Achieving SDGs only possible with people’s participation & monitoring

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I first became involved with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when the international community was just starting to think about what would replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), reflecting on what had and had not worked during that era.

One of the most striking things that I learned, as the new Agenda was being discussed and negotiated, came from the research that the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) was doing at the time.

The IDS-led Participate Initiative had convened “Ground Level Panels” with local, marginalized groups of people, and the results of these consultations revealed how a number of well-intended MDG initiatives had yielded sub-par or even negative results for the very people they were aiming to assist. This was because it was only “experts” and decision-makers who had been involved in designing and executing said initiatives.

Partners and agents of change, not beneficiaries

It became very clear to me that for development progress to be sustainable and sustained, then those people who were once only considered “beneficiaries” or a “vulnerable group” would need to be brought into the process – as partners and agents of change.

I believe this is both the challenge and the opportunity for creating more accountable and effective institutions, as articulated through Goal 16, but of critical relevance to all 17 of the SDGs.

The SDGs’ negotiations were a positive step forward in this sense: an unprecedented consultative process that brought the views of millions of people from different walks of life to the attention of decision-makers crafting the new Agenda, and the UN System worked with civil society on that process.

However, two and a half years into implementing the SDGs, this ethos of participation needs to further permeate local and national planning, implementing and monitoring of the SDGs.

Participatory monitoring crucial for fostering trust between different levels of government and their constituencies

I want to highlight one specific aspect of participation, which is a critical element for increasing two-way communication and fostering trust between various levels of government and their constituencies: that is data collected through participatory monitoring methods.

What I mean by this is increasing channels and spaces where people, including and especially marginalized groups, are involved in tracking progress on targets within the SDGs by providing qualitative data on issues – through focus group discussions, community score cards, off and online surveys and other means.

Participatory monitoring methods allow people to share their perceptions, ideas and “lived experience” about whether or not the SDGs are achieving their desired results.

For example, official data collected through a national statistics office might reveal that school attendance for girls decreases between primary and secondary levels in “x” number of districts… but what this official data will NOT tell you is why.

Is it because of school fees?

Is it because the journey to get to school is unsafe?

Is it because the school does not have adequate sanitation facilities for adolescent girls?

Participatory methods provide that critical “reality check” and are a useful complement to official data collection methods — by unearthing evidence gaps and bottlenecks that otherwise would go unseen.

Perception data, and more broadly people’s participation, can also be a “service” to governments in helping them create and implement more efficient and effective policies and programmes as well initiate smarter social spending on solutions that will yield the best results for money spent.

At UNICEF, we are especially interested in how children, adolescents and young people can be involved and included

Being from UNICEF, we are particularly interested in how children, adolescents and young people can be involved in such processes. Through both our political advocacy at the global level and work with governments, civil society and young people at local and country level, we have seen some positive results on this front.

For example, over the last several years UNICEF has developed a mobile-phone based social messaging tool called U Report, which allows young people to ask questions and share their views on key topics of interest to their lives, including those covered in the SDGs.

Individual responses are confidential, but all responses are aggregated so that results can help inform and improve our own programmatic work and be shared with governments so that they better understand the priorities, concerns and needs of young people in their countries.

U Report has millions of registered users and is currently operational in 43 countries.  We have discussed piloting this tool for gathering more perception data for SDG indicators, including more reliable data for “tier 3” indicators, which are those where no internationally agreed methodologies presently exist and where data is scarce.

To conclude, people having the space to participate in decisions that affect their lives is essential to the SDGs pledge to “leave no one behind” and to achieving all of the Goals. Participation is an essential right for all people, and, as such, has intrinsic value.

However, participation also serves a greater purpose in helping decision-makers create and implement policies and programmes that benefit peoples’ lives. This can, in turn, enhance the effectiveness and trustworthiness of public institutions as enshrined in Goals 16, but also essential for making sustainable progress on all of the Goals.

NOTE: This blogpost is taken from the original published on May 30, 2018 at IDS wesbsite.

Shaking Accountability in Mexico

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Erika Lopez Franco

Three weeks have passed since 19th September and in the aftermath of the earthquakes Mexico’s ‘accountability ecosystem’[1] appears to be thriving.  With the upcoming presidential, and lower and upper chamber, elections in 2018, the political elites are facing a growing tide of fed-up citizens taking action for real change.

My work, and that of many other researchers in IDS,  includes documenting and sharing the learnings that organisations and collectives in different countries, working with diverse groups for various purposes, have gathered on how to hold those in power to account so change is sustained over time. Ironically, despite being a Mexican, I have not taken the time to do this for Mexico. Over the last year however I’ve been witnessing, mostly via social media, and on the ground after the recent earthquakes, how accountability in Mexico has transitioned dramatically from one reliant on policy-influencing and legal advocacy to one that is putting movement building and relationships at its core.

This transition has taken more than 15 years to happen, and this timeframe would of course be insignificant were it not for the contextual dynamics generating the conditions for this shift. At this point I do not have enough evidence to precisely identify the conditions which have led to this transition, but I do want to give recognition to some initiatives and actors that in my opinion are truly changing the game.

From initiative #3de3 to Law 3 de 3: Mexicans take the law into their hands

For as long as I can remember, Mexican people tend to either complain bitterly about corruption or play the rules of the game ‘el que no tranza no avanza’ (i.e.  if you do not cheat you do not make way). Those of us who complained seldom took action or engaged with activist organisations. This may have been because these actions were happening behind closed doors, used complex legal terminology and were led by experts who could not speak simple Spanish.

Initiative #3de3 started in early 2016 as an online and mass media campaign advocating for all elected politicians to disclose their assets, interests and tax-payments as they enter office. After collecting nearly 700,000 signatures, and significant lobbying in Congress, Law 3 de 3 was approved. This is indeed a great outcome and a stepping stone on the path towards a National Anti-corruption System. For me, what made this initiative powerful was the number and variety of people who were part of a striking public campaign which made Mexican citizens believe and follow a concrete action to actively tackle corruption; and realise we can be makers and shapers of laws and regulations.

Pedro Kumamoto and the @WikipoliticaJal movement: awakening the millenials

In Jalisco, the so-called ‘most Mexican state’ where tequila and mariachi abound, youth-led accountability is for real. This summer I started paying closer attention to the ‘Kumamoto’ phenomenon and the civic network that has grown around his low-key but charismatic leadership. Born in 1990, Pedro Kumamoto is the first independent citizen to win a seat at the State’s local Congress and is aiming to become the first independent senator in 2018, having not even reached 30 years of age.  Impressive! Thankfully, he is not the typical ‘charismatic or neo-populist’ leader that most countries in Latin America have been subjected to.  He is doing things truly differently: he has renounced 70% of his salary; is disclosing the rationale behind his votes in Congress so voters can understand his reasoning; he goes out to the streets to listen and be held accountable; and recently he has started a national campaign to decrease the public financing of political parties, which follows given he is not part of one and does not want to create one.

What makes Kumamoto a phenomenon is that he has awakened the sense of citizenship amongst ‘millenials’ who are, according to some, notorious for disengagement, indifference and egocentrism. In Jalisco a network of clever and creative young people are fusing online innovation with disruption of the Mexican archaic Electoral Law. Their online activism through @WikipoliticaJal knows it is not all about the techy stuff; as global evidence shows, building relationships, coalitions and learning from others who are disrupting systems for meaningful participation, is what matters most. This summer, @WikipoliticaJal convened La Ocupacion: Festeja lo Posible (Occupation: Celebrate what’s possible) a gathering of young and fearless innovators from various countries in Latin America which have proved the baby-boomers wrong. Whilst dreaming of a brighter future, millennials are also taking concrete steps to create new forms of political engagement and social change.

September earthquakes: awakening community efforts for accountable reconstruction

Earthquakes are always unexpected, and in that sense citizens can only hope to know what to do when they happen and have luck on their side. The first earthquake in September sparked a couple of citizen initiatives to help the worst hit areas of Oaxaca and Chiapas. However, it was the second earthquake, which hit the central states of Puebla and Morelos as well as Mexico City very badly, that showed there can still be a sense of community in cities where millions of people live.

People from all walks of life spontaneously mobilised to help in all sorts of ways, even providing free relaxing massages for those working day and night in rescue efforts. Many pieces in social and conventional media have spoken about the renewed sense of solidarity amongst Mexicans and the beauty of helping without expecting anything in return, sentiments both moving and inspiring. In addition, what I witnessed is that the earthquake literally unearthed Mexicans’ latent feeling of discontent with – and at times abhorrence at –  the political class.

Memes, not only in Mexico but elsewhere, are becoming common and powerful vehicles for channelling anger towards those in power, calling for changes in the political game and acts of everyday accountability[2]. Almost immediately after the earthquake these were used as an escape valve for all the frustrations we have with our so-called authorities.

Perhaps most importantly, the earthquakes allowed for the re-recognition of sentiments such as ‘People’s Power’, ’We can do it’ and ’We don’t need you; leave us alone’ amongst many Mexicans. Moreover, actors and organisations have started planning for the mid and long-term reconstruction efforts. Experiences abound of crisis donations being ‘diverted’ in all sorts of situations, highlighting the relevance of accountability in those processes. This is not uncommon in instances of disaster risk management as well as in the reconstruction of accountability systems after major disasters.  Yet from what I’ve been witnessing it seems that Mexican citizens are pushing back and not allowing politicians and construction companies to play their dirty games once again. A call for an accountable reconstruction process is already circulating and information on how citizens can participate in this journey is already available online.

Three weeks after the earthquake the positive energy is still high. There seems to be both strong existing relationships and new connections being built amongst key actors who are willing and able to make things happen. It is exciting to be following how things unfold, albeit from afar, and I am hopeful that all this activity translates into a change in how the political class and the private sector elites (whom John Gaventa reminds us not to forget) relate to the ‘ordinary Mexican citizen’ and hence a change of behaviour towards more transparency and accountability  at all levels.

[1] Accountability Ecosystem: academic term which has been used to encompass all the relationships amongst citizens and with those who assert authority over them, collective action initiatives of all sizes and shapes; the rules, laws and regulations which exist in a country to expose those in power for wrongdoing.

[2] Every day accountability actions have been deeply explored through the lived experiences of the Delft Safety Group in Cape Town, South Africa

Photo Credit: Erika Lopez-Franco, Mexico City, September 2017

Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals from the community-level

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Jo HowardTom Thomas

This blog was originally posted on the British Academy website on 7th August 2017.

The theme of the 2017 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world“. We were pleased to be able to attend thanks to the support of the British Academy, since finding more inclusive ways of making governments accountable for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is central to our current project ‘Building Sustainable Inclusion: From Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships’. It was particularly valuable to bring to the Forum the work which Praxis is carrying out in India with members of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes, given that India is one of the 44 countries presenting their Voluntary National Reports (1) at the HLPF this year.

Read the blog in full…

Can the High-Level Political Forum Agenda 2030 Reviews Genuinely Reflect Needs and Priorities of the Poorest and most Marginalized?

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Thea Shahrokh

This blog was originally posted on the Together2030 blogsite on 6th July 2017.

