Posted May 1997
Participatory action research and people's participation:
Introduction and case studies
by Gerrit Huizer
|< 5. PPP-Thailand||7. PPP-Zambia >|
From the outset one of the main objectives of the Integrated Rural Development Projects (IRDP) has been people's participation in development. IRDP's policy document (January 1981, p. 2) indicated as one of the three main objectives (as formulated by the Ministry of Plan Implementation): "Participation: to support the establishment of local societies which look after the well-being of rural people, to increase the degree of local participation in planning, to better satisfy the real needs of the people".
The project's "Guiding Principles" designed in 1980 by Netherlands experts in consultation with Sri Lankan counterparts stated: "More effective participation of the target groups should be secured by strengthening a setting up of local organizations which exercise certain affective powers ... a specific task for the (Planning) Unit will be to develop a method to set up local target group organizations or to strengthen existing organizations. Development efforts will fail in the end if the target group has not participated" (p. 4).
IRDP Medium Term Strategy Report 1982 (chapter 2) indicated as main target groups for the project the estate workers on the one hand and the low income groups in the village sector, particularly the landless, sharecroppers, and small-scale farmers. In the 1980 Guiding Principles for IRDP emphasis was placed on the need to work towards a greater control by the farm people over the means of production and credit facilities. It was also observed in these Guiding Principles (p. 10):
"The role of local organizations such as the Rural Development Societies, Village Community, Agricultural Productivity Committees and Agricultural Service Committee, proved ineffective as a means of Rural Development. The organizations became - in many a case - the victim of political interests and lost their influence as a real community based village organization. The rural people so far have had no adequate bottom-up organizations to fight for their interests, nor have the existing rural organizations been given judicial power, and ownership of the means of production and planning".While in general terms such problems of lack of control over means of production are noted in the original project documents, and in the reporting over the years, hardly any attention is paid to it. There have moreover been differences of interpretation at various levels both among Sri Lankan and Dutch personnel involved about the meaning of "participation". Not infrequently reports of IRDP used a rather limited view on participation, just implying "free labour" for community projects. The original project documents were, however, quite clear about a much broader interpretation of participation, implying consultation of local people, particularly the poor, in the planning and implementation of projects to their benefit and enhancing or building of local organizations to that effect. In the IRDP "Report 1985 - Programme 1986" (December, 1985) for the first time such participatory aspects and the bottlenecks in this field were discussed, while in earlier reporting this topic was only dealt with in a rather casual way.
Though the "process approach" as an open-ended, flexible development strategy has been applied in IRDP to ensure that benefits reach the poorest sections of the rural people, particularly in the village sector, there is no clear indication that in this respect the project has optimally reached its goal. On the contrary: bottlenecks and constraints have been observed in most evaluation reports.
Rural Credit is one of the "local initiatives" with a strong people's participation potential, that has been a modest component of IRDP activities during the last few years. It was found that although this activity seems reasonably successful in spreading credit, mainly through the Rural Development Societies, there is doubt as to what extent these credits actually benefit IRDP's alleged target group of poor farmers (landless, or up to one acre of paddy land). There is evidence that the better-off farmers and even some traders (mudalalis) who traditionally have made out the Rural Development Societies (created as an institution several decades ago) have benefited most. An additional constraint for the poorest and landless farmers is that they are by definition not entitled to any institutional sources of credit, as they have no collateral.
Systematically collected data on the land tenure situation in each Division where IRDP is operating seemed not to have been considered as a base for choice of target groups or activities. This makes it difficult to assess to what extent the poorest section of the villages are being reached as a priority target group. From the few case studies available it can be concluded that lack of means of production, particularly landlessness, is one of the main problems in the area. More than half of the farm families had no land at all (about 25%) and 27% owned less than 0,2 HA.
It was recognized that for each village area where IRDP is concentrating the available land tenure data should be taken into account in the planning of the various activities to be undertaken. Field workers or local officials could be requested to supply such data if they are not centrally available. If needed locally a diagnosis of the prevailing situation could be undertaken, preferably in a participatory manner.
It is obvious that most activities undertaken by IRDP (such as irrigation, soil conservation, education, road construction) were not specifically designed to benefit the poor farmers, but were implemented to meet the broader, overall development objectives of the project. It was therefore recommended that, through relieving the existing constraints in staffing, IRDP be enabled to pay greater attention to the target groups. It was not considered feasible to make drastic changes, but the project could be more used to intensively experiment on a much larger scale with activities especially oriented towards the landless and the small farmers. If successful, these activities -and the bottom-up planning which forms part of it- could gradually be integrated into the overall planning effort.
