Participate’s proposal for Post-2015 targets that respond to the realities of poor and marginalised people

16/04/2014

Danny BurnsDanny_Burns200

 

‘When the demolitions started in 2005, our life changed drastically… we were moved 50km away from Manila. There was no house…we were not able to spend the money on making the floor but on food because my husband could not work there… (now) The soil of our house erodes during rainy season’. My children had to stop school for a whole year…’ (Sara Mendoza, Philippines)

Participate research  has shown with remarkable consistency that not only has development failed to benefit the poorest and most marginalised people, it has frequently been the cause of, or has deepened their poverty. In other words, the poorest and those on the margins are often collateral damage for the ‘development’ of those who are easier to reach. The stories of numerous people in the Participate research was of shifting sands – never feeling secure, stable, recognised, safe – never knowing what tomorrow might bring.

Targets that fail to address these issues – instead focusing only on providing more and better services – will continue to fail those that have been left behind by development. The targets needed for people living in greatest poverty and those who are most marginalised are ones that provide solid ground and strong foundations from which dignity is enabled and people can build a future for themselves and their families. These include a secure place to live (an informal settlement which people know will be there tomorrow is a good start), an identity, the rights to citizenship, a basic livelihood (probably in the informal economy) and safety and security. They also include freedom from extreme discrimination and exclusion, an environment that does not destroy their capacity for building collective solutions and solidarity, and meaningful processes for them to articulate their needs, participate in and shape the construction of their own futures.

The refrain that reverberates through our research is that ‘there are clinics, and schools, but we don’t get access to them’. There is no point in talking about education if children still have to work in the fields or beg on the streets because their parents livelihood is not enough or because education is not available to them because of who they are (women, people with disabilities, lower castes, etc). There is no point in distributing resources to local villages if these are diverted by corrupt officials or dominant local families. There is no point in local clinics if people can’t afford medicines or are humiliated by doctors that treat them like animals as opposed to a person in need of treatment with a right to appropriate health care.

The realities of those living in extreme poverty and marginalisation are different to those on low income, and if their needs are to be met and their rights recognised then a different development paradigm is necessary: One which challenges fictional trickle down theories and starts with the poorest and most marginalised; one which recognises that much of what countries see as unquestionable – such as infrastructure development and economic growth – has to be questioned; and one which directly addresses the discriminatory norms and abuses of power that impact gravely on people’s capacity to overcome poverty and marginalisation, and participate in development.

The Participate proposal for post-2015 targets does not try to provide targets for every issue that was raised in the 18 participatory research studies.  Rather it seeks to distil three foundational target areas which must underpin the others, and without which the post-2015 targets framework will be meaningless for the poorest and most marginalised people. The targets relate to:

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackling discriminatory institutional and social norms

As country representatives at the United Nations continue to formulate the final post-2015 framework, Participate reiterates the call to ‘leave no-one behind’. Tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation, alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority. This will require a rights-based, people-centred approach which prioritises social justice and recognises the need for long-term policies and programmes.

Read more of Sara Mendoza’s story ‘Urban Growth in the Philippines’ on page 19 of the Work With Us report

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other posts from Danny Burns


Who engages with whom? Who is accountable to whom? Can the development sector learn from the humanitarian sector?

20/03/2014

Robert ChambersRobert_Chambers200

Wow! The 29th Annual Meeting of ALNAP in Addis. This was memorable and eye-opening. But what is ALNAP? The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action. Rather less memorable in full than as an acronym. But a vital orientation and a remarkable organisation. This annual meeting brought together for two intense days 170 people engaged in the sector. From a great range of over 100 organisations, with NGOs more than any other category, and international agencies, governments, universities, and the private sector in smaller numbers. An astonishing range of experience to have all in one room, and the largest ALNAP annual meeting so far.

And why was it memorable? For me it was one of those Rip van Winkle re-entries which for some reason seem to come my way more often these days. My time in the sector was long ago in UNHCR as its first evaluation officer in the mid 70s, and then in 1986 in a team evaluating the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies drought relieve operations in Africa in 1984-6. How radically things have changed since those days of relative amateurism and ignorance. In the mid 70s UNHCR was faced with many millions of rural refugees in Africa and did not have a single health, nutrition, agricultural, sanitation, water, settlement or other specialist. Though lots of lawyers, good at law. There were some large refugee settlements, but it was convenient to believe that most African refugees were best off left to fend for themselves. African hospitality would take care of them. Often not, I concluded, the case. And as for 1986 we wrote in our evaluation report that people had ‘a basic human right to be protected from incompetence’.

