5.1.1 Participation and meaningful participation

Why do we need to talk about meaningful participation? Sometimes so-called ‘participation’ does not actually succeed in allowing the people affected to be heard. Even if people are physically present at a meeting it does not mean they will feel confident to speak, or that others will listen to them and respect their views (Figure 5.1). Participation should be more than just passive listening, being the subject of data collection or providing labour.

Figure 5.1 Community meetings are one way of sharing information but the people listening are not actively participating.

In the WASH sector (and many others), there are ineffective participatory processes practised by service providers including government and non-government organisations. For example, an NGO may organise a community meeting and present the plans for a new project, but this does not allow the community to actively engage in the planning process. The community is shown the plan but they are not invited to change anything or be involved in decision making.

For changes to have positive impacts, it is a necessary condition that community representatives actively participate in the whole process – from initiating ideas to evaluating the outcomes. The community is in the best position to identify problems and formulate solutions and it may need some extra effort to ensure they are included. For example, you may need to consult separately with women to make sure they feel comfortable discussing their views freely, or make special efforts to seek out the views of people with disabilities. Meaningful participation, therefore, occurs when everyone in the community actively contributes to the planning, decision making, implementation and monitoring of a project.

  • Mamitu, 80, has almost given up hope of having a latrine that she can use with comfort and dignity. Fortunately, an NGO supporting old people has come to her village and identified her as one of the beneficiaries. She is told the NGO has a plan for her. What is your advice to the NGO?

  • Your advice should be to ensure the NGO involves Mamitu in the process by asking her to identify the problems she has had accessing the existing latrine. She should also be part of the solution, which means participating in designing the new latrine facility so she can access it easily.

5.1 Meaningful participation

5.1.2 Benefits of participation