The Hydrology of Policy


picture of Carlos CortezCarlos Cortez

As we move into a period of post-2015 ‘stock-taking’ in advance of the UNGA at the end of September, Participate partners have been critically reflecting on the participatory approaches they have employed in attempts to shift power in policymaking – including the engagement with the post-2015 process. This blog introduces the ‘hydrology of policy’ to help illustrate the complex process of bringing research into policy influencing.

Knowledge generated by people living in poverty and marginalisation flows across different influencing levels, feeds into different spaces, leading to potential changes in discourse (and sometimes practice) and in policy that revert to affect the lived reality of people on the ground. But this is not a one way process: changing discourse can open new spaces, and changes in practice can influence discourse. Local level changes can proliferate ‘horizontally’ to other communities; and likewise ‘vertically’ these changes can influence what happens at the national or global level. This can be understood as the ‘hydrology of policy’ (see illustration below).

IDS_Anthology_ Hydrology of policy

The ‘hydrology of policy’ shows how the ideas, needs, proposals for change and experiences from the poorest and most marginalised people can be represented as the water that starts from springs in the local isolated places where they live, flowing into little streams. These streams of ideas, needs, proposals and experiences join to create rivers that feed the big river that represents the global debate on the post-2015 themes. Most of the decisions are taken in places where marginalised voices are hardly heard, because the springs are far away from where the big river joins the sea. From the illustration it is clear that the rivers go through a winding route, with obstacles such as dams along the way that limit and control the flow of the water. This represents the challenges faced while trying to bring the voices of the poor and marginalised to the place where the decisions are taken. Often they only reach after an ‘evaporation’ in which their perspectives on the change they want has almost disappeared and are little considered by the decision-makers.

The results of the global debate are represented as clouds which depict the general discourse and practice of ‘development’ from the perspective of the decision-makers. The clouds move towards land and arrive back at the source of the spring as a ‘rain’ of projects, programmes or simple promises from government and social actors. As in the real world, rain can be light, causing drought, or can be heavy, like a storm, in both cases not responsive to the poorest and marginalised.

Bringing research into policy influencing at multiple levels is a complex process, and engaging across different levels to achieve changes in development that prioritise the poorest and most marginalised people is not without challenges. Demand for change needs to happen at every level of the system – from local to global and global back to local.

This blog is an edited version of Carlos’ contribution to Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence’.

 Dr Carlos Cortez is a member of the Participatory Research Group and is based at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico (UAM-X).


Motorways to Nowhere?


Jenny_Edwards200Jenny Edwards

International development agencies have been pouring money into one-size fits all interventions for women and girls’ empowerment. Increasingly the business case ‘Invest in a girl and the world benefits’ is becoming popular among donors, NGOs and private sector supporters. But quick-fix solutions are rarely either the answer or sufficient to deal with what are essentially complex and intertwined problems. The analogy we use within the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Programme is that agencies are building ‘motorways to nowhere’. In focusing on the destination down a zooming highway rather than journeys along more meandering pathways, development agencies may be missing the fact that women’s experiences of empowerment are not straight or straightforward: there are obstacles, they do not travel alone, routes are circuitous and there may be many stops along the way. Donors need to look beyond targets, destinations and tick boxes and explore the complexity of women’s lives and relationships. Feminisms, Empowerment and Development, one of a series of new books from Pathways published by Zed, debates some of these complexities and highlights lessons learned about how women experience change that were uncovered by our research.

What is empowering to one woman may not be equally so for others

One of the important findings from a survey of three generations of women in Ghana which researcher Akosua Darkwah talks about in the book, is this: education for the older generation guaranteed a pathway to valuable formal sector jobs, but this is no longer the sure-fire route to secure, decent work for a younger generation faced with a more unpredictable labour market. In Brazil, Terezinha Gonçalves’ research found that when middle class women employ a domestic worker, it frees them from their chores to pursue empowering professional careers. However, as these women often do not value domestic work as a profession they fail to provide decent pay and conditions to their predominantly, black female staff. These examples highlight the importance of context: geographical, historical, class, race etc. For interventions to be successful they need to be fully appreciative of women’s lived experiences and not see ‘poor women’ as one homogenous group. This need to pay attention to context is demonstrated in Pathways’ survey on work, where for women in Bangladesh and Egypt work outside the home was seen as empowering but not so for women in Ghana where this was something they had always experienced.

