Top PPSC blog posts in 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.


MA course on Participation, Power and Social Change: ‘It changes People’s Lives’


Rosalind Eyben

‘What’s special about MAP?’ I asked, bursting into Patta’s office, ‘I promised Rosie, I would blog about it today.’ 

‘It changes people’s lives’, came my colleague’s prompt answer, as she smiled at me before returning to her email I had so impetuously interrupted her from sending.

MAP – aka the MA in Participation, Power and Social Change that Rosie (McGee) currently convenes. The first week of the course, we ask the ‘Mappers’ to each draw a river of life, marking the key stepping stones that have brought them here to IDS. As the semester flows on, they find themselves taking a critical look at their professional practice.

‘I’m sure it comes as little surprise to you’ emailed a Mapper I supervised a few years ago, ‘that this course has the effect of making students seriously evaluate how they work. For me, this has included some reflection on where I’m working, and what I’m working on.’ 

The course is designed to enhance reflective practice: using critical and creative methods to develop self-awareness of our own power, identities and worldviews and how these shape our perceptions and actions.

‘MAP stirs you up’ a student said to me. ‘It has been one of the most exciting things about learning at IDS.’

Some time ago. a Mapper – a social marketing consultant – asked past students what they most liked about the course, summing up their answers as:  

  • The mix, or balance of theory and practice – we get a solid grounding in theory and the opportunity to put our learning into practice
  • Our experience and thinking matters to this MA
  • We get a lot out of IDS, in terms of personalised support from staff and access to resources
  • We get a lot out of each other – we feel part of a team, a community of support and practice

When asked who they would recommend MAP to, MAP is considered ‘ideal’ for everyone from natural scientists to business professionals to people with a development background; for people with a couple of years’ experience to people with 10 years experience.

Perhaps more telling is the range of ways they have grappled with participation, power and social change in their professional practice that lead them to this MA. MAP students work all over the world. And not just in the ‘South’. We have also had community development practitioners, social workers, even a politician, working for social change in their own organisations and communities in North America or Europe.  

I hadn’t stayed to ask Patta whose lives she was referring to. She may have been thinking of the lives of the people Mappers meet during their 4-month period of action research and work-based learning in an organisation of their choice in the third term. – and also all those they work with after graduating, including when, as is often the case, their career follows a new pathway. After graduating, Mappers work to further development within particular communities; to support groups and causes often marginalized by those in power; to build agency and capacity among communities; to support participation in national and local policy processes; in civil society organisations, local and international NGOs, faith based organizations, media and communications, international development organizations and consulting firms.

Perhaps Patta was thinking also of another change? She is one of several IDS researchers and teachers, including Rosie and me, involved one way or the other with the course since its inception in 2004. My involvement with MAP has been something I have most enjoyed about working at IDS. I have been challenged in my assumptions, impelled to clarify my thinking, stimulated to reflect critically on my own practice and to experiment with new ways of learning (and teaching). MAP has certainly changed my life. Perhaps it might change yours?

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and her Twitter account is: @rosalindeyben

Previous blog posts by Rosalind Eyben:

Read a previous blog post by a MAP student:

What were the PPSC blog’s Top 10 posts of 2012?


Stephen_Wood200Stephen Wood

On behalf of the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team, I’d like to welcome back our readers to what we hope proves to be a fascinating year for our blog. Reflecting the outputs from several research projects and a number of pressing global debates and issues we are engaged in, the PPSC research team have some really interesting pieces in the pipeline in the next few months.  I hope you’ll continue to read and engage with the debates and discussion that arise from our articles.

However, in case you missed some of our blogs last year, I thought you might like to look at our Top 10 most popular pieces, as well as some of our articles that you might have missed! Please do share these with your networks, add comments if you haven’t already and as always, encourage others to subscribe to the blog!

