Below are excerpts from two different pieces criticizing the way that development agencies use “participatory” methods. Neither one disagrees with the value of participation, but both take issue with its implementation. Let’s compare and contrast these two pieces.

The criticisms come from two very different sources. The first is essentially a literature review that synthesizes research on what participatory methods actually mean in practice. The second was written by the anonymous aid worker/blogger Shotgun Shack on the highly satirical Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like blog. Both are worth reading in full.

Here’s your homework question: Which one of these pieces will influence more people to think critically about participatory methods? Keep in mind not just the piece itself, but its reach.


1. Analysis: ‘Everyone is doing something and calling it PRA’ – A Critical Reflection on Participatory Methods in Development

As has become clear, in contrast to seemingly straight-forward representations, implementing participatory methods involves a wide range of difficulties, and the simple application of PRA alone does not guarantee empowerment, local ownership or equal participation in project decision-making. …

In practice participation has become ‘the new tyranny’ (Cooke & Kothari 2001; cf. Hickey & Mohan 2004b: 4). … ‘Participation’ is treated by some agencies ‘as a technical method of project work rather than as a political methodology of empowerment’. … Instead of being internalised and embodied, ‘participatory’ methodologies are integrated into top-down-management and ‘used to legitimate the very approaches and methods PRA practitioners have sought to replace’ (Chambers 1994: 1441; cf. Cornwall 2004: 84). …

Instead of being a creative and open process, ‘participation’ becomes an empty ritual and either serves as an alibi, used ‘to legitimize action, to explain, justify, validate higher policy goals’ (Mosse 2001: 27), or is well-meant but flawed in its implementation.


2. Satire: Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like #24: Facipulation

Expat Aid Worker practitioners love feeling like they are supporting locally-led development processes. …

After repeated attempts at facilitation, however, even the most noble Expat Aid Workers realize that if they want to succeed at their job, rather than facilitatationthey need to learn the gentle art of facipulation: a delicate blend of facilitation (catalyzing, easing and supporting conversations and actions around themes and issues important to the community and/or program participants) and manipulation (steering conversations towards their INGO’s established themes and goals, and ensuring that actions and decisions made by local people support their INGO’s interests and happen within the time frame stipulated by their donors). …

When selecting facipulants for the workshop, choose those that you know from previous experience a) agree with you, b) understand what your agency wants to achieve and c) have a stake in a future project that they don’t want to lose out on by being difficult. It’s helpful if facipulants appear to represent a diverse group, but that their diversity does not include diversity of opinion.


Update: Want more satire on aid and development? In addition to Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like, check out Hand Relief InternationalI Studied Abroad in Africa!, and (perhaps now defunct?) aidlolz.

  1. I love this description from Russell Lewis in The Broker Online last week.

    “Imagine this: you are working in your office and the boss comes in with a stranger, someone who is obviously not from your country or culture and says “This is Some Unusual Name. He (or she) is going to teach you how to do your job. Make sure you do as you’re told.” How would you feel?
    “Sound familiar? I’ll bet it does – because if you’re in international development, chances are that has happened – except that you were the stranger from another country with the unusual name.”

    What I like about it is that is doesn’t use academic language nor snark. Rather, it invites you to explore a situation from your own perspective.


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