Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

2. Sustainable Livelihoods and Participatory Policy Making: Issues and Answers

This section takes a brief look at definitions and basic concepts of sustainable livelihoods (SL) approaches, policy and policy processes, and participation and participatory policy making (PPM). It also refers readers to sources of more in-depth discussion. It reviews current thinking on PPM and looks at some of the major concepts and issues that are relevant to PPM: the interface between policy and SL approaches, policy and power relations, governance, decentralization, rights-based approaches and legal frameworks, and holding policy makers accountable. Although these concepts and issues are looked at separately, it must be kept in mind that they are inter-related.

2.1. Sustainable livelihoods approaches

This paper assumes a knowledge of sustainable livelihoods (SL) approaches.[2] To refresh memories, a brief summary of the main characteristics and concepts of SL approaches follows.

Sustainable livelihoods approaches were developed in the 1980s by different development agencies and organizations and, especially since the 1990s, have been adopted by many as a framework for looking at development issues and addressing poverty. SL approaches emerged from the growing realization of the need to put the poor and all aspects of their lives and means of living at the centre of development, while at the same time maintaining the sustainability of natural resources for present and future generations.

Livelihood, as understood in SL approaches, can be defined as follows:

A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base (Adapted from Chambers and Conway 1992, cited in DFID 2000: 1).

While the SL approaches used by different development agencies and NGOs vary, they are generally characterized by the following elements:

The particular sustainable livelihoods framework developed by the Department for International Development (DFID) contains the following elements:

This framework is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Sustainable livelihoods framework

2.2. Policy and policy processes

Policy can be defined as ‘course of action designed to achieve particular goals or targets’. Public policy is made by government to achieve particular national outcomes. Private organizations or communities may also form their own policy to achieve defined goals (DFID 2000).

While this definition of the term ‘policy’ is succinct, literature on SL approaches agrees that policy is complex, dynamic and difficult to define. Moreover, policy cannot be understood in isolation, but must be examined in context and as part of a process. A government, organization or other entity may issue a policy statement, but policy formulation and implementation is mediated through a wide range of institutions and organizations.[3]

The term ‘policy process’ commonly refers to "processes of making policy, of decision-making, and ways of putting issues on the agenda as matters of public concern, along with often rather intangible processes of the way issues are thought of and talked about" (Keeley 2001:5).

Policy processes encompass:

There are a wide variety of theories of policy and policy making. A widely-held view is the linear model (also called the mainstream, common-sense or rational model). This assumes that policy making is a rational, logical process that moves through sequential stages (Sutton 1999: 9) i.e.:

In real life situations, however, policy processes tend to be more complex: "policy processes are often distinctly non-linear, inherently political and contested, and more incremental and haphazard" than the linear model suggests (Keeley 2001: 9). Moreover, implementation of policy "requires consensus building, participation of key stakeholders, conflict resolution, compromise, contingency planning, resource mobilisation and adaptation" (Sutton 1999: 23).

Some ‘models’ of policy processes or ways that policy is made are:

Looking at the wide variety of policy making models leads to the conclusion that there is no one model of policy making that is universally valid and applicable. How policy is made depends on the context. The experiences of influencing policy, described in later sections of this paper, confirm this view.

In summary:

2.3. Participation and participatory policy making (PPM)

Definitions and concepts of participation in development have evolved over time.[4] In the 1950s and 1960s, NGOs and grassroots activists began promoting community and popular participation. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, FAO was among the first multilateral agencies to promote popular participation in development projects and programmes.

In the context of development projects and programmes, popular participation was interpreted along three broad lines (Oakley 1988):

Concepts of participation have widened to include not only the rural poor but also other stakeholders and sectors of civil society. This is reflected in the definition of participation as "a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives and the decisions and resources which affect them" (World Bank 1996, p. xi).

Different development agencies distinguish a continuum of participation, ranging from minimal to intense participation. The continuum of participation used by the World Bank for the poverty reduction strategy (PRS) process is commonly referred to as the ‘ladder of participation’ and can be summarized as:

The continuum of participation can include other steps in the ladder:

These concepts of participation are related to development projects and programmes and assume an external initiator. However, empowerment can also involve capacity building that enables people to set their own agenda and carry it out in the absence of external initiators.

Many critiques of participation in development projects and programmes report that the term ‘participation’ is often used to refer to information sharing or consultation and that it seldom reaches the levels of joint decision making or initiation and control by stakeholders (McGee with Norton 2000: 63).

Recent thinking about citizen participation looks at the concept of participation from a perspective that acknowledges the possibility of citizens taking autonomous action and creating their own opportunities for participation. Development efforts to promote participation, in this perspective, focus on creating spaces for participation, whereby "citizens gain meaningful opportunities to exercise voice and hold to account those who invite them to participate" (Cornwall 2002:56).

Participatory policy making carries participation beyond the framework of projects and programmes to the arena of policy processes. It implies the empowerment of stakeholders to take part in the whole cycle of the policy process: formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policy. In practice, however, participation in policy making can also be along a continuum.

A crucial question is who participates. A stakeholder analysis for a particular policy can help identify those who should be involved in the participatory policy making process.

Some benchmarks for quality participation are:

Some measures of quality in participation in policy work are:

2.4. SL approaches, policy and the poor

"Adopting the sustainable livelihoods approach provides a way to improve the identification, appraisal, implementation and evaluation of development programmes so that they better address the priorities of poor people, both directly and at a policy level" (DFID 2000:5).

What contribution can a sustainable livelihoods approach make to addressing the priorities of poor people at policy level?[5]

Some argue that SL approaches are easier to apply at the micro-level than at the meso and macro levels and that issues of political processes and power relations are not strongly brought out (Norton and Foster 2001: 10). Others, however, affirm that SL approaches have much to contribute at the level of policy: "The sustainable livelihoods approach recognises the importance of policies and institutions in governing poor people’s access to livelihood assets, and in influencing their livelihood strategies and their vulnerability to shocks and stresses. Hence, the approach advocates a more ‘upstream’ approach to reducing poverty. In addition to micro-level work that directly aims to improve poor people’s livelihoods, it recognises that for change to be sustainable macro-level issues need also to be addressed, including policy" (Pasteur 2001: 3).

One of the key contributions an SL approach can make to policy analysis is its focus on the livelihoods of the poor: "An analysis of policy for sustainable livelihoods (SL) requires an understanding of the livelihood priorities of the poor, the policy sectors that are relevant to them, and whether or not appropriate policies exist in those sectors. The policy priorities of poor people will be realized more effectively if they have the capacity to articulate their demands and influence the policy process" (Pasteur 2001:1).

An SL approach is based on principles that can be applied to policy making efforts: i.e. interventions in support of the poor should be people centred and participatory, holistic, dynamic, and sustainable; build on strengths; and link macro to micro.

SL approaches also take a cross-sectoral perspective. Whereas policy is often made in relation to a single sector, such as agriculture, an SL approach looks at how policy affects all aspects of people’s livelihoods. Agricultural policy from this perspective is not just a matter of improving agricultural production. It must be examined from the perspective of its linkages with other areas, such as education, health, and finance. At a practical level, this may mean the need to make trade-offs between different aims. (Keeley 2001: 7).

An SL approach to policy raises key questions (Pasteur 2001: 2):

2.5. Politics and power relations

Policy making is not neutral. It is impossible to ignore the existence of power relations between various stakeholders. In examining how the poor can influence policy, the argument that ‘political capital’ must be included in the SL framework (Baumann 2000) becomes especially pressing. As Baumann says, "The notion of political capital is critical in linking structures and processes to the local level and understanding the real impact these have on sustainable livelihoods. Political capital explains where local people are situated - in terms of balance of power in relation to other groups" (Baumann 2000:5).

Political capital is a critical element in influencing policy making. It is not static and is impacted by both internal and external factors in the environment; e.g. capacity building in negotiation, group formation, changes in government, and legislation. Policy modifications are likely to alter the balance of power relations; therefore, attempts to influence policy are likely to be met by resistance and challenges from those who stand to lose in the power equation. On the other hand, proposed policy changes may also offer benefits to the non-poor as well as the poor. When powerful groups also stand to gain, PPM has a greater chance to succeed.

The political context is also a key element in determining the potential for influencing policy making. The type of political regime may either enhance or impede the possibilities for engaging in PPM. The political context may change along with changes in government and the political parties in power.

Although examining the political capital of different groups may help to identify those with more or less power to influence policy, it is also essential to examine the power relations within groups, communities and households. This may reveal marginalized and less powerful segments of the population within these entities. Efforts to empower and build the capacity of people to participate in policy making processes must take into consideration the existing power relations and opportunities within local groups, communities and households. Thomson (2000: 4) points out that while empowerment and participation of both men and women is a major aim and element of the SL framework, analysis is often carried out at the household level, and this may make it difficult to ensure gender sensitivity.

2.6. Governance

Governance is the exercise of authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It has been used to mean "how the institutions, rules and systems of the state - the executive, legislature, judiciary and military - operate at central and local level, and how the state relates to individual citizens, civil society and the private sector" (DFID 2000). It has also been defined as "the mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences" (UNDP cited in Thomson 2000: 4).

Governance mechanisms, processes and institutions affect the possibilities and ways of engaging in PPM. Top-down types of governance may make it more difficult to facilitate participation in policy making. Bureaucracies, in particular, often impede participatory policy processes. Participatory policy making requires both the active engagement of the poor and responsiveness from the state. Efforts may be needed to increase responsiveness from the top at the same time as strengthening voices from the bottom. Changes in political context and political capital are likely to affect the bureaucratic context and possibilities for influencing policy.

Analysis of the political and bureaucratic contexts is crucial for successful PPM efforts and affects the choice of strategies to influence policy. Where political commitment and bureaucratic capacity exist for policy reform, it may be possible to participate in national policy reform processes. In other instances, it may be possible to create spaces for the voices of the poor to be heard in governance. In still other circumstances, it may be necessary to force policy debates to happen: "This may happen by helping marginalised groups to articulate their concerns, by supporting processes of empowerment, improving awareness of rights, building advocacy and communication skills, increasing knowledge of institutional and legal processes and demanding inclusion in policy debates, or indeed the creation of a policy process" (Keeley 2001: 11).

2.7. Decentralization

There has been a growing trend towards decentralization of governance in many countries. A recent study (Manor 2000) synthesizes lessons from 60 experiences of decentralization in countries of Asia and Africa. This study distinguishes three types of decentralization:

A meeting of experts on farmer organizations development, held in Nairobi in March 2002, concluded that: "The recent and continuing adoption of different models of decentralization clearly offers new opportunities for rural people to participate in local economic and social development planning" (Nairobi Seminar 2002:7). In a similar vein, Norton and Foster state that "It seems natural to assume that moving the location of decision-making closer to the community level will lead to more responsive, poverty-focused public services" (p 14). Both documents, however, note that this is not necessarily the case. Decentralized government "may simply provide another opportunity to reinforce the power of local elites and foster clientelism" (Nairobi Seminar 2002: 7).

In order for decentralization to offer opportunities for PPM, it must be combined with good governance and possibilities for all stakeholders, especially the poor and marginalized, to participate. A particular issue is that decentralization of decision making is usually not accompanied by a similar decentralization of financial resources. This has negative effects on the possibilities of implementing policies that are made at a decentralized level. If the communities involved were able to provide some of the funds for decentralized government, this might increase the willingness of local government to listen to the demands of the community.

Decentralization can contribute to the improvement of governance in the areas of transparency, responsiveness to citizens, openness, accountability and flow of information (Manor 2002). This would help create favourable conditions for PPM.

2.8. Rights-based approaches and legal frameworks

Governance and decentralization are closely linked to another recent trend: rights approaches to development anchored in the international human rights system formed by the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent commitments made by government over the years.

A recent study (Conway et al 2002) concludes that a rights approach has important implications for policy processes: "A rights approach draws attention to who does and does not have power, and how this affects the formulation and implementation of policy" (p. 1). This study identifies areas of complementarity of sustainable livelihoods approaches and rights approaches:

The signing of international rights conventions or setting rights down on paper is, in itself, no guarantee a country will base its policies on these rights. However, rights on paper can be an entry point to work towards pro-poor policies and can open up spaces for PPM. Experience has shown that civil society organizations have often played a major role in "identifying key livelihood rights, pressing for them to be established in law, and subsequently ensuring that they are effectively enforced" (Conway et al 2002: 4).

Functioning legal frameworks and institutions along with good laws are important both for implementing policy and creating an enabling environment for participation in the policy process (FAO 2000c). It is often observed that there are significant gaps between laws and their enforcement. However, "there is a danger in making too much of a distinction between legislation, on the one hand, and its implementation on the other. While no one can reasonably deny that implementation of law requires attention to external economic, social and institutional factors, it is also true that law enforcement can be significantly influenced by the way legislation is drafted in the first place" (Lindsay et al 2002: 2).

Nevertheless, a functioning legal framework - institutional and judicial mechanisms - is crucial for ensuring the implementation of policies, rights and laws. On the one hand, a good legal framework will facilitate PPM and, on the other, efforts at policy reform may need to give attention to how legislation and legal frameworks will affect the implementation of policy.

2.9. Holding policy makers accountable

"Accountability refers to the ability to call public officials, private employers or service providers to account, requiring that they be answerable for their policies, action and use of funds" (Narayan 2002: 16).

