Participatory approach: Learning from the community for the community
While Saha Astitva is working towards the harmonious integration of forests, fields and people, its team is constantly trying to improve its understanding of the interconnection between nature and human.
The local Warli Adivasi community with whom we share this land is, therefore, at the very centre of this interconnectivity. In this constant endeavour to learn from and with each other, our research regarding sustainable livelihoods led us to investigate a model of community development: the participatory approach.
Participatory approach is an alternative development theory which emerged in the late 1970’s in response to the top down nature of previous approaches, marking a shift in the traditional focus from things to people.
For NGO’s and development agents using the participatory approach, development is understood as a process aiming at empowering rural disfranchised groups and providing them with opportunities to gain control over their own lives and well-being.
Promoting communities full involvement in their own development, the participatory approach envisages rural development as a process which values and promotes indigenous knowledge and skills while building upon their cultural and natural resources.
Therefore, strategies used in participatory approaches aim at finding sustainable livelihoods solutions and opportunities by working with rather than for the community.
Participatory Action Research in a Venn Diagram (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_action_research)
Along with theoretical concepts, academics developed tools and techniques to constructively understand rural communities’ needs through their participation.
These techniques involve external and local actors working together on a particular project while strengthening the dialogue and exchange between these actors. For example, Rapid Rural Appraisal and Participatory Rural Appraisal are two methods used for assessing the needs, beliefs, interests and priorities. Group discussions, in depth interviews and mapping are particularly relevant activities which enable both communities and agents to analyse a specific situation.
Participatory approaches are particularly relevant to reach a holistic understanding of sustainable rural livelihoods in the field of natural resource management.
Coping strategies and mechanisms of the rural people combined with scientific knowledge have proved to have considerable benefits for the environment and its people.
For development agents and for us, this approach is key to the success of any projects engaged with the development of rural areas and its inhabitants.
While rural development should be first concerned with rural communities’ values and needs, there appears to be an urgent need to conduct research and develop techniques narrowly linked to these dimensions.
To understand the problems and processes of development in rural areas, researchers, developments agents and local people must work together towards the same goal, improving the well-being of the isolated and helpless.
Article: Why we gave our boys gym…