Each participatory process of strategy formulation will arise out of its own context and will have its own characteristics. The comments below reflect a preliminary assessment of some central issues and lessons that have been extracted from experiences with participatory strategy processes, but different issues may emerge in other contexts, and the lessons will have to be adapted to each situation. The comments here are offered to assist practitioners in anticipating issues and possible avenues of solution, without pretending to offer comprehensive or definitive recipes.
A principal objective of participatory processes is to engender a sense of ownership of the product(s) on the part of the participants. In good measure, achieving this objective depends on how the process is carried out, on how fully involved the participants are. In some circumstances, it can also depend on how the process is initiated or, more precisely, who initiates it.
In many cases, the sponsor of a strategy-building exercise will be the government which, in the end, will be responsible for the bulk of the effort of implementing the policies in the strategy. However, in some political contexts members of civil society may feel that, by participating in a strategic exercise convened by the government, they could be co-opted into agreement with official positions on issues, and hence they may be reluctant to participate under those terms. This reaction is likely to be greater the sharper are the political schisms within the society and the closer are the next national elections. The seriousness of this risk has been underscored by recent experience in Uganda, where the government has been unusually supportive of participatory approaches:
Participation of civil society organizations in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper process, should not, however, been seen as an isolated event. Indeed over the last five years, the Government of Uganda has made an effort to involve the civil society organizations in policy planning and implementation of programs. . .. However, the lack of a clear framework for participatory planning between government and civil society is a cause of concern that depicts civil society organizations as clients of Government.11
Ideally, a partnership between government and civil society is needed, not least because the leading topical experts in a country can be found both within government ranks and outside them. The sharing of responsibility between leaders of government and civil society is something that has to be worked out in advance in each context. It is perhaps an easier task to manage for agricultural strategies than for economy-wide strategies, since the main participants from civil society would be farmers whose leadership qualities were already recognized in the sector. As mentioned earlier, care could be taken to ensure that all main political strands are represented among the farmer representatives who participate, and this may help reassure government that the strategy will not become a political platform for opposition parties.
As an alternative, work on a strategy may be sponsored by an international organization, but with that approach there is a risk that the strategy may be branded as a product of that organization, no matter how strong the efforts are to make the process genuinely participatory. At issue is who will be 'champions' of the effort, who will take the lead in both drafting the document and lobbying for formal acceptance and implementation of it. If the strategy is a programming document for an international organization, then it
10. The comments in this section and the previous one apply to the development of major policy statements as well as to strategies as a whole.
11. Zie Gariyo, 'Civil Society in the PRSP Process: The Uganda Experience', paper delivered as the workshop Voices and Choices at the Macro Level: Participation in Country-Owned Poverty Reduction Strategies, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, April 3-5, 2001, p. 3.
may be difficult for civil society in a developing country to become a true champion of it in this sense, rather than simply providing inputs into the document. As noted in a recent evaluation of participatory work in 189 World Bank projects:
Sometimes meetings with stakeholders were little more than opportunities for the Bank to present and gain acceptance for its country programs, rather than to learn about local priorities. Participants were generally given too little feedback after they were consulted. . . possibly discouraging their vigorous and creative engagement in future consultations.12
In such circumstances, there is a danger that participants may come to feel that the purpose of the consultations was only to extract information from them.
The experience of Mali and other countries13 points to the danger that governments may, in the end, tell international financial institutions (IFIs) what they would like to hear in order to qualify for debt relief and other assistance. The economic power of the IFIs relative to most host country governments is overwhelming and it is not always realistic to expect a dialog of equals. All of the heavy incentives come to bear on the side of accepting the IFI package of policies and moving forward with their implementation.
Among other observers, Kalthleen Selvaggio has commented on 'governments' desire to avoid a conflict with the IMF and World Bank which might threaten the flow of loans and debt reduction, as well as the fact that many government elites often subscribe to structural adjustment policies and even benefit materially from them'.14
This unbalanced relationship indicates a need for caution in tying conditionality to participation, or to the results of a participatory process. More fundamentally, it suggests inherent limits to the extent to which IFIs can directly sponsor a participatory effort. They can favor it, they can encourage it indirectly, but the route of direct sponsorship and tied incentives may run counter to the aim of fostering a sense of national ownership of a strategy.
It can be helpful if a programming document for an international agency is seen as subsidiary to, and derived from, the national strategy. In The Gambia, for example, it was decided that the national strategy, and not the PRSP, would be maintained as the guiding document and process for resolving policy issues.15
In the Guyanese case, the effort was convened by a neutral 'third party' (the Carter Center) which received financing for the effort from seven different international institutions and foundations. Even so, and in spite of the prolonged and intensive participation of more than two hundred representatives from civil society, alongside Guyanese government experts, one major political party made public assertions that the first draft was the work of the Carter Center. It was only through the second phase of work on the strategy, after a nearly two-year hiatus caused by a political and constitutional crisis, that it became accepted that it was a Guyanese product. Now, it is seen as thoroughly Guyanese, and the centerpiece in national policy discussions, by all Guyanese interested in policy issues.
Participatory efforts begin with an identification of the relevant stakeholders. Who identifies and selects participants can be relevant to the
12. Operations Evaluation Department, Participation Process Review, Executive Summary, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, October 27, 2000, p. 2.
13. Cited in Roger D. Norton, 'Development Cooperation Processes: Issues in Participation and Ownership', presented at the Development Co-operation Forum, the Carter Center, Atlanta, GA, USA, February 22, 2002. This paragraph and the following two are adapted from that paper.
14. Kathleen Selvaggio, 'From Debt to Poverty Eradication: What Role for Poverty Reduction Strategies?', CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis, Brussels and the Vatican City, June 2001, p. 24.
15. Abdou Touray, 'The Gambian Experience in Participatory Processes in Poverty Reduction Efforts', paper delivered at the workshop Voices and Choices at the Macro Level: Participation in Country-Owned Poverty Reduction Strategies, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, April 3-5, 2001, p. 2.
question of ownership. In both the Guyanese and Honduran cases, the participants were selected by international advisors. The technique was to call many civic leaders (leading farmers in Honduras) and ask them for recommendations for participants in such a process. The persons whose names were mentioned most frequently were then approached to participate. In Guyana, this mode of selection raised doubts among some of the participants, after they had organized themselves for the work. In Honduras, it did not prove to be a concern, but later in the Honduran process the participation had to be widened to incorporate campesino representatives who had felt left out of the first stage of the process. They had expressed forceful concerns about its apparent directions, albeit partly on the basis of inaccurate press reports, and after joining the process they made valuable contributions to the final shape of the reform proposals.
There are no set prescriptions for dealing with this issue of participant selection, but it is advisable to arrange in advance frank discussions of the sponsorship question between members of civil society, the government and the concerned international entities.
Often, much of the ownership issue can be resolved by the way in which the process is carried out. If first drafts are prepared by international advisors and submitted for review by civil society in brief consultations, it is unlikely that a sense of national ownership will be generated. Correspondingly, if the drafts are written by government officials, civil society is unlikely to feel ownership. Effective participation in drafting a strategy is a key to ownership of the document. This is a process that is necessarily time-consuming, especially if participants are expected to absorb some suggestions from advisors, revise them as needed, and make them their own. It is a much deeper form of involvement for participants than simply being consulted on drafts developed elsewhere.
Civil society representatives, especially those from rural areas, may not have much experience in drafting tightly reasoned policy documents although they may have the most useful insights about the problems in their areas and possible means of addressing them. Therefore, advisors, national or international, may have to play a facilitating role for the process - and even a limited role in writing sections of a first draft in some cases. Special measures need to be taken to ensure that the drafts reflect the participants' concerns and many of their orientations toward solutions, and that they feel a sense of ownership of the proposals.
Illustrations of this kind of process may be worthwhile. In the first phase of the process in Honduras, farmer representatives met with two advisors a full day each week for brainstorming sessions with a blackboard. The sessions were organized by policy topic, such as land reform, agricultural finance, pricing policy, and so forth. The advisors took extensive notes of issues raised and optional avenues of solution. When there were sound economic reasons for resisting some proposals, forthright discussions were held. In such a process, in the end the participants have the final word but, when necessary, it is important that the advisors explain why some types of proposed solutions may create more problems than they solve. A genuine dialog establishes mutual confidence and paves the way for a more solid document. At the same time, the advisors had the responsibility of respecting the validity of the concerns that might underlie proposals by the farmers, and helping put on the table technical approaches (preferably with options) that responded to those concerns. As much as possible, rough consensuses were achieved in each session, and on that basis the advisors drafted in very preliminary form a chapter of the strategy for review at the next meeting.
There were no time limits on the reviews of the drafts. The next topic was not broached until the participants were fully satisfied with the draft presented to them and the changes they wanted to make in it. In addition, in subsequent meetings they were free to go back to any previous chapter and suggest further changes for discussion. It is vital to allow as much time as necessary for the process. In this way, the first Honduran strategy for the entire agricultural sector was drafted by the private sector in about four months.
If proposals are put forward that are economically unsound, and if the advisors choose not to respond directly to their proponents and end up ignoring their ideas in the drafting of the strategy, then there is a risk that some of the participants may feel ex post that the discussions were meaningless. The aim of such a process is to move forward jointly, so that ideas from all participants contribute to the final formulation on each topic, while suggestions that cannot be supported are perhaps weeded out along the way, to the degree possible, always on clear grounds.16
In a later phase of this Honduran work, the participation was broadened to include representatives of national campesino organizations. By then, the strategy had been transformed into draft legislation. In this round of discussions, it was found to be helpful to use a matrix to guide each day's discussions about the draft of a new law for agricultural policy. Each row in the matrix corresponded to a problem to be solved. The first column contained a short paragraph summarizing the nature of the problem. The second column contained the proposed solution in the draft law. The third column was left blank, to be filled in jointly by all participants in order to revise the draft law. At such a stage in the process, presenting a written technical draft can be a valuable aid in that it concentrates the discussion on specific questions and helps reduce the tendency that some participants may have to make speeches on tangential topics.
As part of this phase of the Honduran process, each day's agreement was recorded in the third column and the matrix was subsequently retyped and distributed prior to the next meeting. The first order of business in each session was to give all participants an opportunity to confirm that their consensus in the previous meeting was accurately reflected in the new wording. Sometimes, afterthoughts were brought up and earlier issues were revisited. Again, no restrictions were placed on the time needed for reviewing all issues. It was found that presenting a revised matrix for review each day, before moving forward to the next problem area, was a transparent manner of confirming the results of the discussions, and it proved to be a useful confidence-builder. The participants could see their own ideas taking form from meeting to meeting.17
In Nicaragua, a similar process for developing a national agricultural strategy with the private sector also involved interaction between advisors and farmers over an extended period, through task forces organized by topic. In this case, each task force developed a lengthy matrix in its area of policy at the outset. The three columns of each matrix corresponded to problems, existing approaches, and proposed new approaches. Once the matrices were completed, they were used to develop drafts of the strategy for review by the producers.
In Guyana and Mozambique, and also in the case of developing a national agricultural, forestry and fisheries strategy for Estonia, the national task forces drafted the chapters themselves. In Guyana and Estonia, they were subsequently reviewed by others and plenary sessions were held to discuss possible modifications. In these two cases, prior to the completion of the drafts, the advisors sat in on many of the working sessions, to develop lines of communication and common viewpoints with the participants as much as possible. This close and continuing interaction greatly eased the subsequent process of review of the drafts.
16. On the other hand, the procedure used in some group initiatives of having participants write down single words on 3 x 5 cards, and then pasting them on the wall for all to see and discuss, is not likely to be fruitful for producing a document with the degree of conceptual content and logical structure that a strategy normally requires.
17. In between the two phases of that work, there had been discussions with various ministries in the government and with international agencies. All told, twenty-five versions of the draft law were produced before sufficient consensus was reached to send it to the Honduran Congress. The process was lengthy, but each new draft signified a widening of the consensus and therefore was worthwhile.
The quality control issue is at the heart of participatory efforts. If the document turns out to be weak on technical grounds, or irresponsible from a fiscal viewpoint, it will not be taken seriously. However, experiences have shown that civil society members usually are anxious to put together a sound, responsible document. Capacity building is critical to ensure quality. In this regard, often neutral technical assistance - by parties who do not represent official positions of donor agencies - can help when provided through a joint learning-by-doing process.
Often, capacity building consists of tapping into latent national talent. In every country there are experts familiar with issues in most sectors. The challenge sometimes is to familiarize them with broader policy frameworks and also with policy options that have been explored in other countries, more than entering into a teacher-student relationship, and to give them an opportunity to work on policy issues that they may not have worked on previously.
In spite of the advances of economics as a discipline, quality in sectoral policy work can reside in the eye of the beholder. The criteria for judging quality need to be as objective as possible. The internal consistency of a strategy and fiscal responsibility are the most basic criteria. In other areas, flexibility often is needed.
Qaulity can best be promoted through partnerships between participants and technical advisors that contribute to capacity building in policy work. Formal and informal training are basic tools of capacity building, but an equally powerful one is the approach of working side-by-side in teams, advisors and national counterparts together, over sustained periods of time. Efforts also should be made to explain technical jargon, as civil society representatives frequently have emphasized. There are few, if any, macroeco-nomic scenarios that cannot be presented in lay terms.
Whether at the sectoral or macro level, it bears emphasizing that capacity building requires a sustained commitment over time on the part of technical advisors, national and international. In the Honduran experience of agricultural policy reform, over a period of a year 80 all-day meetings were held with representatives of campesino organizations and large-scale producers in order to develop the reform packages, including both draft laws and draft implementing regulations. The participatory process in Guyana involved an advisory presence in more than a hundred meetings of civil society task forces over a period of several years. Perhaps the most salient characteristic of these meetings is that through them civil society members actually drafted specific policy reforms. The process was interactive between advisors and national counterparts, but the latter always had the last word and through the process they became authors of the reforms - and felt confident that they were the authors. This sense of ownership encouraged them to go forward and lobby for full acceptance of the strategy by society and international agencies and for its implementation by government.
Capacity building does not stop with the completion of one strategy document. As people move on to other occupations and even migrate abroad, capacity and the sense of commitment to the reforms can weaken. Capacity requires continuous nourishment. Providing financial endowments for independent 'think-tanks' is one way to ensure that sufficiently attractive incentives are offered to trained people to stay with the effort. There are several examples of productive policy think-tanks in developing countries, from the Thai Economic Development Institute to FUSADES (Fundación Salvadoreña de Desarrollo Económico y Social) in El Salvador. In this regard, it is important for international agencies to commit themselves to meeting the challenge of institutionalization of civil society's capacity for policy work.
In the final analysis, one of most valuable roles for official development assistance is building
18. This section is adapted from R. D. Norton, 2002.
national capacity for policy analysis and formulation. Such an undertaking is complementary to private investment flows - not a substitute for them. Investment flows respond to the quality of the policy environment more than anything else, and therefore expenditures on capacity building for policy work can have a significant influence on them.
A participatory process for developing a strategy requires a secretariat or co-ordinating committee to guide it. In most circumstances, it would be staffed by representatives of the participants, along with clerical staff, and ideally it would include a legal expert to assist with legislative issues and perhaps additional kinds of researchers to support the undertaking. If government is a sponsor of the work, it would be represented on the co-ordinating committee; in many cases it would chair it. One of the roles of this committee is to ensure the overall consistency of the strategy by reviewing the drafts of the chapters and indicating possible inconsistencies among them to the concerned working groups. Another role is to outline a tentative structure of the entire draft and enunciate a first version of the objectives and guiding principles, subject to modification by the full group. A co-ordinating committee has the responsibility of circulating these preliminary products to participants for discussion in the wider group, along with notes on issues and themes that might form part of an overriding vision that informs the entire strategy.
In both Mozambique and Guyana, a three-level structure was used to co-ordinate the effort. In Mozambique, an Executive Committee of four persons managed day-to-day logistics and a Committee of Counsellors of 14 persons was responsible for reviewing the quality and consistency of the drafts, and for receiving input from the local level throughout the country and disseminating drafts for comment. The actual drafting was carried out by 12 technical working groups or 'nucleos'.19 In Guyana, a civil society committee of 35 persons guided the effort of the working groups, and that committee elected five co-chairpersons to manage the process.
If there is international sponsorship, international advisors may form part of the coordinating committee and/or topical working groups, as deemed appropriate. (In Mozambique, both the co-ordinating entities and the technical working groups were staffed only by Mozambi-cans.) In all cases, it is essential to clarify, by both words and actions, that the international advisors are not bringing an external policy agenda with them, but rather are present to serve as a sounding board for preliminary ideas, on the basis of their own international experience. If the advisors are staff members of international organizations, it may not be easy for them to play this kind of disinterested role and to stand back from the policy recommendations that their organiza-tion(s) may be advocating and may even be tying to loan conditionality. This question of how to erect a 'firewall' between technical advisors and those who are responsible for institutional positions has come to the fore in recent years. Equally, the international development community has begun to recognize the value of a 'third force' or neutral international advisory group that can play a supportive role for national teams, without trying to impose a set of recommendations, but so far no general solution has emerged.20
For international advisors participating in these kinds of processes, the bottom line has to
19. This group of civil society, known as Agenda 2025, was endorsed by the President and Prime Minister and the opposition parties contributed participants. It produced a detailed vision document covering all sectors of the economy and social issues in June of 2003.
20. A preliminary conference to explore this issue was organized by the Carter Center in 1997 and its conclusions were presented in Toward a New Model of Development Cooperation: The National Development Strategy Process in Guyana, Global Development Initiative, The Carter Center, Atlanta, GA, USA, May 1997.
be, as noted above, that local experts and civil society participants have the ultimate say. An advisor can try to convince them of a viewpoint on some issues, but he or she has to be prepared to yield in the end. Once a strategy is completed, it will be negotiated with other entities, including government and international agencies, and any truly unfounded recommendations probably will be vetted at that stage. The advisor's role is to assist in ensuring a better technical quality of the document, but it is not a role of being a guarantor of its technical quality.
The other key component of the organizational structure of the process is a set of task forces, or working groups. They are usually organized by policy topic. Several experiences have placed in high relief the role of task forces. They are the primary vehicle for facilitating participation on a continuing basis. They also are the organs that eventually produce drafts, and it is the task forces that assume ownership of the drafts in the first instance. It is essential to support the task forces, both logistically and substantively, so that they cohere and function sufficiently well to produce results and gain this sense of ownership.
Task forces can mobilize national talents that otherwise might remain outside the ambit of discussions of national policies. They can play a long-term role in national policy dialogs. When the task forces have developed a firm commitment to their results, they sometimes will undertake, on their own initiative, a sustained and forceful lobbying effect to ensure that the proposals are formally accepted and implemented.
A process of this nature is a very human undertaking. Experience shows that not all participants will work with the same degree of commitment, and some will fall by the wayside. (In the case of Guyana, 5 of the 23 task forces did not function well at the beginning of the effort, and eventually 4 of them had to be reconstituted.) Nevertheless, experience demonstrates that from such processes and task forces leaders will eventually emerge, spokespersons for civil society who will help push the process along and over the longer run will represent civil society in the dialog with government and international agencies over policies. In addition, often they will be sufficiently informed and interested to participate is monitoring the policy implementation process.
