Participation doesn't always lead to empowerment. It takes a supportive environment in which to nurture people's aspirations and skills for empowerment to ultimately occur. Some means of achieving this are:
Ten Key Ideas about Participation
1. Level of participation
Sherry Arnstein (1969) described a ladder of participation with eight steps. Briefly, these are: 1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations. 3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback. 4 Consultation. Attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquires. But a window dressing ritual. 5 Placation. Co-option of hand-picked 'worthies' onto committees. 6 Partnership. Power redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared. 7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the program to them. 8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a program.
2. Initiation and process
Participation doesn't just happen, it is initiated. Someone then manages a process over time, and allows others involved some control over what happens. The process is described during four phases: Initiation - Preparation - Participation - Continuation.
The initiator is in a strong position to decide how much control for. This decision is equivalent to taking a stand on the ladder - or adopted a stance about the level of participation.
4. Power and Purpose
Understanding participation involves understanding power: the ability of the different interests to achieve what they want. Power will depend on who has information and money. It will also depend on people's confidence and skills. Many organizations are unwilling to allow people to participate because they fear loss of control. However, there are many situations when working together allows everyone to achieve more than they could on their own. These represent the benefits of participation.
5. Role of the facilitators
Facilitators control much of what happens. It is important they constantly think about the part they are playing.
6. Stakeholders and Community
A stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in what happens. Who will be affected by any project, who controls the information, skills and money needed, who may help and who may hinder?. Everyone affected does not have an equal say. Use the ladder to think about who has most influence.
The community which participates depends on the project as different people are interested in different issues.
Useful when a number of different interests willingly come together formally or informally to achieve some common purpose. The partners don't have to be equal in skills, funds or even confidence, but they do have to trust each other and share some commitment. Building trust and commitment takes time.
Commitment is the other side of apathy: committed people want to achieve something, apathetic don't. But what leads to commitment? Not telling people "You ought to care," inviting them to public meetings or bombarding them with glossy leaflets. People care about what they are interested in, and become committed when they feel they can achieve something. Hard selling won't achieve that. If people are apathetic about your proposals, it may simply be that they don't share your interests or concerns.
9. Ownership of ideas
People are most likely to be committed to carry something through if they have a stake in the idea, or allow people to say "We thought of that." In practice that means running brainstorming workshops, helping people think through the practicality of ideas, and negotiating with others a result which is acceptable to as many people as possible. Apathy is directly proportional to the stake people have in ideas and outcomes.
10. Confidence and capacity
Putting ideas into practice depends on people's confidence and skills. Many participation processes involve breaking new ground. It is unrealistic to expect individuals or small groups suddenly to develop the capability to make complex decisions and become involved in major projects. They need training or the opportunity to learn formally and informally, to develop confidence, and trust in each other.
Taken from The Guide to effective Participation. by David Wilcox: http://www.partnerships.org.uk/guide/index.htm
Return to Participatory Assessment and Research mobilizer's training document. See also Gaining Community Ownership
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle