This month I’ve spoken a lot about participatory methods and how I’ve used them to deliver results for clients. Many are sceptical on the true value of participatory approaches other than to include stakeholder voice and as an exercise in consultation. The argument is often that these approaches are not scientific or quantitative. The social sciences were equally once considered unscientific or measurable, until developments in the 20th century put them front and centre of development monitoring and evaluation approaches.
Increasingly development, local service design and provision and policy design is being done closer to the groups and communities that will benefit the most. Programme designers and policy makers have, finally, realised that the most effective and sustainable programmes are those where the beneficiaries are part of designing and delivering the solution.
Now, not everyone needs to be a PhD in community development, public health, or such to understand the needs of a particular group, community or issue. We do need the PhDs. But we also need the planners, logistics experts, the mothers, heads of households, children, men, etc. And that’s where participatory approaches and games come in. It is incumbent on the experts to deconstruct the concepts they are working with in such a way that they are accessible to everyone, all stakeholders of a project. The more complicated or distant the design or method being used, the less engagement there will be.
Games and exercises that are well designed will engage a community and stimulate discussion and debate. This is important for understand real impact of a programme and essential for building consensus around a result or design. Games are especially useful when conducting value for money assessments or social impact assessments as these concepts are often fixed in terms of value created by or for the donor and organisation with little recognition for the value creation for or by communities and people. Including all stakeholders in these exercises produces better results and more reliable results. Leading to more informed recommendations and lessons learned.
How often do you get to use participatory approaches? Which ones have worked best for you?