Six Lessons of community participation in Slums

In an article by Michael Hooper – The complexity of participation: learning from slum dweller mobilisation in Dar es Salaam, he provides six practical lessons for implementing a participation programme that recognises the differences between residents and makes all their voices count, based on research in Dar es Salaam

Before the eviction, the main mobilisation effort undertaken by residents was a grassroots enumeration, which consisted of a population census and comprehensive mapping of plots and households, based on methods used in India and Kenya by Slum Dwellers International. Enumerations are an increasingly common approach employed by residents of informal settlements and other marginalised communities to generate data that gives them a tangible identity and demonstrate they have the capacity to self-organise. They also serve as the basis for lobbying for policy change on behalf of evictees. Accepting that the Dar es Salaam eviction would take place, the movement hoped to use the data from the enumeration to lobby government for a grant of land for community resettlement.

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Stanford’s Leonard Ortolano and Hooper examined the microdynamics of public participation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The research sought, first, to investigate what motivates grassroots participation in mobilisation efforts around built environment conflicts, in this case a forced eviction. Second, it studied the consequences of this participation on participants themselves.

SIX PRACTICAL INSIGHTS FOR PARTICIPATION

  1. The first lesson is that politics and power can strongly influence participation dynamics and outcomes. Renters were seldom found to participate in mobilisation efforts. The fundamental power differential between owners and renters in Tanzanian informal settlements is at least in part responsible for this difference. Other groups — including owners, policy makers and planners — considered renters to be second-class citizens when it came to the impacts of eviction and displacement. Perhaps more disturbingly, renters shared this perspective and felt that their voices were of little consequence to decisions about the future of their homes, community and livelihoods. These perceptions fundamentally affected renters’ willingness and ability to mobilise around the threat of eviction. This finding serves as a stark reminder to carefully interrogate how internal power differences within communities are likely to shape the dynamics of participation. It also highlights that tenure status is often associated with power and that renters can be all too easily overlooked in mobilisation efforts.
  2. The second lesson, related to the first, is that communities are more heterogeneous than we frequently assume. While this has been shown in many contexts, it is frequently forgotten by practitioners and policy makers in their enthusiasm for “community” participation. While organisers in Dar es Salaam focused their attention on the community writ large, albeit making efforts to include both women and men, the divide between owners and renters escaped notice. A fundamental cleavage in the community went unaddressed in the participation strategy and renters were largely left out of mobilisation activities.
  3. The third lesson is that it is important not to assume that everyone in a community will participate; only some will and it is vital to understand what motivates that participation. There are a wide range of factors held by scholars from different disciplines to influence decisions to participate in mobilisation efforts, including economic payoffs, social networks, group identification, political opportunity, relative deprivation, connection to place and even genetic and hormonal factors. The great range of possible motivating factors implies a complex decision calculus for individuals weighing the choice to participate.
  4. The fourth lesson is that it is essential to understand what the possible consequences of participation might be and whether these could have negative implications for participants. In Dar es Salaam, residents who participated fared worse in terms of some post-eviction resettlement outcomes than those who did not. The reason for these differential outcomes rests on the fact that participants spent their already limited time engaged in group mobilisation activities rather than securing their own new, post-eviction homes. This reveals that practitioners and policymakers need to be very careful when they draw on the limited time and resources of the poor in participation efforts, as this can have unintended, potentially negative, consequences.
  5. The fifth, related, lesson is that it is vital to manage expectations associated with participation efforts. Where expectations are unrealistic, individuals who choose to engage may be left worse off than they might otherwise have been, which may leave them jaded and suspicious of future participation efforts.
  6. Finally, the research shows that, in spite of the increasing enthusiasm (rhetorically at least) for participation and the outstanding work that many community groups have done to improve development outcomes, there is nonetheless a strong need for formal planning processes that can support, empower and protect vulnerable groups. There is considerable risk in the current climate of heightened, but sometimes shallow, support for community participation that communities will be burdened with managing problems of a scale that are simply too immense for them to act on alone. Forced eviction and resettlement may be a case in point. While some communities may be able to effectively cope on their own with extreme challenges such as forced eviction and resettlement, many if not most others will require the support of planners and policymakers and a backdrop of enabling policies and transparent public administration.

Read this very interesting article at http://globalurbanist.com/2012/12/11/complexity-of-participation and share your experience about participatory work in India or other places!

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2 thoughts on “Six Lessons of community participation in Slums

  1. Anonymous December 30, 2012 at 4:54 am Reply

    Thanks for this reminder that a sense of community is based on the siginficant relationships where people live, this is particulaly important for the poor as they rely on one another for basic support. Any changes to the physical environment, no matter how well intentioned, is likely to have an impact on the social networks going forward. Urban design interventions to improve housing and social infrastructurte should be accompanied by complimentary community development projects that keep geogprahical communities together with better support networks where people have grown up and now live with people they know with better housing, child care, health, education and employment opportunities. Any urban design reponse needs to consider the physical environment, social/cultural perspectives, environonment and transport.

    • Phil Loone December 30, 2012 at 4:57 am Reply

      Thanks for this reminder that a sense of community is based on the siginficant relationships where people live, this is particulaly important for the poor as they rely on one another for basic support. Any changes to the physical environment, no matter how well intentioned, is likely to have an impact on the social networks going forward. Urban design interventions to improve housing and social infrastructurte should be accompanied by complimentary community development projects that keep geogprahical communities together with better support networks where people have grown up and now live with people they know with better housing, child care, health, education and employment opportunities. Any urban design reponse needs to consider the physical environment, social/cultural perspectives, environonment and transport.

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