The project cycle consists usually of seven main stages: Reconnaissance or Pre-identification, Identification, Preparation, Appraisal, Approval by the supporting agency and Government, implementation and Evaluation. For participatory projects this cycle is (to be) conceived as a flexible and fluid process; for example in some instances one or more phases could be merged or even suppressed.
This Section deals mainly with the operations required for the reconnaissance, identification and preparation or formulation of a participatory component in a project. The main ones are:
a) collecting relevant information, as explained below;
b) sensitizing the staff of appropriate Government and Voluntary or Private Organizations (NGOs), furthermore local leaders and representatives of the intended beneficiaries on the nature and need of a project as well as of its participatory approach;
c) reaching agreements with potential project participants and the authorities concerned on the type of project needed and the best ways to plan and implement it.
Although this Section deals mainly with projects initiated and supported by an external development agency, many points are mutatis mutandis also relevant and applicable for projects and programmes initiated in a country without external aid.
Practice shows that effective beneficiary participation can be incorporated in the design of a project of any type: agricultural production, livestock, forestry, fishery, credit, irrigation, input-delivery, research, training, extension and so on. For this purpose, a participatory project (or at least its participatory component) is, however, to be prepared with considerable flexibility. This should be reflected in the project documents which should have flexible frameworks. The beneficiaries must be offered sufficient scope and space to help define and implement economic and other activities and to organize themselves around these according to their own needs and possibilities. Thus e.g. participatory preparation of detailed work plans is part of the project implementation and such plans can and should therefore not be elaborated in detail beforehand in project documents. Otherwise the essence of the participatory approach, viz. self-initiative, self-reliance and self-development together with group democracy and shared leadership could be seriously compromised.
The role of agencies like FAO in this is thus to help overcome the constraints of participatory project planning and to create the conditions which facilitate its implementation (including by means of policy dialogues: see Section 4.3).
In this stage, also called pre-identification phase, a project idea or proposal will undergo a first examination and elaboration. For this purpose relevant operational qualitative and quantitative data need to be collected. This requires firstly a desk review for the analysis of all available reference materials. Secondly, the data collection requires socio-economic field surveys in the potential project areas of the country concerned. This type of data collection can usually not be carried out satisfactorily during relatively short identification missions. It will therefore be indispensable to establish in or to send to a country before an identification mission, a small team to perform reconnaissance work during a period of two to three months. The team should collect -in particular at the local level - the data required for building in a project efficient beneficiary participation. Although for each type of project and of project area different data are of course needed, in Section 16.3 an overview is given of the information to be gathered in general.
In the reconnaissance stage as much as possible identification work should be done as any amount of data collected prior to the identification mission will contribute not only to less longer and costly as well as more fruitful identification and formulation missions and work but also to far better project designs and thus -what after all really counts - to more successful project implementation and results. It is moreover a relatively cheap but rather fruitful investment to send out a small reconnaissance team and even more so when such team can consist wholly or in part of local experts.
The members of a reconnaissance team or mission should consist of: a) an applied female and/or male sociologist/anthropologist-cum-social planner, and b) one or more experts in agronomy or other fields depending upon the type of project and its prospective action area(s). Wherever possible the team members should be local, at least in part.
The team will carry out pragmatic social and economic studies in the potential project area(s). For the surveys a representative sample is to be taken including spokesmen and -women of the local people, in particular the poor; furthermore, key members of local people's organizations as well as traditional and other leaders and influentials.
In the identification phase it should be thoroughly examined whether and how a project can be designed in a truly participatory way, in other words whether, to what extent and how beneficiary participation can be built into a project design. For this purpose it is firstly necessary to obtain a socio-economic country profile and secondly on the basis of this, relevant information on the overall feasibility and. thirdly, the social feasibility of a participatory project.
It is of course understood that part of the above information such as a country profile is necessary for any project and furthermore that the data required for drafting a beneficiary participation component or mechanism depend upon and are to be consistent and compatible with the many economic, technical and other data collected in the identification phase for the overall project design. Just to mention one key point in respect: the social feasibility of a project is to be correlated with its economic, technical and ecological feasibility.
Country Profile. This profile should be concise and operational and contain a number of relevant economic and social data. The latter are usually either already available or can be easily obtained. The information required on the potential project area(s) is to be collected mainly by means of reconnaissance work (see Section 16.2) and concerns only the minimum necessary data for a participatory project.
Firstly, overall geographic, demographic and economic information is of course to be obtained which is usually readily available. The economic data may regard land tenure, agrarian reform and production structures, numbers/proportions of the various categories of farmers, farming systems and income, small-scale coastal and inland fisheries and other relevant economic activities. Secondly, various socio-economic and socio-cultural data need to be collected as explained hereunder.
Overall feasibility of participatory approaches and projects in a country.
In order to determine this feasibility, information is to be gathered on relevant policy and institutional issues which may imply the following key topics.
1) The political environment: Is the government de facto in favour of assisting rural poor people and in particular of the participatory development approach? This implies: do relevant government agencies fully, partly or not endeavour to: a) identify and classify poor people and poverty areas, and b) give them preferential attention by means of specific policies, institutions and programmes? Furthermore, in what forms and to what extent are people's participation, self-development and self-help part of the government's policies?
2) Has the country the required supporting legislation regarding rural people's organizations? This includes: freedom of association and group formation, adequate interpretation and application of the rights of association, possible restrictive provisions (e.g. in some countries registered cooperatives are the only rural people's organizations allowed) and appropriate labour laws.
