ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

264th Session
Geneva, November 1995


I. Introduction

1. In the early 1970s it became clear that the disadvantaged needed to enhance their capacity to advance their own interests and to control their own livelihood if trends toward greater inequality, exploitation and marginalization were to be reversed. Recognition of this concern led the 1976 World Employment Conference to give a central role to participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice.

2. Participation has been a recurrent theme in development efforts and remains a central concern in technical cooperation, not only as an aspect of social justice, but also because of the empirically proven correlation between participation and the effectiveness, relevance, efficiency and sustainability of technical cooperation. However, the term has been subject to many interpretations in technical cooperation and may mean different things to different development partners. This paper sets out a number of critical dimensions of participation, concentrating on the role of participation in project strategy, the actors in participation, and the forms that their participation takes in the project itself and in the stages of the programming cycle.

3. This paper examines the effective means of promoting participation in ILO operational activities, drawing lessons from experience to guide the formulation and implementation of future action. A selection of evaluation reports of programmes and projects was reviewed to assess the extent to which the above critical dimensions of participation were addressed and their effects on the efficiency, relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of these technical cooperation activities. The key concepts and operational modalities are preceded by a section referring to the ILO mandate on participation. The paper is rounded-up with separate sections on conclusions and lessons learned.

4. The criteria used for the choice of the evaluation reports were that: (a) the projects had participation as an objective or utilize some elements of participation during implementation; and (b) they had been indexed in the evaluation database not earlier than 1992.

5. Thirteen projects were selected out of a preliminary sample of 20. The reports cover national projects in India, Nicaragua, Niger and Uganda, four regional projects in Africa, two each in South-East Asia and in the Americas and one interregional project covering 21 English-speaking African countries. Although some of these projects have been reviewed in previous papers submitted to the Committee, they were also retained for this paper because: (a) they contained participation elements; and (b) new evaluation reports had been made available since they were last reviewed. The technical fields covered include: cooperative development, women's organizations, employment-intensive public works, workers' education, employers' organizations, labour relations, labour market information and training. A complete list of the projects and the reference documents reviewed can be found in Appendices I and II respectively. An index has been added at the end of the paper to facilitate the tracing of individual projects throughout the text.

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Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.