Friday, April 25, 2008

Start of the Journey of Simurgh: Early Birds Enter the First Valley!

By Ghulam Amin Beg

As you have agreed to fly with us through this adventure, we welcome you on board once again.

You are now aware that the blog ventures to bring together, willing and capable people, with ideas, knowledge and experiences from diverse backgrounds, which as may be called, ‘aristocrats of merit’ to start a voyage to discover the future of mountain people.

We will be passing through seven valleys to reach the future- a destination of hope, peace, prosperity, opportunity, equity and dignity for the mountain people.

Before we enter the seven valleys, lets agree that we are discussing policy related matters and matters that have policy implications.

Our Seven Valleys to discover the future of mountain people:

Valley 1: The Valley of Participation
Valley 2: The valley of Justice
Valley 3: The Valley of Peace
Valley 4: The Valley of Freedom
Valley 5: The Valley of Pluralism
Valley 6: The Valley of Equity
Valley 7: The Valley of Empowerment

Valley 1: The Valley of Participation
As we enter the first valley, the valley of participation, a hundred questions will challenge us. We will encounter several times, through ‘action-reflection-action’ trials and errors, and have to adjust to and accommodate the diversity of views, experiences and knowledge of the terrain by individuals and groups.

Participation, in many ways, means, ‘ownership’. In the policy arena, it also means public sector policies get formulated, implemented, monitored and evaluated in close consultation with the wide array of interests and stakeholders and taking the interests of the common people, disadvantaged groups in mind.

In development projects and programmes, ‘community participation’ is generally considered crucial for the sustainability of the actions. The establishment of a sense of ownership requires that the users have some decision-making role in project development, including planning, financing, operation, maintenance and management
In the political arena, the participation of the masses in electing their representatives and in setting the policy agenda is also seen as an expression of democratic right of people.

Hence the myth of participation and non-participation is much talked about.

• What are the myth of participation and non-participation in our mountain context?
• How much participation is happening? How much is needed?
• What are the instruments to achieve more participation?
• Is participation a fluid and malleable concept, meaning different things to different people?
• Is participation of one social group, pushing non-participation of the other?
• How is community participation affecting different sectoral programmes and projects?

And many more questions? You may like to group your discussions/comments in the different valleys into the following four policy spheres:

1. Objectives and framework
2. Instruments and processes
3. Guidelines
4. Implementation, monitoring and evaluation

Start and be the first to break the ice!

Amin Beg
Moderator, Simurgh


ali said...

Hello All
The idea of participation is closely linked with the process of co-operation.

Societies with high levels of co-operation have historically demonstrated a remarkable resilience in coping with different social and economic problems. We can draw on examples from Japan to Germany where such fundamental values such as ‘trust’ that underlies their daily economic and social activities, has become the bedrcok of thier success.

Setting aside political views on the Arab-Israeli conflict let me introduce an interesting example about early Zionist settlers in Palestine. The amazing success of Jews originating from Russia, Germany and Poland followed by their persecution, rests upon the idea of co-operative behaviour which is also an important Jewish concept. These émigré Jewish people successfully set up communal agricultural communities called the Kibbutz, around the turn of the 20th century. The idea was to pool their collective knowledge and resources in order to save themselves from losses and also to achieve the religious objective of co-operating with each other. These Kibbutz farms were jointly owned by all the members of the community and everybody had a stake either in the failure or success of the Kibbutz. Given the religious commitment to volunteer for others, Kibbutz members of the Jewish community worked tirelessly hard, which ultimately resulted in their amazing success in an otherwise hostile land.

The whole point of this example is to highlight the importance of culturally grounded notions of co-operative behaviour. To achieve objectives of development, policy makers can try, either to imitate or foster process of co-operative behaviour or they can draw on established traditional patterns of co-operation.

Fortunately there is a strong tradition of co-operative behaviour in our mountain societies, including in regions such as Hunza. There are many successful projects such as the building of water-channels, construction of roads, setting up of primary schools, etc. Now the whole question in front of contemporary policy-makers, whether working in the government or independently advocating policy reforms, it is important to ponder on recovering indigenous traditions of co-operative behaviour.