It was also recognized that one of the main bottlenecks in promoting people's participation in the village sector has been the lack of sufficient personnel trained in the bottom-up approach. In Sri Lanka, as in most other countries were people's participation projects are presently being introduced, most rural development efforts have come from the top through a carefully designed hierarchical structure of government officials. Because of this top-down approach, it has generally not reached the poor effectively, in spite of the best intentions. Experience showed that in order to involve the rural poor in participation in planning and implementation of development efforts on their own behalf bottom-up institutional arrangements had to be introduced as a complement to the existing hierarchy. This needs personnel especially trained in helping to establish such arrangements.
Some of the few experiences IRDP has had in the field of small-holder development appear to confirm this need. But in order to demonstrate the validity of this approach a good number of experiments are to be carried out in different contexts in all the various concentration areas of IRDP. A variety of people's participation approaches will be tried out side by side and be carefully (and in a participatory manner) monitored and evaluated. Therefore the FAO/PPP project approach in Sri Lanka and the Change Agents Programme which served as a model for PPP there, are being integrated to some extent in IRDP.
Since 1984 the PPP bottom-up organization and institution-building approach has been combined with agricultural, fisheries and village industries development among the poorest farmers and women through the FAO and Netherlands Government support in selected areas in Matale, Kandi and Hambantota Districts. The PPP strategy is to stimulate, with help of part- or full-time group organizers who live in the villages, the formation of groups of 10-15 members (exclusively from among the poor and landless). After a diagnosis of the local situation the group organizer helps members to get together around feasible income raising activities decided upon by themselves. These groups, once they have proved their viability through some group savings, will be supplied with credits based on group collateral to undertake activities which can be agricultural or non-agricultural. The group's credit can be applied on an individual basis or for group enterprises, but is only supplied if the group members have agreed on a common plan. Leadership guidance and facilitation by group organizers enhances existing local capacities.
The PPP Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Research (MADR). The group promoters are employed for three years with funding from the Netherlands through FAO-PPP. They do not belong to the MADR staff. PPP works in three districts, in 18 villages with 21 part-time and full-time group organizers, half of them women. During the first year, 1985, these group organizers have received six months training, consisting of a few weeks classroom teaching and discussion in Colombo and for the rest on-the-job training in the villages assigned to them. For close supervision of the work of the group organizers the MADR had made available a National Project Director. They also work in close collaboration with the Assistant Government Agent (aga) in their respective aga divisions and try to coordinate activities with officials of various government agencies at that level. Each group organizer is envisaged to be able to cover up to five villages, forming about four poor farmer (and women's) groups in each village over the three years of the project.
The group organizers recruited are relatively highly qualified people (B.Sc or B.A. in social sciences) and since their employment in the project is only for three years, there has been a risk that they chose a more secure post in government service, if they got a chance. Their salary amounts to Rs. 600 per month (basic salary) plus RS. 50 field allowance per day they live in the village of their assignment. To this must be added about Rs. 300 per month for local travel costs. Altogether a group organizer thus costs the programme about Rs. 2,000 per month.
When all (except one) functioning GOs were interviewed, they proved to be committed people well-acquainted with the PPP approach and apparently well established in their villages. Their selection and initial training must have been thorough. Three of the four GOs who were attached to a former FFHC (Freedom from Hunger Campaign) directed programme have been maintained and have undergone the same training as the newly selected GOs, though their academic qualifications were less (one being a small farmer with only primary education). In all the villages where GOs were located, mostly in pairs, several groups have been formed. In some villages activities like mat weaving or bakery were used to gain initial group funds, so that later more important income-raising activities could be undertaken, such as animal husbandry or crop production. It was envisaged that group savings precede the application for credit based on group plans, and in most cases this seemed to work well. The training and initial monitoring of the group organizers had been undertaken with help from the consultant K.P.G.M. Perera, Director of the Ministry of Plan Implementation and its Rural Development and Research Institute, and since several years responsible for the UNDP supported Change Agents Programme (CAP) which has had considerable success (since 1978) with participatory action research strategies similar to those of PPP.
CAP works through trainers who are assigned to a village with a large component of poor farmers. They live in this village and after becoming thoroughly familiar with it, train a few agents from among the poor to organize groups to undertake income raising activities of a great variety, in agriculture, crafts, fishing etc. After a year one of the two or three trainers living in a village move to a neighbouring village and the others start to withdraw from the village in a similar way, once it is sure that the change agents in the village can carry out their group formation activities on their own.
