At lunchtime tomorrow Participate has a space within the meeting of the High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-2015 development agenda to present the work of the initiative, and to make the case for why participatory research matters. In this space, we hope to provide a framing that will ensure that the HLP considers knowledge from the margins as they make their recommendations for a global development agenda post-2015. Ultimately we are asking the HLP members to take participatory research seriously both as a source of information, and as a process of engaging directly with the diverse perspectives of those most affected by poverty and injustice. Tomorrow, we will have 9 minutes to do this.
Over the last few weeks we have been planning, minute by minute, how to use this time. There are inevitable challenges and trade-offs.
Bringing the knowledge from the poorest and most marginalised into the global policy arena in a meaningful way is difficult, as Elizabeth Mills pointed out in her post yesterday. Whose voices are being heard, and why, and on what issues? How do we ensure people’s perspectives are not taken out of context and used to legitimise agendas that are not their own? What counts as ‘evidence’? Can we create the spaces for people to communicate the complexities of their own lives for themselves? All of this requires us to make the case for what participatory research is and why it matters in the post-2015 process. We want to raise these questions and ask the HLP to reflect critically on how to engage in dialogue with the poorest and most marginalised; and ask what this means for the decisions that they make and how they will be accountable to the people their decisions will affect. Can we do this in 9 minutes?
A central message from Participate is that to reach the poorest and the most marginalised populations, a post-2015 framework must take into account the multiple, intersecting and dynamic social and structural inequalities that keep them poor and excluded. Participatory research opens up possibilities for understanding these complex processes by exploring what they mean in the reality of people’s lives. It can provide unexpected and fresh insights, and challenge long-standing assumptions about how change happens. But how do we articulate this in a powerful way, in such a short time frame? It is important for decision-makers and others to connect to participatory research in a personal way—relating to the messages and insights in terms of real people and real places. But we have struggled with how to communicate these examples in our 9 minutes. If you give broad, large-scale examples, you risk sounding so general that you only state the obvious. If you delve into the detail of a story from a particular place and person, you risk being dismissed for being anecdotal.
How would you tackle this dilemma? What would you have done with 9 minutes? We’d like to open this conversation up.
We hope we have found a way to share Participate’s messages in a way that is engaging for the HLP members and that triggers their continued interest in the initiative. What has been critical to the way we have approached this challenge is to emphasise how participatory methodologies bring to the policy process both the complex and the rapidly changing realities of people living with poverty and injustice. A one-off engagement is not enough. Nine minutes every few months is not enough. We will be asking the High Level Panel to ‘participate’ themselves, and be connected to the current participatory research at the centre of this initiative in an on-going way that will provide opportunities for the poorest and most marginalised speak for themselves, but also to translate the collective findings into policy.
More from us tomorrow on how it all goes…
Joanna Wheeler is a Research Fellow and Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.
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