Authors: Jo Howard and Erika Lopez Franco

Ground Level Panel members being facilitated through a discussion on the sustainable development goals. Source: Creative Commons


As we approach the High-Level Political Forum, which this year is focusing on “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”, 44 governments will be preparing to report against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and indicators. But will the priorities reflected in these reports match those of people who actually experience poverty, especially the poorest and most marginalized whom we are committed to prioritizing in this framework of “leave no one behind”?

At the Participate Initiative, we are driven by the belief (and evidence) that our understanding of how the world is changing can be significantly enhanced through participatory approaches which bring to the fore different kinds of knowledge about the world, coming from a wide range of perspectives and mediated through multiple identities.

Participate was originally set up in 2012 with an ambition to bring the perspectives of the poorest and marginalized into the post-2015 process. Members of this research network recently had the opportunity to reflect on this ambition at the Action Research Network of the Americas Conference (ARNA) in Cartagena, Colombia.

Our discussions took us back to when the Participate initiative began in 2012 and our endeavours to bring the perspectives of the poorest and marginalized into the post-2015 process. To explore what has happened since then, we used a version of a game called ‘broken telephone’ to demonstrate how a message can become distorted as it is passed between different actors with their different ways of listening, recording, and translating. In this way a message that begins at the grassroots as an articulation of a local need can get lost as it becomes interpreted in terms of pre-established programmatic priorities.

Data gathering through participatory processes is one way to protect the articulation of local needs at the grassroots level

Participate will be present at the HLPF, presenting some of our recent research at a side event.  We will be highlighting the value of data gathered through participatory processes to enhance decision makers’ knowledge by bringing it into contact with knowledge from the margins. The early evidence is showing that this convergence of knowledges is essential for poverty eradication approaches to be successful.

For us, a particularly powerful example of what participatory research can offer the SDGs is the work of Praxis with Denotified Tribes (DNTs) in India. Praxis are working with this highly stigmatized group to support DNT community researchers in generating their own data about their access to health services (SDG3.8), experiences of discrimination (SDG5.1) and poverty (SDG1). This process foregrounds the rights of all and the responsibilities of duty-bearers for making these rights a reality. The challenge is for duty-bearers at all levels to take this data seriously – not only that which is recorded in surveys, but also data that is oral rather than written and that which is constructed through stories and dialogue.

We find ourselves at a point in our history where all problems are highly interrelated; there is no way that these can be tackled from a single perspective.

When we seek to eradicate poverty and transform the world, we need to draw on different forms of knowledge about the world we want to change, both in order to change it, and to open our eyes to alternatives to the world as it is, and be able to imagine. The convergence of knowledges is an imperative; this can only happen by opening safe spaces for those whose voices have been neglected to come into the dialogue with the same leverage.

About the authors: Jo Howard and Erika Lopez Franco are researchers at the Institute of Development Studies, and coordinate the current research programme of the Participate Initiative, funded through British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme.

Together 2030 is a civil society initiative that brings together more than 450 organisations from 89 countries to promote national implementation and track progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

‘Violence is everywhere’ & ‘what we live with everyday isn’t right’: a visual blog of creative story-based participatory methods to build accountability

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Joanna Wheeler

by Nava Derakhshani and Joanna Wheeler

Background to creative story-based participatory methods to build accountability

SLF has been conducting an action-learning pilot in Delft, a township in Cape Town, for the past 10 months. We worked with an action learning set called the Delft Safety Group, made up of about 15 loosely organised and concerned citizens from all walks of life in Delft including young people, self-defined citizen activists (concerned with security), members of the Community Policing Forum (CPF), and members of the Neighbourhood Watch Forum (NWF). This pilot started with the experiences and perceptions of the members of the group about their daily experiences of safety and security. It considered what these experiences show about the structural context of marginalisation, violence and poverty in an urban context and how to build greater accountability. Crucially, this process supports the group to articulate how they believe this situation can change and who needs to be involved for meaningful change to happen. The focus of the pilot is on how to make cities and informal settlements safer and more inclusive, taking as a starting point the extremely high levels of insecurity and violence that characterise daily life for many within townships and informal settings. It shows how local level experiences and ideas can contribute to greater accountability and ultimately to the bigger impacts of policies and initiatives aimed at reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This pilot forms part of a global initiative,Participate: Knowledge from the margins, and is connected to other pilot projects in Ghana and Egypt. This pilot used participatory visual methodologies as part of a wider action learning approach. Specific methods included personal storytelling for transformation, collective visual power analysis and collaborative narrative-based film-making.

1. The tiger behind the bars is Soeraya’s neighbour, who raped her son when he was 6. Her story is about how the justice system failed her and her family, and how she has to carry on.2. Amien’s story is about how he responded to his children being attacked by gangsters in Delft; his storyworld scene shows his children surrounded by gang members.3. The community safety group did a visual analysis of their own stories, connecting forms of power to characters.4. Different colours of thread represent forms of power in the stories: we found new meanings for power within, power to, power over and power with.5. The group developed dramas about how to create change in Delft.6. Based on their analysis. We laughed, we cried; the dramas gave us new insights.7. All of this helped the group discuss the deep causes of the problems in Delft.9. To make collaborative narrative films, the group learned each stage of filming process.10. We planned the films by thinking about the themes we identified from the power analysis, and what the group wanted the audience to feel, see, hear and change.11. The group built a collective narrative to communicate their messages.12. To build their message they used the skills they had learned about how to tell powerful personal stories, including storycircles and techniques like storyboarding.13. Translating the collective narratives into film was hard work.14. Everyone played a part, even though they didn’t always agree.15. Now we are planning together how to use the stories and films.

The role of the researcher: interlocutors and mediators

This pilot process has demanded a lot of us as researchers and from the group we are working with in Delft. We recognise that the role of SLF is partly as a mediator between different accountability actors at grassroots and national government actors. The careful negotiation of relationships with the group in Delft and with people within government has been critical, and we have been very cautious in putting much information into the public sphere about what has been happening.  Trust takes a long time to build and is easily destroyed. Critical attention to our own use of power is essential at every step. We also recognise that participants from Delft are navigating complex ethical dilemmas in their own lives quite apart from this research. Their realities oscillate between radically positive and negative outcomes (reflecting the blurred lines of their engagement in corruption/violence in their lives). A lesson for us has been the importance of sufficient time for engagement: to better understand the changes in the citizens’ lives, how relationships which each other strengthen, and how to articulate and sustain commitment to a shared process. The process has enabled the group to see how much that they have to deal with in their lives and the lives of others in their community. To be able to step outside of your environment, in this case characterised by high levels of insecurity, and recognise what needs to change is an important and difficult process. The process of methodological layering has enabled the group from Delft to recognise the enormous scale of the problems they face, but also helped them and us identify pathways into change. This kind of action-learning method creates a challenge for us as an intermediary NGO in terms of how to respond to the problems that people in Delft are facing. What will their recognition lead to and what is the role and responsibility of SLF going forward? We are still finding our way.

When accountability is life or death: reflections from the city street

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Joanna Wheeler

“You continue to ask me where does that information come through. But if it comes up through the wrong people, people get assassinated. That is life.” Delft community safety group member

‘Accountability’ can seem to be a boring, technical term, far from the most important issue in peoples’ lives. But when you start to dig below the surface, as we have in the SLF pilot for Participatory Monitoring and Accountability for the SDGs, it becomes clear that real accountability is not just a ‘nice-to-have’:  the lack of accountability, for people on the margins, is a life or death kind of problem.

In the post-1994 (post-apartheid) settlement of Delft, in Cape Town, South Africa, there are deep frustrations. More than 20 years after the end of apartheid, exclusion runs deep. In Delft, which is ‘mixed-race’ in the categories of apartheid, levels of violence have reached epidemic proportions. Research conducted by SLF with the Delft Neighbourhood Watch between 2014 and 2015 found a homicide rate of 40 people in 6 months, from a population of only 36,000. Currently gang-based and police-based violence is on the rise, alongside already very high levels of interpersonal and intimate partner violence. Community activists and honest police officers are being threatened and targeted.

Representation of safety issues by Delft community member

These acts of violence occur within a wider system of profound insecurity and uncertainty: opportunities for formal employment are low, and political parties mainly operate through patronage and populist strategies that leave post-election hangovers without doing much to improve conditions.  This social and economic exclusion sits alongside an invisibility of Delft in the media and public discourse. When people die in Delft, we just don’t hear about it.

Within this context, SLF has been exploring how to build accountability through an action-learning pilot as part of the on-going Participate initiative. We have focussed the pilot on Goals 5, 11 and 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular on the theme of community-based safety. Since January, we have been working with a group of about 15 residents from Delft, including members of the Neighbourhood Watch, young people, and community leaders.

The group went through a powerful process of telling their own personal stories about their experiences of safety and insecurity in Delft. Together, we analysed their stories in order to better understand the structural roots of their experiences. Now the group is busy making two films about themes they have chosen and developed. The ideas within the group about how to address community safety have evolved, and we are working together to develop a shared strategy to address the lack of accountability they face.

Here are some of the emerging findings around what it will take to bring about accountability in the context of a South African township:

Bringing corruption into focus

Making sense of the insecurity issues faced in Delft

A striking finding throughout this process is the extent of the effects of corruption. Corruption filters into the everyday lives of people living in Delft and is a major contributing factor to the erosion of social fabric and legitimate leadership.

What has become very clear is that there are actors within the township that can influence the outcomes of an accountability process through their relationships with other power-holders, but their ethics are often questionable:  they may be aligned with gangs, factions of the police using brutal force and extortion, or drug dealers. So people from the research process who are seeking a more accountable form of political leadership and want to see transformation happen are forced to choose:  make bargains with those who have the power, or be side-lined and keep hold of their principles.

The compromises that participants and we, as researchers, are having to make within contexts of corruption and violence are a reflection of the reoccurring need to face impossible choices – the question is how far are we willing to go to make a shift happen, and how can we set ethical boundaries we can keep.

Gaps in representation and uncertain legitimacy

In our pilot, a key issue has emerged around gaps in representation at the local level. To constitute legitimate representation at the grassroots level is difficult for a number of reasons: entrenched patterns of party politics; the influence of armed actors including the police and gangs; and the daily struggles to survive and to make ends meet for leaders and their families. It isn’t necessarily the case that grassroots representatives have legitimate political power to speak on behalf of others in their community, and constructing that legitimacy is not easy. Through the pilot, there have been some important and promising developments:

  • Participants describe how they feel more able to speak to others in their community about issues of community safety, and their sense of their capacity to represent issues in their community is growing
  • The action learning process is contributing to the necessary conditions to build the basis of legitimate representation in order to build answerability and enforceability for accountability
  • We have all seen the importance of constructing a more equitable basis of representation that doesn’t leave out certain voices and experiences (which is what is happening through the formal political process). We have all become more aware of the issues of people being silenced and or edited out of the process

Accountable political leadership and the action research process

Creative methods support discussions on safety and accountability in Delft

On the other hand, we have also encountered the precariousness of political alliances and promises, and there is still much to come in terms of what we can learn about how more accountable political leadership can be sustained in Delft and in South Africa.

Local community leaders from the research group are exploring how they can move into political roles, and they have been using the action research process as a platform to gain political legitimacy. This raises tensions between the potential for co-option of the research process and need for legitimate political representation at the local level.

Within the action-learning group, there are divisions along lines of political affiliation that are at odds with an emerging shared position in terms of the issues facing Delft. It is difficult for members of the group to align with party positions that are motivated by struggles for national political control and are contrary to what they see and want to change in Delft.

As we move into a more public engagement and dialogue with policy makers and community residents, we will continue to explore how to contribute to the shifts needed for greater accountability. For the group in Delft, and for many others living on the margins in South Africa, these shifts are what really matter.

Are we already left behind? Participate at the HLPF for the SDGs

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Thea Shahrokh

The Participate network contributed to raising the issue of participation and accountability at the High Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development July 11-20, 2016- UNHQ, New York.

Participate was one of many civil society actors to co-create a Together 2030 side event “Are we already left behind? The role of civil society and stakeholders on national reviews of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

Knowledge from the margins to the HLPF

Sophia Kitcher from the Ada Songor Salt Women’s Association – ASSWA and Radio Ada in the Ghana Community Radio Network spoke to this forum through video intervention, sharing perspectives and issues around monitoring and accountability of the SDGs from women marginalised in their communities on issues of resource extraction and equitable development. In Sophia’s words:

Sustainable development must mean development for all not for some. It must mean the improvement of livelihood, not their sacrifice for profit-making. In our case it must mean the return to communal assets and artisinal salt production in our Songor Lagoon. A message we encapsulate in the shout “Songor! For all!”


The side event took place on 15 July in the Expert Segment week and was organised in partnership with CEPEI, Sightsavers, World Vision International, Justice Development Peace Commission, Save Matabeleland Coalition, Philippines Social Enterprise Network, Participate Network, Bond, Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment and cosponsored by the missions of Colombia, Sierra Leone and the Philippines.

Radio Ada also created a podcast sharing the perspectives of citizens from the Ada region of Ghana and the complexity of governance of salt lagoons in the Ada traditional area, the challenges of sustainable development and the resulting marginalisation of women and their livelihoods.


The Participate initiative

From 2012-2014, Participate worked to bring the perspectives of people living in poverty and marginalisation into national and global consultations and decision-making spaces and processes, so that the post-2015 development agenda would be consistent with their realities, priorities and aspirations. People who participated in this research voiced a common desire: to be able to play an active role in developing their own futures, and in shaping, monitoring and implementing the policies and programmes that affect them.

In September 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were formally approved by the United Nations General Assembly. The need for a participatory monitoring and accountability approach as an important component to the implementation of these goals has been acknowledged, and is the focus of this new phase of Participate.

The Participatory Monitoring and Accountability (PMA) programme (2015-2017) engages with this urgent agenda of the participatory monitoring of the SDGs. In alignment with the ‘leave no one behind’ framing within the post-2015 development agenda, the PMA programme is working with groups of people living in poverty and marginalisation to strengthen processes of citizen-led accountability. It builds on Participate’s global participatory research network, and its track record in demonstrating the value of participatory action research – in its many forms and approaches – as enabling people living in poverty and marginalisation to exercise accountability.

Storytelling to tackle HIV stigma and increase accountability in Egypt

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Mohammed Farouk

Early in her life, Safaa lost both her parents and has since lived with her grandma and uncle in an economically strained and marginalised family in Cairo. When she was diagnosed with HIV a couple of years ago Safaa’s life reached a turning point, forcing her to say goodbye to her childhood and embark on a life shaped by isolation and stigmatisation.
Holding hands. Image relates to Ground Level Panel in Egypt held as part of the Participate Initiative. Credit - M. Farouk - CDS

One day, Safaa, suffering from severe toothache and in increasing pain, rushed with her uncle to several dentists. They all sympathised, but as soon as her uncle informed them of her HIV status they refused to extract the infected tooth or intervene in any way.

“Desperate, I extracted Safaa’s tooth myself”, said her uncle to a social worker visiting Safaa a few days ago. This is a shocking story, but a real one.

According to UNAIDS, around 500 children are living with HIV in Egypt, with many more hidden by social stigma. Safaa’s toothache story made me wonder: how can the voices of such a marginalised, highly stigmatised and vulnerable section of the population be brought into the light, heard and taken into account by healthcare policy makers? How can this ensure that they get full access to healthcare services without any kind of discrimination?

Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

With current global discussions around the SDGs, the previous question links directly to SDG 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”and its eighth target “Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all”

The Center for Development Services (CDS) is currently working on a unique initiative, in collaboration with the UNICEF Egypt Country Office, to understand and address the needs and aspirations of Children and Adolescents living with HIV (+CHAD). The question of how to ensure and sustain the long term access of this marginalized group to decent healthcare services was always a hard one to answer given that the healthcare agenda in Egypt is full of other priorities.

Furthermore, people living with HIV in Egypt suffer a high level of negative social stigma even at the level of healthcare service provision. This stigma and de-prioritisation has deeply hindered equitable access, and quality of services provided, to this group.

As part of the Participate initiative our analysis is that SDG 16 “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” provides an important platform to respond to this issue, specifically its seventh target “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.

Participatory monitoring and accountability

CDS believes that an effective participatory monitoring and accountability (PMA) process would provide opportunities for +CHAD and their caregivers to voice their needs and interests, reduce their suffering, improve the services they receive and help mitigate the health hazards associate with HIV. This process involves nurturing a collective of +CHAD and their caregivers. With the support of an alliance of actors we aim to inform the relevant government bodies and decision-makers of access problems and service quality, ultimately to enhance their accountability for improved services to +CHAD.

Using Digital Storytelling to support change

To support this process we are developing an approach called Collective Digital Storytelling (CDST), which aims to visualise the +CHAD experiences and realities in a manner that is ethical, empowering and collective at the same time. In creating a space and process for +CHAD and their families to express how they experience care, the lived experiences of +CHAD and their caregivers will be located in the heart of advocacy to influence change in health service provision.

The CDST process itself is expected to impact the lives of +CHAD participants, through a creative and novel participatory experience that allows them to express their own realities living with a chronic illness. Importantly, the process will also engage +CHAD caregivers: important actors who influence the lives of this group and the possibilities of positive change.

The relationships between +CHAD and their caregivers form a crucial alliance, which will also be investigated as part of the PMA process. Creating a sense of collectiveness in the storytelling will accordingly steer and shape the advocacy discussion in the context of health care delivery for children living with HIV/AIDS. The children, adolescents and their families will visualise their own experiences through the CDST which is an engaging structured activity.

We are excited about this initiative and eager to share with you our progress in a series of critical reflection blogs. However, we cannot conclude this discussion without highlighting that challenging and shifting discriminatory social norms and stigma is central to this process, as those who are answerable for the access and quality of services provided to +CHAD are themselves sometimes prejudiced against this group.

Hence the question remains, to what extent will this approach be effective? Will the accountability mechanisms and drivers be different given the social circumstances? Central to our work therefore is understanding how and why participatory monitoring and accountability approaches that promote the engagement and voice of marginalised youth can find traction in such a complex social and political context.

Image credit: M. Farouk – CDS

Participation and post-2015 goals: Rhetoric as usual?

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Tom Thomas

As global governments begin to negotiate and agree on a framework for a development agenda post-2015, it is heartening to note that unlike the MDGs that were developed in a top down manner, development of the post-2015 framework has been consultative, at least via CSO mediated processes. Efforts such as Ground Level Panels (GLPs) by Participate and Praxis attempted to push the consultation to the next level of direct talk by people living in poverty. A wealth of inspiring, deep and not always inward looking recommendations have emerged from people living in poverty. Equity and equality stand out as the core of people’s concern, and ‘People, Planet and Participation’ have emerged as the three most important pillars on which to build the post-2015 framework.

These welcome beginnings notwithstanding, the larger question that begs an answer is how participation will be placed in the post-2015 framework. Rhetoric as usual or will the UN and governments be more imaginative to infuse into the framework a participation that has the potential to deepen democracies and produce superior outcomes?

To not miss this opportunity to push participation up by a few notches at the minimum, it is imperative that we ask some key questions:

 1. Whose participation?

While it is desirable to have all citizens participate, the critical non-negotiable ones are whose lives the framework is meant to directly impact – the most marginalised and excluded communities. Aggregating the entire group of people experiencing complex layers of exclusion and marginalization into a single entity of community has always been problematic and it will need to be unpacked for deepening participation.  It must be recognized that there will be many sub population groups that will be normally invisible and ignored, even through ‘participatory processes’ – both by commission and omission. While a certain amount of discussion has taken place over the past decade about the invisible sub groups like the disabled, the elderly, the lower caste, religious minorities, women, etc., not enough has been said about the ignored population. Youth and children are a classic example of groups that get ignored as many of the processes are designed with an able bodied adult male as the active participant. As we move forward, it is important to recognise and include both the invisible and ignored population in the framing of post-2015 and beyond.

2. Participation in what?

Are we talking about participation in just framing the post-2015 goals and targets? Not unless we want to relegate people living in poverty as mere recipients of welfare measures doled out by a benevolent world. Raising communities to the level of active participants and partners in the framing, roll out and monitoring, will not merely make the targets more achievable, but also raise the self esteem of communities, an essential factor to help them stay out of poverty and better theirs and their communities’ lives.

 3. What kind of participation?

If equity is a concern and reducing inequalities is a goal, it requires participation of a different kind and not the one that limits it to an invited space[1] to pick from a pre-decided menu. It would require a participation that can challenge and change the way production relations are tilted in favour of the elite, a participation that can subvert the power equation in favour of the poor and a participation that can also challenge and make consumption more equitable. Participation must be seen as a ‘means’ and as an ‘end’ in itself. The first, ‘as a means’, is easy and has been universally accepted. Even the most ardent supporter of the ‘top-down’ approach would agree that participation of users will enhance efficiency. I don’t think we will see a disagreement on that from anyone, irrespective of whether you are left, right or centre. But what we need support for and champions from the member states, is to move participation from a mere ‘efficiency coefficient’ to an ’empowerment coefficient’. It is not just CSO speak, but a well documented and accepted fact that an ’empowered citizen’ is better equipped to move herself/ himself into better health, education and livelihood. Unleashing the empowerment coefficient of participation has the potential to, as Thomas Isaac, ex-finance minister of Kerala[2], says “engage at ’empowered deliberative democracy’ in an attempt to, produce superior outcomes to a traditional representative-techno bureaucratic democracy”, in promoting equity and improving the quality of citizenship, to keep the government accountable, the state equitable and society alive and kicking.

Capacity and costs are often cited as excuses for making participation a ‘good thing to do’ but not an ‘essential’ one. Let me cite an example where Praxis used community members as evaluators for a pan Indian UNDP programme: The cost was fractional to that of a parallel evaluation by ‘experts’ and the insights achieved were far more grounded and actionable. There are some think tanks that put the cost of monitoring the ambitious post-2015 goals and targets set out at a whopping USD$254 billion! But, are they talking about community and participatory monitoring? Not one bit. The estimates are for expert led monitoring that as the authors themselves admit will finally at best yield estimates. The question then is: Do we want a monitoring process that gives us accurately wrong information by experts or approximately correct information led by communities? Participatory monitoring not just gives you approximately correct data, it also engages communities in understanding and analyzing data thereby making them active partners.

