Reasons for Encouraging Participation

In recent years, worldwide, there have been many efforts to promote the active participation of communities and citizens in development projects that have an effect on their well-being. Common examples include the approach of user participation in the management of irrigation systems, techniques of group lending in microfinance, the involvement of rural communities in programs for forest and watershed protection, and the organization of groups of farmers for receiv

2. This document, first issued as a technical draft in 1996, covered all sectors of the economy, in six volumes, and was developed through the efforts of 23 sectoral working groups comprising experts from within and outside government. The work was suspended for more than a year because of an electoral crisis, and when it was re-convened (by the Minister of Finance), civil society played an even stronger role in the updating and revision of the draft. It was eventually submitted to Parliament, and during the process the government implemented many of the draft recommendations. The Carter Center played a facilitating role in the process.

ing technical assistance, purchasing inputs and obtaining better market access. In addition, the emphasis on participation has been extended to the area of social services, such as in community participation in the administration of some rural schools in El Salvador.3

In spite of this emphasis on participation, the vast majority of participatory undertakings have been aimed at fostering participation in development projects and programs, above all in specific localities. There have not been many efforts at using the participatory approach for formulating integral and specific proposals for sector-wide policy packages and development strategies. In a number of countries, activities have been undertaken for the formulation of national strategic visions for the longer term, in Mali, Ghana and Mozambique, for example. That type of experience can be very valuable and contributes to raising the national level of awareness about possible future development scenarios. It also can move political parties closer to a consensus on national development priorities, as has been the case in Mozambique, but eventually it needs to be complemented by concrete proposals for reforms to the national policy framework. In some cases, a vision document can be conceived of as a first step in developing a more specific strategy.

It may be asked, why should policy formulation be based on participatory processes? What is gained from it? Why cannot government alone take responsibility for policy formulation? The answer may be summarized in five main points:

(1) To improve the chances of attaining a national consensus on policy reforms. Consensuses on policy actions are never achieved 100%, but a participatory process can widen the area of agreement significantly. The greater the consensus, then the stronger the political support for change.

(2) To strengthen the channels of national dialog, thus empowering citizens to participate more effectively in the resolution of future policy issues. Frequently, these channels are underdeveloped or atrophied. This role of a participatory strategy represents capacity building for civil society and the private sector in regard to national development policy issues.

(3) To develop more solid policies. Experience has shown that representatives of the private sector and NGOs not only can play a role of supporting consensus policies, but that they are also capable of making fundamental contributions for improving the quality of the reforms, even to the point of assisting in the drafting of proposed legislation. As noted in World Bank reports:

The majority of [World Bank] staff responsible for these CASs (Country Assistance Strategies) felt that the benefits of incorporating civil society participation in the process significantly outweighed the costs. They felt that participation in the CAS led to more informed development priorities for the country. .. .4

Plus, in the context of strategies for poverty reduction (PRSPs):

Participatory analysis of the poverty impact of public expenditure can generate deeper understanding than analysis by officials and experts only.5

(4) To improve the accountability and transparency of the policy making process.

(5) To better empower the country in international dialogs, so that truly national priorities can

3. E. Jiménez and Y Sawada, 'Do community-managed schools work? An evaluation of El Salvador's EDUCO program', The World Bank Economic Review, 13(3), September 1999, pp. 415-441.

4. Maria Aycrigg, 'Participation and the World Bank: Success, Constraints, and Responses', Social Development Paper No. 29, Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, November 1998, p. 11.

5. S. Tikare, D. Youssef, P. Donnelly-Roark and P. Shah, 'Organizing Participatory Processes in the PRSP', Draft, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, April 2001, p. 7.

serve as guides for programs of international assistance, instead of allowing national policies to be defined implicitly by the sum of conditionalities attached to international loans and grants.

An axiom of democracy asserts that citizens should have a voice in the decisions that affect them. Developing countries sometimes lack a robust tradition of participation by civil society6 in national issues, and lobbying is left to a few, economically influential interest groups. Putting into practice this axiom may require more active collaboration between the private sector and civic groups, on the one hand, and the executive branch, on the other hand.

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