who we are participation: our vision about faqs credits course
participation: our vision @ 

resources  > library - field tools - lessons learned
interact  > news - contact us - mailing list - discussion
about > participation: our vision - who we are - faq - credits - course
links  > websites - organisations - sustainable livelihoods

Course: Participatory Project Formulation



Key Concepts




Scope of Action

Project Cycle


Approaches to

Rapid Rural

Participatory Rural

Participatory Action Research

Principles, Attitudes

Project Cycle

Type of Participatory

Application of participatory tools in the different project stages

Sector Specific Use
of Participatory Tools

List of Documents


Strong or weak

Stakeholder analysis



History of Participation

People's participation is by no means a new concept. It was formulated in the mid-1970s, amid growing awareness that development efforts were having little impact on poverty. The development paradigms of the 1960s and 1970s derived from the legacy of colonial rule, especially the planning systems of the late 1930s and post-WW2 period. The conception was top down (development was something governments did for or to people), and the language military-bureaucratic - by WW2 out of US management literature: "objectives", "targets", "strategies", "capability". The formal social science methods of the late 1950s, combined with digital processing, produced much spurious (and some credible) quantification, usually at great cost. There was little stakeholder involvement of those undergoing "development", a fact which must rank high among the causes of the failures of development to improve the lives of the majority poor of the "developing" world. Participatory development arose as a reaction to this realization of failure, popularized particularly by Gordon Conway and Robert Chambers (1992), and more recently by David Korten (1996).

People's participation in rural development was formulated at the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), held in Rome in 1979. WCARRD declared that participation by rural people in the institutions that govern their lives is a basic human right. If rural development was to realize its potential, the Conference said, disadvantaged rural people had to be organized and actively involved in designing policies and programmes and in controlling social and economic institutions. WCARRD saw a close link between participation and voluntary, autonomous and democratic organizations representing the poor. It called on development agencies to work in close cooperation with organizations of intended beneficiaries, and proposed that assistance be channelled through small farmer and peasant groups.

Since WCARRD the issue of people's participation has gained considerable momentum among governments, donor agencies and international organizations. The Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action adopted by WCARRD stimulated and guided a number of participatory FAO programmes, such as People's Participation in Agricultural and Rural Development through the Promotion of Self-Help Organizations (PPP), Community Action for Disadvantaged Rural Women (CADRW), Forestry for Local Community Development Programmes (FCLDP), the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), and the Programme for Small-Scale and Artisanal Fishermen.

In 1989, following requests from Member Governments and the Rome-based Group of International NGOs, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) and the Council examined the issue of people's participation and its implication for FAO's activities in rural development. They recommended that the concept of participatory development be integrated into all development policies and programmes of FAO and also suggested that FAO develop a Plan of Action for People's Participation for discussion in due course by the FAO Council and Conference. A Plan of Action for People's Participation was therefore submitted to the 99th Session of the FAO Council, which broadly endorsed its objectives and the areas of action identified in it.

Since WCARRD, developing countries have suffered economic set-backs unforeseen in 1979. With their economic survival at stake, many countries have been forced to cut back on rural development, giving priority to growth ahead of WCARRD's concern for participation and equity. During this same period, however, great progress has been made in the elaboration of participatory principles and methodologies.

Recent shifts in participation
In recent years, there have been a number of shifts in the scope and focus of participation:

  • emphasis on sub-national, national and international decision making, not just local decision making
  • move from projects to policy processes and institutionalisation
  • greater recognition of issues of difference and power
  • emphasis on assessing the quality and understanding the impact of participation, rather than simply promoting participation


  Informal Working Group on
  Participatory Approaches & Methods
...to support Sustainable Livelihoods  
& Food Security