These policy-makers must be however keenly aware of the slow erosion of our traditional values and the sense feeling of the belonging to a community. NGOs and other development partners in their zeal to uplift these mountain people from poverty, have actually damaged the intricate social fabric and have also violated the traditional value system of these societies. It may have been the consequence of flawed policies of development interventions that concerned themselves in addressing issues of poverty by encouraging market-based strategies and solutions. For example, the whole process of micro-finance and the associated apparatus rests upon market-based solutions and in the end creates problems and conflict that is typical of these models. It creates tensions, by encouraging what i would call ‘cosmetic growth’. What i mean by this phrase is that market strategies are unsustainable at best and the consequent growth it engenders is temporary and only benefits certain powerful elements in society as opposed to the process of a fair and holistic development.

While i have tried to grapple with the conceptual foundations of the idea of participation and its relevance in our societies, i am looking forward to contributions form others, so that we can move forward and address specific projects and appropriate policy responses.
Best regards

ali al-Hakim

Parveen Roy said...

Community participation that used to be the rallying cry of the radicals such as Freire, Kolb, Colin, is now presented even effectively obligatory in all policy documents and project proposals of international donors and implementing agencies.

Community participation may have won the war of words but, beyond the rhetoric, its success is less evident. Part of the problem is clearly political. True participation is a threat to powerful vested interests. Yet, the difficulty can not be ascribed to conspiracy theory.

The major split, as rightly indicated by many developmental experts, is the conception of participation. There are people who see participation as a goal and there are those who advocate is as a tool for carrying out a task. For the former, it generally becomes a form of mobilization to get things done and for the latter the objective is not a fixed quantifiable development goal but a process whose outcome is an increasingly ‘meaningful’ participation in the development process. Thus, participation can be used to achieve material benefits in the form of pointed development projects (sewerage, water supply delivery, etc) or can lead to the social development of the people (empowerment, independence, etc).

In the current context, it is important that participation be used as a tool for achieving something more meaningful than mere specific project goals. However, it is equally important to recognize some of the problems involved in enacting participation as an end. First it is a time-consuming process and since time is directly proportional to money, it is quite difficult to justify such an approach. Secondly, there is a fear among authorities of uncontrolled empowerment of people and lack of trust in their ability to make sensible decisions, which prevent them to change their paternalistic approach in decision-making. The only way that such issues against participation can be resolved is by looking at participation from a broader perspective and by weighing its benefits versus limitations. It is true that it would take more time for a fully participatory project to accomplish its goals but the end result in the form of community empowerment will also go a long way. Social benefits are far superior to physical benefits and a realization has to be made on part of the implementing agencies that the empowerment of people is necessary for enabling people to become productive citizens.


Ghulam Amin Beg, Moderator said...


Zulfiqar said...

Ali and Parveen have rightly defined and discussed the theory of participation. However, here I will discuss the issue of lack of participation of mountain communities in national decision making. The situation is not similar in all mountain regions but in most cases the policies made in low lands are directly implemented in mountain regions. The example of Northern Areas of Pakistan, Tibet, Gorno Badakhshan and many other regions are apparent. I want to present the example of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The region just after its liberation from Dogra Raj joined Pakistan and Pakistan appointed Sardar Muhammad Allam Khan, -a Pathan Tehsildar from NWFP, as the first Pakistani Political Agent (PA) in Gilgit on Nov.16, 1947 who governed the whole Gilgit-Baltistan. He further strengthened the FCR in the region and filled all vacancies with his near and dear ones from NWFP. The governance and administrative structure since then is evolving and up till now, the area has been granted neither provincial status within Pakistan nor a similar semi-autonomous set up like Azad Kashmir. Inhabitants of the NAs have no right to vote and have no representation in the National Assembly or AJK Assembly. The government has so far taken not the substantive but only few cosmetic reforms were introduced. Through Legal Framework Order the Northern Areas Legislative Council has been renamed as Northern Areas Legislative Assembly (NALA) and the strength of the member has been raised . However, the rgion is still directly governed from Islamabad under the full control of the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas who is the Chairman of the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALA). This is the highest political institution of the NAs and has the power to legislate only on some defined items. This works almost as an advisory council and even cannot independently prepare or approve a budget and is not empowered to directly formulate any policy. All significant powers are still vest with either Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas or Chief Secretary NAs.

