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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Sharing Power : How might the efficaciousness of participatory methods be ensured?

Documents of reference

Borrini-Feyerabend Grazia, Pimbert Michel, Farvar M.Taghi, Kothari Ashish, Renard Yves et al, Sharing Power - Learning by Doing in Co-management of Natural Resources throughout the World, IIED, IUCN, CMWG, CEESP, 2004.

A central challenge for practitioners of Deliberative and Inclusive Processes (DIPs) is to ensure the quality and validity of the knowledge and actions generated by the process 1. In this light, it may be more realistic and honest to recognise from the outset that the subjectivity and worldview of convenors and key actors can always influence actions as well as interpretations of events and outcomes. For this reason, it is important to build safeguards into the deliberative process to ensure it is broadly credible, trustworthy, fair and not captured by any interest group or perspective. Several criteria and indicators of public acceptance and effectiveness of process can be useful in this regard and are listed in Checklist 11.3.

Checklist 11.3. Criteria and safeguards for public acceptance and effectiveness of a deliberative and inclusive process.(adapted from Rowe and Frewer, 2000)

Criteria fostering the acceptance of a DIP and/ or decision by citizens and the wider public :

  • Representativeness: representative sample of the affected population,

  • Independence: process conducted in an independent, unbiased way,

  • Early involvement: increases sense of ownership and role at the stage when value judgements are important,

  • Transparency: the public able to see progress and how decisions are made,

  • Influence: visible impact on Policy.

Criteria for effective process (effective design and implementation of a DIP process):

  • Resource accessibility: access to appropriate resources (information, time, experts, materials) enables participants to engage and carry out their roles effectively,

  • Clear and well-defined methodological design: the scope of the exercise, its procedures and the expected outcomes are defined at the outset,

  • Structured decision-making: debate is enabled over the underlying assumptions, how the decisions are made, the extent to which they are publicly supported,

  • Cost-effectiveness: the investment (time and money) in the process is suitable to the scale and importance of the decisions.

Criteria of validity and quality will obviously differ depending on the context, the methods used (see for instance Table 11.1) and approach chosen to link DIPs with policy processes. When assessing the quality of a deliberative process, however, the emphasis should be on methodological rigour rather than aiming to satisfy naïve notions of “objective truth”. A prime concern should be on meeting safeguards and quality criteria. Some such safeguard and quality criteria likely to be appropriate in many situations include:

  • Diverse oversight and transparency. Many of the guidelines for DIPs, such as those laid down by the Institute of Public Policy Research2, include provision for the process to be overseen by a panel of independent observers. The inclusion of social actors with a diverse range of interests on this panel can be an important means of ensuring the methodology is not captured by a group with a particular perspective or vested interest. However, for this purpose, in most DIPs it is crucially important to widen the concept of social actor and “stakeholder” to include those marginalised by prevailing socio-economic forces. Only if there is a balance on any oversight body between those whose human rights are at risk and those with power, the process is likely to be fair, and perceived to be fair. The transparency of participatory forms of policy making can be further enhanced by involving social actors who are able to guarantee credibility and trustworthiness. For example, in the citizens jury/ scenario workshop described in Box 11.3, the organisers built several layers of diverse oversight and transparency into their methodological design (see Box 11.4). It is noteworthy that when media is invited to observe and document the process there is usually greater scope for linking local voices into national and international policy processes. Related to issues of balanced oversight, the safeguard of diverse controls can also be further ensured by relying on several sources of funding. Funding sources with vested interests in conflicting visions and policy choices should be involved in DIPs for the sake of pluralism.

  • Representation and inclusion. Who is allowed to take part and other issues of representation are crucial for the credibility of a deliberative process. DIPs should engage a statistically representative sample of the population affected by a particular policy. Yet, more valid “representation” may require giving more importance to groups of social actors with particular life experiences or characteristics such as gender, race, age, wealth and type of livelihood- resource base. Positive discrimination (affirmative action) may be needed to include marginalised groups who have been historically excluded from policy making and the control of regulative institutions. Where policies have wider social impacts it is usually necessary to include representatives from key sectors (industry, government, civil society organisations, farmer trade unions, academic institutions…) so that they can feed their views into the process. As mentioned in Part II of this volume with regard to the identification of the par- ties in the CM agreement, this is better developed as an iterative process, with subsequent refinements.

