25 March 2013

What matters most? Evidence from 84 participatory studies with those living with extreme poverty and marginalisation

Participate is a DFID-supported initiative, co-convened by Beyond 2015 and IDS.

Amongst other things, The initiative seeks to bring the perspectives of those in poverty into the decision making process around the post 2015 settlement.

The initiative has been going for about 5 months. They have just published a synthesis report of 84 existing participatory studies from 107 countries. (They are also doing primary research in 14 or so countries). The aim is to feed these perspectives into the post 2015 process, with a key focus on the upcoming UN High Level Panel meeting in Bali.

Each of the 84 studies is focused on different experiences of poverty and exclusion and they use a variety of different participatory methods.  The methodology could be clearer (a methods paper is promised) but the studies are selected based on (1) participatory methodological credibility, (2) whether the research is embedded in a longer term relationship, (3) whether the research is multi country and multi-site to avoid one-offs and (4) the research is with groups that are marginal, vulnerable or excluded. 

The study's findings:
  1. Barriers to access for the very poorest need to be challenged directly in order to ensure equity and bring people out of extreme povertyInterventions that improve the lives of the poor frequently fail to benefit the very poor. Implications:
    • improve information about rights and services
    • work to identify and reduce hidden costs to access 
    • work hard to address institutional discrimination
  2. Rapid change, insecurity and uncertainty increasingly characterise the environments that the very poorest live in. Design processes, services and infrastructure which have the capacity to adapt to rapid change and help enhance the ability of the poorest to respond to risk and protect their rights. Implication:
    • rates of change are accelerating; development agencies-domestic and international need to get better at operating in dynamic contexts
  3. Promote better governance based on values of accountability, trust, access to informationresponseiveness and effectiveness-values that can best be achieved through citizen participation and influence in decision making.  Poor governance is widely seen as a major contributor to poverty. Implications:
    • the rules of the game really matter--formal and informal, national and subnational
  4. Address social inequalities: this means dismantling intolerances and prejudices that discriminate, marginalise and exclude at all levels and in all settings. Inequalities are persistent and perpetuate exclusion at all levels of development. Implication:
    • inequalities lead to hopelessness and negative self perceptions--these are rarely taken into consideration in development policy 
  5. In order for development to be sustainable, policies must address the root causes of poverty and marginalisation. Current policies and approaches can lead to unintended and perverse effects, which make exclusion and poverty worse. Implication: 
    • sustainable development means investing in long term relationships that build local ownership and local knowledge
  6. Participatory development should be at the heart of interventions implemented through the new framework. Development that is sustainable requires meaningful participation that leads to strong local ownership. 
    • how development occurs is just as important as what occurs vital--it builds confidence, dignity and a recognition of abilities
The study's key recommendations for the Post 2015 Framework

  • Aim for the eradication of extreme poverty and reduction in inequalities.
  • Strengthen the individual and collective capacities of people living in greatest poverty and marginalisation.
  • Participation should be prioritised throughout the framework. 
My reflections
  • it is not surprising that when you survey a set of participatory studies that the conclusion is that participatory development to be at the heart of sustainable development
  • but the value of the participatory approach is clear as it shines a light on:
    • a focus on the how --it is just as important as the what and why
    • the psychosocial aspects of development that we spend so much time on in the Western world are given scant attention in the developing world
    • the accelerating speed of change is typically an opportunity for people with resources but for people with fewer resources, it makes managing those resources more difficult
    • the institutions of the state often codify (sometimes deliberately) discrimination that only the discriminated against can discern
    • the realisation that access to information is not something only the rest of us crave
    • the costs to participation are significant and hidden to the rest of us 
I am biased, but well done to Participate.  I really look forward to the primary field work to what value it adds over this synthesis work. 

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