And on capacity, the myth that people living in poverty cannot think or imagine beyond their daily needs would be busted by even a cursory reading of the GLP reports or the Participate synthesis reports of the various participatory processes with poor communities from across the globe. These are testimonies of people’s capacities to vision for a future that is achievable. One of the members of the GLP organised by us, an elderly urban poor person said, “we stride forward in the hope of success despite being weighed down by our predicaments”. But yes, for those hardest to reach it will be a challenge that we must embrace if we want to ensure that we leave no one behind. I would like to close with a quote from another panelist, a person who is paraplegic and hence, speech impaired, who asked: “Is it that the government doesn’t know about our issues? They do, it’s just that they don’t care”.

I think the post-2015 framework offers us the opportunity to emphatically say, ‘yes, we know, we care and we are serious about leaving no one behind’. If a space for a deeper participation is not envisioned in the post-2015 framework, it will be important to train our guns at helping communities and even CSOs to claim those spaces. It doesn’t take much genius to know that a business as usual post-2015 framework will fail the big push and people miserably.

Tom Thomas is CEO of Praxis, Institute of Participatory Practice, a member of the Participate network; he forms part of the Steering Group. 

[1] John Gaventa, Power Cube –

[2] An Indian state described as a ‘development wonder’ for its high ranking on social indicators despite low economic growth.

The Secretary General’s Report: My points of disappointment

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Mwangi Waituru

The United Nations Secretary General’s (UNSG) has taken a look at the progress made in articulating a Post 2015 development agenda and released a synthesis report- the Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming all Lives and protecting the Planet.

The report comes after close to four years of a multifaceted civil society campaign for a people centred Post 2015 development agenda; a poverty eradication agenda that engages people not only from their points of vulnerability but also recognises and harness their potentials.

If what I feel is a correct understanding of what the Secretary General is saying, then we– the civil society, have not been effective in placing people at the heart of the discussions. The general feel I get from reading the synthesis report is that the reports of the various consultations and negotiations that the Secretary General synthesised do not present citizens as active participants in the development process. For me, the ‘feel’ is that this process still treats people more as recipients of development than drivers of change.

My experience with the Post 2015 development framework has been one of struggling first for people’s participation to be recognised as essential and secondly for the member states to understand what participation actually means. Member states see participation as participation of the member states particularly in terms of the least developed countries (LDCs). Member States recognise the need of these states to be facilitated to participate in the determination of the content of the post 2015 development framework. Beyond that, there is the contested participation of the civil society in what is regarded as a members states processes. But what has been mostly out of the picture is the participation of the people who live in poverty. Wherever the two terms- people and participation are mentioned in the same breath, the space is occupied by the civil societies who are called upon to speak for the people. Over and above this anomaly, the greatest omission I have experienced is that of people’s participation in the development process; that is, people’s agency to act or active citizenship. This kind of participation has many routes of which volunteering either by community groups or individuals stand out. The strongest proposal by the secretary general is that this participation should be engrained in the texture of the framework: an inbuilt means of implementation.

Prior to my engagement in this process as the co-chair of Beyond 2015, I was part of a coalition of civil society organisations that carried out poverty hearings in four African countries. Teams of eminent persons (Clergy, Business, Media and Civil Society Luminaries) listened to people narrate their lived experiences with poverty. After listening to testimonials that were presented in dignity and honour, Arch Bishop Ndungane of the African Monitor, told me,

‘The greatest hope is in what the people are saying to us. They are not just seated waiting for charity. People did not ask for handouts, they are asking for an opportunity to eke out a decent livelihood for themselves.’

Beyond 2015 and the Institute of Development Studies were later to convene a research network of 18 organisations working with people who are in one way or the other suffering marginalisation to carry out participatory research: Participate. People excluded and marginalised were supported to frame and carry out participatory research amongst themselves using a variety or participatory methods.  For me, as I interacted with these groups, the supremacy of people’s agency to act and make decisions in their lives was evidenced again and again throughout the process. Of course the participants of the studies faced impossible choices in their lives and generally development including MDGs did not reach them, yet this did not dampen their spirit to take charge of their lives. All they asked was – ‘work with us.’

In the words of GCAP Co Chair, Marta Benavides:

‘it is not for these people to accompany development but for development to accompany these people’.

But, it is not just disappointment that I have to cope with after reading the synthesis report; I also have some traces of anger in me. When the secretary general listed the consultations that have taken place, he only listed those that were organised and driven by the UN system. Mention of civil society was only in as far as they participated in these UN controlled spaces. Having been part of initiatives initiated by the people, my anger is understandable. It is not only the governments that are providing leadership; the people have provided leadership too. In fact, just as the UN system and the Member states invited the people into their spaces, the people also invited the UN and Member states into their spaces. Reports from these spaces were widely circulated within the UN. You can therefore imagine how I felt when I read the list of consultation- High Level Panel, UN Task Team, Business led process and the Open Working Group process and the sentences end with a full stop before any mention of the Participatory Research that Beyond 2015 and IDS conducted, the National Dialogues that GCAP, IFP, CAN and Beyond 2015 organised or the September 2014 climate march.

What about the Campaign for People’s Goals? Are they doing their thing far away from the UN for the member states to take note? What happened to the transformational shifts proposed by the Africa Working Group on Post 2015?

Welcome to the Data Revolution Advisory Group – but will it be a revolution driven by people?

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Neva Frecheville

Article by Neva Frecheville, originally posted on CAFOD policy team blog, Serpents and Doves

A warm welcome to Ban Ki-Moon’s new independent expert advisory group on the data revolution. While the data revolution conversation has been bubbling away over the last year, it’s been difficult to see how it will be brought into the official post-2015 process. With the announcement of the expert group, that missing piece of the puzzle has become clearer. The group will be tasked to input to the UN SG’s much anticipated Synthesis Report, providing input into the fourth chapter on the accountability framework (the other three covering the background, goals and targets proposed by the OWG, and financing).

Benita, 4 years old, from Ruyenzi, Rwanda uses a phone

So far, so good. But looking at the press release, a couple of questions occurred to me. As I’ve previously pointed out, the data revolution is in danger of missing out on the key constituency who are meant to benefit most from the collective endeavour to create a global development agenda: the very people who on a daily-basis experience poverty, injustice, discrimination and exclusion. Yet reading through the list I failed to spot anyone who would obviously champion this perspective. When the Secretary General High Level Panel was formed in 2012, Graҫa Machel, among others, supported the perspectives of people living in poverty, and many Panellists reached out to engage with different groups.

This contributed to the strength of the Panel’s report, which understood that the post-2015 development agenda needs to place people at the centre and to hear their stories. (In comparison to the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, which was heavily criticised for failing to open its doors to stakeholder participation.) While I understand that the Data Revolution Advisory Group is planning to consult with civil society, how will it hear the perspectives of people on the margins within such a tight timeframe?

The expert group should remember that data is not just technical and that the data revolution should be more than statistics, new technologies, and number crunching. The data revolution must also be about power. Information without a purpose is meaningless but who and how that purpose is defined is inherently political. Qualitative data, gathered from people’s experiences, stories and histories, play an important part in understanding what sustainable development is and how it is delivered. The Participate initiative, which gathered knowledge from the margins for the post-2015 process, is a good place to understand this contribution.

The Data Revolution group is called to assess opportunities to strengthen accountability across the national, regional and global levels. The newly convened group would do well to remember that accountability should be towards people, and within the post-2015 process, it is our duty to hear the perspectives, experiences and realities of those who are most often ignored or unheard, who are most often powerless.

I was also surprised that there seem to be no representatives from countries who genuinely struggle with a lack of capacity in National Statistical Offices. Although the Panel has 24 members, I couldn’t find an expert from an LDC among them. I think this is a shame – if we’re serious about addressing the obstacles to implementing a new development agenda, we should hear from the countries that have the least resource to support it.

For what revolution was ever successful without people?

Three recommendations to the Panel to wish them well:

  1. Be open to learning from different perspectives that complement traditional data collection methodologies. Participate resources are a good place to start.
  2. Include an expert who will champion grass-roots realities and understands data collection from people’s perspectives. An organisation like Spatial Collective in Kenya is one option.
  3. Give enough time for civil society consultations for marginalised people to participate, not just large, well-resources NGOs.

Ground Level Panels: Seeing the world through a different lens

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Danny Burns

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is expected to publish his report to the General Assembly on the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda on 12 August. How much of his insight will have been informed by listening to the voices of the poorest and most marginalised?  Ahead of his report, Participate partners have been critically reflecting  on the participatory methods they have employed in attempts to shift power in policy making.  One such approach, the Participate Ground Level Panels (GLPs) created a participative space for people living in poverty and marginalisation to deliberate what is needed from the post-2015 global policy process. 

 In 2013, Participate partners hosted three deliberative meetings between those living poverty and those with political authority through Ground Level Panels (GLPs). The idea for a GLP aimed to provide a mirror to the deliberations of the United Nations (UN) High Level Panel (HLP) but from people who lived in extreme poverty or marginalisation.

GLP Egypt

Ground Level Panels were developed to bridge the gap between people living in poverty and national and global actors

The Ground Level Panels took place in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India. Each panel comprised a group of 10-14 people with diverse and intersecting identities including urban slum dwellers; disabled people; sexual minorities; people living in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas; people living in geographically isolated communities; nomadic and indigenous people; older people; internally displaced people; and young people. Each panel created relationships, shared experiences, connected the local level to the national and international development contexts and provided a critical review and reality check on the five transformative shifts as outlined by the UN High Level Panel.

The GLPs saw the world through a different lens to the HLP. The people in the Panels understood the dynamics of change facing people living in poverty and this gave them the ability to say if these policies were meaningful. While economic growth is an unchallenged assumption in the HLP for the Brazilian GLP it was seen as part of the ‘death plan’. For the Brazilians the critical issue is not ‘poverty’ per se, but ‘misery’ and ‘dignity’. While the HLP focused on service provision, the Indian Panel’s desired goals largely focus on social norms, behaviour
and discrimination.

There were some common themes which emerged in all of the Panels. People want to feel that they have meaningful control over the influences that impact their lives. In all cases structures for equal participation were highlighted as foundational. In almost all of the Panel’s there was a recurring theme of ‘self management’. People don’t want aid. They want the means to generate and sustain their own livelihoods. So if we are serious about moving ‘beyond aid’ in the new development agenda then empowerment must become the priority.

One thing that struck me was the difference in composition of the HLP and the GLPs. The HLP was made up of people largely from an elite political class. There was the odd member of royalty and a few interesting academics thrown in, but by and large they were high ranking politicians. There was very little diversity in the group, and the interests were narrow. The GLPs on the other hand were highly diverse. Slum dwellers sitting side by side with pastoralists, transgender people, and people living in refugee camps … It is easy to stereotype people as ‘poor’and see them as a huge sprawling undifferentiated ‘category’, but they bring far more diversity than people who hold power.

