats. And genuine stakeholder involvement means that government is often asked to explain the reasons for its decisions to those who engaged in consultative processes. Some governments resist being held accountable in this way.

The Bank’s role

In the context of Bank work, the burden of responsibility for participatory processes falls squarely on governments, since it is governments that are responsible for implementing Bank assisted activities. Governments need to be interested in participatory approaches if their efforts are to be sustainable. Participation is achieved by finding ways to draw local people, their associations, and their government into systematic and reciprocal interaction. To make these interactions possible, there must be institutional intermediation capacity. In addition, there must be some capability and willingness to find out who the stakeholders are and to identify culturally suitable participation strategies.

The Bank itself has limited capacity and experience in these aspects of participatory development. In some cases, the Bank’s own institutional characteristics and procedures limit the level of participation achieved in Bank-supported activities. These limitations include the typically large scale of Bank lending operations that is not always conducive to community-level participation; the limited field presence of Bank staff for establishing close relations with local organizations; and the frequently felt pressure to achieve planned lending targets that lowers the quality of the participatory process, for instance when physical infrastructure is in place before local organizational capacity has been developed.

Some of these problems have been partly overcome by working in collaboration with other agencies, more experienced in participatory approaches. Implementation of some projects has been successfully delegated to local NGOs and community-based groups. And existing small-scale projects, operated by governmental agencies or NGOs, have been supported by the Bank to expand their coverage.

Benefits of participation in Bank-financed projects

Participation provides benefits as observed in case studies of Bank-financed projects. These include:

• an increased uptake of project services. A cotton project in Burkina Faso, which had a participatory focus, showed an almost fourfold increase in the number of farmers affected by the agricultural extension programs, and a doubling of cotton production during the same period. A Bank-financed participatory extension program in Thailand achieved sustainable positive impacts, by working closely with hill tribe communities in defining investment and production priorities, including the use of group problem census techniques.

• decreased operational costs. When village level water committees were given responsibility for water pump maintenance in a rural water supply project in Côte d’Ivoire, the annual maintenance costs were reduced to less than half those incurred during the previous centralized system, and breakdown rates of hand pumps maintained by water committees were 11 percent, compared with a 50 percent breakdown rate for other water points. In the Philippines, operational and maintenance costs of irrigation systems managed by farmer associations were found to be significantly lower than those for centrally managed systems, due to cost-sharing contributions and policing by the associations.

• an increased rate of return. In Nicaragua’s municipal development project, the quality of completed civil works in barrio upgrading was due in part “to the active participation of the direct beneficiaries in overseeing the operation” according to the Project Completion Reports. This primary stakeholder participation contributed to a rate of return that was 50 percent more than appraised, and the planned 5-year project was completed in three and one half years.

• increased incomes of primary stakeholders. In the Philippines national irrigation project, the establishment of farmer organizations to manage some of the systems resulted in those farmers gaining better access to agricultural inputs, thus increasing the dry season rice yield, and increasing the net incomes of farmers by an average of 50 percent—the greatest gains achieved by farmers at the tail ends of systems.

Still, available studies indicate that broad-based participation is the exception rather than the rule in Bank-supported activities. A review of project documents for lending operations over the last two years in Asia indicates that some 26 percent of projects included some form of participation (including consultation of local populations, implementation by NGOs, and the use of specific participatory techniques). In general, participation has been easier to achieve where the delivery of project benefits brings people together in a way such that they can, or must, develop common interests. When benefits are available to individuals as individuals, rather than as members of communities or organizations, collective participation is less likely. Thus, participation is more common when project benefits relate to communal use of a resource, such as a community forest or a communal water supply, than when benefits are less concrete and individually accrued, such as in some health programs. Yet health programs that address public concerns (such as prevention programs for malaria or AIDS) also benefit from participatory approaches.

The future

The Bank has always interacted with a limited number of stakeholders. However, it has not systematically sought the broad-based participation required by its principal objective of helping its borrowers achieve sustained poverty reduction. The Bank needs to broaden its business practices to encourage the participation of a much wider range of stakeholders, in order to improve and sustain its development efforts. Such a shift would require consistent support from managers and a learning attitude, open to innovation, among those responsible for both lending and nonlending work. There is also a need for clear policy guidelines and practical “how to” advice on the use of participatory approaches. A source book on participation is currently being developed to help operational staff take advantage of these approaches.

The recommendations of the learning group, if accepted and implemented, will be a major step in further defining Bank policy on participation, and strengthening and main-streaming the Bank’s existing work in participation. Only when participation is seen as “the right way to do business” will the Bank be able to effectively encourage and equip borrowing governments to support participation in their own development work.

This article is based on the Report of the Learning Group on Participatory Development, “The World Bank and Participation,” final draft June 1994.

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