Participatory change agents may be designated as animators, facilitators, development activists, field action promoters, group organizers or motivators, etc. The terms participation agent and -as practice shows - group promoter are quite adequate and in many countries convenient: they are therefore used mostly in this guide.
The group promoters are the key persons to render a participatory project successful. They assist the disadvantaged people in their action area:
a) to identify viable economic and social group activities;
b) to form small groups for these self-selected activities;
c) to obtain - as liaison persons - from the delivery system the required training and support (credit, inputs, etc.) for the group activities; and
d) to perform the necessary action-research and self-evaluation.
Group promoters are animators, enablers and catalysts of the groups (to be) formed and thus the pivotal grassroot workers for promoting a local receiving system (see Section 5). They work with and not only for the people and avoid leadership roles so that after their departure people are not left "orphanized".
The tasks of group promoters are different from those of normal extension workers, for the following reasons: 1) government extension workers are responsible for all the people of a village or area, including the non-poor, whereas the group promoters are dedicated only or at least mainly to the disadvantaged people; 2) the group promoters have to live and work with the village people for two, three years whereafter they withdraw, whereas extension workers usually do not live with their target population and enjoy also a more permanent assignment; and 3) the group promoters are (or at least should be) mainly accountable to the rural poor groups, whereas extensionists respond to and are supervised by their government agency.
A group promoter is thus not a typical government official, teacher, welfare worker or leader
Group promoters should be chosen carefully: the principal qualifications required are:
1) experience in working with people and local organizations in rural areas and well-acquainted with the problems of the poor;
2) capable, motivated and committed to live, work at least two years with the poor in the field;
3) willing to leave any decision-making and leadership to the people, promoting among them attitudes of self-help and self-reliance;
4) familiar with the local language and culture; they should thus come preferably from similar rural areas in the same district or from the same ethnic or linguistic group, but not from the project area, in order to be able to better introduce new ideas for action to the people. However, in some cases group promoters can be and are recruited from and posted in their own village or zone of origin. Apart from cost savings, the advantage is that their experience and know-how could be utilized more easily also after withdrawal of a project;
5) desirable qualifications are: rural background, a minimum of secondary level education and experience in community or rural development as well as in such fields as social work, elementary economy or sociology, agriculture or extension.
There should be flexibility on the gender. Preference for men or women should be determined by the context. There should not be rigidity on the number of males and of females to be employed as group promoters in a project.
From the above roles and required qualifications of group promoters, it follows that their many-sided tasks require in practice a full-time availability and secondly that beneficiary participation can be promoted much more efficiently and with less cost by locally recruited staff.
In projects which unfortunately have no arrangements and sufficient funds to recruit full-time group promoters, the roles of the latter could be performed in part and, of course, with less impact, by ad-hoc trained project staff who have other technical duties. However, such staff should preferably also be local and their other tasks such that they are to be performed in the field in direct contact with the intended beneficiaries. It is moreover to be stressed that anyhow all project and local staff needs to be briefed and trained on-goingly on the participatory issues and operations of the project.
The search, selection, recruitment, training and guidance of group promoters are important operations in a participatory project. In order to find capable group promoters, which is often problematical, candidates must be recruited from wherever they are available in a country: government agencies, NGOs and/or otherwise. Each source of recruitment has advantages and disadvantages. Several participatory projects obtained well performing field workers from the government extension field staff. This increases project sustainability as the recurrent costs are lower, and may moreover enhance project expansion and multiplication.
In some countries, it is desirable to give preference to candidates with secondment prospects as they will expectedly continue to propagate the participatory approach after they return to their seconding agency. In this way the latter agencies will be sensitized and enabled to better serve the rural poor. Group promoters on secondment from government should be given their annual income increases and seniority promotions. Participation agents need, of course, very much specific initial and follow-up training especially in group dynamics, group enterprise management, savings/credit and other key topics (see Section 11).