Top 10 blog posts of 2012:

  1. “Just do women’s empowerment”  by Naomi Hossain
  2. “On having Voice and Being Heard: Participation in the Post-2015 Policy Process”  by Elizabeth Mills
  3. “Spring uprisings calling spring academics: #bring books out to the streets” by Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere
  4. “Global development: the new buzzword?” by Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere and Alex Kelbert
  5. “Eleven predictions for Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood (if they continue to remain in power” by Mariz Tadros
  6. “Post 2015: What do policymakers know about poverty?” by Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns
  7. “No gong for Cameron’s Hunger Summit” by Naomi Hossain
  8. “Challenging attempts to silence civil society in Uganda” by Stephen Wood
  9. “Are we ready for an ‘academic spring’?” by Danny Burns
  10. “Digital activism in post-revolution Egypt: How relevant is online dissidence in the marathon for democracy?” by Hani Morsi

Excellent blog posts you might have missed in 2012:

Stephen Wood is a researcher on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

Read other recent blogs by Stephen Wood:

States of Exception, A Tragedy in Unceasing Acts: Development Encounters


Patta Scott-VilliersPatta Scott-Villiers 2013

All names have been changed.

My bare feet are enjoying the soft carpet. Today in Istanbul I am a tourist with time to think, an outsider pampered and lightly fleeced by traders. The carpet of the Rustan Pasha mosque is the colour of the best pink guavas, and the arches and domes are tiled with twining blue-green iznic leaves, tendrils, tulips and pomegranates. Arabic script runs around the wall. I hear the sounds of the call to prayer; there is no God but God.

I’m thinking of Adala and Khatib in the West Bank, Haq, Ustaz, Sira and all of that lot in Gaza. How differently they are reacting to the occupation. And Rachel in Israel, wanting the occupation lifted, discarding ideas one after the other. What a muddle. What excellent people. Adala is a lawyer and Khatib an accountant, they live in a neat village clustered on a hillside in the Jordan valley in the shadow of a tall concrete wall topped with razor wire. Haq is a burly human rights activist in Gaza City. Some years ago, exhausted by the rejection of his eloquence against cases of abuse, he started a youth centre. I can imagine how the young people, blockaded into that strange strip of land, love his witty jokes and enormous smile. He seems to know everyone of any consequence in the sprawling claustrophobic city, among them Ustaz with his round glasses and wide open eyes. Ustaz teaches at one of Gaza’s many universities, leading his students in an enthusiastic tumble of online protest. Haq and Ustaz haven’t met Adala and Khatib face to face. That was the idea, but it didn’t work out. It was brewed up by Oxfam, an aid agency whose people devise a never-ending series of interventions in places like this. Oxfam invited all of us to research new ways of seeing the war, and then found that only I, an Englishwoman and a few of their privileged Palestinian and Israeli workers could get across all the borders and wires and security cordons that crisscross the Palestinian territories.

As I look around the Istanbul mosque, at the dome and its beguiling patterns, the arches and friezes and grace of it all, I think the people who built this place and those who built my culture have a common ethical root. We ought to be able to agree. But of course, I don’t really know which root and whether. After a while I get up, embarrassed. How can someone who isn’t, contemplate in somewhere that is, unless it’s a misunderstanding or an imposition? The proper congregation move in and out. I have a wish to talk, to resolve our differences.

Outside on the loggia I cross the worn marble paving and sit on the lower step of a stone staircase that runs up against the outer arcade of the courtyard. I’m with my sister in law and her husband on a weekend trip to Istanbul. I’m on my way home from Palestine, They came here on a cheap flight from England. We chat and read out passages from a book about Ottoman intrigues. There’s a fold-up awning and pots of sage and geraniums stamped with the moniker of the town council. A man in grey approaches. ‘Good afternoon, how are you? How are you enjoying Istanbul?’ ‘Wonderful,’ we reply. ‘You are lucky with the warm day, it will rain tomorrow. Can I get by? I am going up to my office.’ I want to discuss ethics and history with him, but he ushers us off. I wonder who he is. The imam perhaps, if he has an office here. Is his weather forecast mystical or meteorological? I think of stern teachers raging from pulpits.