Convenors and facilitators will always need to exercise their best judgement in the act of “including” some parties in the processes of consideration, decision and implementation (inclusion). Inclusion goes beyond the question of “who is allowed to participate” to issues of recognising knowledge and different ways of knowing. This is particularly important in deliberations involving both citizens and experts with scientific or other specialist knowledge. For example, several consensus conferences and citizens juries on the risks of new technologies have demonstrated the competence with which citizens can discuss highly technical issues to which they had no previous exposure. They achieve this by carefully eliciting from each specialist witness the information relevant to their case. The questions of ordinary citizens and resource users have a more holistic quality than the arguments presented by some subject matter specialists. Different ways of knowing are included in the process, as jurors ask questions framed from their own life experience and livelihood contexts.

The extent to which citizens are allowed to interrogate their sources of information, rather than being merely the passive recipients of written briefings and specialist testimonies, is a good indicator of how inclusive a process is in recognising the validity of different knowledge systems.

  • Open framing and facilitation. The way discussions are framed by information, witnesses or questions can have an important influence on the extent to which citizens have the opportunity to develop their own policy scenarios and visions for the future. The extent to which assumptions behind issues can be challenged and new questions asked in DIPs is highly dependent on the choice of subject area or/ and the particular way a problem is defined. The initial choice of problems and definition of criteria drives the end results. For example it is noteworthy that assessments of GMOs in the UK were strongly influenced by each participant‘s early framing of the debate in multiple criteria mapping exercises3. Many criteria chosen by the participants lay outside the scope of official risk assessments and for no participant the whole range of criteria was explicitly included in the formal evaluation process of GMOs in the UK. The “sensitivity” of the early framing of issues and questions in DIPs emphasises the importance of ensuring that the entire spectrum of values and interests are represented. The extent to which convenors and organising agencies allow for flexible and open ended “framing” and definition of boundaries may ultimately prove a good indicator of their commitment to democratic values. It is good practice for the framing of discussions and scope of recommendations to be set by citizens engaged in DIPs rather than be constrained by a question dictated to them by a particular social actor or interest group. The degree to which convenors let go of their power over framing the terms of debate may actually determine whether ordinary people will be able to bring about change or whether DIPs will be merely used to legitimise established power structures and their favoured policy.

  • Creation of a safe communicative space. A wide range of different experiences with DIPs have demonstrated the importance of safe communicative spaces. These are opportunities in which people, who might otherwise feel threatened by sharing their knowledge and experience with others, can be placed in carefully thought-out environments of mutual support and empathy in order to allow them to express themselves. Safe communicative spaces are needed for the confrontation of perspectives from the social and natural sciences as well as the knowledge of local resource users, for social actors to negotiate and develop policy futures. The notion of safe communicative spaces recognises that there are differently situated forms of knowledge about livelihoods and the environment, and each is partial and incomplete. Participatory learning, inclusion, dialogue and careful deliberation are needed to bring these multiple and separate realities together, combining the strengths of outsiders‘ and local peoples‘ knowledge. Convenors of DIPs who explicitly seek to link local voices with policy change will need to provide safe spaces at a number of different levels.

Often there is a need to move beyond the uncritical support for assembly-style spaces, where populist attitudes can mask the hidden agendas of the powerful. This is important because the possibility that hierarchy and self censorship might constrain deliberation and inclusion is always present in any space where people come together. Deliberation is, after all, not only governed by rational assessment and dialogue about technical or political options. Feelings like anger, powerlessness, shyness, admiration, fear— all of the emotional side of human beings— are equally important. Like power, emotions are essentially relational phenomena. Personal and collective emotions, the self confidence of individual actors and the level of trust between actors all matter in spaces set up for deliberations on policy change. At a fundamental level, trust and emotions that underlie the self deeply influence the forms and outcomes of deliberations. Communicative spaces for participation, therefore, need to provide a sense of stability and security so that social actors can open up and engage in new struggles for self respect and self esteem4. Otherwise learning, under- standing and acting for policy change will probably not take place.

