Ahead of the UNGA post-2015 stock-taking events this month, Former Director of Programs for the Center for Development Services in Cairo, Lisa van Dijk describes the ‘pathways of influence’ taken by the Participate initiative to bring the voices on the ground into global policymaking. What have these pathways looked like, and what are some of the key lessons we can learn from these?
The past two decades have seen a proliferation of opportunities for the perspectives of people experiencing poverty and marginalisation to input into global policymaking. So far these efforts have been contested, with attempts to embed participatory methodologies falling into many pitfalls. While Participate was built on learning from previous attempts to influence global policy, we aimed to further understand participatory processes, and advance practical ways for participation at every level of decision-making, from local to national and global.
The knowledge generated through Participate has been used at a variety of levels in different policy spaces, creating multiple policy-influencing pathways. The map illustrated below was developed by several members of Participate’s Participatory Research Group (PRG) to illustrate some of the multiple pathways in which knowledge from participatory research was used to influence policy processes at local, national and global levels.
Central to the policy influencing process presented in the system map below is the capacity of people living in poverty and marginalisation to create knowledge as ‘evidence’ of their own issues, and to recognise the value of that knowledge through participatory research processes. The research methods and approaches that were used to generate this knowledge are discussed in other sections of this anthology. Participatory research, such as Participatory Video (PV), Digital Storytelling (DST), and in-depth participatory inquiry aims to enable local people living in poverty and marginalisation to do their own research for social change on their own terms.
The participatory research methodology aspires to a proactive role for local people at every stage of the research. As well as designing the research, people living in poverty and marginalisation collected and interpreted the information. Through the research initiative, participants created their own space in the debate by engaging with their own community members as well as external stakeholders. For example, in Ghana, children identified lack of knowledge around sexuality as a key driver of teenage pregnancy, and used video to present their findings to their peers and community in an attempt to change attitudes. Testimonies prepared by a group of sexual minorities in India using participatory video were shown to their own members during their Annual General Body meeting, as well as being displayed at the ‘Work With Us’ exhibition at the United Nations (UN) headquarters to influence the global post-2015 debate. Where people in poverty and marginalisation generated evidence of their issues and priorities, they often felt increased ownership and were motivated to use this evidence to drive change at local and global levels.
Bringing the voices on the ground into global policymaking is a process of incremental change following multiple pathways with multiple types of engagement.
Participate aimed to bring the perspectives of those in poverty into decision-making processes, however this is not enough: the global decision-making processes must feedback to the local and national levels, and enable people living in poverty and marginalisation to take action and advocate for their rights.
If we believe that people have the right to have a meaningful say on the global policy that affects them, then it is our responsibility to learn how to do this in the most effective and ethical way. Participate was built on the learning from previous attempts to influence global policy.
Reflecting on whether we were successful in achieving what we aimed to set out to do: it is probably too early to tell. We were successful in getting local messages synthesised to the global level, and this has had some influence on the outcomes of the post- 2015 debate.
This blog is an edited version of Lisa’s and other partners’ contributions to Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence’.