Hidden Pathways

The differing experiences of women and girls can be clearly seen in what Pathways’ researchers refer to as ‘hidden pathways’. Focusing only on economic, political and legal routes of empowerment through interventions such as micro-credit, quotas and law reform risks missing some of the less obvious but still important aspects of women’s lives. For instance, although representations of women on television and the media have sometimes proved problematic and disempowering, Aanmona Priyadarshini’s and Samia Rahim’s study in Bangladesh shows how television has captured imagination across classes. Women experience pleasure and hope for their own lives from shared viewing, but also choose, judge or disregard narratives depending on how they connect with them. In Pakistan, a participant in Neelam Hussain’s research explained how watching a woman in a job interview on television helped her to know how to behave in a situation she had yet to experience.

Horizons of Possibility

Expanding the horizons of possibility is one of the key messages of the book. Although economic, legal and political interventions are important they are not enough on their own. The process of empowerment requires ‘creating consciousness’ or helping women to see themselves as equal citizens entitled to rights. Hania Sholkamy says that one of the key elements of a feminist social programme is to support women in recognising their citizenship rights. This importance is clearly demonstrated by Saptagram, a social mobilisation organisation in Bangladesh, the subject of Naila Kabeer’s and Lopita Huq’s chapter. A key element of Saptagram’s strategy was transforming women’s consciousness. As one of its members said ‘I have learnt about our rights. Now I understand I have the same rights as my husband… Whether I get my rights or not, I can still demand them’.

Pathways of Change

So is there an answer, or a solution? Many of Pathways’ messages are not new or earth-shattering but they bear repeating in an age of what Lisa VeneKlasen from Just Associates at a recent Pathways conference referred to as ‘clickivism’: the idea that just pressing one button will lift a woman from poverty. We need to listen to women’s experiences, learn from their lived realities on what works and what doesn’t. We need to support them in realising their rights and give support to women’s organisations to demand these rights. We need to tackle the issues of power that sustain women’s inequality; the deeper issues behind what hinders women’s unequal representation in parliaments and in the board rooms. We need to do more than just give a woman a cow and expect her to change the world. As Hania Sholkamy notes: ‘Alleviating poverty and enabling women to make some income can better lives, but the enabling environment that confirms the right to work, to property, to safety, to voice, to sexuality and to freedom is not created by sewing machines or micro-credit alone’.

Jenny Edwards is Programme Officer for the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Programme, based at IDS. 

Read other posts from Jenny Edwards:

A version of this blog was first published on The Guardian on 23rd July 2014 under the title “We cannot give a woman a cow and expect her to change the world”. 

IDS pays tribute to Nigerian researchers lost in tragic car accident

Last week, the Theatre for Development Centre (TFDC), a Nigerian organisation that has worked closely with IDS for many years, lost four of their leading thinkers, Professor Jenkeri Okwori, Professor Samuel Kafewo, Dr. Martins Ayegba and Aisha Ali, in a fatal car accident. It is a devastating loss and we offer our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues. Their aspirations for transformative social change in Nigeria and their contributions to this goal through research and practice will long influence the work of IDS.

Community Members discussing issues in a drama

TFDC’s work in Nigeria: Community members discussing issues in a drama

TFDC’s work on citizenship, participation and accountability was pioneering, making significant contributions in the field of violence mitigation and social action. Within this work TFDC has been, and continues to be committed to innovation in creative participatory practice, working with storytelling, drama, video and digital media to enable transformatory political processes for marginalised groups. The IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team has worked with TFDC for over ten years, notably as a collaborator on the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, and more recently as part of the Participate initiative.
In response to the accident, a campaign was launched to raise money for life-saving surgical treatment for Jenkeri. Since the tragic news that he has passed away the fundraising efforts are now to be directed towards burial costs and support for the families of all involved. IDS is encouraging staff, students and alumni to support the campaign.
Share your tributes
Through this post we hope to open a space for those whose lives and work have been touched, to share tributes for Jenks, Sam, Martins and Aisha in memory and with reflection. Please join us. You can add your tribute in the comments box at the bottom of this blog post. 

