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Any sensible government must learn to unleash the energy of its people and get them to perform instead of trying to get a bureaucracy to perform

―Verghese Kurien, I Too Had a Dream

Tackling poverty requires an approach that must start with the people themselves and encourages the initiative, creativity and drive from below. The strategy must be at the core of any transformatory exercise if the results are to be lasting and enduring.

Participatory development attempts to move away from externally led interventions. It aims to facilitate action and social change that is led and shaped by the so-called ‘beneficiaries’ themselves. It emerged as an alternative to the top-down development approaches of the 1950s and ‘60s.But as participatory development gained importance so did the critiques from other scholars. At the turn of this century, Participation: the New Tyranny? challenged the assumption that participatory development represents a shift in power relations from development experts to the local communities. The main critique is that development practitioners and organisations are not passive facilitators. They own the tools, choose the topics and ultimately shape and direct the processes. So rather than a shift in power relations, participatory development was seen as a mask perpetuating the dominance of Western actors over the recipients of Indian aid.

Participatory development has now adopted a more pragmatic approach, which results in a wide spectrum of methods used, most of which are less idealistic than their original Freirean roots. Participatory projects can also differ from one another in their nature and objectives; there is no easy single answer to how to implement them, but looking at what pitfalls to avoid can be a place to start.

The early nineties of the last century saw the introduction of a sound participatory paradigm initiated by Robert Chambers, known as Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). It was designed to involve all the stakeholders of a development programme in the entire decision making process. It caught on when microfinance gained vogue and was meant to involve the villagers themselves in identifying prospective borrowers, loan activities and loan amounts. Participatory Rural Appraisal is an approach to the analysis of local problems and the formulation of tentative solutions with local stakeholders. It makes use of a wide range of visualisation methods for group-based analysis to deal with spatial and temporal aspects of social and environmental problems. It mainly deals with a community-level scale of analysis but is increasingly being used to help deal with higher-level systemic problems.

The techniques are typically used in the field to gather qualitative data, often to complement quantitative data derived from traffic counts and origin and destination data. We have to begin with the people who know most about their own livelihood systems. This approach must value and develop the recipients’ knowledge and skills, and put into their hands the means to achieve self-development. This will require a reshaping of current practices and thinking associated with development assistance. In short, it will require the adoption of a new paradigm. This emerging participatory development paradigm suggests two perspectives: involving local people in the selection, design, planning and implementation of programmes and projects that will affect them, thus ensuring that local perception, attitudes, values and knowledge are taken into account as fully as possible; and to make more continuous and comprehensive feedback an integral part of all development activities.

More an eclectic situational style (the humble, learning outsider) than a method, the Participatory Rural Appraisal is distinguished at its best by the use of local graphic representations created by the community that legitimize local knowledge and promote empowerment.

Poverty cannot be measured by income alone, hence the need to identify categories of wealth relevant to the specific village or locality, e.g. animal ownership, type of house, size of family, farm size and other criteria. Wealth ranking enables villagers to rank households in the community according to economic and other ‘well-being’ categories. This helps identify target group members for projects, specifically the poorest sections of a society. It also subdivides larger groups for further PRA discussions. Differences in wealth and well-being affect people’s perceptions and coping strategies. It is important to understand this prior to further appraisal or planning. This type of ranking not only discusses relative positions of households in a community, but also points to local indicators of wealth and well-being.

It is possible to distinguish three distinct objectives of self-education: development, local governance, and empowerment. The first enables women to identify their survival needs, map available resources to address those needs, decide upon an appropriate strategy through participatory planning, acquire requisite skills (be it masonry or keeping accounts), mobilize community resources and act in a collective manner. The second concerns skills required for local governance, the possession of which allows for greater and more fruitful interaction with the local political structures and ultimately a more inclusive vision of social development. The third is about the strength that women derive from being members of collectives, which allows them to be more assertive in dealing with issues and also have an expanded coverage (geographical as well as issue-wise).

A decade ago, many in the development community acted with the best of intentions, but without the best of evidence. If households lack clean water—help build wells; if people suffer ill health—health services; if the poor lack capital to start businesses, give them credit. But reality is complicated. Well water can be contaminated, people don’t always use their local clinic, and savings or insurance may be better than credit. In theory, the poor themselves are in the best position to know what their communities need and to demand accountability from their governments. True development involves a transformation of the state of a human being. However, such a transformation must have the active involvement and participation of those being affected by it. True development is one that transforms groups without destroying their culture, traditions, environment, livelihood and social patterns, which must be preserved and protected because they are central to the very life of the people. The forests around them provide food, medicine, and livelihood, a sustainable solution to the triple whammy of food security, healthcare and employment which the state is ill-equipped to address

True development shouldn’t translate into development as seen by the elite. It must be development as seen by those whose lives are to be transformed.

It is best explained by Viewpoint: Richard Reoch in  Human Rights-The New Consensus

“Human centered development is a means of enlarging people’s capabilities in terms of skills, productivity and inventiveness. This necessarily implies an empowerment that allows them to participate actively in their own development. Development in these terms is something that is done by people rather than for or to them. And it is this essential of people’s participation which defines the right to development in both its economic and political aspects.”

Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher .He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He has authored several books on religion, rural finance, culture and handicrafts. He is author of the bestselling book Village Diary of a Development Banker. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at



One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    One of the best ways of peace and prosperity is collective work. The rural folk combine each other capability to develop village. The members of a family try to participate in farming process to reap a crop. While the women work hard by preparing food, helping farmers till the lands, the male gather resources necessary to agriculture. Such ‘ collective’ participation of families and groups of people can only banish poverty from the country. Working together in unity raises production and, consequently, remuneration. This unity can lead to better and healthier life