What’s Participatory Development?

I’m a definitions kind of girl, I can’t get behind something if I don’t know what it means. So if I’m to call myself a Facilitator of Participatory Development (PD), I should define what it is.  Let’s start with “Development”, and simply call it “positive change”.  That’s what the bulk of us humans are aiming for, whether personally or in our communities. But whether or not it’s actually occurred really depends on who you ask.  This brings us to the “Participatory” part.  If we’re going to call Development “Participatory”, then the more important questions become HOW are we developing and INTO WHAT are we developing?  These are the questions that keep me up at night, and PD provides the framework to answer them.

HOW are we developing?

What sets PD apart from conventional international development is that in PD, the ones being developed are empowered to be involved in the process from start to finish. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprisingly not the way development is typically done.  Thankfully the tides are shifting.  In PD, the community is given the opportunity to analyze their situation and declare their priorities.  They become the leaders while the facilitator, you know, facilitates. This requires patience, mutual trust, and creativity.    

INTO WHAT are we developing?

When humanitarians arrive with the idea that they are helping others less fortunate than themselves, it’s only natural that they use their own experience in “the developed world” as an example of the ultimate goal.  I must confess that I’ve been guilty of this.  While I don’t doubt the benefits and good intentions of this approach, inherent in it is a social structure that can be disempowering.  In PD, we aim to create empowering social structures, where the expertise of the facilitator is used to augment local leadership.  Again, those being developed are empowered to decide into what they are developing.  As a team, we look at where we are, where we have the potential to go, how we can get there, and what it will look like when we’ve arrived.        


So how does one facilitate this process?  PD Facilitators try all sorts of things in all sorts of ways, because the process must be uniquely adapted to the community and to the facilitator.  My training is as a Naturopathic Doctor, so I draw from that in my approach.  Naturopathic doctors listen to and empower their patients to take ownership of their health, then support them with the education, resources, and/or tools needed to heal.  This, in a nutshell, is my approach to PD.  Take the time to listen, listen to empower, empower to heal.  This is the core, the rest is just the details.  That being said, the details should be real fun and/or interesting, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list for monthly updates!      

Did I answer my question? Participatory Development is a process that empowers and supports local people to create positive change in their community. Boom.