What a different universe it is now!
People in this conference were far, far more professional and experienced. Their concerns for accountability and performance have spread, deepened and evolved almost beyond recognition. There are now many guides, protocols, critical reviews and even organisations preoccupied with accountability to those affected by crises, outstandingly ALNAP itself.

The theme for the meeting was great – Engagement of crisis-affected people in humanitarian action. The overview and background paper by Dayna Brown, A Donini and Paul Knox-Clarke is excellent. The subject is vital because of the misfit and tension between urgent action to save lives and minimise suffering on the one hand, and listening, sensitivity, responsiveness, and supporting not undermining what people are doing and can do for themselves. And the many contexts and types of emergency or crisis challenge standard solutions. All this is pretty well known, so let me jump to what hit me in the face.

Top-down measurement versus accountability to people.
Paradigms are in tension. Underlying current debates and practice in the sector is a tug of war between the (Newtonian) paradigm of things, which is top-down with control, measurement, standardisation and upward accountability, and the (complexity) paradigm of people in which we find discretion, judgment, diversity and downward accountability. And there are contrasting concepts, language, values, methods and processes, relationships, mindsets and personalities that go with these. Top-down is driven and sustained by the real or imagined imperatives of crisis.

Take language. Beneficiary belongs to top down. It patronises. It begs a basic question, implying people do benefit. It ‘others’ those affected by crisis. It misfits equality, respect, listening and learning from people. Other words and phrases have been tried – crisis-affected people, and citizen (but this does not work so well for UNHCR with refugees). But again and again beneficiary is the word that is used. It is deeply, deeply embedded. And I dare say many see nothing wrong with it. One organisation has even appointed a Beneficiary Accountability Officer. Can’t we do better than this?

Then there are donors’ demands and ‘the system’. There was a view that to be ‘evidence-based’ the case for engagement and participation had to be supported by measurement. Others, myself included, felt the case was already overwhelming. When someone asked how many had read evaluation reports which blamed ‘the system’, a forest of hands went up. And participants lamented their experiences of how data demands forced them into gathering data for upward accountability at the cost of action, learning, adapting and accountability to affected people. Yes, a tragic trade-off, just as in the development sector.

Highlights and reflections

  • To bypass recurrent rush. In sudden onset emergencies, many agencies carry out similar rushed and biased assessments (close to airport, only meet the leaders, men etc.). After typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines a non-operational team did a slower more interactive and representative assessment, hearing other voices, and found unrecognised needs: who would have guessed that old women needed underwear? Could UNOCHA (UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs) try this dedicated team approach to test whether it should be standard practice?
  • Participatory statistics. Dawit Abebe and Berhanu Admassu presented their participatory impact assessment work with pastoralists which generated participatory statistics. Dawit and Andy Catley have a chapter in Jeremy Holland’s Who Counts? The power of participatory statistics. Great stuff and huge potential. But who will pick it up? I recommend the guide which has just been updated. It is an eye-opener.
  • Definition of terms? We did not spend much time on definitions. This was sensible. There was more interest in action. But engagement is a good word. And engagement of crisis-affected people was a move in a good direction.
  • Personality and recruitment. The background paper considered skills (the word so often used), but then went further with behaviour and attitudes. I wonder, though, does personality go even further, and somewhere we need to go? Some saw recruitment procedures with interviewing face-to-face as critical. If the sector needs people who are good at listening, empathetic, participatory, they must be sought out, and trained. Also, institutional cultures, personality and relationships interact, so that for good engagement with affected people, with sensitive listening and respect, these must be part of good engagement in organisations at all levels.
  • Learning what affected people are doing already came over as important. What are their existing organisations? What are they already doing? These were priority questions, as they have been for decades.
  • The Who? Whose? questions. These were as relevant as ever. Who participates in whose project? was asked in the background paper. Who engages in whose action? Do they engage in ours or do we engage in theirs? Several times in the meeting someone asked ‘How do we want to engage with them?’. But further steps are ‘How  do we find out how they would like us to engage with them?’ This was raised but I did not hear it much discussed. A future agenda? To ask them? As standard good practice?
  • Listening and learning. We often say and hear that we must ‘go and talk to [sic] people’. Talk to at least involves meeting, but when will we habitually say listen to or learn from? Or listen to and dialogue with? The training the day before the meeting was on evaluation. Next year, a training on listening? But would anyone sign up? Or be able to persuade their organisation to give the extra day to be trained to do something we all know how to do (when we talk to people)?
  • Time with people. In a panel session on Building Accountability to Affected Populations into Humanitarian Evaluation, it was proposed that those engaged in the evaluations 9 months or so after an emergency should have to spend 50 per cent of their time with the affected people. Yes. Good idea.
  • Accountability to whom? At that moment, a penny dropped with me. I wondered and still wonder, is the humanitarian sector ahead of ‘development’ in accountability to people? If so, or if it appears so, is this because the need is greater? In any case, what can the development sector learn? I suspect, quite a lot. But if so, where should we go from here?
  • Gems for reflection from Luz Gomez Saavedra (Oxfam Intermon, formerly with MSF in Niger):
    • ‘Nothing can replace presence and proximity’
    • ‘The most amazing tool, sitting down under a tree with people’
    • An old woman who said: ‘If you want to know who is poor and who not, don’t count goats – ask who is receiving remittances from a relative in Calgary’
    • When she asked people how she could do her work better the reply was unanimous: ‘Don’t change but keep smiling’

