Participate partners have been critically reflecting on the participatory approaches they have employed in attempts to shift power in policymaking – including the engagement with the post-2015 process. In this final blog of the series, Thea Shahrokh and Joanna Wheeler share their recommendations for future participatory research for policy influence.
Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence draws together reflections, both collective and personal, on the experiences of using participatory research to try and influence policymaking processes, including those at the global level. Compiling it was our opportunity to draw together reflections, both collective and personal, on the experiences of using participatory research to try and influence policymaking processes, including those at the global level.
Through the process of editing the anthology we have been inspired and challenged by people living in extreme marginalisation and poverty to take these lessons forward; we have become clearer about our own assumptions of how change happens and what we can contribute; and we have also been able to shed light on the gaps that persist in trying to connect people in order to shift power in policymaking.
Based on our experience in Participate we offer the following recommendations for future practitioners, advocates and supporters of participatory research for policy influence.
1. Continue to champion participatory research as a means to help people in the margins gather their own evidence, present their own viewpoints and work together to build relationships with policymakers and service providers to identify more appropriate solutions to problems and to help them realise their rights.
2. Promote a ‘see-feel-change’ approach over the prevailing ‘analyse-think-change’ paradigm as an effective means to create the empathy needed for change. Whilst enhancing the empathy of policymakers has been tested under Participate, there may be value in helping people in the margins to better understand and empathise with the position and constraints facing policymakers as well.
3. Recognise that urgency, passion and commitment emanate from the ‘see-feel-change’ approach and that these are the greatest catalysts for change. Seize serendipitous opportunities to maintain urgency. Numbers, reports, and statistics alone rarely spawn urgency.
4. Recognise and support methodological experimentation, creativity and new uses for technology in research approaches of this kind. What is possible can be expanded and changed, but only if innovation and risk-taking is encouraged.
5. Give more weight to understanding the constraints and impediments which prevent policymakers from engaging with the reality of poverty. Recognise the risks, both personal and political, and creatively find ways to help them to engage directly and to challenge received wisdom (including creating safe spaces to doubt).
6. Exercise care to ensure that people living in the margins champion their own causes, raise their own voices and use ways they find most appropriate and effective to influence change, and are not exploited for other’s ends. Keep constant vigilance that external actors remain as facilitators not managers of processes of change.
7. Continue to support initiatives like Participate which bring together participatory research experiences and enable collective and collaborative reflection around supporting conditions for change.
We hope that the Participate initiative and this anthology will give others ideas of how the voices of those who are marginalised can be amplified. We hope it will provoke action to bring policymakers and people living in poverty together face-to-face. There is much to be done by many: Participate should not be a one- off, but should reinforce and inspire a broadening range of initiatives post-2015 to put those who are last first. This anthology is the start.