What does the principle of participation mean for programming?

Participation means ensuring that national stakeholders have genuine ownership and control over development processes in all phases of the programming cycle: assessment, analysis, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation

Human rights standards influence the conditions as well as reasonable limitations of participation. For processes to be truly participatory, they should reflect the requirement for “active, free and meaningful” participation under the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development. Women in rural areas have the right to participate in development planning at all levels (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 14) and children’s views must likewise be taken into account (Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 12). However, the right to participate in public affairs (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 25) does not necessarily give particular groups of people an unconditional right to choose any mode of participation.

Participation is an objective, as well as a means, of development. From a human rights perspective, participation goes well beyond mere consultation or a technical add-on to project design. Rather, participation should be viewed as fostering critical consciousness and decision-making as the basis for active citizenship. Development strategies should empower citizens, especially the most marginalized, to articulate their expectations towards the State and other duty-bearers, and take charge of their own development. This may require:

  • Budgeting and building capacities for civil society organization and effective participation, within the framework of development programmes.
  • Increasing transparency, making policies and project information available in accessible formats and minority languages as needed.
  • Creating specific channels for participation by the poorest and most marginalized groups, with sensitivity to social and cultural context. These mechanisms must be integrated throughout the programming process (rather than just at the formulation stage, where participation often stops).
  • Civic education and human rights awareness-raising as cross-cutting components of development programmes, rather than optional add-ons.
  • Supporting media and communications campaigns.
  • Advocacy for and capacity-building of networks of local social communicators.
  • Broadening alliances with civil society organizations and groups with shared interests, and strengthening networks to articulate their expectations of the State and other duty-bearers.

Albania United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) (2006-2010): Example of a participatory approach

The United Nations Country Team in Albania used a novel approach called appreciative inquiry (AI) to draw out ideas on the way forward for Albania’s development. AI is an organizational change management philosophy and human development approach, built upon a collective visioning of a desired future (“where do we want to be in five years?”). In contrast to more retrospective or static “problem analysis” approaches, AI is a relatively dynamic, inclusive and proactive process through which a shared vision is translated into a forward-looking agenda for change.

The Country Team set up a special task force to flesh out the objectives of the UNDAF prioritization workshop. Interviews were carried out in different parts of the country, including in disadvantaged regions and communities. Representatives of Government, civil society, donors and the United Nations served as interviewers and were also among the interviewees. An unprecedented arrangement was made to involve young men and women in the UNDAF prioritization workshop. They included members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., persons with disabilities, the Roma community and very poor households).
Contributions from networks of key stakeholders that had been created for the CCA exercise and the Millennium Development Goals consensus-building process fed into the UNDAF exercise. CCA and UNDAF theme groups were expanded to include other interested parties. The implementation of UNDAF, starting in 2006, will be firmly based on established networks and partnerships, and the AI approach will continue to be applied through joint programming processes.


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