Although literature on issues of accountability, monitoring and evaluation in policy processes is sparse, there is agreement that accountability, monitoring and evaluation are important elements in ensuring that policies are implemented effectively.

Narayan (2002: 17) distinguishes three main types of accountability mechanisms: political, administrative and public. "Political accountability of political parties and representatives is increasingly through elections. Administrative accountability of government agencies is through internal accountability mechanisms, both horizontal and vertical within and between agencies. Public or social accountability mechanisms hold government agencies accountable to citizens. Citizen action or social accountability can reinforce political and administrative accountability mechanisms".

Access to information is a major prerequisite for people to hold accountable those responsible for implementing policy and to monitor and evaluate policy implementation and effectiveness. However, the few documented experiences of citizen monitoring have been mainly in the realms of public service delivery and public expenditure.

Recent thinking about participation, citizenship and accountability is opening up new dimensions of accountability that are relevant to PPM. As Gaventa says: "Changing meanings of rights and citizenship, as well as opening of new roles and spaces for citizen participation, raise critical questions about the ways in which civil society, state and market actors hold each other to account. Rather than focusing simply on the role of the state in ensuring the rights of citizenship, new models of accountability are emerging which focus on the role of citizens themselves in monitoring the enforcement of rights, and in demanding public scrutiny and transparency" (Gaventa 2002: 9).

Citizenship, participation and accountability are linked together in a synergy that has been called the ‘governance wheel’: "Participation is about the involvement of all stakeholders, the state and non-state, through a process of communication and negotiation to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Participation leads to the creation and sustenance of accountability. A sense of the right to accountability provides the basis on which citizens can act. It leads to openness and transparency in policy making. Such accountability builds up social reciprocities characterized by equity, intergroup tolerance and inclusive citizenship. Responsive and active citizenship, in turn, results in meaningful participation" (Tandon 2002: 63-64).

[2] Readers unfamiliar with SL approaches, or who want a more in-depth review, are referred to: Ashley, Caroline and Diane Carney. 1999. Sustainable livelihoods; lessons from early experiences. London: Department for International Development; Chambers, R. and G. Conway. 1992. Sustainable rural livelihoods: Practical concepts for the 21st century. IDS Discussion Paper 296. Brighton: IDS; and DFID. 2000. Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets. London: Department for International Development. See the bibliography for other documents on the subject.
[3] For a more in-depth examination of concepts and theories of policy and policy processes, see Conway, Tim, Caroline Moser, Andy Norton and John Farrington. 2002. Rights and Livelihoods Approaches: Exploring Policy Dimensions, Natural resource perspectives, no. 78, May 2002. London: Overseas Development Institute; DFID. 2000. Sustainable livelihoods guidance sheets. London: Department for International Development; Johnson, Craig and Daniel Start. 2001. Rights, claims and capture: Understanding the politics of pro-poor policy. Working Paper 145. London: Overseas Development Institute.; Keeley, James. 2001. Influencing policy processes for sustainable livelihoods: Strategies for Change. Lessons for Change in Policy and Organisations, no. 2. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies; Mayers, James and Stephen Bass. 1999. Policy that works for forests and people. IIED; OECD. nd. Citizens as partners: Information, consultation and public participation in policy making; Pasteur, Kath. 2001. Tools for sustainable livelihoods: policy analysis. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies; and Sutton, Rebecca. 1999. The policy process: An overview. Working Paper 118. London: Overseas Development Institute.
[4] For a summary of concepts of participation in the development field, see Karl, Marilee. 2000. Monitoring and evaluating stakeholder participation in agriculture and rural development projects: A literature review. Rome: FAO, SD Dimensions. See also Cornwall, Andrea. 2002. Locating citizen participation, in Gaventa et al, IDS bulletin, vol. 33, no. 2, April 2002; and McGee, Rosemary with Andy Norton. 2002. Participation in poverty reduction strategies: A synthesis of experience with participatory approaches to policy design, implementation and monitoring. IDS Working Paper 109. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
[5] A review of the literature has turned up only a few sources that deal with the relationship between SL approaches and policy making, either from a theoretical perspective or practical experiences. However, four documents have been identified as particularly useful and relevant: Influencing policy processes for sustainable livelihoods: Strategies for change (Keeley 2001); The potential of using sustainable livelihoods approaches in poverty reduction strategies (Norton and Foster 2001); Tools for sustainable livelihoods: policy analysis (Pasteur 2001); and Sustainable livelihoods approaches at the policy level (Thomson 2000).

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page