Will this meeting transform the sector?
That would be asking too much. But intensifying the shift in the agenda to examining ourselves more (and this is in line with the World Development Report 2015 on Mind and Culture), yes, one can hope for that. And it may countervail against the magnetism of upward accountability which afflicts both humanitarian action and development, and reinforce actions and policies for accountability downwards to crisis-affected people, and learning more about and appreciating their realities, and what they want and need. And what they already do and can do, perhaps often much more than outsiders suppose.

Some in the sector are already onto all this. Could many, many others join them in putting into practice two PRA slogans which fit here as signposts and reminders:

ASK THEM              THEY CAN DO IT

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other blog posts from Robert Chambers:


Working with creativity to empower women and children

07/03/2014

Vivienne Bensonprofile picture Vivienne Benson

Every year on 8 March, thousands of events are held around the world to inspire, celebrate and empower women to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). This year on 6-7 March, it is directly preceded by the President of the General Assembly to the United Nations (PGA) High Level discussion on The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At the centre of the PGA discussion are the challenges that continue to impede groups from participating fully in society and from having the scope to ensure the accountability of decision-makers through their actions and voices.

Empowering marginalised women, men and young people to speak for themselves on issues of equity and rights should be a primary objective of the UN and other global decision makers. Key to that objective is developing the skills and capacity of women, men, young people and civil society to use different tools for creative expression in order to support people to speak through the medium that is most relevant to them.

Telling their own stories
The Participate Initiative’s partners have worked with participatory methods to facilitate processes where people living in poverty and marginalisation can tell their own stories about how and why change happens in their lives. The Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy (MEND) works to promote active non-violence and open media in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. They have worked with marginalised women from these areas to share their reality through film.

Palestinian women filming

Palestinian women share their stories with the world through participatory film-making. Credit MEND 2013

MEND worked with a group of women in the village of Al Jib. The group learnt how to make their own films, from behind and in front of the camera. Reflecting on this process the women involved explained that they were ‘happy because we have a voice and we can send our message out’. In making their film, they are able to talk about what is most important to them: ‘there isn’t a single word in the world or in the dictionary that can express my anger and sadness [about the Wall that encircles village] and the tragedy because it really has no limits’. The clarity and poignancy of this message is expressed in their short film – Unhappy Birthday.

The participatory video process enabled the women to build relationships and learn from other women in their community. It has supported them to build the confidence and belief that they can and have the right to express their aspirations for change, ‘what I gained from the project the most was that I have more self-confidence, I am more strong and more sociable now’.

