UN High Level Panel engages with the Participate initiative in Monrovia, Liberia


Catherine SetchellCatherine_Setchell200

This post previously appeared on 12 February 2013 on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

This month the UN High Level Panel (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development agenda met in Monrovia. At the meeting the Participate initiative  , based at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS, ran a 90-minute interactive workshop session with members of the HLP and their advisors, to share a synthesis of early research findings that would inform the post-2015 debates. Panel members explored key recommendations from those who are living in poverty and who are most marginalised.

Panel members engaged with the perspectives of those in poverty via:

  • An early findings synthesis report of participatory research programmes from over 57  countries;
  • A short film about an indigenous people’s housing project in Chiapas, Mexico
  • Small group discussions based on case studies from the research.

These case studies generated lively debate amongst panel members and their advisors as they tackled questions posed by Participate, around the implications of the key messages for international development and national economic transformation, and how they could translate these into principles and guidelines that could be built explicitly into the High Level Panel reports that will inform a post-2015 framework for development.

The case studies provided illustrative examples for the panel members to discuss the complex realities of people living in poverty and their experiences of development assistance. They looked at some of the reasons for why programmes have failed in the past, and what key lessons can be learnt from these mistakes, so that a new development framework reflects the real needs of those living in extreme poverty and marginalisation.


A local resident featured in the Chiapas film explains why a state housing project failed

Key messages resonated with some of the panel members’ and advisors’ own understanding of the complexity of poverty and the failings of some development interventions. Members of Participate’s Participatory Research Group (PRG) – James Kofi Annan, Challenging Heights, Mwangi Waituru, The Seed Institute, and Masiiwa Rusare, African Monitor – reinforced these messages with first-hand stories.

Discussions centred around the message that development programmes are too often top-down interventions, based on simple cause-effect assumptions that fail to respond to the everyday realities of those in poverty, and only serve to reinforce long-term dependencies and an increased sense of powerlessness. They recognised that extreme poverty is characterised by difficult trade-offs and impossible choices that make the benefits of mainstream development inaccessible for the very poor.  The panel reflected on the need to engage much more with power, social norms, customs, attitudes and behaviours, and that building relationships and greater participation of local communities, would contribute to more effective and sustainable development.

The High Level Panel debates of Thursday and Friday followed Participate’s workshop session.  Participate asked the HLP to take some of the main lessons and reflections from the session with them as they debated a post-2015 framework for international development and economic transformation. Participate will continue activities to bring the voices of those most marginalised to the policy debates.

Catherine Setchell is a Research Communications Manager for the Participate initiative, based at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS

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