Dynamics of Participation!

By Nidhi Batra, PRIA

In an interesting research study by Jacob Perten on The Successes and Shortcomings of Participatory Slum-Upgrading In Villa 31, I learnt interesting dynamics of ‘Participatory practices in context to Urban Poverty’as shared below:

What is participation in Slum upgrading plans?

One of the primary lessons learned from past slum-upgrading efforts is that local participation is both necessary and valuable. Because there is no “one-size-fits all solution,” it is impossible to create and implement a successful urbanization plan with solely a top-down approach. Instead, “programs [also] have to be designed with a bottom-up approach in order to meet and prioritize the specific need of the slum dwellers.”

In the context of slum upgrading plans, participation is understood as a “process in which people, and especially disadvantaged people, influence resource allocation and the planning and implementation of policies and programs, and are involved at different levels and degrees of intensity in the identification, timing, planning, design, implementation, evaluation, and post implementation stage of development projects.”

According to a study by the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, there are two primary ways in which the politics of participation are admitted in development planning. The first is the question of who participates. This recognizes that “‘the people’ are not homogenous, and that special mechanisms are needed to bring in relatively disadvantaged groups.” The second regards the level of participation. This points out that “the involvement of the local people in the implementation is not enough. For a fully participatory project, they should also take part in management and decision-making.”

Who Should Participate?

Effective development plans must address who and how many people should take part in a participatory strategy. Inviting everyone is difficult to manage, so from the beginning, it is necessary to devise a strategy that ensures fair representation.

The first step in creating an effective system of representation is learning about the community. It cannot be assumed that all slum dwellers have the same needs and interests, so therefore it is necessary to clearly identify specific groups and interests existing within the slum. This may require a systematic procedure, such as mapping.

Society for participatory Research in Asia for example under its project of Strengthening civil society voices on urban poverty, undertook the exercise of Slum Profiling in the cities of Raipur, Patna and Jaipur along with initial exercises of slum mapping.

When creating a system of representation, it is also important to remember the importance of involving members of vulnerable groups, such as women, the elderly and ethnic minorities. In respect to this PRIA is attempting to formulate neighbourhood groups or slum improvement committee aiming for atleast 50% female participation in the groups.

It is also advisable to work with existing community groups in the slum community, therefore PRIA during the time of slum profiling mapped the existing community groups in the slum community and they became the first points of contacts. Some of these groups were religious groups, or social upgradation groups, or some ad hoc groups formed to get a government facility etc. Furthermore, the representation framework must encourage the active participation of all stakeholders.

For example, in larger communities with many representatives, quieter representatives often do not have the opportunity to voice their opinions. It may be necessary to create smaller working groups according to topics or areas of interest to solve this problem. No matter what system is used, the most important requirement is that the representation is, in fact, representative.

Ideal Levels of Participation

Hamdi and Goethert have identified five different levels of participation that can be applied to slum-upgrading projects:

None: In the no-participation approach, the technical team is responsible for all aspects of the urbanization plan. This strategy is used principally when urgent action is needed, or when circumstances demand a high level of technical know-how. This approach is high-risk, as the project may not fit the needs of the community.

Indirect: In the indirect approach, the technical team needs information about the community to create and implement the development plan. However, instead of gathering this information through direct interaction with slum residents, it uses secondary sources, such as reports and censuses. The indirect method relies heavily on the availability of sufficient data and skill in data analysis, so absence of either of these factors is problematic.

Consultative: In the consultative approach, instead of turning to secondary sources, the technical team turns to the community for information. However, the community acts as a “consultant” rather than a decision-maker – all decisions are ultimately made by the technical team. Consultative participation is useful in getting a general sense of how the community feels about an issue, but less effective if looking for ideas from the community.

Shared Control: At the shared control level, the community and technical team act as equals. Each acts on the premise that the other has something valuable to contribute, and they work together as partners to generate creative solutions. This level reflects the ideal of participatory planning theory.

Full Control: In this level, the community dominates the urbanization process, and the technical team offers support where needed. This signifies the complete empowerment of the community.

 It is important to note that levels of participation are not static during the course of an urbanization plan; rather, they are dynamic over time. Hamdi and Goethert have identified the “most efficient levels” of participation in regards to the five standard slum-upgrading stages described by the Community Action Planning model:

• Initiation Stage: In this stage, consultative, shared control, or full control levels can be used. Community involvement is critical in this stage, because the project should originate out of community need. The technical team should not have preconceived notions about solutions to the community’s problems during this period, because this undermines the participatory process in subsequent stages.

Planning Stage: Community involvement in the planning stage is most crucial. This is the stage in which key decisions are made and the project is defined. Shared control, therefore, is the level that should be used in this stage.

Design Stage: Community input is less crucial in the design stage, so recommended levels of participation are indirect, consultative, or shared control. If decisions are clear during the planning stage, then the design stage is only required to develop technical details of the project.

Implementation Stage: During the implementation stage, participation can vary through all levels. In some cases, implementation is better carried out by the technical team, consultants, or city authorities, while in others; the community is capable of leading. If possible, community members should be hired for construction projects as a means of generating employment within the community.

Maintenance Stage: Both the city and the community should be involved in the maintenance of a slum-upgrading project. Oftentimes, day-to-day maintenance is the role of community members, whereas major repairs that require resources and technical skills are the job of outside teams. However, if maintenance is to be successful, there must be an agreement in place before project implementation that designates tasks according to respective capacities.

Picture below: PRIA and CHETNA in dialogue with community towards facilitating formation of slum improvement commitee

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