Participation is a buzz word that means many different things to different people. For me, in this context, it specifically refers to a process where people are able to share power or ‘participate’ in decision-making and creating positive change in their lives or within their communities.
Participative approaches to research and decision-making emerged initially from the developing world in the 1970’s where people where struggling with inappropriate aid projects being imposed by people with power but without the knowledge about the real causes of the problems. Participative approaches aimed to be accessible to all, regardless of ability or literacy levels and empower people to identify the problems and shape their own solutions. The focus was, and is, primarily on supporting people who are disadvantaged or disempowered to have a greater voice and more control over their communities.
The benefits of participation are huge. The process of is not always straightforward, easy or the ‘quickest’ way of creating change but it is the most effective. Done well, participation does lead to more appropriate and lasting solutions, better decisions and ownership of the outcomes by those who have been involved in the process. For those who take part in participation activities new skills will be learnt, new friendships formed and an increase in self–esteem as they realise they can make a difference.