This programme, which gained international attention, has been successful in several areas in Sri Lanka to organize the poorest section of villages (often 25-40 per cent of the people) which before remained outside the reach of most other government programmes. Unfortunately the cap has only a limited staff spread in a variety of districts.
In addition to learning from mistakes made during the initial PPP efforts (and those of cap) during the training, a number of positive experiences were highlighted and discussed, with help from concrete case studies. Aspects of communication, dialogue, group dynamics, identification of and with the poor, and other social psychological subjects were amply dealt with. Particularly these topics were highly appreciated as helpful and informative by almost all group organizers interviewed.
The training is continued in regular PMOE workshops and combined with in-service training and supervision. Problems encountered in the village, after a short introduction course of seven days, were carefully reported by the GOs and discussed together with their colleagues in the next training workshop. Strong emphasis was given during the training sessions on the need of self-reliance and particularly saving before outside aid or credit could be supplied. In fact the credit aspect was initially strongly de-emphasized. This should be seen in the light of the fact that in all kinds of rural development projects in Sri Lanka over the last decades much bad experience has been accrued about defaulting in repayment of officially supplied credit (also one of the main reasons for the hesitancy of local banks to get involved with a programme like PPP).
Therefore it is practice that groups in their formation process accrue some savings to prove their viability and then make a group plan of income-raising activities for which they can get credit from a kind of revolving fund, especially designed to supply credits to the poorest sections. Once several groups have been formed in a specific area an association of groups is formed where group plans are combined into a overall plan for activities in the area concerned.
As regards the surveys to be undertaken in PPP Sri Lanka it was being emphasized during the training that the experience of the Ministry of Plan Implementation's Change Agents Programme and also those of various NGOs indicates that in Sri Lanka household (sample) surveys, asking detailed questions on income and relative poverty have had an anti-participatory effect. It was found that people gave unreliable information on questions dealing with privacy, so as to protect themselves. They also showed resistance to the people who come to ask such questions. Such researchers then found it difficult to become accepted as group organizers with a bottom-up approach.
Based on this experience of the Change Agents Programme GOs have been stimulated to refrain initially from collecting household survey data and to do this only after they have become familiar with and accepted by the community. Initially only an overall type of data collection of a more general (including historical) nature on the community is undertaken in an inconspicuous way.
PPP group organizers have, once they were accepted, been able to collect and systematize essential data on the village where they are working. Such data were particularly important to distinguish which farmers (potential beneficiaries) were the poor to be supported in forming more or less homogeneous groups, not dominated by better-off farmers. These data were checked and discussed in local group meetings. In many cases these data were also used as a type of baseline or benchmark for the project activities. The important thing was to bring all data together in an appropriate framework or data base, serving participatory monitoring and on-going evaluation.
It is one of the crucial aspects of the people's participation approach that it becomes an integrating and facilitating factor for the regular government services delivery system to the poorest sectors. Coordination with such services can be achieved only gradually by trial and error and can best be initiated at the lowest levels of operation. Altogether by 1989 239 groups had been formed in Sri Lanka and in order to strengthen their bargaining power most of these groups had, in their specific areas, joined into 13 local federations or inter-group associations.
In order to facilitate effective coordination, mutual learning and monitoring and on-going evaluation in a participatory manner, the group organizers are requested to train all groups in some measure of record keeping about their meetings and other activities. They themselves also keep log books in which data of each group and its process of formation and growth are systematically brought together. It is common practice for the group organizers to also keep a personal diary in which observations on crucial but delicate topics (e.g. leadership problems) are collected, which served for the regular bi-monthly or half-yearly progress reports which they have to make. Such reports are crucial elements in the overall process of monitoring and on-going evaluation, as they are regularly discussed by all concerned.
One of the important integrating tools of the PPP approach is the regular conducting of workshops at the aga level where group organizers come together to discuss common problems, findings and other issues. For some of these workshops other government personnel at the local level, such as extension agents, health workers or cultivation officers are invited to participate, which can enhance some kind of coordination or mutual support. In some of the workshops representatives of the groups of beneficiaries also participate and have a chance to air their views. Once a year a national workshop is held where local level district and national level personnel together evaluate the whole programme after presentations of summarizing reports and case studies of selected success and failure stories of group formation. Representatives of beneficiaries also participate in such meetings.
In addition to helping large-scale IRDP to achieve a broader beneficiary participation, the PPP-FAO project can serve also with regard to participatory monitoring and on-going evaluation as an example to IRDP. There has been discussion about the need for a special baseline sample survey in IRDP. The PPP approach has experimented with useful alternative forms of data collection through the group organizers, in addition to simply using statistical data that were already available at government offices at local and district level.