Seeing the world through a different lens

14/08/2014

Danny Burns2 photo miniDanny Burns

The Secretary-General of the United Nations was expected to publish his report to the General Assembly on the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda on 12 August. How much of his insight will have been informed by listening to the voices of the poorest and most marginalised?  Participate partners have been critically reflecting  on the participatory methods they have employed in attempts to shift power in policy making.  One such approach, the Participate Ground Level Panels (GLPs) created a participative space for people living in poverty and marginalisation to deliberate what is needed from the post-2015 global policy process.

 In 2013, Participate partners hosted three deliberative meetings between those living poverty and those with political authority through Ground Level Panels (GLPs). The idea for a GLP aimed to provide a mirror to the deliberations of the United Nations (UN) High Level Panel (HLP) but from people who lived in extreme poverty or marginalisation.

The Ground Level Panels took place in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India. Each panel comprised a group of 10-14 people with diverse and intersecting identities including urban slum dwellers; disabled people; sexual minorities; people living in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas; people living in geographically isolated communities; nomadic and indigenous people; older people; internally displaced people; and young people. Each panel created relationships, shared experiences, connected the local level to the national and international development contexts and provided a critical review and reality check on the five transformative shifts as outlined by the UN High Level Panel.

The GLPs saw the world through a different lens to the HLP. The people in the Panels understood the dynamics of change facing people living in poverty and this gave them the ability to say if these policies were meaningful. While economic growth is an unchallenged assumption in the HLP for the Brazilian GLP it was seen as part of the ‘death plan’. For the Brazilians the critical issue is not ‘poverty’ per se, but ‘misery’ and ‘dignity’. While the HLP focused on service provision, the Indian Panel’s desired goals largely focus on social norms, behaviour 
and discrimination.

There were some common themes which emerged in all of the Panels. People want to feel that they have meaningful control over the influences that impact their lives. In all cases structures for equal participation were highlighted as foundational. In almost all of the Panels there was a recurring theme of ‘self management’. People don’t want aid. They want the means to generate and sustain their own livelihoods. So if we are serious about moving ‘beyond aid’ in the new development agenda then empowerment must become the priority.

One thing that struck me was the difference in composition of the HLP and the GLPs. The HLP was made up of people largely from an elite political class. There was the odd member of royalty and a few interesting academics thrown in, but by and large they were high ranking politicians. There was very little diversity in the group, and the interests were narrow. The GLPs on the other hand were highly diverse. Slum dwellers sitting side by side with pastoralists, transgender people, and people living in refugee camps … It is easy to stereotype people as ‘poor’and see them as a huge sprawling undifferentiated ‘category’, but they bring far more diversity than people who hold power.

What defines the success of a Ground Level Panel? Is it the response of the national government or within the UN process, or is it also influence on policy at the local levels? For Natalie Newell who led the GLP in Uganda on behalf of Restless Development, the experience demonstrated the importance of the local level. 
”It is important to be clear with all involved about what can realistically be achieved from the GLP process. This includes considering the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and what it can add to the policy debate. From the perspectives of those that participated in the Uganda process, the changes at the community level and for them as people were an important success.”

Listen to Nava and Richard’s reflections on the Uganda Ground Level Panel.

Read more about the Ground Level Panels in Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence.’

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter at: @dannyburns2

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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.

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The Sustainable Development Goals for post-2015: Economic Development or a Guarantee of Rights?

27/03/2014

Carlos Cortez Ruizpicture of Carlos Cortez

Earlier this month, the Participate initiative co-hosted its ‘Work with Us’ exhibition at the headquarters of UN in New York in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations. The exhibition coincided with two important events in the post-2015 calendar; the ninth meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the President of United Nations General Assembly (PGA) debate on the Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post‐2015 Development Agenda. During the same week, Participate Co-Director Danny Burns and myself met with members of the Open Working Group, including some of the UN Permanent Representatives.

These meetings were a good opportunity to present Participate’s research results; to further understand the complex process underpinning the Post 2015 agenda; and to gain some insight into the different positions and opinions on what should be included. We also discussed the serious limitations to getting the voices and perspectives of the most excluded and poorest heard in the global debate.

Different perspectives on poverty
The positions and proposals on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), expressed in the discourse and in the concepts used by some of the OWG members, show different perspectives on poverty, their causes and on the way to face the situation in the future. While some consider economic development to be the answer to reducing poverty, there are a few who see that the struggle against poverty and exclusion requires the guarantee of rights and a more complex perspective that includes cultural and social issues.

There are also differences between those who maintain that that the road beyond 2015 must continue towards realising the MDGs, and those whose consider the debate on the SDGs as an opportunity to have a deeper reflection on the general agenda – one which includes an open, participatory process from the definition to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. Other differences appear to be between the pragmatic perspectives of those that want to define objectives and indicators and those who want to embed the rights of the poorest and more excluded social groups in new institutional and social approaches.

A lot more work to do
As members of Participate, we spoke of the impact of cultural and social norms on the existence of poverty and exclusion and the need for a different approach to deal with them. The differences between those who are more receptive and active around these issues and those that weren’t were clear.

For now it looks as though the proposal will be based on economic issues, with a group of targets similar to the MDGs. If the final document is to include the guarantee of rights, gender equality and the active participation of the poorest and accountability, we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Dr Carlos Cortez works for the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Xochimilco (UAM), Mexico. He is also a member of Participate’s Participatory Research Group (PRG).

Read other recent blogs about Participate:


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:


IDS pays tribute to Nigerian researchers lost in tragic car accident

17/02/2014
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.

Top PPSC blog posts in 2013

28/12/2013

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

As we’re approaching the end of 2013 I would like to use the opportunity to highlight the top ten posts of the Participation, Power and Social Change blog, as well as some other interesting posts, that you might have missed.

This year we had an interesting array of posts providing commentary on events around the world, such as political change in Egypt, riots in Brazil, tragedies and revolts in Bangladesh, as well as presentations of outputs from some of our main research programmes and initiatives. Bloggers included researchers from the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change team, some of our partners, working with us on a variety of projects and some students associated with the team through our MA course in Participation, Power and Social Change and through our PhD programme.

Welcome to all those that joined our follower-list in 2013. We now have over 450 people following our blog and compared to 2012, we have more than doubled our views, which is excellent news. We hope you have found our posts interesting and even enjoyable. Please feel free to invite others to join our follower-group and find out what we’re up to.

Top 10 blog posts:

1. Participation for Development: Why is this a good time to be alive? By Robert Chambers

2. Bangladesh: Rana Plaza is a parable of globalisation by Naomi Hossain

3. From making us cry to making us act: five ways of communicating ‘development’ in Europe by Maria Cascant

4. The Marriage Trap: the pleasures and perils of same-sex equality by Stephen Wood

5. Bangladesh is revolting, again by Naomi Hossain

6. Storytelling in Development Practice by Hamsini Ravi

7. Missing the pulse of Egypt’s citizens? by Mariz Tadros

8. I’m (still) hungry, mum: the return of Care by Naomi Hossain

9. The crisis of Brazilian democracy, as seen from Mozambique by Alex Shankland

10. Heteronormativity: why demystifying development’s unspoken assumptions benefits us all by Stephen Wood

Other interesting blogs that you might have missed:

To give a different nuance to our commentary and research, we’ve also introduced some visual blog posts this year, showing videos, photographs and cartoons. Have a look:

Finally, on behalf of the Power, Participation and Social Change Team at IDS, we wish all our readers happy holidays (if you’re celebrating) and a good start into 2014. We will be back with more blog posts in early January.

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


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: