Friday, 3 December, 2021

Participatory Approach To Development

Uttam Maharjan

It need not be repeated that Nepal has adopted the participatory model of development. People’s participation in development activities has been prioritised. It is a no-brainer that without rural development, overall development cannot be conceived of. Now, there are local governments throughout the country. Rural areas still lie far behind urban areas when it comes to development. So the participatory approach is deemed one of the best models of accelerating development.

Among such models, participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is considered a good model for least developed and developing countries like Nepal, where rural underdevelopment is a setback in the development process. The basic thrust of the PRA approach is decentralisation and empowerment. In the present-day scenario, local governments have been assigned authority and responsibilities for embarking on development activities in their jurisdictions. So the government has decentralised its powers among state and local governments.
PRA is a methodology of collecting data on rural requirements from rural people. The data so collected are studied, analysed and evaluated for use in rural development planning. The data are collected directly from rural people through interaction with them. So such data can be collected in a short span of time and are highly reliable.
Data collection
The PRA methodology differs from the questionnaire method of data collection, in which data are collected by making people fill in questionnaire forms. The latter method of data collection may be biased as data may be collected from only those areas that can be reached easily, leaving out places that are remote and difficult of access. Interaction with rural people will produce data based on reality and such data are representative of their lifestyle, standard of living and financial conditions. On the other hand, the data collected through the questionnaire method may be costly and full of flaws. There may also be biases as well. The PRA method is effective at overcoming such shortcomings.

The data so collected will reveal several things such identification of needs of rural people and prioritisation of work to be carried on in rural areas. And rural development plans can be formulated and implemented accordingly. In fact, the PRA concept is based on popular participation. Unless there is popular participation in development projects, the chance of such projecting panning out will be slim. So rural people are encouraged to participate in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development plans on the basis of their knowledge. Development plans formulated by the central government without consulting local people and considering their actual needs may prove to be counterproductive.

Formulation of development plans begins on the basis of identification of problems. When rural people are involved in the development process, they openly reveal what problems they are facing. Keeping in view how to solve such problems, rural development plans are drawn up with the participation of rural people. This will instill a sense of ownership of the development projects into them. The theoretical aspects of the PRA concept are to enable rural people to analyse their problems by themselves, formulate appropriate plans and implement them; to recognise rural people as analysts, planners and managers; and to promote decentralisation, democratic management, sustainability, communal participation and empowerment.

The PRA model conceives of development through communal mobilisation. It emphasises the identification of problems and formulation of strategies for solving them by incapsulating them in development plans. It accentuates the utilization of local knowledge, skills and resources and focuses on embarking upon programmes bases on local requirements. In essence, it stresses a bottom-up development model. The PRA model is also useful for initiating self-help schemes. Such schemes are useful in rural settings. Such schemes help rural people to be empowered and self-reliant.
It would be germane to note that British sociologist Robert Chambers did research in Asia, including Nepal and India. He collected data from rural areas and pursued his studies on this basis. He worked for an institution called MYRADA in southern India and applied the PRA concept. Robert Chambers was a key exponent of PRA and believed that poor and exploited people can and should be enabled to analyse their own reality. As a matter of fact, the PRA concept aims at including the knowledge and views of rural people in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development plans.

In 1983, Robert Chambers used the term rapid rural appraisal (RRA) to describe techniques for directly learning from rural people. In 1985, an international conference on rapid rural appraisal was held in Thailand. Nepal also participated in the conference. Thereafter, the concept of rural development by involving rural people in identifying problems, setting goals and monitoring achievements emerged. And the word ‘participatory’ crept into the RRA concept and the PRA concept emerged with practical applications in rural settings. The RRA concept flourished in the late 1970s and the 1980s, whereas the PRA concept flourished in the late 1980s and the 1990s. By the mid-1990s, the term RRA had been replaced by terms like PRA and PLA (participatory learning and action).

Communal development
The PRA concept emerged in Nepal with WINROCK International applying the concept in Lumle Agricultural Research Centre. The country gained insight into the concept after participating in the international conference on rapid rural appraisal held in Thailand in 1985. Since then, the PRA concept has been applied in the communal development process in the country.

The PRA model empowers rural people. They are considered development partners. Their knowledge, skills, views and suggestions are incorporated in development plans, which makes it possible to formulate and implement development plans in such a way as to solve their problems. The PRA model is thus geared up towards communal development. Overall communal development will lead to the uplift of living standards of rural people. Therefore, the PRA model should be adopted in all rural areas.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.