DAI Hosts Workshop on Participation in Development

June 26, 2013

DAI, in partnership with the Carnegie Endowment, hosted a workshop in London convening policymakers, practitioners, and academics to discuss “Making Participation Work for Development.” Held in May and facilitated by Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment, the event debated issues such as what participation can achieve, how can projects be designed for better participation, and how to make change work.

The workshop was opened with a lively presentation from Vijayendra Rao and Ghazala Mansuri of the World Bank, summarizing their recent book, “Localising Development: Does Participation Work?” which examines the impact of community development and decentralization programs, an area in which the World Bank alone has spent nearly $85 billion. The report concludes that there is little rigorous evaluation of the impact of these programs, and that local participatory programs by themselves do not appear to contribute to greater poverty reduction. The authors call on assistance providers to rethink their approach to supporting participation.

Panelists presented their different perspectives and experiences, with contributions from Jen Marshall, Head of Social Development from the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), Harris Khalique, Team Leader of the AAWAZ programme in Pakistan, and Ann Hudock, DAI’s Global Lead, Effective Governance, Voice & Accountability. They assessed that barriers to effectiveness of participatory programs include limited sociopolitical knowledge of development practitioners, and balancing inherently politicized organic social movements, which may be most likely to lead to transformative change, with the political agenda of the donor.

An interesting thread of discussion was around the pressures of donor objectives and the drive for results. It was noted that many programs are still unclear about whether their primary goal is poverty reduction or citizen empowerment—and are unclear about the relationship between those goals—and that preset objectives, and incentives toward tightly controlled and measurable impact, allow little space to change objectives in response to community demands.

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