The Participate Initiative has 18 partners within 29 countries, all of whom have worked with the poorest and most marginalised communities to communicate the issues that are important in their lives, on their own terms. The Seed Institute, Kenya, Nairobi worked with children in Mwiki to conduct their own research on the experience of children living with disabilities. In their findings they explained that these children were forgotten and ignored. Using participatory video, they voice their concerns and identify practical solutions to improve the lives of children living with disabilities, and their families.

International Women’s Day and the PGA discussions should stand as a reminder that women and children should be heard in their own voice. The use of video and other creative mediums are effective ways to empower communities to find their own voice and speak their unfiltered message locally and globally.

Vivienne Benson works as Research Administrator at IDS and is the Events Coordinator for the Participate Initiative.

Read other recent blogs about Participate:

Watch the short videos:


World Development Report 2015: Congratulations so far. Can you go further?

26/02/2014

Robert ChambersRobert_Chambers200

Robert Chambers was recently asked to provide comments on the forthcoming World Development Report (WDR) 2015. The annual reports are the World Bank’s major analytical publication, each year focusing on a different aspect of development. The WDR 2015 will be on the topic of ‘Mind and Culture’. Below is Robert’s response to Steve Commins, of the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, and Varun Gauri, Senior Economist at the World Bank. Both are part of the WDR 2015 team at the World Bank. Robert’s response  gives a window onto some of the pressing avenues that participatory thinking should be exploring.

Hi Steve and Varun,

Much stimulated by the video call yesterday. Good to meet again after some time, Steve – I do remember your visit to IDS.

I am excited by the focus and proposed content that you outlined. Both actually and potentially (see below) this WDR promises to take us forward. As background to this, please read the critical piece I wrote about WDR 2000, which was such an achievement by Ravi Kanbur especially. It is in a book Provocations for Development, reprinted from Journal of International Development You are closer to what I advocate in the final paragraphs of that piece than any other WDR has been, to my knowledge, in examining ‘us’. This raises a host of questions (Who? Whose?) which you illustrated, Varun, with the example of Whose indicators? I.e. score cards for health services. How far can you push the envelope in this WDR? Huge opportunity.

My main points:

Reflexivity
(As above, a mirror on ‘us’) Can you, as I suggested yesterday, conclude powerfully with the case for reflexivity, setting an example with your own critical reflections on the framing and content of knowledge in your own WDR?  It would be brilliant, absolutely brilliant, if you could, and would set a wonderful example to all of us who call ourselves development professionals. ‘Belief traps’ is a great phrase and concept. Can you illustrate and elaborate, and show how we are all in them, and how we can recognise them and mitigate them.  Wow! What an opportunity!

Emotion
This is such a significant driver of change in norms and behaviour. In your presentation to us, Varun, you did use the word once, but only once. But is it not almost everywhere, but papered over by our analytical intellectualism? For learning and changing, is it a key element? See John Kotter and Dan Cohen  The Heart of Change: real-life stories of how people change their organizations ,including the critical distinction between see-feel-change and analysis-think-change.  Argues for the transformative power of the former. See also Valerie Curtis Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t eat: the science behind revulsion; also Nick Haslam Psychology in the Bathroom . Both well researched, insightful, entertaining. Haslam pages 9-11 section on emotion points to a dramatic rise in professional attention to disgust and shame.

There is a right hemisphere-left hemisphere dimension here – development in the last decade has lurched into the left hemisphere. But with participation, much of it Bank-led in the now-forgotten 90s, there was a much better balance. See paradigms in Provocations pages 190-4. This links with

Experiential learning
This is implicit in initiatives that give people new experiences. The Bank’s immersions (starting with Wolfensohn in the 90s, and still going on a bit) and similar experiences have been enormously formative. (See pages 171 ff in Provocations). You have experiential learning and change in there – experiences overcoming belief traps. Do we, in development, need to be much more resolute, imaginative and bold in designing experiential learning, as with immersions, into our professional lives? When you talk about horizontal (and by implication vertical) teaching and learning, is the horizontal more experiential in a whole-person and relational sense?