Uganda_GLP a

Ground Level Panel participants in Uganda discussed what they mean by ‘sustainable development’

What defines the success of a Ground Level Panel? Is it the response of the national government or within the UN process, or is it also influence on policy at the local levels? For  Natalie Newell who led the GLP in Uganda on behalf of Restless Development, the experience demonstrated the importance of the local level. 
”It is important to be clear with all involved about what can realistically be achieved from the GLP process. This includes considering the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and what it can add to the policy debate. From the perspectives of those that participated in the Uganda process, the changes at the community level and for them as people were an important success.”

Listen to Nava and Richard’s reflections on the Uganda Ground Level Panels:

Knowledge from the marginsRead more about the Ground Level Panels in Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence.’ 

This article was originally posted on the Participation, Power and Social Change blog


Documentary film-making connecting policymakers to people living in poverty

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Led by Real Time, Participate produced a 20-minute documentary film ‘Work with Us’  to influence UN decision-making processes. The film drew stories together in order to powerfully communicate the participatory processes involved, and the importance of their contribution. Film-makers Jackie Shaw and Clive Robertson reflect on the role of documentary film making as a way to engage marginalised groups in informal and formal policy processes.

Our documentary production role involved film-making collaborations with ten Participatory Research Group (PRG) partners and communities in seven countries, to bring together some of participant’s research stories in a visually compelling way to broadcast standard.

The film’s purpose was to use actual experiences to make a case for why dialogue with marginalised groups is needed, how participatory processes can generate missing contextual insight, and how this contributes to the policy agenda in building more equitable working relationships. The stories communicated in the film emerged from the PRG partners’ participatory research processes, and exemplify the importance of their knowledge for development decision-making.

Collaborative film making

Collaboration is central to the participatory practice envisioned within Participate

From the beginning we intended that the documentary would be co-constructed with the groups we visited, and focused on the stories that people wanted to show and tell. It would place them at the centre of communications by filming them where they lived, speaking directly to the audience in their own language.

The stories included in the documentary grew in different ways depending on the context. What happened during film-making responded to the needs of the particular partners, the specific activities they were involved in, and the stage reached in the research processes when the documentary 
visit took place. For example, with PRG partners
the Seed Institute and Spatial Collective in Kenya
 and with Praxis in India, documentary narratives
 were storyboarded as part of participatory video processes. Cross-over 
with film-making visits provided the opportunity to record them on the broadcast equipment to include in documentary. In comparison, Ecoweb’s non-visual participatory research in the Philippines had already been completed – so we ran shorter participatory video processes with participants to build trust and working relationships and raise production awareness before filming.

Our intention to maximise ground level story authorship during documentary production, was reliant on the PRG partnerships, and the relationships they brokered with people living in poverty. The challenges of adapting the film-making process to context also arose in part from differences in the participatory approaches used, the stage of the research, the way the PRG partners perceived Real Time’s potential contribution, and how we responded. Learning from experience during pilot documentary collaborations with Praxis <link> in India and UAM-X in Mexico <link> enabled us to develop practice guidance that informed contextual adaptation in later visits.

Reflecting on the implicit dynamic created by our position as outside film-makers, we concluded that we were more likely to engender trust and informed consent, if there was at least a short interactive process between Real Time film-makers and participants living in poverty. This was to establish collaborative relationships before production, even on film-making only visits. This was also important to us in fulfilling our commitment to reflect people’s realities, because it gave space for film-makers and those who appeared to get to know each other, and allowed people’s most pressing issues, feelings and perspectives on what was needed to emerge.

We defined Real Time’s documentary making activity as collaborative to distinguish it from participatory production. We used the term ‘collaborative’ in recognition of the relationships with PRG partners that enabled us to build film-making partnerships with people living in poverty, and also to acknowledge the co-construction of the resulting materials with the communities concerned. However, documentary production activities also reflected a much more typical film-making dynamic: we took 
on a responsibility to produce and direct the process in order to deliver a broadcast standard product communicating the meta-narrative to decision makers within the timeframe. As such, we encountered a tension: how to maintain group narrative ownership of the stories filmed, whilst maximising the opportunity to influence international policy through communicating the films wider message.


Knowledge from the margins This blog is an edited version of Jackie and Clive’s contribution to Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence’. The anthology is a collection of honest accounts and critical reflections on participatory approaches to influencing policy – including the engagement with the post-2015 process.


Participate response to the Open Working Group ‘Focus Area Document’

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On 14 March 2014, Participate responded to the Open Working Group (OWG) Focus Area Document, urging members to listen to the voices of those living in greatest poverty and to ensure that the words ‘leave no-one behind’ become enshrined in the post-2015 agenda.

In 2013, Participate and its partners carried out research in which people were simply asked to tell their stories and talk about what was important to them. Given the open-ended nature of the research, with such a diverse range of people, their perspectives on development were remarkably consistent. The research  produced detailed insights into a vast array of development issues facing the poorest and most marginalized. The following critique of the ‘Focus Area Document’ is based on that research.

Focus area 1 – Poverty Eradication:  We strongly support the focus on poverty eradication, and the recognition that poverty is multi-dimensional. However we think that this commitment is contradicted by other focus areas within the OWG framework such as  ‘economic growth’, which our evidence shows does not benefit the poorest. The consistent conclusion across all 18 studies was that those living in greatest poverty have not benefited significantly from the MDG’s, that trickle down doesn’t reach the very poorest, and that a much more holistic approach to development which focuses on the multiple overlapping hardships which can spiral people further and further into poverty needs to be constructed.

Focus areas 3 and 4 – Health and Education: We know that people living in poverty value health and education highly. But because people are poor and marginalized, they cannot benefit from these services that might help them and their families find ways out of poverty. Access is limited by a lack of basic livelihoods and by discriminatory institutions, discriminatory local social norms and power relations which divert resources away from those in need.

Focus areas 5 and 12 Gender equality and women’s empowerment and equality: We believe that targets generically focused on institutional discrimination and changes in discriminatory social norms, attitudes and behaviours need to be built explicitly into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. Gender and inequality was shown to be persistent and endemic across all the studies. Traditional forms of exclusion against, for example people with disabilities, indigenous people and sexual minorities continue while new forms of discrimination, for example, against the elderly are emerging.

Focus areas 8, 9 and 10: While we recognize the importance of infrastructure development such as house building programmes and clean water and sanitation facilities, our research shows that economic growth, industrialisation and infrastructure development are producing greater inequalities. In other words, the price of better infrastructure for people with low incomes and the growing middles class is that the very poor become even more marginalized.  One clear example is the way in which slum clearance pushes people to the edge of cities where they no longer have secure livelihoods.

Focus area 11 – Employment and Decent work for all: While we agree that broadening the base of formal jobs is important, most of the poorest live by subsistence and through the informal economy. Development needs to support the informal economy and also support transitions from the informal into the formal economy. We think that this goal should focus on ‘livelihoods’ and decent work for all.

Focus Area 15 – Climate Change: We were struck by the Ghana Community Radio Network research which showed communities ravaged by climate change, mass migration into the cities leading to villages populated only by women and children (increasingly only grandparents and children). For many poor communities climate change is now seen as a priority.

Focus area 18 – Means of implementation: The discussion on the means of implementation needs to be substantially broadened. People living in poverty and marginalization need a development approach which is responsive to their needs and to their articulation of their rights. This requires a participatory approach to decision making at local and national level. Systems need to be built which ensure participation in the conception, design, implementation and evaluation stages of any development initiatives. This cannot be seen as something that comes after the development framework is set. It has to be embedded within it and seen as an integral part of it.

Focus area 19 – Peaceful and non-violent societies, capable institutions: One of the things that is most striking about the Participate work is the priority that was given to issues of governance. People were concerned with how institutions operate and the extent to which resources are diverted away from the poor as a result of poor governance, corruption or local power. People called for access to justice and for meaningful participation about the decisions in their lives.

Participate’s proposed foundational targets:

Drawing on core messages that arise repeatedly from our research, Participate believes that there are further focus areas that need to be addressed for sustainable positive change in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised. Key targets that enable change need to be included, and can fit within a range of goal areas. Without them, we cannot reach our aspiration to ‘leave no-one behind.’

(1) Efforts to enhance citizenship and participation allowing young people, women and other excluded people’s to articulate their own needs at all stages of decision making processes from articulation of the issues, to design, to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation

(2) Interventions to directly tackle discriminatory social norms and power relationships which exclude. These are seen to be the main causes of poverty and marginalisation. Services and opportunities exist, but the poorest and most marginalised don’t get access to them for these reasons.

(3) Support people in making secure the livelihoods that are realistically available to them. This means supporting the informal economies that keep the poorest and most marginalised alive.


Working with creativity to empower women and children

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Vivienne Benson

Every year on 8 March, thousands of events are held around the world to inspire, celebrate and empower women to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). This year on 6-7 March, it is directly preceded by the President of the General Assembly to the United Nations (PGA) High Level discussion on The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At the centre of the PGA discussion are the challenges that continue to impede groups from participating fully in society and from having the scope to ensure the accountability of decision-makers through their actions and voices.

Empowering marginalised women, men and young people to speak for themselves on issues of equity and rights should be a primary objective of the UN and other global decision makers. Key to that objective is developing the skills and capacity of women, men, young people and civil society to use different tools for creative expression in order to support people to speak through the medium that is most relevant to them.

Telling their own stories
Participate’s partners have worked with participatory methods to facilitate processes where people living in poverty and marginalisation can tell their own stories about how and why change happens in their lives. The Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy (MEND) works to promote active non-violence and open media in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. They have worked with marginalised women from these areas to share their reality through film.

Palestinian women share their stories with the world through participatory film-making: Credit: MEND 2013

MEND worked with a group of women in the village of Al Jib. The group learnt how to make their own films, from behind and in front of the camera. Reflecting on this process the women involved explained that they were ‘happy because we have a voice and we can send our message out’. In making their film, they are able to talk about what is most important to them: ‘there isn’t a single word in the world or in the dictionary that can express my anger and sadness [about the Wall that encircles village] and the tragedy because it really has no limits’. The clarity and poignancy of this message is expressed in their short film – Unhappy Birthday.


The participatory video process enabled the women to build relationships and learn from other women in their community. It has supported them to build the confidence and belief that they can and have the right to express their aspirations for change, ‘what I gained from the project the most was that I have more self-confidence, I am more strong and more sociable now’.

The Participate Initiative has 18 partners within 29 countries, all of whom have worked with the poorest and most marginalised communities to communicate the issues that are important in their lives, on their own terms. The Seed Institute, Kenya, Nairobi worked with children in Mwiki to conduct their own research on the experience of children living with disabilities. In their findings they explained that these children were forgotten and ignored. Using participatory video, they voice their concerns and identify practical solutions to improve the lives of children living with disabilities, and their families.

International Women’s Day and the PGA discussions should stand as a reminder that women and children should be heard in their own voice. The use of video and other creative mediums are effective ways to empower communities to find their own voice and speak their unfiltered message locally and globally.

Vivienne Benson works as Research Administrator at IDS and is the Events Coordinator for the Participate Initiative.
This blog was originally published on  the Power, Participation and Social Change blog from the Institute of Development Studies.


Participate’s landmark exhibition ‘Work With Us’ makes it to the United Nations

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Vivienne Benson

The Work With Us exhibition is back up (3-7 March) and this time we’re inside the UN headquarters in New York. The exhibition, hosted by Participate in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations and supported by Irish Aid, coincides with a busy time for UN policy-makers meeting this week to discuss their next steps towards a post-2015 development framework. While the Open Working Group (OWG) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to begin the serious business of identifying specific goals and targets, the President of United Nations General Assembly (PGA) will be debating the Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post‐2015 Development Agenda.

The Work With Us exhibition is a timely reminder of the importance of placing the voices of those most affected by poverty and exclusion at the heart of global decision-making processes. Through documentary, participatory video and photography, it tells the stories from people living on the margins, and de monstrates the obstacles, complexities, and impossible choices of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in developing countries. The exhibition strives to bring these stories to policymakers in a creative and thoughtful way, while keeping the message as honest and undiluted as possible.

Work With Us Exhibition in UN

Work With Us displays the vision for change of those that experience living in poverty and marginalisation – the very people that should be influencing policy. Now that the exhibition, is inside the UN, we’re hoping their voices are that bit closer to being heard.

What’s missing from the data revolution? People.

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Neva Frecheville

I find the post-2015 data debate both fascinating and disappointing, failing as it does in one key area.

It’s ignoring power.

The UN High Level Panel report on the post-2015 development agenda confirmed that the data revolution is high on the political agenda by including it as one of their five transformational shifts.  Since then, the conversation has snowballed, with some heavy weights adding their support.

But I’d argue that at present, the data revolution is too technocratic to change the world. While they’re right that the lack of adequate data is a serious obstacle to good evidence based policy (and practice), the right statistics alone will not change the world.  Without looking at the power dynamics behind this ‘revolution’, very little is transformational.  Serious questions need to be asked about whose data is captured, by whom, and who has the ability to access, define and interpret it.  Whereas the wider open data debate has cottoned on to the importance of citizen empowerment and participation and frames the debate as participation, accountability and transparency, it’s too little referenced in the post-2015 arena.

Who are the people who are meant to benefit the most from the post-2015 development agenda? We all have a responsibility to ensure that those most disenfranchised from decision-making are at the centre of the post-2015 debate.  This means those living in the greatest poverty and experiencing the greatest exclusion – especially if we want to achieve the other rallying cry to ‘leave no one behind.’

One of the biggest criticisms of the MDGs is that they were created in the dark corridors and behind the closed doors of global politics at the end of the millennium. Ostensibly, the world is different now – the global conversation, outreach that has seen 1.3 million people share their priorities, and negotiations broadcast online are testament to an increasingly connected world . But this is a conversation that has to include those at the margins in a way that understands the unequal labyrinths of power in which they operate.

Unless we have a better understanding of the data revolution in the context of power dynamics it will not succeed in delivering real, positive change on the ground. During Participate’s participatory research in 29 countries, people living in poverty articulated their aspirations as freedom from discrimination and oppression, the ability to participate in the decisions which affect their lives, social inclusion and a sense of hope. In a world of rising inequalities, people describe poverty and marginalisation as the denial of the rights that confer equality and dignity. But tick box exercises, or even formal legislative recognition of those rights, do not automatically translate into concrete outcomes. For the poorest, the reality experienced through the behaviour of government officials and institutional representatives is one of discrimination and intolerance.

The testimony of one participant from Chennai in India bears witness to the lack of ownership that marginalised people experience when articulating their reality: “Our rights of privacy, freedom are not respected… In fact, the society knows that we are not heard. Often the view is that what we say should not be taken at face value… Even our truths get interrogated.” Without ensuring that people have control of what data is collected, how it is represented and used, and the decisions it is used to inform, this dynamic is not going to change.

So what are the solutions? Participate findings have shown that a participatory approach to governance, that engages with local knowledge, strengthens people’s voices, and enables people to have influence and hold decision-makers to account, has the potential to be transformational. But the meaningful participation of people living in poverty in the creation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation won’t take place if the data which determines policies and priorities is extracted and does nothing to strengthen their hand.

The data revolution must be built from the bottom up, linking local to global. This means investment in community organisation and capacity development, and enabling spaces for the collective action of marginalised communities to emerge. This means empowering citizens – especially the poorest and most marginalised – to participate in the data revolution by developing the skills and capacity of people living in poverty to define the rights that matter most to them, capture and make use of this data, be included in creating, monitoring and implementing policies, and hold institutions to account based on this data.


This article first appeared in the blog. Neva Frecheville is Co-Chair of Beyond 2015 and Lead Analyst Post-MDGs, CAFOD.

Work with us: Community-driven research inspiring change

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Susanne Schirmer

‘People are sick and tired of being subjects of research. We are doing action research so people are becoming subjects of transformation.’

For me this statement from Walter Arteaga, one of the partner researchers in the Participate Initiative, sums up the creative approach my colleagues in the Participate Initiative are taking to engage those that are most affected by poverty and marginalisation in change and to bring their perspectives into the post-2015 process.

The Participate Initiative, recently launched a new short video which showcases some of the exciting participatory research the team has been undertaking with their partners in 29 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe in the past year. The team has been using participatory videos and digital storytelling – together with other participatory research methods –to make excluded voices heard in the UN debates around a post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework.

Watch the 20 min documentary and be inspired:

Alternatively, if you’re pressed for time check out some of the shorter films:


This article first appeared in the Participation, Power and Social Change blog at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Susanne Schirmer is a Project Coordinator in the Governance team, and Communications Coordinator in the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.

Involving the world’s poorest citizens in the post-2015 agenda

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Joanna Wheeler

In September, the world’s leaders, governments’ representatives to the UN and representatives from civil society from many countries converged on New York for a Special Event on the future global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Nearby, civil society organisations talked about how to get the voices of the poorest and most marginalised through the barriers that cordon off the UN Plaza and into the post-2015 process.

The barriers are not only physical – in many ways the entire process of consultations and surveys is set up to keep those perspectives from having any real weight. There is no formal system of accountability where the people who are most affected can challenge the decisions made about global development. Yet the success and legitimacy of the post-2015 framework will rest on the extent to which it provides for their meaningful participation.

While there are success stories about how the MDGs have been achieved, these are not often the stories told by the world’s poorest and most marginalised. Development interventions can often have unintended consequences: a village built to house indigenous people in Mexico sits abandoned because of the poor quality structures and the lack of viable livelihoods.

The poorest and most marginalised people have not been reached because of prevailing inequalities, including economic inequality (the lack of sufficient income), geographic inequality (many live in precarious conditions without land rights) and identity-based inequality (for example, gender-based discrimination is pervasive).

These become entrenched in the lives of people living in poverty – and they mean that simple and one-dimensional solutions are inadequate. For example, in Ghana, providing places in school is of little use if children cannot attend because they spend much of their day walking ever-greater distances to get water due to drought.

The experience of poverty is also shaped by social norms and relationships of power that limit access to rights and services. For example, ‘city-makers’ in Chennai, India live on the streets, and are often unable to access services or their rights because they cannot secure formal identification. They are further discriminated against because they come from scheduled castes—making it more difficult for them to access dignified work or stable housing.

GCRN community meeting

GCRN Participatory Research: People in Ghana come together to discuss the issues that affect their lives and build plans to change their situation

In order to understand how people have been left behind by the MDG approach, we need to understand what prevents people from making the changes that they are calling for, and how they think that these obstacles can be overcome. Research carried out by the Participate network in 29 countries shows that future development processes need a different approach in order really to reach those who are most often excluded. This vision for global development provides an important reality-check, and is based on the following:

  • Rights and recognition for all. Rights are foundational for recognition and dignity. Being treated with respect by family members, public officials and representatives of the state, and wider society helps people see themselves as citizens. As citizens, they are able to act to demand greater fairness and access to the resources they need.
  • Inclusion, solidarity, collective action. The most marginalised people experience discrimination within their families, in their communities and their wider society. Collective action is needed to address these problems, and that requires us to address the barriers that stop people coming together to mobilise effectively.
  • Participation, accountability, democratic institutions. Institutions that are democratic and accountable will respond to the demands of the poorest and most marginalised, and participatory approaches to decision-making can help ensure this happens.
  • Services and policies that respond to the needs of the poorest. Services and policies that effectively respond to the needs of the poorest people are holistic, long-term and have a focus on quality. Dignified livelihoods are a necessary element of their success.

It is not yet clear what the new global development framework will look like, and therefore it is even less clear how the perspectives, voices and decisions of those most affected by poverty and exclusion will be included in the process. The current paradigms of development aid are breaking down, and the emerging framework could set out new parameters that put people at its centre and give them a real say in the decisions that affect them.

Meaningful participation needs to start now while the framework is being set – and continue throughout the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages. Without this, the post-2015 process will become just another top-down example of UN member states failing to address the most pressing problems of our time.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of New World, the flagship publication of the United Nations Association – UK

Participate’s global research findings say that people and institutions must ‘work together’ to address poverty and inequality

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Joanna Wheeler

Participate’s new report Work with us: How people and organisations can catalyse sustainable change’ argues that the wellbeing of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities will only be improved if they are seen as active partners in efforts to tackle poverty and injustice.

Participation and realising the rights of all
The report brings together findings from the participatory research of the Participate Participatory Research Group that was undertaken by grassroots organisations, activists and citizens in 29 countries including Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Bangladesh, Montenegro, Egypt and Nigeria. The views, stories, and experiences of the participants were collected and shared through diverse mediums including participatory film-making, digital storytelling, public forums, public theatre and art.

The research makes an important contribution to ongoing international discussions about a new set of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability targets to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. These debates are currently riding high on the political agenda with world leaders about to gather in New York for the UN General Assembly and the Special event towards meeting the MDGs.

This research provides a clear message to leaders meeting in New York. Development policies have not met the expectations of the poorest and most marginalised, and this is largely because these communities have been excluded from crucial design and implementation processes. We have an opportunity to redress this with the post 2015 development framework, but the international community must demonstrate its commitment to working with all citizens to realise their rights, and recognise the role that people are playing themselves in transforming their own lives.

The reality of poverty
The ‘Work with us’ report highlights how the poorest and most marginalised communities’ experience of poverty is multidimensional, often characterised by low incomes, insecure livelihoods, limited or no assets, harsh living environments, violence and environmental degradation. These factors combine with multiple and interconnected inequalities, and close down the opportunities that people have to change their situation themselves.

In the report it is argued that development should focus on the very poorest and work with them to make the decisions that matter most in their lives. The research shows that development interventions, broadly speaking, are targeted at those who are easiest to reach, and based on strong assumptions about the experiences of the poorest, rather than building relationships with them to have a real understanding of how they experience poverty and inequality.

In order to address this it is proposed that a number of key principles must underpin future development policy and practice if the ambition of the post-2015 High Level Panel report to ‘leave no behind’ is to be achieved. These include:

  • Rights, dignity and equity
  • Inclusion, solidarity and collective action
  • Participation, accountability and democratic institutions
  • Services and policies which respond to the needs of the poorest

Through their efforts to tackle insecurity, youth researchers in Mathare slum, Nairobi, have learnt what they are able to do as a community, and where ‘working together’ will bring change that lasts. ‘Working together for change – Mathare Slum, Kenya’ (Spatial Collective, 2013)

Work with us exhibition launch
The report will be launched in New York at the opening night of an exhibition of the research findings from the Participate initiative. The exhibition tells stories from people living in the margins, and demonstrates the obstacles, complexities, and impossible choices of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in developing countries. The stories show the depth of insight and ability of people affected by poverty to create sustainable and meaningful change in their own communities.

The exhibition is launching on Monday 16 September at 5-7pm at the Gallatin Galleries, New York University, 1 Washington Place at Broadway, New York 10003. The exhibition will run from 16-20 September at Gallatin Galleries, and from 21-27 September at RSPop, 501 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10017.

There will be a panel event to discuss the research findings from the Participate initiative on Friday 20 September at 9-11am at NYU Wagner, the Rudin Family Forum for Civic Dialogue at the Puck Building, 295 Lafayette Street, Second Floor, New York, NY 10012-9604. The panel will be made up of representatives from the UN, academics, civil society and the Participate research network.

Participate is also hosting a screening of the documentary film Work With Us on Friday 20 September at 6.30pm at RSPop, 501 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10017. This coincides with a month long series of screenings of the film in locations across the world including Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Palestine, Uganda and India.

For more information visit the exhibition website –

We stride forward in the hope of success

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Tom Thomas

Burdened by predicament and angst on the one hand and energised by hope on the other, the Ground Level Panel comprising of 14 people from across India, living in poverty and experiencing various forms of marginalisation, deliberated on development goals (Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Post-2015) as it currently is, and how it should be.

“The poor give up under the weight of their predicament”, Usha, Indigenous Community, Gujarat, Panellist.

“We stride forward in the hope of success”, Nandalal, Citimaker from Delhi, Panellist.


“If democracy binds us as a family, then why do we get excluded and treated differently”- wondered the panellists. The panel dissected this and many more issues threadbare, not from an academic perspective, but from their own and their communities’ life experiences. They did not stop with raising issues, but went on to look at the role of different players, stumbling blocks, a way forward and institutional mechanisms for bringing about change. Ground Level Panels are definitely emerging as a powerful tool for democratising policy making and for intra- and inter-community dialogue.

It was a truly humbling experience to listen to this unadulterated, grounded take on the Post-2015 agenda. The breadth and depth of lived experiences that were shared during the deliberations make you wonder why, why are we deaf to the voices of people living in poverty, while making policies and taking decisions about their lives? Ravi, one of the panellists, struggling to form words due to his Cerebral Palsy, echoed the sentiments of the panel: “Is it that the government doesn’t understand our issues? No, they have deliberately chosen not to respond”. Shamsul, one of the panel members from the North East of India, likened it to the practice of cats being fed just survival ration, so that they would hunt rats – keep people in poverty and give them just enough crumbs to make them stand in lines to vote, once in five years. And so the unanimous voice of the panellists said that their lives should be “not doles, but identity and rights”.


So, I ask you this: How long can we be deaf to these voices? How long will we keep them on cat ration? The answer seems to be: Not for too long if the energy and optimism that the panel reverberated are any indication. Let us stride forward in the hope of success.

Awêre para Kisile: Brazil Ground Level Panel

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Mariana Guerra

Awêre para Kisile – “That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet”

What do we have in common?

We, caboclos, ribeirinhos (riverside-dwellers), people of African descendants, youth, slum-dwellers, Indians, men and women, human beings, assembled at the Tijuca Forest, in the month of July of 2013, send our message to the planet, trying to reach primarily the people with decision-making power over the policies that will affect our lives and that of our Mother Earth from 2015 and on.

While analysing the policies and programs created from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the proposals by the High Level Panel for defining a post-2015 development agenda, we did not identify in them our world views or the worries of our brothers and sisters. We recognise, however, some indicators that we do agree with, but which in practice do not produce the desired effect.

We feel that in this way we continue to develop a death plan for the planet and all its inhabitants. But we do not remain still, from our own diverse territories we fight for Life and here we present some elements considered necessary for a global life plan. In the global life plan, everything is interconnected. We depend on each other, humans, nature, government bodies, we are all part of a whole.

How did we make this work?

BrazilWe took our time getting to know each other and the reality we came from. As we explored the concept of “extreme poverty”, it was clear that each person had their own experience and their own way of talking about it. However, little by little, the group found common ground, and we built our own way to talk about ‘development speak’ (development, economy and dignity).

Working in small groups, and using various techniques allowed everyone to express themselves freely and comfortably, in talking about very complex issues, and at the same time relating it to their own lives. We used drawing, theatre (Augusto Boal), video (The history of stuff), network. It was a very artistic group and every night we played music together, read poetry and painted which gave us a sense of the diverse stories of the panellists. Reflection was also a key element to the week, as each day someone summarised and analysed the day, and we would watch the video the morning after.

Having such a diverse group made for an incredibly rich and interesting week, yet it undoubtedly presented some challenges. The panellists were really worried to be able to show that is possible for them to work together, and use their differences to enhance the process. There is no doubt in my mind that they achieved this. Rafael, from Espirito Santo, suggested that this group could continue to work together and monitor the proposals for post-2015 and the public policies created by the government from the ground.

Building a message

Together we felt that there were three “big points”:

  • The life’s plan
  • The locks
  • The ways

Our message is Awêre para Kisile which shows the diversity of the group and Brazil and the possibility for us to all to work together. Awêre is a Tupinambá indigenous word to say “that everything goes well”, and was used continuously by the indigenous panellists. Kisile is a Banto African word that means “those who don’t have a name yet” and was used to talk about the people we can’t leave behind. So we joined the two words to say: That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet.

*This is a video made by the panelists about their week together as the Brazil Ground Level Panel

Education 4 All

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Tom Thomas

What makes good education?

• Is it well-trained, knowledgeable and sensitive teachers who understand the uniqueness and contexts of children?

• Is it a joyous learning environment free of fear and reprimand?

• Is it well functioning Parent-Teacher Associations?

• Is it allocation of adequate human and financial resources?

Arguably, a good education incorporates all of the above and more as discussed by the participants of the ATD FourthWorld conference on ‘Building the Post 2015 sustainable development agenda with people living in extreme poverty’ in New York last month. The opinions of the diverse group coming from the global south, the inner cities of New York and Boston and from the hinterlands of Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, etc. were dialoguing the issue of ‘education for all that promotes cooperation among children, teachers, parents and communities’.

So, even as the teacher-child-parent axis of education is important, the bigger question is ‘what is the outcome we want from education for all?’

• Is it to maintain status quo, widen the gap or help build a more equitable society?

Education for an equitable society, not for the market

While all the participants were unequivocal that education must contribute to building a more equitable society, views on achieving this differed. Delegates from Burkina Faso expressed it as the role of education in building solidarity. Others expressed it in the Freirean pedagogy of education as a tool to raise ‘critical consciousness’. Though Paulo Freire spoke of it in the context of colonial suppression, participants felt that it is probably even more relevant in today’s context of subordination of education by market forces.

There was unanimity that education is not a value neutral global good. It is heavily weighed towards the needs of the market (often at conflict with the good of the society) and the resource rich. As it stands, it is aiding the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor and the Post-2015 agenda must recognise this and include effective steps to structure and resource education to make it a tool to build a more equitable society.

Participate: Response to the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Report

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Participate 2015

This response is based on in-depth participatory research with people living in poverty and marginalisation, from 18 organisations working in over 30 countries worldwide, which together form the Participate initiative’s Participatory Research Group network. The research has included people with disabilities, older people, people with mental health issues, urban dwellers, people living in slums, rural communities, indigenous communities, farmers, people affected by natural disasters, youth, vulnerable children and children outside of parental care, marginalised women, sex workers and sexual minorities.

Read the full response here

Citizens at the Centre

It is encouraging that the Panel has evidently listened closely to some of the issues raised by people living in poverty and marginalisation. The focus on eradicating poverty, promoting sustainability, addressing conflict and violence, and protecting human rights and dignity are welcome. The strong stance on gender equality reflects the gendered nature of poverty and discrimination articulated by people participating in this research across the world. The acknowledgement that strong accountability and the participation of the poorest and most marginalised is essential but most of all, the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ marks a potential shift in the global approach to development.

However, ultimately the High Level Panel report does not go far enough in its focus on those most affected by poverty and marginalisation.  A ‘people-centred’ agenda is one in which the transformation of societies is led by citizens themselves—including the poorest and most marginalised. This must be the guiding principle that underpins the new global development framework.

Whilst the report emphasises transformative shifts, it does not fully recognise the most important transformative shift of all—recognising the ability of those living in poverty and marginalisation to act to address their own situation, and then building a global development framework that supports them rather than reinforcing existing powerful interests. Going forward, the UN process needs to take the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty much more seriously in how the agenda is set.

Transforming Shifts?

The High Level Panel Report proposes 5 ‘transformative shifts’, needed for the new global development framework.  If these transformative shifts were seen through the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty and exclusion, there would be some important differences.

Participate’s full response to the High Level Panel report analyses how the post-2015 framework must go further if these shifts are truly going to be ‘transformative’:

  •  ‘Leave no one behind’—but don’t lose sight of who is getting ahead
  • ‘Put sustainable development at the core’—but don’t force people to make impossible choices
  • ‘Transform economics for jobs and inclusive growth’—but growth isn’t always good
  • Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’—but don’t ask if you won’t really listen
  • ‘Forge a new global partnership’—but it must be led by citizens

Participate offers further critique on the agenda proposed by the High Level Panel around their proposals for data disaggregation; the need to understand intersecting inequalities, and challenge discrimination and unequal social norms; and the need to address gender equality across the development framework.

The High Level Panel report provides a welcome input to the global discussions on the post-2015 agenda. As advocates in this process, Participate looks to the Panel members to continue to articulate the importance of inclusion of the poorest and most marginalised people in on-going debates and processes of policy formulation, as well as the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals.




Explorando el poder del Video Participativo en Bolivia

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Erika Lopez Franco

English version available here

“El trabajo de Video Participativo nos permitió reconocer y priorizar nuestra propia experiencia en nuestro trabajo y hacer cosas que antes no nos permitimos y no nos permitieron realizar…”

Una de las actividades y propuestas clave de la iniciativa Participate es poner en las manos de las personas que sufren pobreza y marginación cámaras de video para que plasmen sus intereses, problemáticas o necesidades en historias narradas por su propia voz. Las metodologías de investigación-acción-participativa apoyadas con el uso de medios audiovisuales se han popularizado en los últimos años debido a la expansión del acceso a tecnologías de la información, el incremento y facilidad en el uso de redes sociales y la necesidad de articular mensajes contundentes dirigidos a los tomadores de decisión a través de la mirada de aquellos que viven en pobreza.

