ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

264th Session
Geneva, November 1995

IV. Operational tools and mechanisms

26. A more complete assessment of participation in ILO technical cooperation programmes and projects can be made in terms of the following considerations: who participates, how does participation take place, and at what stage of the project cycle. The following sections examine the actors and partners involved in the projects under review, the forms of participation to which they have been exposed and the different stages of the programming cycle in which they have participated.

1. Actors and partners

27. In ILO activities, the partners are first and foremost governments and employers' and workers' representatives. In most technical cooperation programmes and projects, representative organizations of both workers and employers participate in their preparation and implementation together with government institutions. In many specific activities, only workers' organizations are involved, either as counterparts together with the ministry concerned, or as the target group.

28. The RELASUR project is an excellent example of technical cooperation where all the ILO's constituent partners are the main actors. Tripartite participation has been observed at all levels: meetings of the programming committee were attended by representatives of the social actors of the five participating countries; at the operational level, the project has maintained permanent consultations with the different social actors in order to define the central issues to be addressed in seminars, workshops, studies and publications, and ad hoc technical assistance.

29. In the Wasteland development project in India, a workers' organization, the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), was the only social partner involved in the project, acting simultaneously as the official counterpart of the project and as the representative of the target group at the grass-roots level. A similar situation has been observed in the Women homeworkers project in Thailand where the Home-based Workers' Network (HOMENET) acted as a counterpart organization together with the Ministry of Labour. In the Workers' education assistance to women workers project in the Philippines, two central workers' organizations were targeted for direct technical assistance by the project and became the main actors as counterpart institutions: the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and the Labor Advisory and Consultative Council (LACC).

30. In some of the projects under review, workers' organizations were directly involved in the project as the intended beneficiaries: the National Network of Homeworkers (PATAMABA) in the Philippines was the main actor in the Women homeworkers project, being the target group for both institution building and training activities, together with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) of the Ministry of Labor. The Rural Workers' Organizations (RWOs) in Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic became the main actors in the Workers' education assistance project where they had been identified as the intended beneficiaries. Some workers' organizations have also acted as counterparts at the regional level of the project's activities.

31. The participation of employers', workers' and government representatives in technical cooperation programmes and projects is inherent in the tripartite structure of the ILO; it has been and will remain of major concern in technical cooperation activities. However, an examination of the duties and responsibilities of the other partners is of relevance, as the participation of disadvantaged groups seldom takes place spontaneously, and there is therefore a need to identify them and ensure that they are involved in the participatory process. The four main actors identified from the evaluation reports reviewed for this paper were the:

32. The participation of target groups, especially disadvantaged ones, has long been emphasized in ILO technical cooperation programmes and projects. The ILO programme on Participatory development of the rural poor (PORP), which started in 1977, aimed to encourage and help the rural poor progressively find a solution to their problems through collective inquiry and action. However, the real importance of the active participation of all the partners involved in technical cooperation activities has only recently been fully acknowledged by all the parties concerned. For example, in the Women homeworkers project in Indonesia, where the homeworkers did not have their own organization at the national level, the strategy adopted consisted of interventions through non-governmental organizations working in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower (DEPNAKER). One of them, Bina Swadaya, took charge in a very efficient way of most training and organizational activities with the target group. In the interregional OSH project, this participatory strategy was extended to a number of service organizations at the international level.

33. Most evaluation reports revealed many weaknesses in the application of a participatory approach due to insufficient commitment on the part of the partner institutions and supporting service organizations, and to differences in the understanding and practice of participatory methods by the partners. However, as participation has proved a continuous learning process, different forms and degrees of participation can be found. These are discussed in the next section.

2. Forms of participation

34. The participatory approach is being applied in different ways, depending on the degree of involvement of the various actors: in the interregional OSH project, where tripartite participation was judged to be the most appropriate approach in improving occupational safety and health conditions, active involvement was limited to employers' and workers' representatives during the first years because the governments' commitment was not strong enough. The OSH project strategies were, therefore, adjusted to the gradual involvement of the social partners depending on the situation in each of the participating countries. In the RELASUR project, however, the active participation of the three social partners was possible from the very beginning, through consultations during a programming and formulation mission which visited all the countries involved. In another project, Systèmes d'information à l'appui des politiques du marché de l'emploi en Afrique lusophone (SIME) (information systems to support labour market policies in Portuguese-speaking Africa), which set as its main objective the enhancement of institutional capacity to manage the functioning of the labour market, the active involvement of the partners was possible only at high-level tripartite meetings. At the operational level people were not prepared to participate effectively.

35. The projects under review also showed that participation took place to varying degrees, depending on whether it took place only in the joint implementation of activities, or included monitoring and evaluation practices. The ACOPAM project in the Sahel, and the Zinder project in Niger and the Appui aux femmes rurales project in Guinea all developed self-evaluation and monitoring systems that could be construed as a firmer commitment to participation on the part of the main actors than was observed in the other projects.

36. The extent of participation in a technical cooperation activity can depend on the following:

The first three levels -- informing, listening and consulting -- are in fact prerequisites for participation as a means of facilitating the participatory process, while the fourth and fifth levels refer to the core concept of participation.

37. Two of the projects under review were classical examples of a very high degree of participation. These are the INATEC training support project in Nicaragua and the Kalerwe labour-intensive public works project in Uganda. The INATEC project was initiated in 1991 with the following well-defined immediate objectives: (a) the institutional strengthening of INATEC as a professional training institution; (b) the training of trainers; (c) the development of programmes for special target groups such as women's groups and micro-entrepreneurs; (d) the introduction of the participatory approach in its own training programmes. From the very beginning, INATEC assumed leadership in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the project. Each of the project's eight ILO experts were assigned at least one counterpart staff member, and all activities were carried out with their full participation. The evaluation report concluded that the results had more than satisfied expectations and that, after three years of project implementation, INATEC had transformed itself into a completely new service institution with the required capacity to respond better to the country's training needs.

