This report provides a synthesis of studies conducted by the Participate Participatory Research Group (PRG) in 29 countries, and attempts to identify and draw out the patterns of change that emerge across them from people’s accounts of their own experiences of moving in or out of poverty and marginalisation.
The Participate PRG is a network of organisations committed to bringing knowledge from the margins into decision-making at every level of society. In all 18 studies, PRG members conducted research using diverse participatory approaches, ranging from oral testimonies to Theatre for Development.
The aim of this research, unlike that of parallel studies that have contributed to the post-2015 debate, is not to get a representative sample of the priorities of people living in extreme poverty and marginalisation, or even to map their poverty. The aim has been to get an in-depth understanding of how people living in extreme poverty and marginalisation experience change in their lives, and the different factors that contribute to either negative orpositive change. Most of all, this research calls us to bear witness to the depth of insight and intelligence of people who face extremely difficult circumstances – and pay attention to what this can offer those who seek to promote development.
The stories within this research challenge our view of what is common to the experience of poverty and marginalisation, in that there is less in common than assumed by dominant forms of international assistance, but there is more in common than just a collection of parables about the importance of context.
Dominant forms of international assistance often ignore how social forces interact with institutional structures, with grave consequences for those in the margins. The target based approach of the Millennium Development Goals aggravated this by incentivising development practitioners to prioritise those easiest to reach. In almost all of the research conducted, the very poorest and most marginalised have said that development policies have not met their expectations.
Yet the stories documented here exhibit identifiable patterns which point to a way of providing assistance that supports the agency of those who have suffered the gravest forms of deprivation and prejudice. Put simply, development cannot help the poorest without their help.