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People in development

THE ART OF FACILITATING PARTICIPATION·Shirley A White·Sage Publications, New Delhi·1999·Rs 250·367pp

Published: Monday 15 May 2000

-- THE reality of participation has often differed from the rhetoric. In fact, much development, which is participatory in nature, has remained top-down in practice. This may be so because even though participation has been promoted, there has been no change in personal attitudes and more so in the bureaucratic set up. It has remained a challenge to learn the art of facilitation, and to share more widely what it entails in method, in personal behaviour and attitudes.

The book has contributions from 23 authors who help us in understanding participation better. They have been honest about their experiences, failures and successes. This is a 1990's concept and has been used by many development professionals. It actually means through participation, projects and programmes become cheaper, more effective and sustainable. Therefore, the World Bank and some other world aid donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments have sought to spread this methodology on a large scale.

The openness and transparency of the contributors in describing their experiences as facilitators doubly helps us in our own reflections on the process. The book focuses on the role of the facilitator who is seen as a critical factor in enabling people's participation in development.

The book is divided into three broad sections. The first part presents the important idea of the "Catalyst communicator" which serves as a framework to understand the relationship between the facilitator and grassroots cooperators.

The second part deals with a variety of aspects from participation of scientists and farmers in agricultural development to using statistics for community organisation and decision-making and training approaches. This enhances the people's ability to become self-determined and thus successfully facilitate participation and a variety of aspects related to effective facilitation.

The third part contains three case studies which collectively emphasise the relationship between building of community and communication.

At some places in the text the authors clearly point out the difficulties of participatory development. The participants of the programme may experience the feeling of being in a subordinate or subservient position to the project agents, even though the extension infrastructure is in place. This may specially be noticed in modules where there is a big educational, economic or social gap between the facilitators and the participants.

It has been advocated in the text that the facilitator functions as a catalyst, but whereas in a chemical reaction the catalyst does not undergo a change, in this the catalyst is undergoing a permanent change himself. He brings about a change, undergoes a change and then, gives up control.

The book comes out very strongly with one point about the success of participatory development if, and only if, there is a dedicated facilitator, whose aim is to develop the community on these lines. He must be an efficient manager, aware of the latest communication technologies with which he can have an effective two-way communication, he must be dedicated to the cause of community development, should have the ability to sensitise the consumer demand for the service and must be willing to change as the system evolves.

Participatory development builds on trust whether you are dealing with situations involving street children in a slum, women in a male-dominated village, or bureaucrats in an international agency, the key to understanding is in honouring the realities of others.

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