Many of us value the basic principle of Participatory Development. The idea of facilitating a process to build programming driven by and responsive to those we serve is often spoken about in nonprofit circles. I’ve even seen the concept influence how nonprofit organizations develop business operations by team members. The brief Guardian article, How to … avoid pitfalls in participatory development by Anna Colom, drives head-on into the thorny commentary on its differing methods. Like many well-intentioned ideas, the execution is the difference between window dressing and meaningful action.
The main critique is that development practitioners and organisations are not passive facilitators. They own the tools, choose the topics and ultimately “shape and direct the processes”. So rather than a shift in power relations, participatory development was seen as a mask that perpetuates the dominance of mainly western actors over the recipients of aid.
This post is part of our resource toolkit on community input and leadership for program success.