Accelerating change – in every dimension?
Has the perennial challenge of keeping in touch and up-to-date with the realities of people living in poverty – marginalised, vulnerable, weak…. become more acute because of the way in which social and other change has accelerated and continues to accelerate? I recommended the Reality Checks in Bangladesh (pdf). They have done five annual summaries of these. The rate of change they find is astonishing. I have to say that Bangladesh may be an outlier in speed (fertility rate now 2.2!!!), but there are many indications and experiences that suggest that acceleration is the norm. Could you have a box, perhaps combining the experiential learning of immersions with the need to keep in touch and up to date? This could have a big, good, impact. The person best able to advise on this is Dee Jupp who started and has continued this (There is a major review of this in Stockholm this week). In my view all countries should have reality checks – and they are spreading – Indonesia, Mozambique Nepal, Ghana , Dee could tell you.

Blind spots
This is something I am working on just now and links with the points I made about reflexivity above. There have been major areas that have been overlooked or given inadequate attention in the past across a whole range – sexuality and discrimination against LGBTs, canal irrigation at night, group-visual synergy in diagramming on the ground, the potential of participatory statistics, the combined nutritional impact of the many faecally-transmitted infections (perhaps responsible for some half of the undernutrition in the world, certainly in India…remarkable recent research findings by Dean Spears ), environmental enteropathy).These raise the question: what are the characteristics of areas that are blind spots (links with your belief traps, also institutional and professional silos, blinkers)? Why have there been these blind spots? Can you take this on? Open it up as a topic? If we missed these in the past, what are we missing now?

Words and concepts
They frame pretty much everything. We all have our favourites (see the first section of Provocations). The words and concepts here are not as dominated by economics as they might have been, but all the same what are the implications for framing and recommendations of those which come naturally to you and are part of current development speak,  Incentives, Prices, Regulations, information, for example ?

Can you define e.g. belief traps with examples, and cognitive taxes with examples, and explain how the latter overlaps with but goes further than transaction costs (if I understand it right)?

Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS)
I will write about this separately. Excellent that you have this in. And it is a good illustration of a number of the points above.

Finally, I would like to congratulate you, the collective you working on the WDR, on your work, but I would also like to challenge you and ask ‘How much further can you go?’ in order to make a real difference.

Robert Chambers is a Research Associate in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other blog posts from Robert Chambers:


Considering a Masters course? Interested in participation, development and questions around power and social change?

30/01/2014

Susanne Schirmer

This week the IDS students for the 2012/13 course celebrated their graduation and I thought this is a good opportunity to introduce the MA Participation, Power and Social Change (MAP) based at IDS.

The course is particularly geared towards professionals with at least three years of voluntary or work experience. It will enable students to critically reflect on their own practice and to explore the challenges of participation and power relations and what it means to facilitate change through an action learning project. Students come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, including community organisations, NGOs, social movements, governments, businesses and consultancies. They are based in the global South or North and work on diverse issues such as agriculture, health, HIV-AIDS, natural resources, climate change, youth, gender, community development, governance, communication, planning, evaluation and policy-making.

What makes MAP unique is the combination of academic study, practical experience and personal reflection. Two terms of teaching are followed by a four month period of work-based action learning or research, which could be in any country. Academic supervision for the placement is provided throughout by an IDS researcher. Devika Menon and Jessica Kennedy, two of last year’s MAP students, have blogged about their learning through their placements in India and South Africa.

To find out more about the MA Participation, Power and Social Change, watch a short video:

Visit the recently launched IDS Alumni blog to read about student’s experiences at IDS and how their time at IDS has influenced their careers.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS.

Read other blogs about the MAP course:


Work with us: Community-driven research inspiring change

28/11/2013

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

‘People are sick and tired of being subjects of research. We are doing action research so people are becoming subjects of transformation.’

For me this statement from Walter Arteaga, one of the partner researchers in the Participate Initiative, sums up the creative approach my colleagues in the Participate Initiative are taking to engage those that are most affected by poverty and marginalisation in change and to bring their perspectives into the post-2015 process.

The Participate Initiative, recently launched a new short video which showcases some of the exciting participatory research the team has been undertaking with their partners in 29 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe in the past year. The team has been using participatory videos and digital storytelling – together with other participatory research methods –to make excluded voices heard in the UN debates around a post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework.

Watch the 20 min documentary and be inspired:

Alternatively, if you’re pressed for time check out some of the shorter films:

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS.

Read other recent blogs about Participate: