ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

264th Session
Geneva, November 1995

III. Key concepts in participatory approaches

11. As mentioned earlier, there is often a lack of clarity in technical cooperation concerning the meaning of participation and its operational implications. As a rule, participation can be viewed as a means to an end or as an end in itself. When the former is the case, the aim is to increase the effectiveness, relevance, efficiency and sustainability of a programme or project; when identified as an end in itself, the objectives of a programme or project focus on the enhancement of the beneficiaries' capacity to improve their working and living conditions.

1. Participation as a means and as an end

12. Participation as a means implies teamwork: people cooperating with each other to achieve certain goals better and quicker. For example, participation through a cooperative enterprise can be a means of improving both production levels and standards of living: community participation in the construction of a drainage system is one example. Tripartite dialogue between workers', employers' and government representatives is an important example of how progress can be achieved in collective bargaining issues by means of mutual cooperation. All these forms of participation were found in the projects under review.

13. In six projects covering cooperative development and women's organizations, the objectives were specifically formulated to ensure the participation of the target groups, technical staff and supporting organizations. In a public works project in Uganda, a community-based approach was adopted to test the replicability of the participatory methods used and the likely sustainability of similar projects. In two projects where training was the main concern, different methodologies were developed and put into practice, all of which used a participatory approach. Two projects on workers' education also offer women workers' participation in trade unions as an immediate objective. One labour relations project on improving labour relations legislation and practice in five South American countries obviously opted for tripartite participation as the main component of its overall strategy. By contrast, a project dealing with labour market information showed some rather unconvincing features of tripartite participation in the implementation phase.

14. When used as a means, participation has been found to increase the effectiveness and sustainability of technical cooperation projects. The Kalerwe community-based drainage upgrading project in Uganda is an outstanding example: the community-based approach for the construction of the drainage canals proved the best guarantee that the structures created by the project would be maintained by the people themselves after the project ended.

15. It has also been found that participatory methods increase the relevance and efficiency of technical cooperation. In training programmes especially, the active participation of trainees in the training process and the application of training-of-trainers methods, as in the case of the interregional Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) project in 21 English-speaking African countries (Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe) have proved to be most useful in ensuring that the project's benefits have not only accrued to the target groups involved but also satisfied their priority needs. In the Assistance to employers' organizations regional project in English-speaking eastern and southern Africa, emphasis was placed on the use of Improve Your Business (IYB) concepts and methods for the training of trainers, where course participants were given the opportunity of making suggestions on how to improve the training programmes. As far as efficiency is concerned, costs are lower when only trainers are trained who in turn transmit the newly learned skills to others. For example, when budgetary constraints reduced training activities in the Workers' education assistance to women workers project in South-East Asia (Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) and priority was given to the training of national trainers, overall costs were lower and the results were more relevant.

16. When participation is understood as an end in itself, a project's objectives are related to the enhancement of the capacity of the target groups to solve problems and improve working and living conditions on their own. Participation as an end is based on the assumption that every country and every target group bears the primary responsibility for its own development. In this sense, participation is guided by the principle of self-reliance.

17. Ten of the projects under review listed participation as an explicit aim in the objectives, though not all in clear terms. The Relaciones Laborales en América Latina -- Cono Sur (RELASUR) (labour relations in Latin America -- Southern Cone) project in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) is based on tripartite participation in all of its activities and in each of the countries involved, and aims to enhance the capacity of the social partners to improve labour relations in their countries: both formal and informal instruments and mechanisms of tripartite dialogue have resulted, and labour legislation has been improved in subject areas such as tripartism, collective bargaining and social dialogue.

18. The Zinder promotion et formation de coopératives (cooperatives promotion and training) project in Niger only adopted a participatory approach after eight years of implementation. During that time a large number of cooperative cereal banks as well as family-based village banks were established. As a result of a strategic review in 1993, it was decided to concentrate on enhancing the villagers' capacity of self-management. This was also recommended for the Cooperative and organizational support to grassroots initiatives in the Sahel (ACOPAM) project implemented in five Sahelian countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal). Both projects were initiated within the framework of WFP food aid programmes, with self-sufficiency in securing food supplies as their main objectives. An important part of the problem was that the cereal banks were managed by those who possessed the traditional power in the villages: poor families, women and young people were not allowed to participate in decision-making processes, supporting network structures were weak, and only very distant government support could be secured. As existing organizational structures were not adequate, the training in self-management and participation had to be provided for all those involved. This was necessary in order to guarantee that the results would be sustained after project support was withdrawn.

19. Other projects whose objectives explicitly include the enhancement of the target groups' capacity were: the Workers' education assistance to women workers project in South-East Asia and the Workers' education assistance for rural women workers project in selected countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic, the Appui aux femmes rurales (rural women's support) project in Guinea, the Programa de cooperación técnica para el desarrollo de la formación profesional por medio del INATEC (technical cooperation programme for the development of vocational training through INATEC) project in Nicaragua, the Kalerwe labour-intensive public works project in Uganda, the interregional African project on occupational safety and health (OSH) and, to a certain extent, the Women workers in the new putting-out system (women homeworkers) project in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

2. Participation as a process

20. Participation consists of various dynamic processes, and is therefore subject to change over time. Used as a management tool in technical cooperation, participation has evolved enormously. Most programmes and projects were used to promote the organization of disadvantaged groups in order for them to gain control over the use of critical resources, such as land, raw materials, seeds, credit, etc. The actors were usually illiterate and inexperienced and the participatory approach was limited to organizational issues. The objectives of the first phase of the ACOPAM project in the Sahelian countries, the Zinder project in Niger and the Wasteland development through women's organizations project in India, which were all initiated in the mid-1980s, reflected this approach: the Wasteland development project's objective was defined as collective access to land by organization of poor rural women.

21. As a result of experience gained during the last ten years, the scope of participation has widened considerably. Emphasis has now shifted to capacity building and self-reliance. Participation is no longer seen exclusively as something in which only the target groups engage -- though they remain the main actors in the development process -- and the involvement of the other partners is also important. The ILO strategic review mission to the ACOPAM project in 1993 focused on this new understanding of the participatory process. Projects launched in the 1990s reflect this broader spectrum of the participatory process. For example, the large interregional OSH project in Africa includes the active participation of a number of supporting agencies in training as well as in dissemination activities as a precondition for reaching its main objective, namely, improved OSH conditions for the workers.

22. The meaning and understanding of the participatory process may also vary with the subject area in which it is developed. In projects based on tripartite cooperation, the participatory process ideally leads to the development of institutional structures and institutionalized social dialogue, such as in the case of the RELASUR project. In specific training projects, on the other hand, participation means personal commitment of the trainees to their own learning process as well as the systematic development of appropriate methods to stimulate such a commitment. The Training for Change method developed by the OSH project in Africa and the DIP methodology (Demonstrative Intervention Project) applied by the Workers' education assistance project in Central America can be seen as illustrations of the different forms participatory processes can take.

3. Participation as an approach to development

23. Participation should be seen not only as a methodological instrument for technical cooperation, but also as an approach to development comprising certain characteristics that may vary according to the problems to be addressed and the objectives to be achieved. This review of ILO projects has allowed for the identification of at least three characteristics found to varying degrees in the different projects: (a) the participatory approach is objective-oriented instead of activity-oriented: here the enhancement of the capacities of the target group is the central issue to be addressed; (b) responsibilities are redistributed to the main actors in all stages of the project cycle (preparation, implementation and evaluation): whereas in traditional forms of technical cooperation centralized top-down project management was common, a participatory approach shows a shared decision-making structure; (c) the actors themselves exercise continuous control over the participatory process.

24. The ACOPAM project has provided invaluable experience on participation in technical cooperation. After eight years of field testing, participation has been developed to the extent that the responsibilities of all the actors involved are clearly defined at the community level (organized groups and village associations), at an intermediate level (structures supporting organizations) and at a higher level (intervention by government and donor agencies). Regular workshops on participatory issues were held in order to support and control the ongoing process. In the Zinder project in Niger, mechanisms for controlling the participatory process were developed whereby the villagers administer the cooperatives and village cereal banks.

25. In the area of the self-organization of women groups, a trend towards autonomous management was observed in the Appui aux femmes rurales (rural women's support) project in Guinea. This was the result of continuous monitoring and internal evaluation practices, with the involvement of all actors concerned. A strong objective-oriented approach was observed in the Women Homeworkers project in the Philippines, where the target group consisted of an estimated 7 million homeworkers. During the first three years, the project strategy concentrated on the strengthening of the National Network of Homeworkers, PATAMABA, a direct representative organization of the target group. By the end of 1992, PATAMABA had reached a level of organization and membership judged strong enough to take over part of the responsibility for the project management. The above-mentioned characteristics appear also in other subject areas of ILO technical cooperation where a participatory approach has been applied, such as in the community-based public works Kalerwe project in Uganda and in the RELASUR project focusing on tripartism.

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