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Chapter 3

A literature review4

This is a literature review which reflects on the application of participatory action research, social learning, and multistakeholder platforms for negotiation in the development and application of assessment guidelines of mutually beneficial outgrower schemes.

It seemed counterproductive for our work to regard the research and the researched, the "experts" and the "clients" or "targets" as discrete, discordant or antagonistic poles. Rather we had to consider them both as real ... person[s] whose diverse views should be taken jointly into account (Borda, 2001).

Figure 3.1 Participatory action research

Participatory action research (PAR) was introduced to the participants by Kenneth MacDicken (Annex 3) as a possible way of testing the principles, criteria and indicators of mutually beneficial outgrower schemes. PAR was defined as research that has immediate application as well as strategic value. The approach is based on the principles of learning by doing, with experimentation that involves the following steps:

These steps can be seen above as interlinking in a series of learning loops.

The goal is to experiment with solutions to agreed-upon problems and to learn through a structured, iterative process in ways that can be communicated to others.

PAR is defined by an empathetic attitude towards others, necessary for the achievement of progress and democracy (Borda, 2001). It also requires change in the ways of reporting findings so that they may be accessible to all stakeholders.

"Sustainable use of forests can only be guaranteed by reactivating around issues that affect villagers' lives and thus provide a strong basis for the same."

Bhatt and Tandon (2001) talk of PAR breaking the monopoly on knowledge by recognizing that ordinary people are both capable of expressing and are particular knowledgeable about their social realities. PAR thus enhances participation of the "less powerful". The authors continue:

Active participation of ordinary people in the research process is a form of education, which enhances their self-confidence and capacities to analyse their situations and develop solutions.

In summary, PAR can be defined as valuing people's knowledge, creating systematic opportunities for adult learning, and nurturing citizens' capacities to reach their full potential.

Heller (1989) talks of symmetric reciprocity, of mutual respect and appreciation among participants. She describes the resolution of this tension as another way of defining "authentic participation" as opposed to liberal manipulative versions, and of combining different forms of knowledge.

In assessing outgrower schemes, there are four key groups of stakeholders: private companies (corporate), NGOs and community representatives/farmer associations (smallholder), research and extension agencies, and government. For these stakeholders to engage in joint action research together, they should follow a model based on mutual respect and complementarity of each other's knowledge and the different forms that knowledge takes for each stakeholder. The experience and set of knowledge of each participant are equally valuable. Their knowledge combined is brought into action learning, the catalytic force needed to create change.

PAR, as cited above from Borda (2001), is conventionally an interaction between communities and researchers. Action research with outgrower schemes, however, involves many stakeholders, each with different types of experience, knowledge and levels of status and power. If action research is conducted in the context of outgrower schemes, it requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders. The author therefore prefers to use the term "joint action research" to imply the full recognition and mutual value and respect of knowledge of all stakeholders in the process of action research. This perspective is closely allied to those presented in the theories of social learning (Roling and Jiggins, 1998; Wollenberg et al., 2001; Wollenberg, Anderson and Edmunds, 2001).

Social learning and platforms of negotiation

CIFOR's report Social learning in community forests (Wollenberg et al., 2001) provides some useful insights into how the concepts of social learning and platforms of negotiation are being considered and applied in social forestry. It defines joint or social learning as acknowledging that interest groups bring different knowledge (including values, capacities, perspectives, methods of learning, stores of historical experience) to the collaborative process. Joint or social learning also fosters perceptions of interdependence and mutual appreciation.

Buck, Wollenberg and Edmunds (2001) say that the terms "joint" and "social learning" are often used interchangeably. They recognize that social learning has been more frequently used in the literature, but note that joint learning may have provided a more intuitive meaning in community forest contexts. Maarleveld and Dangbegnon (1999) characterize social learning in natural resource management as a continuous dialogue and deliberation between social scientists, planners, managers and users to explore problems and their solutions. Communication and experimentation together enable adaptation among the relevant actors to adjust and improve management.

One of the prime aspects of social learning is the consideration of inequity among stakeholders in natural resource management discussions, and the importance of creating more equal platforms from which the stakeholders may negotiate. Equity of negotiation and mutual respect are thus prime facets of joint learning.

Daniels and Walker (1999: 42-48) describe mutual learning as a process for exchanging perspectives between clients and professional planners or managers to transform everyone's understanding of problem situations. Social learning acknowledges that interest groups bring different knowledge to the learning process, including knowledge in the form of values, capacities, perspectives, methods and stores of historical experience. An important dimension of social learning is therefore knowledge sharing, which emphasizes the diversity and complementary nature of different social groups' knowledge.

