Challenges and Risks of Participation

By its nature, a process of this type faces several challenges and risks. Although it may be carefully structured, the process represents an attempt to catalyze civil society's own response so that it will

21. In Guyana, consultations were used as an adjunct to the task force approach. After the first draft was completed, it was taken to many towns and villages throughout the country, usually by the Minister of Finance himself, to solicit comments.

take on a more active role in national dialogs on development policies. Therefore, it cannot be predicted with any confidence where the process will end up. This simple, but basic, fact should be recognized explicitly at the outset.

Some principal challenges faced in participatory policy processes are summarized in the following paragraphs. Associated with each challenge is the risk that the challenge will not be successfully met.

(1) The first challenge is to motivate a sufficient number of leading farmers and ranchers to commit themselves to the process and dedicate the time required to bring it to a successful conclusion. Since both agricultural entrepreneurs and peasant farmers have many claims on their time, it is not easy to satisfy this requirement. In some circumstances, an additional factor that can complicate the challenge is a prevailing attitude of cynicism about the prospects of being able to effect true reforms in the policy framework. On the other hand, if the rural sector is experiencing a deep economic crisis, that circumstance alone may motivate people to try their hand at reforming policies through a participatory process.

(2) The second challenge, especially relevant for agricultural and rural strategies, is to reach beyond the group of persons who reside in the capital city and attain a degree of geographical representativeness in the participation.22 The logistics of this challenge can be difficult in large countries and countries with poor communications and transport networks. Usually, it is necessary to pay transportation and lodging expenses for low-income persons who travel long distances to participate in the effort. In Mozambique, the members of Agenda 2025 visited almost all of the more than 100 districts in the country to explain the effort, often traveling by small plane and small boat, and sometimes on horseback.

(3) The third challenge is to overcome schisms that may be present in the participating group for reasons of political partisanship or socioeconomic differences, in order to be able to put together a consensus position that has the implicit support of all or most major groupings in rural society. Partisan differences may bring with them ideological discrepancies with regard to the role of the government in the economy and other basic issues, and so it may not be an easy task to overcome these differences and foster a true consensus on policy reforms. However, if a consensus can be achieved, it may represent a solid foundation for sustained co-operation on policy issues in the future.

(4) The fourth challenge is to create an environment in which civil society representatives jointly go forward to lobby for sound economic policies that will benefit the entire sector, instead of promoting narrow personal or sectarian interests. A fundamental reason for the success of a producers' group in Honduras, in developing a package of reform legislation, was their early agreement to propose uniform, sector-wide policies, setting aside their previous tendency to negotiate special privileges with the government of the day.23 This is a basic issue of quality control for an effort of developing a strategy. The importance of a methodology for ensuring quality control of a participatory strategy was highlighted in the African context by Bodo Immink and Macaulay Olagoke, who put it in the form of

22. 'In national processes, such as the design of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the government generally engages with organized civil society groups in the capital or major urban areas. However, national level civic engagement can also allow the government to reach a wider range of stakeholders and initiate a dialogue with smaller civil society organizations such as farmers associations, cooperatives, unions, chambers of commerce, women's groups. . . .' (S. Tikare et al, 2001, p. 14).

23. This group now is known by the acronym CONPPAH and, twelve years after initiating their successful effort they still were playing a significant role in national policy deliberations.

a question, 'How do we ensure quality without being unparticipatory?'.24

(5) The fifth challenge is to avoid creating a parallel process of dialog that may weaken existing channels of communication and social processes rather than strengthen them (S. Tikare et al, 2001, p. 26).

(6) The sixth challenge is to avoid premature publicity about the participatory work in its drafting stage. A proposed strategy needs to go through various drafts before it is mature, and the process of forging a consensus among the participants takes time. Although some publicity about the process can be useful, to help keep the public informed, premature publicity about the content of the strategy runs the risk of becoming a 'lightning rod' for sharp, sometimes partisan, criticisms of the tentative policy formulations, even in the national press. The danger is that such criticism early in the effort could fracture the emerging consensus among participants and even derail the entire effort. At a later stage in the process, wide publicity is essential in order to promote a national dialog about the policy recommendations, but if exposure comes before the participatory group coheres well, the effort can be undone.

A necessary condition for meeting this challenge is to create an atmosphere of mutual confidence among the participants and between them and the advisors. However, it is not a sufficient condition, because the work can be affected by currents and events beyond the control of the strategy effort and of the producers.

(7) The seventh challenge is to gain acceptance for the principal policy recommendations from the government of the day, or the next government if elections are due relatively soon. The possibilities of success of the program in this sense can be increased by two factors: (a) achievement of a true consensus among the majority of the participating farmers or members of civil society, independently of their personal political affiliations, and (b) receiving support for the consensus on the part of international development agencies when recommendations are presented to the government. It has to be anticipated that this challenge will be a difficult one:

The biggest single constraint and challenge to the [World] Bank's ability to pursue participation across all its operation is [lack of] government commitment.25

The nature of some of these challenges has been summarized by David Brown and Rajesh Tandon in the following words:

The presence of a serious problem that does not respond to orthodox solutions can indicate an opportunity for collaborative strategies. Collaboration offers the opportunity to mobilize several resources of many different actors, for example, it can increase the stock of information and ideas. .. . [However, collaboration] requires bringing together persons with diverse interests, information, resources and power. Since collaboration means influencing each other mutually, these differences imply that there always exists the possibility of conflicts over objectives and means. . . .26

On the other hand, meeting these challenges successfully endows a private sector or civil society with a substantially enhanced capacity for playing a role in national policy dialogs and for making significant contributions to them.

24. Bodo Immink and Macaulay Olagoke (Eds), Participatory Approaches in Africa: Concepts, Experiences and Challenges, Proceedings of the Exchange Forum for Practitioners of Participatory Development Approaches in Africa, Uganda Catholic Social Training Center, Kampala, Uganda, July 1997, p. 6.

26. L. David Brown and Rajesh Tandon, 'Multiparty Cooperation for Development in Asia', IDR Reports, Institute for Development Research, Boston, MA, USA, 1992, p. 30.

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