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How is a Participatory Planning Process conducted?

Durga Koirala Durga Koirala
Jun 06, 2020

Development is and should be the foremost goal of any government. To attain this goal, governments around the world adopt different systems of planning processes. In the past, the governments were more authoritarian and the top-down system of planning process prevailed over the bottom-up system.

With the gradual realization of the necessity of deeper assimilation of democratic values in the government systems as time passed, the bottom-up system of planning process started gaining control over in almost all countries, which entertain enfranchisement of their citizens.

The participatory planning process is also a bottom-up system of the planning process and can be very crucial in identifying and solving problems of the community as it focuses to dig out the vivid description and analysis of community necessities. As the name suggests, the term means the process of planning development activities in a certain area with the participation of people.

Its purposes are :

  1. Identification of the needs of the people.
  2. Facilitation of the two way learning between development project managers and local people.
  3. Integration of local knowledge system into the project design.
  4. Encouragement of participation of people for empowerment.

Participatory planning processes are two types:

  1. Participatory rural planning process and
  2. Participatory urban Planning process.

The participatory planning process contains mainly Participatory Rural Appraisal. This is called rural because participatory planning process has been seen to be successful especially in rural areas as people there have more time and energy to participate and so the processes are focused there. The planning process engages two or more parties- government agencies, NGOs, consulting agencies, members of the community, etc. It empowers marginalized communities or people i.e. unemployed people, uneducated women or housewives, old people etc.

A simple example of how participatory planning process works is presented here: Suppose an NGO brings a program of educating married women or housewives in a village. Then, the program manager or his assistant goes to the ward office to request ward officers to conduct the program. Usually, the chairman of the ward decides if the program is beneficial or not to the people in his area and if he finds the program will have positive consequences, will give his agreement. Next, the ward officers notify people of the territory that comes under the jurisdiction of the ward about the program as per the instruction of the chairman. As such, people are encouraged to gather and participate to take ownership of the development project. Planning is done by the collective participation of the locals. It can be difficult for the NGO alone to expect full-hearted participation of the people without coordinating with the mentioned stakeholders because of the issues of trust and lack of familiarity with the locality. Thus, participatory planning process functions to achieve missions of the development project in a village.

Participatory rural appraisal, the effective tool for the assessment of the effectiveness of the Participatory Planning Process has many advantages but also can have a few disadvantages. It promotes activeness in the people of the community. It is inclusive as it encourages the participation of people of all genders, classes, castes, ethnicity, etc. The disadvantage is that it may fail because sometimes people in the community may not become interested owing to higher knowledge and skills required and sometimes due to community leaders seeking to ‘hijack’ the planning process for personal benefits.

There are some practical considerations to keep in mind for making the participatory planning process successful. While doing the participatory planning process, there has to be a collaborative discussion among community members and NGOs.

Focused group discussions should be made from an early stage.

Facilitators should be chosen carefully and wisely as they have the responsibility to win the trust of all the stakeholders. They have to have an open mind to the prospect of co-facilitation with the community and leaders of all parties. The objective should be to accomplish optimum participation. A wide variety of techniques and tools that can  be used becoming sensitive to gender, racial/caste/ethnic concerns, etc. to execute Participatory Planning Process  effectively are as follows:

  1. Community mapping: This informs where are things like school, campus, banks, hospitals, natural resources like spring, rivers, sand and stone reservoirs, etc. are located. The knowledge can be instrumental in building temporary or permanent infrastructures for target future projects.
  2. Institution Relationship Diagram: It helps to conduct a brainstorming exercise to identify and show how influential institutions and individuals can be connected among themselves in the future.
  3. Preference Matrix: This is a matrix with rows and columns, help in digging out key problems and prioritize the most effective solution.
  4. Problem Tree: It is a tree diagram to illustrate the problem of a certain place placing ‘causes’ under the root part, ‘problem’ at the trunk, and ‘effects’ above the branches part.

Other tools that can be used are trend analysis, gender daily calendar, seasonality analysis, situation analysis, etc.

The participatory planning process is thus conducted to realize the dream of effective development of a community or a nation.

(Durga Koirala is a Master’s degree student of Development Studies in Pokhara University)

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