In the project area(s) a number of village clusters are to be identified during project preparation (see Section 15.4). At least two group promoters (one female and one male) are to be assigned to each village cluster; the female group promoters will of course give special attention to women. Teams of husband-wife couples would be the most desirable field staff. Ideally the male and female field workers should live in the action villages with the people for constant availability and guidance. Depending upon the local culture, unmarried female field workers may however, have to reside in a nearby centre. Each couple of group promoters starts to work in the core community of a village cluster.
Important is the image of group promoters amongst the locals in their action area. Their role should repeatedly be explained to all villagers and also shown in practice. Through their helpful spirit, kind attitudes, wise considerate manners and patient actions, they will gradually be regarded as animators and guides and not as typical top-down officials or aliens interfering with the local culture and living habits. It will be of primordial importance to build up gradually confidential friendship relationships in their action communities starting with the poor and thereafter with the less poor villagers: otherwise they could be regarded by the poor as being mainly on the side of the better-off.
It would also be strategic to ask the influential and other villagers prior to any action whether they really accept in their community the proposed outsiders as participation agents.
As group promoters have hard pioneer tasks and work often in the evenings and on non-working days when the poor are available for meetings, they should receive just payment: in various projects they receive e.g. a hardship allowance or the like on top of their usually low field worker salary. They should also obtain means of transport (motorbikes or bikes). The latter are best given "on purchase/lease", that is the (motor) bikes become the property of the group promoters after they have paid them back to the project in say 24 monthly instalments. This guarantees better proper operation and maintenance.
For the planning of a beneficiary participation component, it can be assumed that in not too unfavourable circumstances, each of the group promoters can help the beneficiaries to organize themselves into a total of at least 11 groups (on the average 15 groups) over three years. The third year is in particular also needed for consolidation of all groups formed. Each group promoter will thus reach directly over three years some 150 households (taking a rather low average group size of 10 members) which means an involvement of at least 900 rural people (assuming an average household size of 6 persons).
Disengagement of group promoters. While a group promoter is promoting self-reliance of her/his groups, she/he is working towards self-redundancy in her/his action area, so that she/he can be useful elsewhere. Self-reliance can be promoted by: involving the group members in all activities so as to build their capabilities, developing leadership skills through training and rotation of leadership functions, encouraging group-to-group learning, teaching record keeping, helping to establish linkages and to build up savings, reducing visits to groups and ensuring the presence of one or more group members whenever she/he contacts the line agencies, banks, etc. Self-reliance may not always mean total disengagement of group promoters: the latter could be maintained by inter-group associations to perform certain specific functions (see Sections 10.5 and 7.2).
Many non-seconded, well-motivated group promoters feel the temporary character of their employment and the lack of career prospects as a serious problem. The participatory approach implies a long term process and effort in any developing country (see Sections 2.5 and 15.1). Consequently, well-performing group promoters will most likely find opportunities and/or demand to continue working with the poor after their assignment with a project as exemplified below. Employment of group promoters on secondment is of course often preferable to ensure their career prospects.
1) The participatory project itself, once sufficiently successful, usually will be expanded. The implementing agency (line department and/or NGO) will then require a number of experienced senior group promoters or coordinators, in particular for the training of new group promoters to work in extended or new project areas (see also Section 15.3, point 4).
2) Graduated or anyhow gifted group promoters may desire to follow an academic career, particularly in such fields as applied development sociology and economy, agricultural extension; etc. They conceive the experience gained with the poor as an enlargement of practical knowledge regarding the promotion of self-development of the rural poor. Experience shows that research and training institutions are increasingly eager to employ group promoters, in particular those who gave special attention to action research (see Section 12). Moreover, some projects provide fellowships to selected group promoters for professional advancement. Line departments and banks see this as a useful means for staff development.
3) As the magnitude of rural poverty is growing, various governments tend to encharge one or more agencies with the planning and/or implementation of specific rural poor oriented programmes and projects. Accordingly also the demand for capable participation agents will increase. This is still more the case with UN supported programmes for poverty alleviation.
4) Although the rural poor groups will federate themselves and become eventually self-propelling (see Section 7.2), they may still need help in or outside the normal government delivery structure for solving production, marketing, processing, etc. problems. Experienced group promoters could perform valuable functions on payment for inter-group associations, primary or secondary level cooperatives or the like.