Another management issue that sometimes arises is whether the participants from civil society should be reimbursed for their time spent in the effort. The argument in favor of such reimbursement is that it is a way to tap into the best national talent from outside government. Otherwise, some of the best experts, such as university professors who work as consultants, might not be available for the effort. Payments for time invested also can help sustain commitment to the effort. The argument against making such payments is that thereby the national participants become beholden to the sponsoring entity, whether it be government or an international agency, and accordingly they cease to be genuine representatives of civil society. At least such a perception could become current.
On these grounds, no reimbursement was made to the participants in the Honduran, Guyanese and Nicaraguan cases, except for providing lunches and snacks during meetings and, in the Honduran and Nicaraguan cases, reimbursing campesinos for their costs of transport to the capital city for the meetings. (Government officials, of course, continued to receive their salary while working on the effort.) Partly as a consequence of this decision, at times the level of commitment flagged in several of the Guyanese task forces, but they eventually completed their work. In Nicaragua (in 2001), participating producers were sent on a number of study tours to other countries. This provision proved to be a useful incentive for sustaining interest in the process and also was educational for the work on the strategy.
In the Estonian case, the principal participants were faculty members, who were contracted for the effort by the FAO, as well as government officials. In that case, it would have been virtually impossible to assemble a team of experienced national personnel without the contracting mechanism. Nevertheless, this question did not prevent the recommendations of the Estonian strategy from figuring prominently in national debates over agricultural policy, and it stimulated adoption of the policy approach of direct payments to producers instead of price controls (see
Chapter 4), new legislation in the area of land reform, and other policy initiatives.
In Guyana, the use of entirely volunteer experts in the second phase meant that the work took much longer than expected to complete. In the Honduran case, although the representatives of farmers were not compensated through the strategy project, the participating campesino leaders held paid positions in their respective associations and federations, and hence they did not have to make a personal financial sacrifice to contribute time to the effort. Thus, what can be achieved on a purely volunteer basis should not be overstated, although the principle of civic participation should be respected as much as possible for the sake of generating a sense of ownership of the product.
Participants in a process of this nature will not necessarily have had previous experience in participatory undertaking. Therefore, once it has been agreed who are the co-ordinators of the effort, it can be helpful to provide them with brief training on the basics of managing a process in a participatory manner. In societies without a well developed tradition of civil society activity, this can be quite useful. In the course of the training, it should be emphasized that communications among the participants can occur in various ways over the course of the project, and through both formal and informal channels. It is not necessary to leave all discussions to formal sessions. Informal gatherings can be organized as well, to enhance the group dynamics among the participants.
In terms of institutional strengthening, the effort of developing a strategy, with all of the policy analysis that it involves, is an invaluable exercise not only for civil society but also for the staffs of a ministry of agriculture and of other government agencies involved. Their understanding of policy issues, constraints and options can be greatly improved through the process, and they can gain a deeper appreciation of the thinking of other national participants.
If, for unavoidable reasons, it is impossible to organize a full partnership with rural society, then extensive consultations on a strategy should be carried out in at least two rounds: before the drafting process begins, and after a first full draft is available for discussion. Effective consultations are those that are well planned and structured. Asking the assembled individuals open-ended questions about their main concerns and recommendations can be useful at the beginning of a visioning exercise - as was done in Mozambique in virtually all districts of the country - but for developing more policy-specific documents it is helpful to structure the discussions around concrete issues. The first round of policy consultations can be based on a preliminary vision of principal issues, and the discussions can be mainly oriented toward what to do about those issues, without closing the door to the introduction of other concerns by the participants.
The effectiveness of later rounds of consultations can be enhanced if the draft document is discussed section by section in a structured manner, while the agreements reached on changes in it are recorded carefully. Likewise, it should be distributed to the participants well in advance of the consultations. However, even though these kinds of consultations are well planned and carried out, it should be recognized that they alone are not likely to be sufficient to produce a complete sense of ownership of the strategy on the part of civil society.21 In most cases, the process necessarily will involve both direct participation, in the sense of drafting the strategy, and consultations in order to bring a wider circle of citizens into the process.
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