  • Emergence of a wide community of inquiry and empowerment. The quality of a process is apparent when there is strong evidence that it has catalysed and informed a broad community of inquiry, with possibly enduring consequences for several of the actors involved. This outcome is often dependent on a methodological design that explicitly links citizens involved in the DIPs to wider policy networks and the dynamics of policy changes.

Whilst there are no universally valid recipes for this, experience suggests that reversing dominant trends in policy processes can help engage a wider com- munity of actors for change. Particularly successful reversals from normal roles and locations for empowerment include: a) putting the perceptions, priorities and judgment of resource users and other marginalised citizens centre stage and using appropriate methodologies for DIPs; b) holding the process in a rural or appropriate local urban setting that is familiar to those citizens and resource users more directly affected by the policies; c) getting government bureaucrats, scientists and other specialist witnesses to travel to resource users, farmers and other citizens in order to present evidence on the pros and cons of different choices, technologies, policies; d) using television and video technology to ensure transparency and free circulation of information on the process and the outcomes, both nationally and internationally, and e) going beyond the idea of advocating on behalf of the marginalised to the practice of enabling the marginalised to speak for themselves5.

As a general rule, once people involved in DIPs reach their conclusions it is essential that appropriate intermediary individuals and channels link them with those who have the power to create change (e.g., farmer federations, indigenous peoples organisations, advocacy NGOs…). Immediate outcomes of DIPs can be more effective in policy change when they are actively used by civil society actors to influence advisory committees, technical bodies and civil servants connected to policy-making. One option is for groups of actors to use DIPs, when appropriate, as part of a larger set of activities aimed at influencing policy “from below”: campaigns, hidden resistance or direct civil action. Another option is to combine formal bodies of representative democracy with the more bottom-up deliberative and inclusive methods and processes. This approach may be particularly effective at the level of local and municipal governments, where citizen participation and government accountability can be mutually reinforcing and supportive.

All of these criteria and safeguards can help ensure the credibility, efficacy and fairness of DIPs used for policy making. However, ethics, values and intentionality will always remain fundamental to issues of quality and validity. Simply put, participatory methods such as DIPs for policy change can be used either for instrumental ends or for genuine citizen empowerment. Implicit or explicit intentions and underlying values always inform “participation”, the framing of issues, the form of any initiative and its operating dynamics. For example, a commitment to democratic values is likely to be expressed by the adoption of design principles similar to those of Checklist 11.4

Checklist 11.4 Broad principles for deliberative and inclusive processes related to policy development (adapted from Peals, 2003; Wakeford and Pimbert, 2003)

  • Participants, not those organising the process, frame and set terms of reference for the whole exer- cise.

  • The group organising, or in overall control of, the process is broad based, including social actors with different interests on the subject being discussed.

  • There are safe spaces for participants (usually non-specialist) perspectives to engage in a mutually educative manner with those of specialists.

  • There is full transparency about the activities carried out within the process to those outside it.

  • A diversity of information sources is available to participants.

  • Those without a voice in policy-making can use the process as a tool for positive change.

  • The process contains safeguards against policy-makers using it to legitimise existing assumptions or policies.

  • All groups involved in the process have sufficient room for learning, development and change.

  • An “audit” trail is designed and set out to explain whether policies were changed as a result of the process, what was taken into account, what criteria were applied when weighing up the evidence from the process and how the views of those involved in the participatory process made a difference to the decision.

1This section draws extensively on Pimbert and Wakeford (2003).

2 IPPR, 1994; Lowndes and Stoker, 1998.

3 Stirling, 2001.

4 Hoggett, 2000.

5 Pimbert et al., 2003; Wakeford and Pimbert, 2004.