Two days ago I was in Jerusalem, with half a day before my flight. I’d finished all my meetings in Palestine and would meet Rachel in the evening to talk the Israeli side of the research. I tumbled by chance into an Ethiopian orthodox church, two chambers painted with rusted golden stars hollowed from the root ball of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I sat there for a while, this time on a wooden chair. I put money into a wooden plate and the priest nodded. I wanted to talk to him too, about centuries of agreement and disagreement about religious details, territory and trade, but no language. How can someone who isn’t, contemplate in somewhere that is? I invade, I retreat, leaving a faint trail of idealism.

I had supper with Rachel in the city vegetable market, the stalls shut up for the night and the arcades reoccupied by young Israelis eating and listening to music. She is a university teacher like me, an Israeli who wants change. She said, ‘I so wanted to be able to work with the Palestinians in the West Bank. I wanted just to be able to hear what they have to say. But they refused. Told us to keep out of their struggle and get on with our own.’ She and I were trying to work out what to do next. We knew now that we couldn’t all research together, Palestinians and Israelis in a happy little collaboration that breaks the wall in some cheerful subversive way. Round the corner drifted a violin playing a mix of Jewish wedding and Arab oasis dances. She had just come from her grandfather’s funeral, days and days in his house with waves of relatives, friends and comrades of the Zionist pioneer. How does the colonialist make amends? It seems all we do is compound history.

Three days ago I was in Gaza. Haq on the ragged seafront was explaining, ‘we are being paid by the US, the EU and Israel to die slowly.’ And then he laughed. The air conditioner was throwing out cold air, the sea lapped on the beach, the peaches from Israel had been banned by Hamas. Ustaz said, ‘at least we are very well educated.’ Sira tapped at her blackberry. She said, ‘I met a woman at the graveyard. She told me how she brought the body of her father on her back. No one helped her. I wrote a blog about it. Sometimes my blog is sad, but a lot of it is normal happy life. People who comment say they can’t believe that we have normal life in Gaza under the blockade. They think I am lying.’ The conversation lilted around, it had arches and arcades, friezes of Arabic scripts and tiled sections of twining leaves, tulips and pomegranates. The talk was of politics, fruit and every day insults twined together. Their laughter had the rich undertones of suffering.

And before that I was in Ramallah in Palestine’s West Bank. Ramallah is a limestone city, its hills crammed with new ministries and apartments. My colleague Mismaa and I were driving across town to her apartment. ‘American and European aid money built these,’ she told me. The citizens strike and demonstrate and the Palestinian Authority pays itself and backpedals. I suppose the money confuses, tempts and enrages people while the West Bank is quietly engulfed by Israel’s hungry settlements. Mismaa is studying with me in UK, and I had asked her to help me lead the research project in her homeland. Mismaa’s husband, back from work, fed us on chicken and pitta. We were playing with the idea of some revolutionary Palestinian-Israeli reframing of the terms of the questions about Palestine. We looked at each other. Mismaa will never give up, she can’t. She just isn’t like that.

Driving to Bethlehem to meet Adala and Khatib, a circuitous route around the orange-lit settlements that are creeping outwards from the tops of hills and ridges, my companions pointed out the olive groves unpicked, dessicating under the lengthening shadow of slabs of concrete and snaking razor wire; mazes of encircling wall and watchtowers watched both ways by teenagers. I saw some Bedouin huddled on a stony hillside in what looked like cardboard boxes. Mismaa told me their villages are unrecognised, so they have no electricity. Unrecognised by whom? Everyone I supposed.

Back in Ramallah, in a hotel near the Ministry of Interior, Mismaa and I met Adala and Khatib again. Adala the lawyer swept into the room. ‘Hello, hello.’ She has a lovely gravelly voice. Her headscarf is a platform for a pair of immense black sunglasses. She said ‘we have been with young people and civil leaders. They were all very cooperative, but they didn’t want to be filmed. Almost everyone we met said that Palestinians shouldn’t be collaborating with Israeli organisations and Oxfam shouldn’t encourage it. Everyone said that this kind of charity only helps the occupation.’ I heard her getting more absolute with every sentence. It is the inexorable nature of occupation, I thought. It builds rickety soapboxes. Adala is my heroine and nemesis, leading a tragic struggle against decades of steely occupation. My nemesis, because we will never agree what it is best to do. Rabeh and Khatib nodded their heads, brown eyes unblinking, adding detail from different villages under the wall.

I asked, in my researchy way, if the statements were accurate. ‘If they are and you can prove it, perhaps you can argue for a change in the way aid is done in Palestine. Something beyond this resignation… But are you putting words into the mouths of your compatriots? Do you have enough different people saying this? Is it only your friends you are speaking to?” Adala gave me a withering look. She talked over me to the others. Her black eyes were sparkling, her acolytes agreeing, insisting. ‘The Israelis should not be trying to help us while occupying us,’ she argued. She faced me. ‘You want us to reconcile with Israel don’t you?’ Then she added, ‘I am not saying you should leave. But you should listen.’ ‘No, no,’ I said, ‘I don’t want you to reconcile…, but, but…,’ I turned my palms up to the ceiling ‘I just want you to be accurate.’ She was right, of course. I get exasperated when I listen to her, so quite a lot of the time I don’t.

Adala and her friends, Haq and his friends are states of exception in their different parts of Palestine. It’s the bitter-real idea of Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher who at one point studied the Nazi concentration camps. He shows how the state makes an exception of certain categories of people, and renders them into an existence that is barely alive, just in order to make itself sovereign. Rachel and I are not states of exception. We are not being dissipated and twisted by those that would rid themselves of us. Rachel once was of course, or her family were. You may ask questions of Adala, and her replies will sound repetitious and distant. She is somewhere beyond you, out in a territory of loss. A place of ghosts. I couldn’t think of anything useful to say to her.

The chorus in Gaza reached a rhythm. ‘See how we are turning on each other, blaming each other! See how we could be once again alive and happy!’ Haq makes us laugh. Not just Haq, we all make one another laugh. They are so elegant and urbane. Adala the tragic queen, barks at them, ‘you normalise and we lose everything!’ If they were face to face, which they are not since she is in the West Bank and the chorus is in Gaza and they are not allowed to meet, Haq’s laughter might work on her, or her fury might work on him.

Adala fixed her black eyes on me and talked again. I said ‘yes, yes,’ but I didn’t mean it and she knew it. I meant ‘stop talking!’ Neither she nor I stopped talking. We clashed on the field of the gorgon, the state of exception outside the walls of the promised land. The gorgon is the war, busy making good out of this divisive state of affairs, yes. We let the gorgon come. We could think of no way to avoid it. Our idealisms locked horns. She the occidentalist and I the orientalist. The Gazans turned back to their coffee and cigarettes, their stories and laughter curling up into the dome of the breezy sky. And I returned to my thoughts in the Rustan Pasha mosque, then made my way through Istanbul’s crowded streets under the aching beauty of its minarets.

Patta Scott-Villiers is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Reflecting back upon the PPSC team’s activities in 2011


Danny Burns

As 2012 begins, I want to take this opportunity to wish you a happy (and stress free) New Year. In this blog I want to talk offer a few flavours of things that members of the team have been working on; others you will see from recent contributions to the blog; more will follow over the next weeks…

An increasing area of interest for development actors at all levels, from grassroots movements to major donors, is how to better understand the complex, shifting and multi-layered social and political environments in which development and change occur. Many organisations are searching for more relevant tools of context analysis. Jethro Pettit and others have been working on new tools for power and political economy analysis. Popular frameworks like the Powercube (developed by John Gaventa) are being adapted and combined with other approaches. Recent learning partnerships on power have included Oxfam, Novib, Hivos, Christian Aid, the Swedish Cooperative Centre, and Trocaire. Work has also been carried out within the UK voluntary and philanthropic sector with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,  Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and the Carnegie UK Trust, Trust for London. This work has included three, year-long action learning processes with dozens of participants from these foundations and more than 20 of their partner organisations Training modules on power have adapted into Spanish and French and facilitated by IDS staff in universities and workshops in Spain, West Africa and Latin America.

The team’s work around “unruly politics” has been growing steadily through the “Summer of Unruly Reading” group facilitated by Akshay Khanna. We have been building a collective conceptual analysis within the team, and growing a work programme with Hivos and their partners.  We have also been building connections with people in the Occupy movement. Mariz Tadros continues to be closely engaged with the emerging situation in Egypt and other parts of North Africa.

PPSC has been contracted to engage in a number of new programmes this year. These include:

  • a three year programme on gender and sexuality funded by SIDA (Sweden)
  • a three year programme with SDC (Switzerland) – on participatory methodologies and developing the resource centre as a hub for materials on participatory methodologies
  • a three year programme with SDC working with the IDS Governance team to support the work of their Decentralisation and Local Governance Network
  • an extension of Gates Foundation funding for our Community Led Total Sanitation Hub

The PPSC team played a major role in designing and delivering the Bellagio initiative on the future of international development and philanthropy in pursuit of human well being which comprised a series of global dialogues, commissioned papers and a major international summit. PPSC fellows – Danny Burns (Delhi and Kinna, Kenya), Patta Scott-Villiers (Kinna, Kenya), Alex Shankland (Sao Paulo) and Mariz Tadros (Cairo) – facilitated four of the global dialogues. Georgina Powell Stevens co-ordinated the summit participation of around 200 participants. In June of this year Alex Shankland and I, will be facilitating another Bellagio conference on Indigenous health with colleagues from KIT (Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam).

Rosemary McGee has recently carried out a major review of accountability and transparency initiatives with John Gaventa. Naomi Hossain continues her longitudinal work with Oxfam and others on food price volatility; Joanna Wheeler, Peter Clarke and I are working on a six country action research programme with VSO and the international volunteering network FORUM on the impact of volunteering on poverty; Joanna Wheeler and Tessa Lewin have been working on a range of participatory video initiatives; Marzia Fontana has been working with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Lao PDR on a project which has brought Lao-based women’s groups and international organisations into dialogue with each other. Rosalind Eyben has been organising The Big Push Forward – an international initiative that links practitioners and researchers to identify and share strategies and approaches for fair assessment and evaluation. Patta Scott Villiers is leading a programme of action research in Karamoja Northern Uganda funded by Irish Aid. Alex Shankland is opening up new areas of work on the role of emerging powers in reshaping development especially through civil society.

Pathways to Women‘s Empowerment in the Middle East hosted a UN Women organized conference on “Pathways for Women in Democratic Transitions: International Experiences and Lessons Learned” in Cairo. The meeting featured Michele Bachelet and others discussing legal reform, women’s movements and gender-responsive accountability systems. Mariz Tadros was a speaker on the panel “Building Strong Women’s Movements in Democratic Transitions”.

The team has recently published a number of IDS Working Papers and Bulletins and will publish a bulletin on Action Research in International Development this spring.

Finally I want to say a huge thank you and good luck to John Gaventa and Kate Hawkins. John has been an inspiration to the PPSC team for more than a decade. He has joined the Coady Institute in Canada as their new Director. Kate Hawkins our sexuality programme convenor who has initiated and developed a great deal of exciting work within the team will be leaving IDS (but will continue to work with us as a free lancer). I would also like to welcome to the team Research Fellow Jerker Edstrom and Jas Vaghadia who will be working on our gender, masculinities and sexuality programmes. Welcome also to Naomi Vernon who is joining our CLTS team.

As I say, just a few flavours of the many different things that are happening. If you want to find out more, follow the links, or contact us directly.

Danny Burns is the Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and will be publishing IDS Bulletin 43.3 ”Action Research in Development” in May 2012