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1. The Focus of the Study

People's participation

Development projects are by definition external interventions. Why, when and how they are identified, formulated and approved depends on the policies and negotiation skills of the different parties involved, usually governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or international institutions. Direct involvement of the intended target groups or their representatives in this process of project preparation and negotiation is not a common practice. At most, with the help of some local people, a general assessment of constraints and opportunities to be addressed through project interventions is made during project identification and formulation. As a consequence, when development projects become operational, their appearance is generally a surprise for the intended target groups. An effort is under way to change this state of affairs, however, using methods that come under the name of "participatory development" or "people's participation".

People's participation is now thought by many to be a prerequisite for sustainable development. There are, however, a variety of different interpretations of what "people's participation" and "participatory development" should and do mean in practice, ranging from "we want them to participate in what we do" to "we want to support them in the achievement of their goals".

Broadly speaking, depending on project objectives and strategies, two approaches can be distinguished. The first type is the "blueprint" or "target-oriented" approach, in which projects are defined in terms of mechanisms for the delivery of pre-defined packages of goods and services to specific target groups. Participation in this context is understood in terms of the willingness of people to undertake the required activities.

The second type can be called the "process-oriented" approach. In this approach, specific categories of activities are defined by the people themselves. This definition is made on the basis of local resources and needs, with support ("facilitation") from the project. The technical message is not a uniform, pre-defined recipe but a "menu" with various options. Participation in this context is understood to mean that the people themselves assume ownership and accountability for activities, which they have identified and developed with the support of the project.

According to the typology of participation developed by Pretty1, two forms of participation derive from these two approaches. The first, found in blueprint approaches, can be called "passive participation", whereby people participate by being told what is going to happen. The second, found in process-oriented approaches, can be called "interactive participation" whereby people participate in joint analysis, which leads to locally formulated action plans. Other types of participation exist in between and outside these two.

Under various forms of passive participation, people can participate by providing information to outsiders, by providing resources (usually labour) in return for incentives and by forming groups to undertake planned activities. A common characteristic of these types of participation is that planning and decision-making are in the hands of outsiders and relate to externally predetermined objectives.

In the case of interactive participation, on the other hand, local groups or communities take control. Interactive participation is meant to lead to action plans at local level, as well as creating (or enhancing) an organizational setting for their sustained implementation. Local people and project staff jointly undertake the different steps in the planning process.

Participatory planning

In the context of community forestry projects, participatory planning can be defined as joint actions of local people and project staff with the objective of formulating development plans and selecting the best available alternatives for their implementation. It should be a two-way learning process of dialogue, negotiation and decision-making between insiders and outsiders, concerning activities to be undertaken by the insiders and supported by the outsiders. It is thus conceptualized in terms of what can be called a "negotiating dialogue" between local people and project staff, aimed at conforming project support to local needs, constraints and opportunities. Simply stated, participatory planning is an effort of the parties involved to elaborate a common agenda for future development actions. This agenda is not completely open: both parties already have their own agendas, mandates and responsibilities. The challenge is to identify and agree upon those actions that fit in with both. Special methods and tools have been developed that facilitate the identification and elaboration of common agendas.

Critical assumptions underlying the participatory approach

A comparative analysis of case studies on participatory planning in community forestry may seem a difficult undertaking at first, in view of the diversity of situations and the variety of factors involved. However, several common parameters can be distinguished.

In all these projects, the rural poor are considered the key actors in improving their own living conditions, as well as in managing their natural resources sustainably. Thus, their participation is essential to the success of the project activities. Four basic assumptions regarding the outcome of this participation underlie the analysis of the case study projects presented in the sections that follow.

Decisions affecting the management of natural resources are continuously being made at many different levels, from the local farm household to the national government and even to international regulating agencies or multinational corporations. Because of the particular and often conflicting interests of the parties involved, conflict management is frequently an important dimension of natural resource management. In this context, local empowerment (in particular of disadvantaged groups) constitutes a basic condition for achieving sustainability. The first assumption, therefore, is that participatory approaches facilitate this process of local empowerment by creating opportunities for specific disadvantaged groups, such as women or the landless, to have access to external resources (training, credits) or to mobilize their own resources (organization, knowledge, skills). This enhances their capacity to take action to defend their own interests.

Participatory planning approaches aim at strengthening the local capacity for sustainable development in terms of knowledge, skills and organization. One of the important ways to ensure that local capacity is improved is through the recognition of the appropriateness of local knowledge in designing project actions. The second assumption is that the use of participatory approaches will allow the integration of local knowledge systems into local project planning and implementation. The project then complements these knowledge systems with technical support for the development of appropriate technical menus. Therefore, in particular during the planning process, emphasis should put on the mutual assessment and mobilization of local knowledge and management systems.

Participation does not just mean getting the basic information out of the community in order to "target" the project interventions effectively. This approach is oriented towards establishing horizontal relationships between external agents (the project) and the local community, as equal partners who are willing to learn from each other. The third assumption is that participatory planning facilitates a two-way learning process between the local community and the project. This two-way learning process should facilitate the timely adjustment of project support services to changing local realities. Similarly, it should strengthen local capacity to identify and mobilize local as well as external resources needed to undertake sustained actions.

Development projects operate within an existing institutional framework, and participatory approaches should provide planners and decision-makers with the necessary information for providing more adequate enabling environments and institutional support. The extent to which local communities are given the conditions for, are capable of and are interested in developing more sustainable resource management systems will determine the level of local capacity for claiming higher quality external services. The institutional environment should respond to these bottom-up claims for more decentralized planning. The final assumption is that participatory planning will enhance political commitment and institutional support for local planning by building a common understanding between institutions and local groups.

The conceptual framework

Participatory planning is defined above using the concept of a "negotiating dialogue" between the parties involved, which are the local community, groups or households (the insiders) and the project or institutions (the outsiders). This planning process should produce two sets of results.

These are considered preconditions for strengthening both institutional capacity for decentralized planning and local planning capacity. In the case of natural resource management, the strengthening of these two capacity levels should lead* to more sustainable use and management of resources.

Lessons from community forestry indicate that local-level decision-making and planning are fundamental for sustainable development. It has become clear after decades of experience that environmental problems such as deforestation and ecological degradation cannot be solved simply by planting trees. Sustainable management of natural resources requires a more comprehensive approach, which includes strengthening the organizational and technical capacities of rural communities, as well as engendering at least passive support for sustainable resource use from the larger community group. Four critical and interrelated conditions in this context are: (1) the presence of strong local organizations and community support for sustainable management; (2) the ability to ensure access to and control over natural resources (appropriate tenure systems); (3) the conditions for undertaking participatory technology development (integration of local knowledge and management systems); and (4) the existence of local systems for distributing benefits equitably. This can be visualized as follows:2

Figure 1.1: Local conditions for participatory planning

In designing a participatory project, particular attention needs to be paid during the planning process to local knowledge, skills, decision-making procedures and communication systems, as well as to existing organizational structures. It is important to understand the profiles and perceptions of the different power groups involved in local decision-making or excluded from it. Accurate knowledge of the critical factors of organizational development, technical capacity, rights to land, trees and water, and benefit distribution systems should guide the design process. This knowledge should form the basis for selecting the tools and incentives that will be used to respond to the specific needs of the local community and, in particular, to the needs of the most disadvantaged groups.

From the project point of view, two questions must be addressed at the time of project planning:

Project institutional capacity is also critical. It depends not only on the methodological and conceptual orientation of project personnel, but also on project procedures for planning, implementation, internal communication and feedback, and on linkages between these procedures and the local planning process. Thus, special attention needs to be paid to (1) project objectives and strategies, (2) project technical approach, methods and tools, (3) project organization and management and (4) the development of institutional linkages (networking). These aspects are interrelated and can be visualized as follows:

Figure 1.2: Critical institutional aspects for participatory approaches

The overall project design needs to be clearly oriented towards participatory strategies in the field. In order to promote interactive participation at the local level, project objectives and strategies need to be process-oriented. These strategies must be reinforced and further developed through the verification of methods, tools and technical menus in the field, as well as through the mobilization of institutional networks. This reinforcement depends on an appropriate project management structure· and style, as well as on the adequacy of institutional capacity in terms of human, resources, funding and infrastructure.

The local community and the project, with their respective critical issues or conditions for participatory planning, can be thought of as "local enabling institutions" and "external enabling institutions". The critical areas identified in Figures 1.1 and 1.2 will be interlinked when the local and the external systems interact. For example, integration of local knowledge systems depends on the nature of the project technical proposals. Likewise, institutional linkages and networking can generate the political commitment needed to overcome local land tenure constraints.

Methods and tools

The methods and tools most frequently used in process-oriented development projects are those taken from rapid rural appraisal techniques. Ideally, these methods and tools strengthen the capacity of local people to identify and analyse priority needs, opportunities and constraints, and consequently to plan activities, implement them and evaluate the results. At the same time, they permit project staff to get a better understanding of the local realities and to learn from the local people's experience.

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA), which make use of these instruments, have become-fashionable in projects that are process-oriented. While it is beyond the scope of this study to elaborate on the differences between PRA and RRA, according to Chambers3 they can be placed on a continuum with at one end RRA, which is an instrument for data collection and learning by outsiders, and at the other end PRA, which is meant to enable local people to conduct their own analysis. In principle, the same appraisal methods and tools can be used in both RRA and PRA exercises. The main differences relate to the behavioural roles played in each by outsiders and insiders; in other words, to how and by whom these methods are used in the field.

A number of manuals or "toolboxes" have been published recently4, and training courses or workshops on PRA and RRA methods and tools are multiplying rapidly in most parts of the world. There is, however, the risk that when manuals or toolboxes begin being used as recipes, they lose their ability to adjust to local situations. One of the most important qualities of these instruments is their flexibility and adaptability. Not all methods and tools can be used under all circumstances. Selective and creative use is more appropriate than mechanical application of the contents of a manual.

Therefore, in this study, no comparative analysis is made of the effectiveness of the different methods and tools. It is more important to consider how they are used, at both the local and institutional level. Important questions in this context are:

Institutionalization and sustainability

Participatory planning is the initial step in the definition of a common agenda for development by a local community and an external entity or entities. Over a period of years, this initial step is expected to evolve for the parties concerned towards (1) a self-sustaining development planning process at the local level, and (2) the decentralization of national institutional planning. Through this process, these two planning levels should grow to be closely interrelated. The result will ideally be the continuing formulation of comprehensive and integrated plans for sustainable development of natural resources. As consolidated procedures and mechanisms for consultation and negotiation gradually evolve, the original participatory project approaches and methods will become institutionalized. This will lead to a sustained process of planning based on negotiation, in which all groups with a stake in the use and the conservation of natural resources will be involved on an equitable basis.

1 See: Pretty, J.N. Alternative systems of inquiry for a sustainable agriculture. IDS bulletin, Vol.25, no.2 (1994)

2 Figures 1.1 and 1.2 are both based on Laban, P., Policy instruments and basic conditions for local level accountability as concerns sustainable management of natural resources. Support Paper 4, 1AC, Wageningen, 1991.

3 See Chambers, R., Rural Appraisal: Rapid, Relaxed and Participatory. Institute of Development Studies Discussion Paper 311, University of Sussex, England, 1992

4 See for example: "The Community's Toolbox", Community Forestry Field Manual 2, FAQ, Rome, 1990. A very interesting set of tools is also described in "Participatory Rapid Appraisal for Community Development: a Training Manual Based on Experiences in the Middle East and North Africa", by Theis and Grady, LIED, London, 1991. A third example is "Tools for Community Participation", a UNDP manual for training of trainers in participatory techniques by Srinivasan, UNDP, New York 1987.

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