El taller “SUMANDO VOCES” reunió en la ciudad de La Paz, Bolivia a 12 miembros de organizaciones de la sociedad civil y 3 líderes comunitarios provenientes de Bolivia, Perú, Guatemala y México, quienes aprendieron el uso del video como una metodología de investigación-acción participativa. El equipo de Partitipate estuvo presente para acompañar esta experiencia; sin embargo, en esta ocasión queremos compartir directamente la reflexión del compañero boliviano Alfredo Aguirre*:

Alfredo Aguirre explora los diversos uso de la camara al lado de su ahora gran amigo Juan Carlos Baltazar

Alfredo Aguirre explora los diversos uso de la camara al lado de su ahora hermano Juan Carlos Baltazar

Con el entusiasmo de aprender acerca del Video Participativo, nos reunimos por espacio de una semana del 7 al 13 de Abril. Desde el primer momento la dinámica del grupo fue muy fraternal, personalmente opino que la sinergia de nuestras actividades coinciden en la preocupación por los desposeídos y sin posibilidad de comunicar sus necesidades.

La metodología de trabajo fue interesante en su desarrollo, “nos lanzaron a la piscina” para ver qué temas sociales saldrían a flote para poderlos trabajar por medio del video. Formamos grupos en los cuales la experiencia individual aportó en los logros; más aún cuando conjugamos culturas distintas (variedad de nacionalidades) pero cercanas (por no afirmar iguales) en sus necesidades sociales. Esto se vio plasmado en el proceso de trabajo grupal que purificó y mejoró las ideas con el entusiasmo de representar la temática elegida con una escena de la vida real; además de añadir alternativas de solución a lo propuesto emergentes de la propia acción grupal (personalmente algo nuevo para mí, pero muy efectivo).

Una vez entendida la filosofía para tratar la temática social, fuimos a realizar un trabajo de campo. Pese a las dificultades, todos nos adaptamos para poner a prueba la creatividad en la solución de las mismas, lo que permitió mayor cohesión grupal. Manejar una cámara, hacerlo de la forma más profesional posible, ubicar la luz, grabar una buena imagen y sonido, fue una experiencia espectacular. El trabajo de Video Participativo nos permitió reconocer y priorizar nuestra propia experiencia en nuestro trabajo y hacer cosas que antes no nos permitimos y no nos permitieron realizar.

Alfredo coordina la filmacion del video de las trabajadoras domesticas en El Alto, Bolivia

Alfredo apoya la filmacion del video de un grupo de trabajadoras domesticas en El Alto, Bolivia

Descubrimos cualidades quizás hasta ahora dormidas, pero en cadauno de los compañeros quedaron como una experiencia que no queda ahí, tengo el sabor de querer aprender y participar más. En este sentido, pudimos dimensionar las potencialidades reales del Video Participativo para poderlas poner en práctica en nuestras propias organizaciones de trabajo. La crítica y la reflexión colectiva fueron factores principales en el trabajo grupal que se vio enriquecido por los diferentes criterios (internacionales) de los compañeros participantes a la vez fortalecidos en su presentación previa con las “flores y macetazos” modalidad mexicana, acertadamente y diplomáticamente orientada por el Dr. Carlos Cortez Ruiz, como impecable facilitador.

Pienso que los objetivos fueron logrados, aunque tal vez quedaron “macetazos” pendientes. El cierre del trabajo fue culminado con precipitados abrazos y besos efusivos, con la promesa de reencontrarnos pronto en algún lugar del planeta.


*Alfredo Aguirre es director del Instituto Integral Coro y Orquesta Urubichá. Inicialmente, esta organización fue  creada con el objetivo rescatar la tradición musical dejada por los misioneros jesuitas y franciscanos en la región desde el siglo XVII, hasta la primera mitad del siglo XX. De esta forma, con la participación de 60 niños y jóvenes, se inicio un proceso de rescate de la tradición musical y el arte de la fabricación de instrumentos en el poblado. Recientemente, Alfredo ha inicidado la apertura de espacios para complementar la labor artística con temas transversales relacionados con la organización de la acción social, ecología, liderazgo, temas de género y formación juvenil.

A bold and practical proposal for the post-2015 framework

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Joanna Wheeler

At the opening of the Advancing the Post‐2015 Sustainable Development Agenda conference in Bonn last month, Horst Kolher noted wryly in his opening remarks that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asked the High Level Panel (HLP) to be ‘bold and practical’ in its recommendations for the post-2015 framework.

So far, it would appear that many of the proposals circulating are neither. Many are extremely technical, and seem disconnected from the realities of people living with extreme exclusion and marginalisation.

As the High Level Panel prepares the report of recommendations for the post-2015 framework, due to be finished at the end of May, it is an important moment to critically reflect on what these bold recommendations might look like.  One of the civil society declarations from Bonn aimed directly at the High Level Panel called for structural transformation that addresses ‘the failure of the current development model, which is rooted in unsustainable production and consumption patterns and exacerbates inequality as well as gender, race and class inequities.’ This is certainly bold in comparison to the current MDG framework, which leaves inequalities largely untouched.

Whilst the panel appears to be listening to civil society’s recommendations – for instance the recent Bali High Level Panel Communiqué released after the HLP meeting at the end of March, refers directly to the civil society declaration in Bonn, around the need for a new framework to “manage the world’s production and consumption patterns in more sustainable and equitable ways” –  there is still too little being said about how to achieve the massive changes that would be required for sustainable development and social justice to be achieved on a global scale.  Skepticism and wariness characterize the views of many in relation to what is likely to be a protracted inter-governmental negotiation process. These have not had a good track record lately.

Here’s a bold and practical suggestion for the High Level Panel (and all those involved in trying to influence the post-2015 framework): citizen participation.  Not just citizen participation as in asking people living in greatest poverty to tell people in the UN what they want, but citizen participation as in creating opportunities for people to have a real say in the decisions that affect their lives. Not just citizens as in people holding passports for a particular national government, but people everywhere with the right to have rights, irrespective of their official status, gender, sexuality, disability, age, race, or religion.  Citizen participation is a bold approach for the post-2015 framework, because it turns much of received wisdom about ‘aid’ and international frameworks on its head:  it is not just about a small global elite ‘hearing the voices of the poor,’ but about creating sustainable and long-term mechanisms for citizens to be involved in decision-making at all levels (from local to global).  What is missing from all the talk about how to make the new global framework tackle the big problems facing all of us, is a focus on who needs to lead that transformation: citizens, themselves. Early findings from the Participate initiative show that top down policies and interventions frequently fail to respond to the everyday realities of those living in poverty, and increase their sense of powerlessness.

If it is done well, citizen participation would shake the very foundations of the current global power structure, getting to the root causes of poverty rather than just the symptoms.

Citizen participation is also practical in that there is already a long-track record of a range of approaches and mechanisms to citizen participation, and a large body of research that points to some clear ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ if you want meaningful citizen participation.  Consider where democracy is really flourishing at the moment:  while the US and many countries in Europe face financial crisis and political apathy, Brazil, India, South Africa, the Philippines, and others have been at the forefront of innovations in citizen participation.  There is a lot of evidence about how citizen participation can deliver better outcomes, in terms of citizens more capable of claiming their rights, states that are more accountable and responsive and societies that are more cohesive and inclusive.

According to the Participate initiative, the global framework could do at least two things to encourage meaningful citizen participation: strengthen the capacities of citizens to claim their rights (and of institutions to respond); and build in citizen-led processes of regulation and monitoring to really hold governments and agencies to account for their commitments in the post-2015 framework. (See Chapter 5 of “What Matters Most” report).

This is not to suggest that citizen participation is a silver bullet.  It comes with its own potential problems and draw-backs, not least of which is the risk that it is used to keep people busy participating about relatively inconsequential questions, while the real power is exercised elsewhere.  It must be adapted to the particular circumstances and power dynamics in which it is used.  No global framework can really achieve a context-specific approach to addressing entrenched problems.  But a global framework can enable more opportunities for citizen participation that others can take up at local, national and regional levels.

The most compelling reason for taking citizen participation seriously in the post-2015 framework is not the view of a researcher at IDS (or anywhere else), but rather that it is a demand being made by people living in extreme poverty and marginalisation in over 100 countries. The Participate initiative has found that many of those living in the greatest exclusion and marginalisation believe that their meaningful participation can make development more inclusive and sustainable. People want to have a say in the actual decisions that get made about them.  If the international community were to listen, it would be truly bold.




Participate’s response to the UN High Level Panel’s Communiqué in Bali

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Danny Burns

The UN High Level Panel met for the Fourth time in Bali. Their post-meeting communiqué articulated the need for a ‘people-centred and planet-sensitive development agenda which is recognised through equal partnership of all stakeholders’. It says that this ‘partnership should be based on the principles of equity, sustainability, solidarity, respect for humanity and shared responsibilities in accordance with respective capabilities.’ Significant emphasis was put on the need to ensure sustainable production and sustainable consumption. It also seems that the panel is heading towards a universal framework in which the agreement relates to all countries. These statements of intent are encouraging, but little is yet know about the detail of what they will actually propose.

One of the areas that the communiqué clearly articulates is a vision to end extreme poverty. We are encouraged by the focus on the very poorest, but the issue of inequalities was substantively missing from the HLP communiqué. 83% of participatory research projects in the What Matters Most synthesis raised inequalities as an issue. We hope that this will be clear and up front in the final High Level Panel report to the UN Secretary General.

One of the strongest calls from CSOs in both Monrovia and Bali – led in particular by those advocating for people with disabilities and older people -has been for disaggregated data. We know that the poorest and most marginalised aren’t being reached, but it is difficult to challenge this without strong evidence. This is one area in which it is clear that the panel has listened to CSO representation. More broadly the communiqué referred to the need for a ‘data revolution’ highlighting the ‘availability, quality and timeliness of baseline data’ and monitoring and evaluation at all levels, from planning to implementation. We have argued for embedding local participation in the conception, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all development programmes. In the communiqué, the panel calls for investments in capacity to support monitoring and evaluation that will inform decision-making, update priorities and ensure accountability. Capacity development must extend to those most marginalised to ensure they are included in decision-making and accountability processes.

In our two-hour workshop with the panel in Monrovia in February 2013, one of the six agreed outcomes for a development agenda was the need for ‘ownership at all levels’. Encouragingly, this was the wording in the Bali HLP communiqué. What we need now is for them to be explicit that this includes local ownership, which will only be achieved through extensive local participation.

The communiqué talks about the importance of governance at global, national, and sub-national levels. One of the central messages of the Participate report was that governance is crucial to ensuring access to infrastructure, services, support and opportunities for those that don’t have access, and that bad governance re-enforces poverty for the poorest and most marginalised. The best way to ensure good governance at a local level is to build in strong mechanisms of citizen-led accountability. Better governance must be based on values of accountability, transparency, trust, access to information, responsiveness and effectiveness – values that can be best achieved through citizen participation and influence in decision-making.

Participate looks forward to reading how these issues will be reflected in more detail in the High Level Panel’s final report to the UN Secretary-General in May.

Participate is co-convened by IDS and Beyond2015. Read Beyond2015’s response to the communiqué here.