From debates on post-MDG discourse to High Level Panel meetings, from Open Working Group sessions to General Assemblies – policy engagement on the post-2015 framework has at times been both exhilarating and exhausting. As we leap from one milestone to the next, it is often difficult to find the time to pause and reflect on what our experiences have taught us and to share these with others. Yet, there is a huge amount to be gained from taking time out to consider what we have learned and then to try and apply it to our work.
At the end of 2013, Participate and its partners came together to do just that. The result, Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence is a collection of their critical reflections on participatory approaches to influencing policy – including the engagement with the post-2015 process.
The UNGA stock-taking exercise in September and the forthcoming report of the Secretary General on the post-2015 agenda make up a significant moment in the post-2015 process, directly influencing and shaping intergovernmental negotiations on the framework itself. However, the creation of this revised set of global goals for development is highly political, with diverse actors and complex interests involved. At these points of consolidation and synthesis within this global policy process it is critical that we reflect on the participation of people living in poverty and marginalisation and how their power, perspectives and choices are or are not being engaged.
Shifting the power in policymaking
This Anthology shares the journey of Participate so far and within this, our attempts to shift power in policymaking. As we move forward, it is a tool to help promote thought and discussion about how to use participatory approaches to influence policy at a variety of levels lessons on what has worked and what as not. The purpose of sharing this experience is to:
- Share insights and lessons we have learned to help promote thought and discussion about how to use participatory approaches to influence policy at a variety of levels. This includes lessons on what has worked and what as not.
- Give others ideas of how the voices of those who are marginalised can be amplified.
- Provoke action to bring policymakers and people living in poverty together face-to-face.
- Provide recommendations for future practitioners, advocates and supporters of participatory research for policy influence, based on our experience.
A collective vision for social change
Participate has developed a number of innovations with the goal of collapsing the distance between the grassroots experience and global policymakers tasked with creating the post-2015 framework. Through participatory methods such as digital story telling, participatory video and Theatre for Development, people living in poverty and marginalisation have generated and shared knowledge about their lives and contexts in order to help build more connected relationships with policymakers. Mobilising the knowledge generated between local and global policy spaces of influence for the post-2015 process has involved engaging multiple pathways, and a non-linear understanding of change. In Participate this has been made possible by a collaboration of networked organisations, the Participatory Research Group, the members of which have had individual and shared influencing strategies, and who engaged in a global synthesis process to weave together the diverse knowledge of people living in poverty and marginalisation in order to amplify their messages through a collective vision for social change.
Why knowledge from the margins matters
There have been challenges along the way, from the outset a number of risks and tensions have been at the forefront of our minds. One specific tension was around the adequate and authentic representation of highly marginalised groups across levels and spaces for advocacy and engagement. Designing more representative methods for participatory policy processes is an increasingly important task; the multiple barriers that prevent people living in poverty entering into different policy spaces can create trade-offs and there are important ethical implications that need to be taken into account where meaningful participation is restricted. The anthology shares our learning on the gaps that persist in trying to connect people in order to shift power in policymaking, and the key areas of lessons we have learned.
The experiences shared from Participate in this anthology highlight again how and why knowledge from the margins matters for inclusive and transformative decision-making. The intention in documenting and sharing our lessons and experiences is not to create a definitive how-to-guide for using participatory methods and research to influence policy, nor to suggest that we have found all the answers. Rather, we hope that it will spark debate and prompt further reflection amongst others committed to bringing voices from the ground into global decision-making.