IDS working papers;2

Paradigm Shifts and the Practice of Participatory Research and Development

Published on 1 January 1994

“Participation” has three uses and meanings: cosmetic labelling, to look good, co-opting
practice, to secure local action and resources; and empowering process, to enable people
to take command and do things themselves. Its new popularity is part o f changes in
development rhetoric, thinking and practice. These have been shifting from a
standardised, top-down paradigm of things towards a diversified, bottom-up paradigm of
people. This implies a transfer of power from “uppers” – people, institutions and
disciplines which have been dominant, to “lowers” – people, institutions and disciplines
which have been subordinate. The many labels and schools o f participatory approaches in
research and development tend to hide underlying changes in philosophy and practice.
Rapid rural appraisal leading to participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is one example o f a
shift from data collection to data sharing and empowerment. With PRA, poor people have
shown far greater capabilities to appraise, analyse, plan and act than professionals have
expected. Empowerment of the poor requires reversals and changes of role. Some o f the
new approaches and methods, especially of PRA, make reversals less difficult and
improbable than they used to be. PRA faces many dangers. For it to be used on any scale
in an empowering mode implies widespread changes in bureaucratic procedures and
cultures, including more participatory management.

Publication details

published by
Chambers, Robert


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