Participatory approaches to forestry have been evolving in many parts of the world, as recognition of limitations in pursuing centralized and top-down approaches to forestry decision-making. As many countries adopted national forest programmes (NFP), the principle of participation, was integrated into the planning, management and monitoring of NFPs. Opportunities and space were created for stakeholders to negotiate agendas, policies, programmes, roles and partnerships.
Participatory processes and mechanisms are meant at enabling those people who have a direct stake in forestry to be part of decision-making in all aspects of forest management, including forest policy formulation and management of forests. They are usually based on group-visual activities (“tools”) and facilitation which intends to create mutual learning, and empowerment of the participants. In forestry, participatory approaches and tools have been predominantly adapted and developed within the context of Community-Based forestry(‘CBF’), for forest enterprise development (‘MA&D’), for collaborative research, for participatory assessment, monitoring and evaluation (‘PAME’/ ‘PM&E’), for collaborative conflict management or with regard to governance and the enhancement of stakeholder participation in national forest programs. In addition, approaches like the Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (‘SEAGA’) are relevant to planning and implementation of forestry programmes.
Community-based forestry planning and forest policy development processes empower key stakeholders through exposure, direct interaction with decision-makers at all levels of government, timely access to relevant and appropriate information, knowledge and technology. This leads to increased local responsibility for forest resources, improved local rights, increased bargaining power for local actors at the national level, and policy reform processes that are truly inclusive and multi-stakeholder in nature. Participatory policy development may take longer than centralized decision-making, but it results in more effective and acceptable policies, making it a more cost-effective process in the long term.
Basic principles for involving people
Attitudes, behavior and skills
Using participatory tools does not guarantee participation. In participatory approaches, the facilitator plays a decisive role. His/her attitude, communication and facilitation skills, and last but not least the skills to select and adapt the appropriate tools at a given time will determine to a high extent the outcome of the exercise, if all participants will be able to actively contribute, and if the intervention will succeed or fail.
When inviting people to participate in projects or interventions, it is imperative to be very specific, precise and clear about whether their contributions or actions will (or will not) have an influence at the different stages of the process. If the contributions of participants will not have an impact on the decision-making process, this must be clearly communicated right from the beginning.
Who should participate?
Getting appropriate stakeholder representation is an essential requirement to make participatory sessions meaningful. If the most important (affected and influential) stakeholders or a good representative sample from those stakeholder groups are not identified and part of the process, the participatory sessions may lack validity and usefulness.