In my last post ‘Fa•ci•pu•la•tion‘, I shared a table from Robert Chambers, which is essentially a participation ladder with multiple dimensions. The good thing about ladders is that they are simple and easy to get. But, the reason I choose to share the table rather than a ladder is that the latter (pun intended) can only illustrate a single dimension of participation. (Or, if they mix dimensions, they lack conceptually clarity). And, of course, there are many different dimensions that can be emphasized.
In this literature review on stakeholder participation put together by Mark Reed for the Sustainability Research Institute, four distinct typologies of participation are recognized based on (1) different degrees of participation (2) the nature of participation according to the direction of communication flows, (3) a theoretical basis, essentially distinguishing between normative and/or pragmatic participation, and (4) the objectives for which participation is used. These are all valid ways of looking at participation and building a conceptual model that distinguishes between types.
That said, there are a number of single dimension participation ladders that development facilitators should be aware of, if only for academic purposes. If you’re already familiar with participation ladders, you might want to skip this post – I’m not going to provide much commentary or opinion here – this is more of an academic introduction to these conceptual tools for those that might be newer to the field of international development.
The first is from Sherry Arnstein. Primarily concerned with power, Arnstein created her ladder in 1969 to illustrate how citizens could be included in political and economic processes from manipulation to citizen control. So the emphasis here is the degree of participation, but set in a framework of the relationship between the state and citizen – or for our purpose, the development organization and the community. According to Arnstein, the bottom two rungs are actually non-particiaption. Rungs 3 -5 are degrees of participation that represent “Tokenism” while rungs 6-8 are degrees that represent “Citizen Power”. Thus we might use this ladder as a framework of inquiry into the nature of the relationship we have with the communities in which and for whom we work. Is our relationship primarily one of consultation? Do we have a partnership? Perhaps the relationship exists across several rungs of this conceptual ladder depending on the activity we are engaged together on – annual planning and budgeting may be closer to rungs 3 and 4, while preparation of a community event closer to 6 and 7. Here is a link to a thorough discussion of Arnstein’s ladder that illustrates each rung with examples. It was originally published in 1969, the same year the ladder was published, so it is dated, but also really interesting as a result.
The second ladder is from Roger Hart, and also emphasizes degrees of participation. Hart is a professor of Environmental Psychology and is concerned about how children experience place and how spaces are designed for free play. Given that most urban design doesn’t often really think from a child’s perspective, he is also concerned about how children are enabled to participate in community development and environmental care. The ladder he developed for UNICEF in 1992 has been used widely by development organizations that work with children and youth.
In fact, just last week I was talking with a young (20-year old) development professional from Bogotá, Colombia who works with a large child-focused development NGO about how he understands his role in enabling children and youth to increase their participation in the political and social spaces available to them, and he referred to Roger Hart and his ladder of participation. I was quite impressed. I was even more impressed to watch him facilitate a meeting of teens who were discussing how they were going to organize a large (5000+ participants) march in the city to celebrate the International Day of Peace in September. (Quick shout out and kudos to Marlon – I hope your English is up to reading this.) Here is a link to the Free Child Project’s discussion of Hart’s ladder.
The third ladder is based on the work of J.N. Pretty whose work mostly focused on sustainable agriculture. Again, his ladder focuses on degrees of participation from manipulation or token participation to self-mobilization. Pretty’s ladder uses words that make us consider the nature of the participation (the incentives and purposes behind it.) For example, rung 3 – participation by consultation sets the organization’s needs up as the incentive to participate – it needs to consult with the community before moving ahead on its agenda. Rung 4 – participation for material incentives recognizes that one can generate incentives for the community to choose participation, but then does this not weaken the legitimacy of it? Here is a link to IAPAD’s summary of Pretty’s ladder.
You have noticed by now the pattern of starting with manipulation of the participants and their inclusion as tokenism and ending with action initiated and controlled by the participants. The fourth ladder presents a slightly different framework.
You’ll notice immediately the alliterative use of the Latin prefix ‘co-’, meaning joint or mutual. The concept highlighted in this ladder is the nature of the action done together as a reflection of the nature of the relationship. Thus at the bottom rung, work is done together in an unequal power relationship whereby one partner complies with the demands of the other (we can assume here that it is the community complying with the organization’s agenda) – whereas at the top rung, the work is done collectively as equal partners both within the community (working together among themselves) and with the organization as one of many equal partners in the action.
(I should note here that although I found this framework in Kanji and Greenwood’s 2001 IIED publication, they recognize the source of this framework as Andrea Cornwall from 1995. Cornwall is a recognized expert on participation methodologies, but I was unable to track down the 1995 source these authors site, so I’ll leave the source of this ladder as the IIED publication. If any of you can track down the original source from 16 years earlier, you win some kudos in my next post.)
There are many other participation ladders out there, and each of these has been adapted many times as people see fit to alter the wording, add or remove rungs, or combine the best of several together. For example, Jennifer Lentfer at How Matters provides a nice adaption of the Hart (1992) and Pretty (1995) ladders with a nice summary for each rung from a conceptual framework of project ownership in her recent post ‘Sorry, but its not YOUR project‘. Again, I like the simplicity of the ladder framework, but I like more the ability to present several dimensions of participation at once in a table. Participation is by nature multidimensional and it’s good to make explicit the dimensions or polarities you are thinking about – the flow of information, the nature of control, the source of activity, the roles, the relationships, the actions taken by each party, etc.