Demystifying participatory research and its role in development
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Development interventions are commonly accompanied by the discourse of participation and democracy. In South Africa the Reconstruction and Development Programmed of 1994 was a good example of an ambitious government-led development programmed that promised full participation by the disadvantaged population in planning and implementation of developmental governance and service delivery. In practice, much of the planning and implementation remained in the hands of planning experts and politicians, with mounting resistance by excluded categories or under serviced populations to the lack of good services and transparent decision-making and the prevalence of corruption. The more populist direction that South African politics seems to take post-Polo wane 2007 is perhaps an indication of the lack of success with the RDP and its successor GEAR in the South African context with regard to incorporating the "people's voice" into development interventions. This is an indication of how difficult it is to act out participation in practice rather than just pronounce it as a form of ideological discourse.
The work of Tim Hart, offered here, explores the meaning of participatory research and development that has become more noted in its ideological form than in practice. He explores the way in which participatory research in the development field has developed from Rapid Rural Appraisal to Participatory Rural Appraisal and then to Participatory Action Research as well as Participatory Learning and Action. Important dimensions of these emerging forms of research and intervention are discussed, especially the historical linkages of the methodologies and their accompanying power dimensions. With this study, Hart gives us a much needed overview of participatory approaches in development which often tend to be idealised as a panacea. He stresses the need to contextualise and analytically follow the process of participatory development in specific situations, which then leads on to the conclusion that these techniques are far from ideal, although they have led to much more local-based research in applied fields, such as in agricultural extension.
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