These artificial constellations are weakening the articulation of regional interest at the national level. The Chairman of NALA are selected from national Parliament, and is non local who can therefore cannot defend the interest of the local community and are not accountable to local community. The NAs has their own stances regarding Kashmir, Basha dam, Skardu dam, Shandur pass and many other issues but nobody is there to defend the interests of the region. The Minister for Northern Areas and Kashmir affairs or other key government officials who themselves are non-locals cannot defend the region regarding these issues. These all result in ill-conceived policies and mishandling of different issues.

The situations of many other mountain communities are similar to that of Northern Areas of Pakistan.

On the other hand at local level different NGOs have well introduced the concept of participation in the community.

However, important is that the mountain community should have say at policy level to influence their own lifes.

Parveen Roy said...

I support and agree with the main argument forwarded by Zulfiqar that mountain people should have a say in policy matters to influence their own lives. However, the enactment of voicing our deprivations, oppressions or discriminations is based on the understanding that informal and formal structures form around certain human needs. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions such as do all people have the same sort of social and political structures or networks? Are all people allowed to enter these structures or networks?

My answer to the first question is unfortunately in the negative. The NALA (however futile or inept) is accessible to a few so called political elites (mostly males) of the Northern region, for example. The poor people (who form the majority of the population of the Northern Areas) or the female population (who form almost 50% of the population of the Northern Areas) do not form or participate in the same kind of organizations/networks. Their non-participation in political and civic life is part of political poverty, which is so closely connected to other forms of poverty. The time constraint created by poverty reduces participation in networks organized around non-profit activities. Instead, networks of the poor are often found to be related to strategies for survival. While people such as yourself and others do try to develop and strengthen networks among the local population that can reach into the broader community, the tendency is that the poorest groups do not become lasting members of these networks.

The second question is whether poor people are allowed entry into the networks. A qualified guess leads to another negative answer. All societies are stratified, some more, some less. Stratification and differentiation have as their foremost goal to define some people or groups as members of a state or organization, and to keep others out. Usually it is the majority that is kept out, and the minority that receives the privileges and rights which belong to the strata/organization of which they are members. The poor are by definition and tradition at the bottom of such stratified societies. Social exclusion is still another feature of poverty. Symbolic differentiation and exclusion may be just as powerful. The poor can be exposed and excluded if they fail to adjust to the dominating norms of the non-poor, understand the “real” values of society, get ahead, etc. The argument for ruling ourselves will in fact be gloomy and unrealistic if a majority of the population are not able to access the presently available formal and informal social and political networks.

Zafar said...

Interesting discussion!
I agree is what has been said so far about the issue of policy and decision making as far as it concerns marginalised communities. I can speak for Gorno Badakhshan community that to my mind is not involve ‘in the process’ of development, but I think before asking the question how to change the policy we should think what needs to be done before that.

This is how I see it: -if you do not raise awareness about development, what opportunities available out there? Who? Where? How? Mow much? How many ? people simply will follow what is coming from the top. And the story of ‘We know what is best for them!’ continues. The moment people understand the story they rationalise it, they see what is really best for them, and than move to the stage of changing policy.

Aejaz Karim said...

Participation and Conflict

One fifth of the people are against everything all the time. Robert F. Kennedy.

A very simple word, but a very complex process usually misunderstood by many organizations and development practitioners. It is so dynamic that it means different to different people. It is also a fact that every situation is different and requires different level and method of participation. The notion and degree of participation depends on the social structure, institutional strength, and motivation of people along with the willingness of the target community or stakeholders. More precisely the motivation and capacity of the stakeholders are two basic conditions for a successful participation. The delegating authority or organization plays a key role in assigning the citizen a particular level and degree of participation. Generally effective and successful participation is about style and approach as much as particular recipes.

The level of participations ranges from just informing the community about a particular project to supporting independent community initiative. Different levels are appropriate at different times to meet the expectations of different interests.

One of the objectives of ensuring proper community participation is thought to be minimizing the risk of dispute and conflict over any project or program. But, within any participation process there are likely to be conflicts because of people’s underlying attitudes, the outcomes they are seeking and the values they hold.