3) The forms and degrees of decentralization of public administration, planning as well as resource allocation and control. Among others: do government agencies at local levels have sufficient space and delegation of power to help implement a participatory project? What about the stability of the government system?
4) Policies to strengthen women's roles in rural development particularly in agricultural and other productive activities.
5) Policies concerning rural poor-oriented training, extension, credit, input-supply and marketing.
6) Policies to increase non-agricultural income- and employment generation opportunities for the rural low income women, men and youth.
7) Are fiscal, pricing and other key national policies consistent with poverty-oriented projects?
8) Foreseeable political, financial and other support to participatory projects at national and lower levels: to what extent is the government prepared to support the creation of an adequate receiving system in addition to the strengthening of the existing delivery system and gearing it to the needs of the rural weak? (see Section 6.1).
Social feasibility studies
The overall feasibility information and the country profile form the main basis on which one or more participatory projects as well as possible project areas can be identified. In this exercise, the emphasis should be on seizing opportunities to build on ongoing local development efforts and promising local initiatives. For participatory projects not only economic/technical but also social feasibility studies are indispensable. In the latter studies priority attention is to be given to the following:
1) identification and classification of the rural poor people: how defined and identified by government and other bodies, average incomes, poverty line(s), changes over time, etc.; the main categories of the low-income people and their numbers and proportions, also per region/zone; furthermore summaries of studies, if any, on the poor in the country including on their needs and aspirations (see Sections 5.2 and 5.3);
2) identification of potential project areas on the basis of data under 1) and the criteria indicated in Section 5.1. The following topics refer mainly to these potential areas;
3) the local traditional and modern (usually dual) power structure; among others; types and influence of local power holders and groups as well as the forms and degrees of (over-) dependence of the poor upon them;
4) other relevant aspects of the local social structure and culture such as: ethnic and/or tribal groups and their mutual relationships, traditional social units (extended families, lineages, clans, etc.), prevailing values, norms, customs and taboos which could affect a participatory project;
5) the delivery system at local and district (provincial) levels: the structure, functions, policies, programmes, staff, resources, activities, performance, external relationships and constraints of Government agencies and NGOs which could be involved in a participatory project;
6) the relevant formal and informal, standard and participatory rural peoples organizations (see Section 6): their genesis, history, objectives, membership, leadership, activities, results, and constraints. Furthermore, their external relationships to: national and district level units of the same organization, other local people's organizations, government and/or NGO bodies and local power and vested interest groups;
7) the numbers and percentages of rural people, particularly poor and disadvantaged groups, who are not organized in formal and/or informal organizations conducive to their economic and social development, and why;
8) existing forms and levels of locally available technical knowledge regarding project-relevant fields such as farming, fishing, handicrafts, self-organization, group-management, etc.
The information needed for the preparation of a beneficiary participatory component in a project is to be obtained among others, through Project Preparation Missions but also, when needed, follow-up feasibility studies. The information regards mainly the following:
1) identification and description of the government agencies and NGOs which could effectively be involved in the implementation of beneficiary participation in a project (see Section 8.1);
2) selection and detailed operational profile of the institution(s) to be responsible for the above implementation; moreover, its/their position in the local administrative and organizational network as well as its/their image and prestige among the poorer locals;
3) pragmatic proposals to establish the minimum required (or to make use of the existing) coordination mechanisms at national and lower levels for project implementation (e.g. a National Coordinating Committee and one or more Project Implementation Committees: see Section 8.2);
4) workable proposals for the financial arrangements required for a participatory project such as agreements with one or more cooperating credit institutions, establishment of credit funds for (group) loans, and (group) loan conditions including social liability and interest rates (see Sections 7.2 and 9);
5) manpower resources for locally recruited project staff. In particular to recruit the required participation coordinator and group promoters (see Sections 8.2 and 10);
6) identification - by means of exploratory surveys - of initial action areas (village clusters) within the project areas where the group promoters will start their field actions (see Sections 5.1, 10.3 and 12);
7) potentials and strategy of group formation: a key issue is whether to promote the self-creation of small groups of rural poor people within existing rural organizations, and/or on the basis of existing informal groups, and/or from scratch (see Section 6);
8) group activities: potentials in the project area for viable income-raising enterprises in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, processing, handicrafts, marketing, etc. Furthermore, as and when required, preliminary planning of small-scale feasibility studies on certain potential group activities (see Section 7);
9) participatory training; identification of training needs and preparation of a programme for (a) the intended beneficiaries, (b) project personnel, and (c) supporting government and NGO staff; furthermore search for suitable training institutions, personnel, methods, opportunities and materials (see Section 11);
10) participatory action research: types of pragmatic socio-economic research needed, search for institutions and/or expertise to assist in research design and execution (see Section 12);
11) participatory monitoring and evaluation: outline for workable local systems (see Section 13);
12) organization of project initiation, training and other field workshops in or near the project area(s) to discuss with all potential project participants, especially the intended beneficiaries and supporting staff, the participatory development approach and project
Once the earlier indicated overall and social feasibility data as well as the above information is obtained, the beneficiary participation component(s) and/or elements can be formulated taking of course, into account the other economic, technical and ecological components or features of a project.
For the phasing of a Participatory Component in a project workplan, reference is made to Figure 2 in Appendix 3.
 See e.g. "Participation
of the Poor in Rural Organizations: A Consolidated Report on Studies in Selected
Countries of Asia, the Near East and Africa", by Bernard van Heck, FAO, Rome.
1979, page 56 et passim.|