Assessing Participatory Development: Reflections from the World Bank

GDN 2010 Conference: Parellel sessionParticipation has become a ‘buzz’ word strongly associated with varying forms of governance. In the development field participatory approaches to decision-making have emerged in part as a consequence of governments’ failure to get funds and services to the most poor and vulnerable. Participation through community engagement attempts to place the emphasis on ‘the people on the ground’, the poor and vulnerable who are often excluded from the process of identifying their own needs.

The session ‘Participatory Development: Assessing the Evidence on Policy and Practice’ offered representatives from the World Bank’s Development Research Group and associated scholars the opportunity to discuss the current ‘state of play’ in terms of participatory approaches and how they are assessed. The topic was framed by the World Bank’s policy research report entitled Localising Development: Challenges of Policy and Practice.

Ghazala Mansuri outlined clearly how, despite the perceived benefits of participatory approaches it is difficult to find evidence of its effectiveness. The World Bank has used a wide range of multi-disciplinary research to try harder to assess the impact. Mansuri’s presentation outlined the varying conclusions currently being drawn by researchers. Some of these are critical of participatory projects because they often fail to deliver immediate success stories, or to empower communities. There is a need to be mindful of being overcritical, stressed Mansuri. Participatory approaches have brought benefits to many different communities, but first people need to be truly empowered. The process of empowerment takes time; can lead to conflict as elites can feel as though they are losing their grip on power; and community capacity needs to be built.

Michael Woolcock backed this point up by arguing that participatory development “is not an invariant technology, but an instrument with many people-centred moving parts”. He argued the need for a “countertemporal” approach to monitoring and evaluation that asks “where should this project be at this time?” This question reflects upon different contexts, and helps guide future project initiatives.

The final presentation was delivered by Professor Jean Philippe Platteau, University of Namur. It talked about the superiority of local knowledge versus a ‘top-down’ prescriptive approach often demanded by funders. This can lead to a various number of outcomes. For instance, he stated “when communities are certain about the preference of donors, they are strongly induced to make a declaration close to what these are”. He added that if donor preferences are fuzzy, communities are more likely to think more clearly about community needs, despite the tendency of elites to dominate this process. In conclusion, Professor, Platteau outlined the key role played by donors, the need for them to show tolerance, not to be over prescriptive, and to put aside any uncertainty regarding the ability of communities to identify their own needs.

The session underlined the importance not to give up on participatory development, and in order to ensure funders continue to support these approaches, participatory projects must be monitored and evaluated in ways that take account of different contexts and time. Only then will donors get a true insight of how participatory projects are doing.

See more stories from the GDN 2010 Conference, watch participants’ videos interviews, download conference presentations and papers


About Pier Andrea Pirani
Information, knowledge sharing and communications in international development - Social media and collaboration tools.

2 Responses to Assessing Participatory Development: Reflections from the World Bank

  1. Muhammad says:

    I would also chime in that many people do not iimmdeately think of research as a creative process. They shy away from research because of the technical skills required. Yes, there are skills necessary and an interest in the issues at hand are required but I would also argue that research, in all forms, but espcially community based research, is an incredibly creative endeavor. Creativity often is looked at a something spontaneous or innnate to an individual; both of these notions have been proven false. Perhaps considering research as both a creative and technically challenging endeavor will encourage more students to engage in this amazing form of learning and collaboration.

  2. Thank you for this very good information. This is really very important .

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