It has been observed that majority of the organizations in our area are lacking a proper conflict resolution mechanism. Though they play a key role in community mobilization, but they distant themselves from any sort conflict erupts due to their intervention. Over the past few years this deficiency of the development organizations left various communities with broken relationships. It also gave birth to small interest groups openly opposing and propagating against various development initiatives in the area. Here the participation of one group results into the alienation of the non participating group. The non-participating segment then forms an interest group, sometimes a pressure group, in order to manipulate public opinion. Usually they fall prey of certain political forces and creating hurdles for the development process.

The leading role of certain “interest groups” and “dominant personalities” in development projects and misappropriation of the development funds has resulted into three things: 1) corrupted the community participation process, 2) strengthened the cause of non-participant groups, and 3) created conflict among the community members. My personal observation tells me that it happens due to two main factors: 1) careless and poor planning regarding the participation levels and mechanism. 2) The deficiency of negotiation/conflict resolution skills among the development practitioners.

In depth understanding and practical skills of conflict resolution is the basic requirement for dealing with such negative outcomes. Conflict resolution processes includes consensus building, negotiation and mediation. Resource Manual for a Living Revolution suggests that the following elements are necessary for successful conflict resolution:
• Enough time to deal with the conflict-plan ahead.
• Defining the problem in terms which are clear and acceptable to all.
• Dealing with negative feelings in positive ways.
• Helping people identify in concrete terms what makes them unhappy with the situation distinguishing between feelings and reality.
• For each member of the conflict to identify their real needs.
• An opportunity for individuals to unload feelings of hurt, fear etc in the presence of accepting people.
• To have at least one person – preferably uninvolved – to give special attention to the process.
[Constructive Conflict management, Getting to Yes, and material on the Resolve programme from the Environment Council.]

In order to avoid any unwanted or conflicting situation consensus-building is very important. It is basically a participation process where participants work together to try and reach a result which has benefits for both – a win/win outcome. It is an alternative to adversarial confrontation where one side is trying to gain supremacy – win/lose – or a compromise which neither side achieves what they want – lose/lose.

The key elements of the process are:
• A commitment of the parties to investing time and effort in interactive co-operation.
• Involving the participants in designing a staged process for consensus-building – and changing it if it isn’t working.
• Using the process to develop relationships so the consensus is sustained.
• Exploring future needs and interests – not taking abstract positions.
• Helping participants understand each other’s point of view.
• Testing options for agreement for the impact on every party.
[The Environment Council, Action Pack by Andrew Floyer Acland]

Negotiation is a back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when two or more than two sides have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed. Practitioners in participation processes are bound to get involved in negotiation as different interests try and work out what they want from any situation, and have degrees of control over the results. You can end up trying to mediate between different factions, facilitating group discussions, or negotiating between community interests and their own organization.
For successful negotiation the field of conflict resolution advocates:
• Separating the people from the problem. Put yourself in other people’s shoes to see the problem from their point of view; don’t attack the people, address the problem.
• Focus on interests, not positions. Try and find areas where the outcomes you are seeking will overlap.
• Invent options for mutual gain. Be creative in developing ideas which could serve to achieve the overlapping interests.
• Insist on objective criteria. Agree ways of judging and reaching solutions which are agreed to be fair.

In order to minimize the real threat to development process, especially in the mountain regions of Pakistan and Central Asia, developing an effective participation mechanism is imperative and while doing so the development bodies and practitioners must keep in mind few important points:
• Community participation must be devised after a vigorous planning process in which the key interest groups agree on the level of participation which is appropriate.
• Participation involves developing agreement on both what is to be achieved – the outcomes– and how it is to be done – the methods.
• Participation is a process of learning and development for all concerned. It takes time.
• People will only be involved if they understand each other, have the confidence to participate, and can see some point to it.
• The use of short-term methods and techniques for participation requires understanding of the overall process, and skilled application. There are no quick fixes.

The participation process usually gives birth to conflicts and rifts among the community members. It is vital to deal with such situation professionally instead of relying on traditional methods. For this our development practitioners must be trained in conflict resolution skills. Even than, we can't ignore one fifth of the people....

Amir Hussain Nihal said...

Please refer to the sources when you use others' ideas to formulate your own arguments. I sense that in some of the comments Extracts from Fukuyama's books like "End of History and "Trust" have been used without any thematic and logical atleration. Even the text is same.
We need to be careful.

Anonymous said...

where is post #2?