‘What an extraordinary and dreadful loss to TFDC, to Nigeria and to the world. As a researcher with the Citizenship DRC during its wonderfully productive years, I have only warm and happy memories of the group: Steve, Jenks and their colleagues brought brilliant dramatic skills to their work on citizen engagement in Nigeria, but also vibrancy, wit and style to the DRC as a whole, forcing us to rethink what we meant by participation and communication, and making everyone laugh even while confronting serious and poignant issues. Their work is an inspiration and I hope so much that it will continue, even if it can never be quite the same with such important colleagues lost. Meanwhile my thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died, with the TFDC members left behind.’
Melissa Leach. (Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘The work of Jenks and other colleagues at TFDC has inspired thousands of communities across Nigeria and across the world. The creativity, the energy, the dedication to issues of making citizenship real, deepening democracy, promoting rights and accountability of this group have had a huge impact on the lives of many. The death of three team members, and now of Jenks, are a huge loss. I had the privilege of knowing and working with Jenks for over a dozen years. At workshops around the world, he has always been willing to listen, to teach, to share. His humour, his drama, and his insights have enriched us all. He and all of the colleagues at TFDC will be sorely missed. May the legacy and spirit continue to inspire.’
John Gaventa, (The Coady International Institute, Canada and Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘Samuel Kafewo was an inspiring, dedicated and thoughtful member of the Theatre for Development Centre, and with his colleagues will be greatly missed for their vitally important work using theatre as a vehicle for social and political change. A few years ago Samuel wrote an article for a special issue of Development in Practice on community media, reflecting on his experience using participatory research and theatre to strengthen citizen engagement. He combined focus groups, interviews, theatre exercises, and a method called Community Action Planning – all within a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious political context – and with humility and insight he showed us the great promise of these methods to open dialogue and reduce conflict and aggression.’
Jethro Pettit (Institute of Development Studies, UK)

Community members participating in research

TFDC work: Participatory Ethnographic evaluation – note separate discussion with women in the background of the image

‘It is really so sad to hear that Jenks didn’t make it and has passed away. His commitment, passion and struggle for social justice will be missed by all. I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Jenks around ten years ago and he was such a source of inspiration to me and everybody who knew him.  The passing of four key members of TFDC is a great loss to Nigeria and to all of humanity. We can now only hope that the legacy of their work will continue to inspire those who knew them and also influence the next generation.  My thoughts are with their families and with Steve and his colleagues of TFDC.’
Lyla Mehta, (Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘Jenks is one of the first people I met after I came to work in at IDS in 2003.  He is not someone that is easily forgotten—his work with theatre is well-known in Nigeria and beyond, and he, as a person, is full of life, creativity and fun.  As I got to know Jenks over the years, I realised that his courage and sense of humour have been shaped by his commitment to challenging unaccountable power in Nigeria.  This is not a commitment without risks, and he has faced repressive authority with a smile.  He is an amazing actor, but his sharp insight into situations is one of the things that I admire most about him.  I watched him perform an impromptu sketch at a meeting of donors in which he lampooned the ‘fragile states’ tag so often applied.  He soon had them all laughing nervously, and no doubt later thinking about why.  He is passionate about theatre, and about working at the local level to use theatre to encourage debate about issues and problems that matter, later taking those dramas to policy makers to press them on similar issues.  The loss of four of TFDC’s staff including Dr. Martins Ayegaba, Prof. Samuel Kawefu, Prof. Jenkeri Okwori, and Aisha Ali is a tragedy for their families, colleagues and friends, and it is also a huge loss for their country and for the causes of social justice that IDS supports.’  
Joanna Wheeler, (Recently of the Institute of Development Studies, South Africa)
‘Four good people have been taken from the world. Words cannot adequately express the heartbreak and devastation that this event brings to so many people. Let us strive to continue working for the causes that Jenks, Samuel, Martins and Aisha all contributed so much of their lives to, so that their tragic deaths are not in vain.’ 
Gill Black, (Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, South Africa)
‘I met Jenks and Sam at a five-day workshop in Abuja. They moved me by their passion for work and theatre, and inspired me to learn from their experiences. Deeply personal stories they shared about theatre, family and more, their positive outlook to life and their calm, yet lively presence will inspire us forever.’ 
Anusha Chandrasekharan, (Praxis, India)
In loving memory, we would like to share Professor Jenkeri’s vision of ‘Theatre is Sunlight’ that he told through a digital story made in 2013 in Abuja. Jenks shares his aspirations for development and change through his own personal journey in a way that is unique to his belief in creative expression:
Please get in touch with Thea Shahrokh for more information or for contact details for TFDC.

Work with us: Community-driven research inspiring change


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:

Involving the world’s poorest citizens in the post-2015 agenda


Joanna WheelerJoanna_Wheeler200

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of New World, the flagship publication of the United Nations Association – UK

In September, the world’s leaders, governments’ representatives to the UN and representatives from civil society from many countries converged on New York for a Special Event on the future global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Nearby, civil society organisations talked about how to get the voices of the poorest and most marginalised through the barriers that cordon off the UN Plaza and into the post-2015 process.

The barriers are not only physical – in many ways the entire process of consultations and surveys is set up to keep those perspectives from having any real weight. There is no formal system of accountability where the people who are most affected can challenge the decisions made about global development. Yet the success and legitimacy of the post-2015 framework will rest on the extent to which it provides for their meaningful participation.

While there are success stories about how the MDGs have been achieved, these are not often the stories told by the world’s poorest and most marginalised. Development interventions can often have unintended consequences: a village built to house indigenous people in Mexico sits abandoned because of the poor quality structures and the lack of viable livelihoods.

The poorest and most marginalised people have not been reached because of prevailing inequalities, including economic inequality (the lack of sufficient income), geographic inequality (many live in precarious conditions without land rights) and identity-based inequality (for example, gender-based discrimination is pervasive).

These become entrenched in the lives of people living in poverty – and they mean that simple and one-dimensional solutions are inadequate. For example, in Ghana, providing places in school is of little use if children cannot attend because they spend much of their day walking ever-greater distances to get water due to drought.

GCRN community meeting

Participatory Research in Ghana: People come together to discuss the issues that affect their lives and build plans to change their situation

The experience of poverty is also shaped by social norms and relationships of power that limit access to rights and services. For example, ‘city-makers’ in Chennai, India live on the streets, and are often unable to access services or their rights because they cannot secure formal identification. They are further discriminated against because they come from scheduled castes—making it more difficult for them to access dignified work or stable housing.

In order to understand how people have been left behind by the MDG approach, we need to understand what prevents people from making the changes that they are calling for, and how they think that these obstacles can be overcome. Research carried out by the Participate network in 29 countries shows that future development processes need a different approach in order really to reach those who are most often excluded. This vision for global development provides an important reality-check, and is based on the following:

  • Rights and recognition for all. Rights are foundational for recognition and dignity. Being treated with respect by family members, public officials and representatives of the state, and wider society helps people see themselves as citizens. As citizens, they are able to act to demand greater fairness and access to the resources they need.
  • Inclusion, solidarity, collective action. The most marginalised people experience discrimination within their families, in their communities and their wider society. Collective action is needed to address these problems, and that requires us to address the barriers that stop people coming together to mobilise effectively.
  • Participation, accountability, democratic institutions. Institutions that are democratic and accountable will respond to the demands of the poorest and most marginalised, and participatory approaches to decision-making can help ensure this happens.
  • Services and policies that respond to the needs of the poorest. Services and policies that effectively respond to the needs of the poorest people are holistic, long-term and have a focus on quality. Dignified livelihoods are a necessary element of their success.

It is not yet clear what the new global development framework will look like, and therefore it is even less clear how the perspectives, voices and decisions of those most affected by poverty and exclusion will be included in the process. The current paradigms of development aid are breaking down, and the emerging framework could set out new parameters that put people at its centre and give them a real say in the decisions that affect them.

Meaningful participation needs to start now while the framework is being set – and continue throughout the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages. Without this, the post-2015 process will become just another top-down example of UN member states failing to address the most pressing problems of our time.

Joanna Wheeler is a research fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and co-director of the Participate Initiative

Read other recent blogs about Participate:

Searching for dialogues: Convergences and divergences around the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 global development agenda


Carlos Cortezpicture of Carlos Cortez

This post previously appeared on the Participate blog and is also available in SpanishSubscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

The dialogue initiated in September at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is central to the ongoing debate around the construction of a future global development model and its impacts. In particular, discussions centred around the role that the current development model has in perpetuating global poverty and exclusion. In this vein, the UNGA was a space for identifying the existing opportunities as well as the difficulties for opening up a truthful dialogue amongst the diverse actors looking for alternatives.

The Participate initiative and the global campaign Beyond 2015 took the opportunity to engage more with these ongoing dialogues and to present the findings of the research carried out by the 18 partner organisations of Participate.

I believe that with these activities, we advanced towards the goal of bringing the voices of the poorest and most marginalised into the post-2015 global decision-making processes. However, this engagement also confronted us with the difficulties around the advocacy process, particularly the government representatives.

The concerns, ideas and proposals made by various organisations, including Participate’s findings, proved that there are converging issues being raised. However, I could observe notable divergences in the way the emerging problems and challenges are being understood. Worth giving a special mention is the concern around the poverty, exclusion, and lack of rights that a considerable part of the global population endure; as well as the recognition that until now the actions undertaken to eradicate these issues have been limited; to say the least.

The convergent issues

  • Bring to an end the charitable approach to development and demand a focus on rights promotion and protection, and justice for the people living in poverty. Indeed many called for a ‘rights based approach to development’.
  • Recognise that the participation of the poorest and most excluded in decision-making processes, from the local to the global level, constitutes an essential condition to overcome their hardship.
  • Insist in not separating the problem of increasing poverty from increasing inequality, and a call for urgent structural changes to the global economic and financial systems. This was indeed, one of the most critical demands.

The discourse and proposals put forward by the global civil society largely coincide with those of some international organisations. In this sense, NGOs and civil society coalitions presented their proposals framed under side events organised by UN agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, OHCHR; organisms that largely coincide with civil society’s discourse and some core proposals towards the definition of a post-2015 agenda. However, this was not the case for the vast majority of the governments. Their limited presence and lack of disposition for opening spaces for dialogue with civil society made evident the fact that the lack of success of many poverty reduction programmes are largely a result of intermingled politics rather than bad planning. Hence, envisaging substantial changes to the current governmental lens of what is needed from the new post-2015 development agenda seems like a huge challenge.

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

In this sense, Participate demonstrated the possibility and importance of bringing the voices, concerns and experiences of the most excluded to the global decision-making spaces. Through an interactive exhibition, the production of a documentary and a panel discussion around our synthesis report, we have shown the value of conducting and promoting participatory action research processes. Processes in which, through innovative and traditional techniques and methods, participants have been able to voice their ideas on how to tackle their problems and what they expect from decision makers. The diversity of materials and outputs have also raised the sensibility and conscience of what is needed in order to face one of the most important challenges for our society in the forthcoming years.

Let’s trust that we will be able to advance on the dialogue and the actions needed to end poverty and marginalisation. Let’s trust that governments, international organisations, the private sector, the civil society and all citizens work together to achieve change.

Carlos Cortez is a member of the Participate research group network from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco in Mexico.

Read other recent blogs about Participate: