Use of participatory methods for active involvement of all partners in communication
Del Castello, R; Braun, P.M.
Background document providing
these lessons learned:
Framework on effective rural communication for development, FAO and GTZ , Rome (Italy), 2006
Online full text of the Background Document :
Why is it important?
Participatory methods are tools to involve partners with each other, meaning that they are themselves communication tools. Participation in the discussion, decision and planning of rural development requires effective communication. Participation and communication are essential elements for addressing the needs of the rural population, including those affected by poverty.
Effective communication in a development process cannot be one-way because it requires feedback and continuous exchange of information between partners and interest groups, communities and official entities.
Proper participation creates understanding, connectivity and commitment and thus synergies, without which communication remains at a basic level without participation and commitment. It helps focus knowledge creation on the most important targets and shortens the time for acquisition/integration of knowledge and conversion into action.
At times of ever more limited resources, faster changes and needs for rapid adaptation, only efficient participatory approaches in all sectors ensure that the gap between the knowledgeable and the doer, the less and the more trained, the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban, the giver and the receiver does not become wider every day.
Without effective participation, less vocal, less represented groups, less connected groups like rural communities, the most vulnerable, poor and least educated will not be heard. Many needs for services will not be addressed, local knowledge, often gained over generations of observations and experience, will not be recognized or heard, new knowledge will not be accepted (ownership) and the sustainability of interventions will be short lived.
Although participatory approaches are sometimes slower and more costly for starting a process, this will be rapidly compensated by better targeted action, faster absorption/acceptance, more meaningful/useful results and longer lasting effects.
In a time where clear vision and aims are often blurred by many short term goals, well facilitated participatory processes, which in essence are communication events, can clarify the common goal, the do-able paths and create the necessary dynamics.
What are we aiming at?
Effective research, education, training, advisory service, policy and local action for development depends on communication (desirable flows of information). It therefore has to happen at and between different levels, i.e. horizontally and vertically.
The aim is that rural communities and their diverse members are actively involved in the identification of development problems, and search for solutions, development, promotion, and circulation of useful knowledge, through participatory communication. This means that:
- Participatory interaction and planning leads to realistic, useful and effective action;
- Participation must become part of the daily routine in planning, decision making and execution/implementation by all players/stakeholders in any type of activity.
- Consensus for and acceptability of participatory approaches need to be adopted at all levels.
- Opportunities for dialogue and consensus building are created purposively and results are given proper voice, action, tools and responsibilities at various levels.
- Differences in opinion and consensus building are accepted as opportunities rather than as a basis for criticism or reasons for power plays.
- Consensus can also mean agreeing on differences.
Participatory approaches should also result in effective communication and have meaningful effects on policies, institutions, wealth distribution and people’s attitudes and livelihoods.
Possible Actors / Clients
Actors for effective participatory communication are individuals and institutions, including advisory services and research organizations, private advisory services, NGOs, local and central governments, farmer and rural people organizations, media companies, colleges and universities, training institutes. Development agencies can advise on proven models for participatory communication in various cultural contexts. They include the following:
- Advisory services and Research
- Farmers and Rural People
- Media Organizations (e.g. rural radio)
- Development Organizations
- Colleges and Universities
- Training Institutions
- Local Government and Administrations
The main challenges for the application of participatory methods in communication for development are:
- Participatory methods require a high initial investment in time, training and funds. Participatory bottom-up and multi-level approaches to communication are more complex than hierarchical ones, and their introduction requires resources and time for training in these methods, and time for selecting, introducing and adapting suitable methods. Funds are required for the participatory process involving larger groups of players with different perceptions and interests. Participants have to invest resources – their time, intellectual capital, and sometimes additional funds.
- Social, educational and cultural differences influence understanding of participation and modes of communication. Participatory tools have to be adapted to the specific social and cultural environments and participants. Communication habits have to be carefully observed and the communication situation has to be arranged in a way that people can build trust and feel free enough to speak about their deepest concerns, especially in the case of vulnerable groups and people perceived to be of lower social status. This is easiest done in at least initially well guided participatory processes. Communication between service providers (scientists, advisory services, advisors) and rural people is a special challenge. Service providers have to understand the rural context, the connection between information provided by rural people and their actual behaviour and the value of local knowledge. They have to learn to manage expectations of their clients and, conversely, the clients have to take a more active role in and greater responsibility for the development process.
- Participatory manipulation. Communication among groups with different communication skills can lead to participatory manipulation where groups with better communication skills and of perceived higher social status can dominate weaker ones.
- To demonstrate qualitative/quantitative evidence of impact of participatory approaches. Participatory approaches are considered to be effective methods in the agricultural knowledge system for improving communications and thus, eventually, rural livelihoods leading to greater involvement and empowerment of rural people. Projects using such approaches often lack baseline data and clear monitoring and evaluation procedures to demonstrate qualitative and quantitative impact. Long term effects – long after the project end – may be of even more impact due to improved sustainability and continuous evolution of the process. Indicators and time scales are an important issue to be addressed in lobbying for more participatory processes and for scaling-up of local experiences.
- The introduction of participatory approaches in hierarchical and centralized institutions and their acceptance remains difficult. This is due to a variety of factors among which are the lack of understanding and knowledge of such approaches, the fear to loose control over a process and scarce data on qualitative and quantitative impact.
- Strategies to improve participation in the communication process include:
- Assessing and understanding 1) levels and modes of existing participation of different stakeholders and their interfaces, 2) perception of participation, 3) different modes of communication.
- Adaptation of suitable methods to local situations with emphasis on giving voice to vulnerable groups.
- Raising awareness on and lobbying for participatory approaches (use evidence) in institutions, organizations and ministries along the knowledge chain (local and central level) and involving their representatives in well facilitated participatory events to give positive experience on benefits of participatory processes (learning by doing).
- Educational programmes at various levels which include inter-disciplinary and participatory exposure and practice in order to create the required openness and develop the necessary skills.
- Convincing decision-makers to introduce and support participatory approaches for communication by inclusion of such approaches in strategies, programmes and funding.
- Capacity development for facilitating participatory communication at different levels and integration of participatory methodologies in curricula of institutions providing training in advisory services, research, communication and information technologies.
- Mainstreaming and sustainability: incentive systems such as inclusion of selection criteria for participation in evaluation of research/project proposals, monitoring and evaluation of such projects, documentation and promotion of successes, scaling-up of successful processes; continuing training in participatory approaches.
- Working with NGOs on supporting new approaches. NGOs are often more open to new initiatives and participatory approaches and can provide entry points.
- Involving administrations as stakeholders from the very beginning when introducing participatory approaches for better understanding and support.
- Keeping a certain amount of open-endedness of processes and results to permit participation but without compromising the clearly defined focus or objectives of the process.
- Development of formal and informal institutional processes which include sufficient flexibility to accommodate evolving changes in communication and participation needs, methods and partners.
Annex – Case studies
Case Study 1 – The FAO Farmers’Field School (FFS)
The FFS is a constantly evolving participatory learning process which, under trained facilitation, uses various adult education, participatory communication and learning through action approaches. It was developed in the 1980’s as a model for introducing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in rice production and has now expanded (used by several million farmers) and been adapted for learning and action programmes in additional technical and geographic areas, i.e. for organic agriculture, seed improvement, rural youth programmes, social skills (farmers life schools) in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and Europe.
Participation in its various forms is essential to the programme and over time has led to a wide variety of impacts on farmers’ livelihoods in the participating families as well as in their communities and in some cases also on national scales. Its immediate benefit are those of better learning as a result of selfdetermined knowledge needs followed by the experimental experience of their solution and the improved communication which changed relationship between knowledge users and providers. This results usually in higher and more regular production. In-depth analysis has shown particular cost effectiveness, durable effect of learning, increased cooperation and revitalization/empowerment of farmers resulting in additional and new initiatives.
Case study 2 - Participatory Technology Development
In 1995, CIAL (Local Agricultural Research Committees, initially sponsored by CIAT) started its active and very successful life with small groups of Central and South American farmers interested in innovation through research (now more than 250 groups). Even in fairly short time spans, the participatory research approaches have shown far reaching impacts on the productivity and livelihood of participating farmers and their communities. Similar to other participatory programmes, CIAL’s success is based on a few essential ingredients implemented with diligence:
- Thorough training of facilitators
- Limiting scope of action to that which can be implemented and committed to by the partners
- Resource availability, sharing and commitment through multiple partnerships
The nine steps in the CIAL ladder are:
- Monitoring and Evaluation
The programme’s impact was not only remarkable in its contribution to the quick increase of local staple crop production and the very fast adoption of innovation, but also in its effect on the attitudes of Research and Development professionals, the diffusion of benefits also to marginal social groups and increased diversity of
grown crops through greater willingness of experimentation by farmers. The participatory approach relied strongly on well trained (technical and participatory methods) facilitators, local mobilization, election of participants, participatory needs assessment and prioritization, planning, experimentation, participatory analysis and evaluation and organized feedback/exchange.
CIAT – International Centre for Tropical Agriculture
Case study 3 – Family nutrition
Malnutrition and food or water born diseases are often more dependant on knowledge or the lack thereof, rather than on actual food and water limitations. To improve nutritional behaviour in a large percentage of the rural population with highest impact on the current and future generations, the special teaching programme for small school children was initiated in Kenya . To change a family’s food related behaviour and to improve a child’s nutrition a number of actors have to come together to communicate the necessary information and enact the desirable changes. An FAO project in Kenya brought together the Ministry of Education and other public institutions, which showed willingness to collaborate, local agricultural and health experts, teachers and parents to identify the available resources and habits and the most urgent needs of families to obtain better nutrition for their children. After thorough consultations the different expertises of the partners moved into action: a modified curriculum for elementary school teachers, including identified needs such as hygiene, eating habits and local food choices; teacher training in new, more participatory methods for delivery of the messages; developing new teaching aids; assisting parents that responded with increased interest and questions; and more. In only a few weeks after teaching commenced, a very large portion of children already arrived after having a breakfast and with homemade snacks (from locally available and traditional foods); they were more alert and participated better in the classes and learning. The initial participation and support at ministerial levels, in creating also national level ownership and responsibility, is now assuring the further dissemination of the experience and method and the adaptation of the programme to reach also older students. As with many participatory projects the initial preparatory phase and training was investment intensive, but the following implementation was very low cost and highly efficient.
Case study 4 - Trans-disciplinary and multi-institutional communication
Solving increasingly complex problems, such as those related to climate change, environmental degradation, water management, poverty alleviation, food security etc. require the efficient interaction of very diverse partners with often very different educational, professional, cultural background and/or very specific interests. Communication across so many disciplines and between great numbers of institutional levels requires very special communication and participation skills rarely known to professionals specialized in technical disciplines. Training researchers and other professionals, practicing and accompanying such complex communication and participation processes is the main aim of the programme of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research North-South.
Enabling the continuous process of communication between scientific and other societal partners, based on joint and participatory problem definition and knowledge generation, the process aims to change patterns of action in the longer term. The many years of experience of the programme have been analysed and are applied in the annual training programmes.
Case study 5 - Communication for Development
“Communication for Development in Natural Resource Management” is a participatory process for innovation through well coordinated collaboration and participation of many stakeholders from Ministries to grassroots levels, from rural radio to the internet and with very strong social and institutional involvement. It is designed for and by the people who need to come together to manage the degradation of natural resources which is exacerbated by or causing further food insecurity and poverty in many countries. At the core of the programme are participatory approaches for improved communication that facilitate multi-level dialogue, conflict resolution and knowledge exchange while also building motivation, involvement and local competences. The programme is active in eight countries in Asia , Africa and Central and South America .
Adoption of trained practices is very high since the practices are specially tailored to local needs and strengthen the stakeholders own capacities to reach their own objectives. The multi-level and multi-stakeholder process creates special synergies beneficial far beyond the immediate stakeholders. Through its demonstrated successes and its networks, the programme is now gaining wider recognition. Its learning process on getting public and private stakeholders to join forces is valuable for a wide variety of participatory as well as traditional and most modern communication programmes. A number of useful manuals and guidelines have been developed in the process.