Practice in Participation - developing a Southern knowledge portal

3 May 2012

Practice In Participation is a joint venture of Asian civil society organisations committed to promoting participatory practices in the empowerment of excluded citizens worldwide. It is designed, developed and promoted by the PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) and was recently launched with support IDS Knowledge Services.  

Currently, the portal groups participatory practices around the themes of:

  • institutional strengthening
  • learning and training
  • planning and budgeting
  • monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment
  • implementation and management
  • organising and mobilisation
  • advocacy and dialogue

Below, Vidushi Kaushik and Sumitra Srinavasan from PRIA provide background on the reasons for developing the service:

Not another portal? Reasons for developing Practice in Participation

Conventionally, the onus of knowledge creation and production is considered to be a specialised field dominated by research institutions, independent researchers, religious institutions and schools. The monopoly of knowledge producers and what they consider to be the rational and scientific way of collecting and analyzing data has created a gap between what knowledge is purposeful and useful. The stress on cognitive approach rather than experiential learning has been debated for years. From works of Paulo Friere to Robert Chambers, it is now recognized that the journey of education and hence knowledge production is not linear and the people involved are not passive actors/subjects.

The control over the process of formal research and training and the learnings, knowledge and products these produce is usually in the hands of 'professionals', dominated by the West. Ordinary people – poor farmers, illiterate women, unemployed youth – are capable of producing their own knowledge and skills. In fact, popular knowledge, in different forms and methods, is available almost parallel to what is termed as ‘scientific knowledge’. All scientific knowledge is not the sum total of knowledge creation and generation across the globe.

Need for a knowledge space focused on southern practitioners

Empowerment through knowledge means not only challenging expertise with expertise, but it means expanding who participates in the knowledge production process in the first place. This process involves a concern with mobilisation or action and also to overcome the prevailing bias in mobilisation/action.

Organisations and practitioners using participatory methodologies promote collectivisation and learning for empowerment and inclusion such that the poor and excluded can claim their rights and improve their lives. Such practitioners are engaged in action research (and action learning) in order to enable positive change. They learn from each other and from poor people and communities (horizontal learning). Most engage in reflection to improve their practice.

The challenges in trying to bring about social change in the global (developing) south are varied and certainly different from those of the global (developed) north. Yet, there are few available spaces for sharing, synthesising and learning from the experiences and realities of the global (developing) South. Access to practical knowledge and field experiences (often available in the form of grey literature) of organisations based in the south has been a need felt by many organisations. Sharing this knowledge will help many community-based organisations improve their practice. Access to this knowledge by the global North (from where most of the funding decisions are made) will hopefully lead to reality-focused goals and monitoring systems!

It is based on this felt need and with the perspective of creating an invited space for practitioners to share their local knowledge and learn from others' practical experiences that PRIA embarked on developing Practice in Participation.

Participation, openness and a culture of learning

The premise of the initiative is to create a platform for practitioners from and working in parts of South-East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America to be able to participate in generation, production and dissemination of knowledge based on experiences from the field. The underpinning thought is to create a platform where practitioners and empirical researchers communicate their learnings from practices. Envisioned to empower people for change through dissemination and by connecting practitioners working on similar themes from across the world, the portal will act as an intermediary for knowledge on participatory practices.

We believe that the first impetus for change comes from the communities themselves and it is in this tradition and time that we have developed the spirit of participation to the next level: virtual spaces for participation!

The portal primarily aims to:

  1. Provide a rhythm and space for participatory practitioners to reflect on their practice – through discussion forums, and building communities of shared practice
  2. Make available to a wider audience the work being done by grassroots organisations who use participatory methodologies to bring about social change
  3. Harvest local knowledge from across the global south
  4. Weave individual learning into organisational learning – through people-centred approaches to planning, monitoring and evaluation (PME)

Achieving social change

By driving individual change, we believe social change can be achieved through:

  • As practitioners reflect and improve their actions, horizontal learning with the communities in which they are working will improve, leading to better impact of the work they are doing.
  • Local communities, in particular the disadvantaged and marginalized, will learn to value their local knowledge.
  • Valuing their own knowledge will lead communities to be primary actors in changing their own lives – demanding better services, governance, transparency and their rights from their governments.
  • Documenting local knowledge allows for it to remain "alive", preventing its erosion and loss.
  • Sharing of experiences from other locations will lead to awareness generation.
  • An open, participatory portal will promote the culture of sharing knowledge (rather than knowledge being the monopoly of a few, to be transmitted by some, on the payment of fees).

Vidushi Kaushik is Programme Officer and prepares knowledge materials from PRIA’s own practices and action learning, and supports partner organisations in preparing and uploading portal resources.

Sumitra Srinivasan is a content and knowledge management consultant who worked on the portal design and launch, and now helps with creating and organising content, marketing and outreach, and facilitating portal interactions and use.

PRIA, based in New Delhi, is the secretariat for developing, maintaining and promoting Practice in Participation