38. The Kalerwe project in Uganda was successful in promoting community participation not only in the financing of construction costs but also in self-help efforts to guarantee the sustainability of the works after completion of the project. The project was designed to assist the community in upgrading the storm-water drainage infrastructure in Kalerwe, thereby improving the hygiene and environmental standards of the area. The main actors were the Kampala City Council, the ILO project management team and the local community. Residence committees were responsible for programming tasks and community mobilization. Regular planning and problem-solving meetings were held, and all construction works were carried out under community contracts. After one year's operation, when the planned project outputs were delivered and objectives largely achieved, responsibility for the management of the project was transferred to the community leaders.

39. Participation in both of the projects was effective because of the attention given during project implementation to the development of the participatory process itself. Seminars and workshops were held at which implementation problems were analysed and management decisions for corrective or follow-up action were taken by the actors themselves.

40. Participation in monitoring and evaluation emphasizes the joint learning process and the transfer of control from the project management and external agencies to the intended beneficiaries and direct recipients. A participatory approach entails a willingness to listen, to consult and to share in decision-making with other project partners. However, it has been argued that many project partners have a bureaucratic or technocratic expert approach to participation and that there is an inherent contradiction between bureaucracy and technocracy on the one hand, both being characterized as a top-down approach, and participation on the other hand, which is characterized by dialogue, information exchange and power sharing and redistribution.

41. Not all projects reviewed for this paper were found to have been equally effective, as the participants' motivation and commitment differed. The firm commitment of all the actors involved in a project is essential for the successful implementation of participatory approaches. In the Wasteland development project in India, the means to achieve the objective by converting arid wasteland into productive assets was only partially effective because necessary government and counterpart support as well as ILO technical assistance were not always provided on time: government action to obtain the rights to use the land took longer than expected. Public land use rights is a complex issue, especially for poor landless women, and special legislative action was necessary to remove legal constraints impeding women's access to land. Secondly, the target group needed technical support to exploit the semi-arid wasteland, which suffered from droughts and floods. It is worth mentioning that one of the partners involved in the project, the national Self-Employed Women's Organization (SEWA), in the end largely succeeded in solving the land access problem and other technical problems which arose during the project.

3. Participation in the programming cycle

42. During the last decade, participation has developed into an integrated approach in technical cooperation which involves all actors in each stage of the project cycle. Emphasis has shifted from taking part in the implementation of activities to their active participation in problem analysis and objective formulation in the preparatory stage, as well as in monitoring and evaluation activities during and after implementation.

43. During the preparatory phase, when data are collected concerning the problems to be addressed in the planned technical cooperation programme or project, consultation of the target group is crucial. This has proved a most effective way of gathering detailed and up-to-date information about the target groups and their problems. Furthermore, early consultation with the intended beneficiaries contributes to a better understanding of the real needs, provided their representatives show a sufficient degree of independence and freedom of expression in meetings with the participating officials of governments and implementing agencies.

44. A special concern to be discussed with the partners is the statement of the project's objectives in relation to the analysis of the problems and the solutions proposed. Within a participatory approach, it is important that objectives be defined in terms of the enhancement of capacities and that all partners share this view. For instance, when the ACOPAM project's objective was redefined in terms of the self-management of the cereal banks and community-based small-scale irrigation schemes, the intended beneficiaries were involved in the decision-making process and accepted the challenge of self-reliance.

45. Participatory monitoring and evaluation have been practised in various of the projects under review, though not to equal degrees. The reports revealed that systematic monitoring and evaluation (M&E) had only been developed in a few cases. In the Kalerwe project in Uganda, regular M&E meetings were held by the project management team which included ten representatives of the residence committees. Planning, management and implementation issues were discussed and reviewed. Furthermore, a great number of seminars and workshops were organized for the community on different participation issues. The INATEC project in Nicaragua is another case where continuous monitoring and evaluation was the main concern for all the actors and partners in order to achieve the project's objectives. Participatory structures for M&E were created within the INATEC as well as with external cooperating institutions. In the RELASUR project, tripartite consultations were regularly carried out to ensure that the social partners in each of the participating countries took part in the decision-making process. The ACOPAM and Zinder projects in the Sahel countries, as well as the Appui aux femmes rurales (rural women's support) project in Guinea, developed their own systematic M&E practices allowing for the control of the ongoing participatory process by the main actors.

46. The core issue in participatory methods of monitoring and evaluation is to ensure the effective participation of the target groups in the decision-making process. A set of indicators to monitor implementation and to assess the progress made towards the achievement of objectives should also be agreed upon by all partners concerned at the very beginning of the project's activities. They should also be involved in the project's management to ensure that their views are taken into account and their commitment secured for any adjustments to the project's strategies.

47. Indicators for participatory approaches in monitoring and evaluation should be described in verifiable terms, i.e. based on accessible information. In the Zinder project, for example, indicators for measuring the self-management capacity of the cereal banks were defined in relation to the maintenance of stocks, utilization of funds and efficient bookkeeping, etc. This method enabled all partners to gain insight into the development process in which they were involved and to steer it.

48. Special attention should also be given to the assumptions underlying programmes and projects. These concern external factors that affect the implementation and performance of the project but which lie beyond its direct control. These factors may refer to government support in the form of new legislation, as in the Wasteland development project, or to the scarcity of private service organizations, as in the case of ACOPAM. Whereas in traditional technical cooperation programmes and projects such assumptions may be overlooked by the project management, with a participatory approach most assumptions can be identified through the involvement of supporting agencies in the management of the project.

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