Social learning facilitates joint problem-solving by fostering perceptions of interdependence, trust and mutual appreciation. It shows actors that they can benefit from working together toward agreed-upon goals and generates confidence in further efforts at collaboration. Therefore, there is a communicative and relationship-building aspect of social learning that results in sharing knowledge and enhancing capacity for action.

These complementary perspectives paint a theoretical "way out" of the dilemmas that so often wind up in polarity and impasses: development versus conservation; industrial versus artisan; foreign versus local. The challenge is to focus on evolving knowledge systems, and to offer leadership in reconstructing these around current ecological, social and institutional imperatives (Wollenberg et al., 2001).

Joint learning and collaboration threaten existing power structures. As research indicates, dominant organizations are likely to resist calls for shared learning until there are competing incentives (e.g. the environmental lobby and certification requirements) for them to change. With increasing emphasis on ecological and socially sustainable development, private companies in the natural resources arena are being driven to demonstrate socially responsible policies.

Platforms for resource use negotiation

Roling and Jiggins (1998) refer to platforms of resource use negotiations where stakeholders can find unbiased "space" to meet. An important issue is how key stakeholders are represented in the platforms and how their representatives are held accountable (transparency and democracy within their stakeholder groups) to their constituencies. A mechanism for platforms to interact with conventional decision-making bodies is also required to ensure that platforms have legitimacy and efficacy.

The forests and its stakeholders could benefit substantially from scaling up shared learning to a point where decisions are made about the forest as landscape. However, scaling up has been seen to intensify the problems associated with representation and accountability, bridging the differences among knowledge systems, and addressing inequalities in political power.

Learning styles: consensus and conflict

Conflict is not always disruptive, but can lead to innovation and important transformations. Still, social learning is more about consensus building among stakeholders based on the premise of mutual respect than about conflict resolution and polarity.

"The distinctive characteristic of social learning is that it is concerned simultaneously with how to bring interest groups together and which learning patterns to employ. This intersection of collaboration and learning is what makes it different from simple learning by one actor, or from collaboration that does not involve adaptations in the ways of working within and between stakeholder groups." (adapted from Buck, Wollenberg and Edmunds, 2001)

Facilitators require strong sensibilities about relationships among the interest groups and a repertory of multiple platforms and avenues of learning to meet the diverse learning styles and preferences of different interest groups. Multiple platforms and avenues are needed to be able to work with different types of stakeholders or groups of stakeholders.

Forests are sites of multiple, shifting and conflicting interests; their management is correspondingly complex. Participatory approaches to forest management are often optimistic about the possibility for achieving consensus among forest interest groups on management decisions. They also pay little attention to the risk of cooptation, manipulation and domination of weaker groups by stronger ones in the process of reaching agreements. Conflict management approaches, on the other hand, tend to focus on the most visible conflicts, and often only after they are manifested in the form of forest degradation, social violence or economic hardship. Wollenberg, Anderson and Edmunds (2001) indicate a need for new approaches to embrace conflicting interests at many levels, to coordinate actions before conflicts become crises in forest management, and to assure that management decision-making processes and outcomes are fair to the weakest forest interest groups.

At the forest management unit level, stakeholders focus on making incremental improvements in their practices based on carefully monitored experience. Stakeholders do not seek permanent solutions based on rational theories and idealized standards of good forest management. The focus of the assessment guidelines towards more equitable partnerships between corporate and smallholders in the forest sector (discussed in this book) is to assist in identifying the incremental changes required for sustainable mutually beneficial partnerships in production forestry.

Social learning suggests, then, that mutual respect and learning of all interest groups leads to the most effective action. There still needs to be a great deal of work in creating the conditions for social learning, particularly when there are vast differences in experience, knowledge, status and power.

Transaction costs

These processes, however, incur significant transaction costs of human energy and material resources to identify all relevant forest interest groups, to develop platforms in which their interests can be communicated effectively, and to coordinate interests so that the legitimacy and autonomy of each group is respected. These costs are obviously higher than in simple forest management under the sole responsibility of the government.

Reports (Wollenberg, Anderson and Edmunds, 2001) show the growing evidence that additional investment is worth the effort. By actively identifying the conflicts that exist among interest groups, we can better anticipate and manage them. The workshop outputs indicate that not only do NGOs seek to increase the bargaining strength of farm foresters and communities, but private companies also want communities to negotiate more strongly, precisely for this reason. From the companies' perspective, if communities are more coherent in negotiating, then litigation and defaulting are less likely to occur in the future. Moreover, the results of disenfranchisement of certain members of the community (e.g. plantation arson, violent disputes, etc.) can be mitigated or minimized.

Further analysis of the costs and benefits of these approaches are still needed. Cost analysis could be followed up from this meeting. Clearly, previous forest management systems have incurred great costs for ecological and social systems. Social learning and joint action research with all stakeholders should lead to a more realistic, adaptive management that is ultimately more effective, efficient and equitable.

Multiple stakeholders and joint learning

We have talked of Participatory Action Research, mutual respect of knowledge, values and capacities, joint and social learning. What were the particular characteristics of this meeting that reflected some of the learning characteristics that have been discussed in this chapter?

This unique combination above is considered from the following perspectives:

Joint action research or joint action learning reflects the multistakeholder dimension and concepts of mutual respect that were the underlying principles of the meeting. This paradigm also reflects the process of negotiation required for equity and sustainability in outgrower contracts.

With particular reference to these paradigms in the context of private companies, Senge (2001) states that competition, which fuelled the industrial era, must now be tempered by cooperation. Without this balance, organizations of all kinds will be unable to survive the hyper competition of today's market place. While competition and competiveness remain the mantra of traditional market advocates, the frenzy for optimal return on financial capital today threatens health and sustainability at all levels. Behind this approach lies a core premise - that Industrial Age institutions face extraordinary challenges to evolve, which are unlikely to be met in isolation. Collaboration and joint knowledge building are vital.

The underlying challenge for the activities developed at this meeting is to create better equals. By creating settings for collective reflection, people from different stakeholder constituencies will be able to understand and respect each other's perspectives.

Joint action learning: a process towards more equitable corporate and smallholder partnerships

The challenge of sustainable development in the forestry sector, in balancing issues of social justice and environmental sustainability while meeting the ever-increasing demand for tree and forest products, is becoming increasingly paramount in all forest policy discussions. Principles, criteria and indicators of mutually beneficial corporate and smallholder schemes are guidelines that attempt to address these global concerns at a forest management unit level, while facilitating the provision of products for the local and national economy. The testing and development of the assessment guidelines towards more equitable partnerships based on the principles of joint learning could contribute towards addressing these concerns in this small, but growing component of the plantation forestry sector.


Bhatt, Y. & Tandon, R. 2001. Citizen participation in natural resource management. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury, eds. Handbook of action research, participative inquiry and practice. London, UK, SAGE publications.

Buck L., Wollenberg, E. & Edmunds, D. 2001. Social learning in the collaborative management of community forests: lessons from the field. In E. Wollenberg, D. Edmunds, L. Buck, J. Fox & S. Brodt, eds. Social learning in community forests. Bogor Barat, Indonesia, CIFOR and the East-West Center.

Daniels, S. & Walker, G. 1999. Rethinking public participation in natural resources management: concepts from pluralism and five emerging approaches. In Pluralism and sustainable forestry and rural development, p. 29-48. Proceedings of an international workshop, 9-12 December 1997. Rome, FAO.

Fals Borda, O. 2001. Participatory (action) research in social theory: origins and challenges. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury, eds. Handbook of action research, participative inquiry and practice. London, UK, SAGE Publications.

Heller, A. 1989. From hermeneutics in social science towards a hermeneutics of social science. Theory and Society, 18(3): 304 (5v).

Ludema, J., Cooperrider, D. & Barrett, F. 2001. Appreciative inquiry: the power of the unconditional positive question. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury, eds. Handbook of action research, participative inquiry and practice. London, UK, SAGE Publications.

Maarleveld, M. & Dangbegnon, C. 1999. Managing natural resources: a social learning perspective. Agriculture and Human Values, 16: 267-280.

Roling, N.G. & Jiggins, J. 1998. The ecological knowledge system. In N.G. Roling & M.A.E. Wagemakers, eds. Facilitating sustainable agriculture, p. 281-307. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Senge, P. & Scharmer, O. 2001. Community action research: learning as a community of practitioners, consultants and researchers. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury, eds. Handbook of action research, participative inquiry and practice. London, UK, SAGE Publications.

Wollenberg, E., Anderson, J. & Edmunds, D. 2001. Pluralism and the less powerful: accommodating multiple interests in local forest management. Jakarta, Indonesia, CIFOR.

Wollenberg, E., Edmunds, D., Buck, L., Fox, J. & Brodt, S. 2001. Social learning in community forests. Bogor Barat, Indonesia, CIFOR and the East-West Center.

4 Synthesis of pertinent literature compiled by Christine Holding Anyonge.

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