Stuff I Do

Experiences and Encounters in Pune

Sustainability, Participation and Education

Posted by Sanskriti on August 6, 2009


Participation is one of the key principles of development of sustainability strategies. Dalal-Clayton and Bass[i] state that:

… people and institutions alike do not change because someone else tells them to – they have to be involved in the understanding and realizing the need for change, making decisions about change, and then going through the process themselves. 

Sustainability strategy development requires that different actors – government, private sector, civil society, research institutions etc – jointly consider issues and problems, seek out courses of action, review plans and implementation, in a cyclical manner. Additionally, since strategies have not usually been developed in this manner in the past, the traditional roles of the actors may need to be balanced out to provide space / voice for those hitherto not included.

So, participation processes should be such that help people participate effectively. Techniques may be required so that participants get adequate and accurate information about issues, have time and space to understand intricacies, are able to consider options and engage in fair negotiations when needed. The success of techniques to elicit effective participation can be an important factor in development of good strategies.

Five examples of participatory techniques, obtained from literature and web review are explored here, in this essay written several months ago. They may offer useful insights for CEE’s work in evolving participatory techniques in Pune.

Participatory Technique Design and Use

The following examples provide a small range of different techniques and applications:

  • Deliberative Polling in China, as an example of strategizing at the city level
  • Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor, as an example of laying the base for institutionalizing participatory strategy development
  • Leicester’s Local Agenda 21, that highlights the dilemma posed by choices that are made through participatory processes but are not environmentally sound and the need for long-term engagement
  • Prajateerpu, Andhra Pradesh, India as an example of facilitating the articulation of issues by marginalized groups themselves at the level of national and international policy
  • NBSAP India as an example of a participatory process of developing a national level strategy which ultimately became limited by not being inclusive of those who have ‘power’

Deliberative Polling

Deliberative Polling is a technique developed by Prof James Fishkin at University of Texas, Austin and currently at Stanford University, US[ii]. A random, representative sample is first polled on the issues to be discussed. After the baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to a briefing/ series of briefings in order to discuss the issues. Briefing materials and carefully balanced and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with experts with the various view points and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. After deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues.  

This technique appears to have been used in several applications in developing public policy where trade-offs need to be understood and considered. As an example, the technique was used in Zeguo Township, Zhejiang Province, China in 2005[iii]. The Deliberative Poll brought together a representative sample to consider the choice of infrastructure projects affecting the future of the town including particular roads, parks and sewage treatment plants. From the results it appears that an ‘environmental’ project – development of sewage treatment plants – ranked higher, and development of prestige projects like certain roads and parks ranked lower in importance, after the poll.

Deliberative Polling appears to be useful when it is not possible to engage in a poll with the entire population when strategizing. However, good publicity and making available all briefing and discussion materials may be a very important component in providing to some extent, the elements of enhanced education / awareness that are desirable for – indeed an integral part of – sustainability strategies.

Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor

This second example is based on a paper by Dove (2004), describing findings from a participatory introspection of the Andhra Pradesh Urban Services to the Poor[iv]. This was a partnership between DFID and the government of Andhra Pradesh. This project evolved out of an analysis of DFID funded projects in the 1980s and 90s which revealed that the earlier projects had not had significant long term benefits as expected. Based on this, one of the components in the APUSP was provision of resources to strengthen civil society and enhance the range and quality of services and initiatives for the poor[v].

The participatory techniques used for deciding the nature and location of infrastructure provisioning included SWOT analysis of settlements, mapping and micro-planning, and poverty matrices. These techniques appear to have provided substantial transparency and logical reasoning to the infrastructure projects chosen for implementation.

Participants had a few suggestions to improve the processes: better and formal communications between the municipality and the citizens to enable ownership of processes; increasing the number of civil society representatives; and creating a pool of representatives for each locality so that the responsibility of attending meetings (and therefore time spent) is shared.

The application of participatory techniques in this instance was to provide a transparent way to arrive at locations chosen for implementation based on an analysis of status of infrastructure and poverty.

The techniques were not used for strategizing over the long-term. However, the use of these techniques may have laid the ground for developing abilities to strategize among the various local stakeholders and actors. Given the absence of any discussion with citizens in the earlier processes of budgeting infrastructure projects, this appears to have been a good way to start discussions on certain aspects of sustainability.

Leicester’s Local Agenda 21

In Leicester, UK participatory processes were used for evolving Local Agenda 21 action plans[vi]. Over a period of two years, a range of techniques were used including questionnaires, surveys, focus group discussions and efforts to involve under-represented groups.

A dilemma is highlighted by Roberts (2000)

To create dialogue between individuals, be they residents of a local housing estate or members of the business community or officers in local government, a facilitator is required. This role involves impartiality, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and that the principles of dialogue are adhered to; the facilitator cannot be simultaneously the champion of sustainable development. The moment the facilitator disagrees with a view or attempts to push an issue, he or she loses the role.

What is to be done when public participation yields a demand for choices that are clearly unsustainable? As Roberts (2000) asks, ‘Whilst participatory local democracy is the most sustainable form of government, there are questions as to whether it can, in these days of mass media and short-term political horizons, make difficult decisions for the sake of those in distant places and for future generations.’

While a range of participatory tools and processes are used in the development and implementation of the Local Agenda 21, the individual steps have to be woven together to make the whole effective. Roberts (2000) suggests a framework of action consisting of four components: focus on issues and aspirations; develop the capability and habit of responding to local needs; win hearts and minds and develop new and visible projects.

Innovations are needed in cyclical processes of gathering views, collating, providing information on the projections of impacts of choices, while retaining interest in participation.


Prajateerpu, which translates to ‘people’s verdict’, was a combination of citizens’ jury, scenario building and public hearing. It took place over six days in 2001. The objective was to facilitate the shaping of a vision for farming and food policy by people most affected by the ‘Vision 2020’ in Andhra Pradesh (AP, India). The aim of Prajateerpu was to identify the key areas of importance to the poor and marginalized groups. Members of the jury included women, landless poor, lower castes, and marginal farmers. Rather than being selected randomly from various groups, they were hand picked with the view that they are often over-looked or drowned in the usual government-led visioning or strategizing processes[vii].

The details of the scenarios are not being described here. The important innovation was the launch of the Prajateerpu report in a very visible way at the House of Commons, UK, the aim of which act was to link local voices on the future of food, farming, and rural development with national and international policy making. One request from the jury was that ‘aid from white people’ should reach and actually benefit them. The Prajateerpu organizers paid for one of the members of the citizens’ jury to travel from her village in AP in order to present the jury’s verdict to MPs, the media and others, in London. The attempt was ‘to go beyond the idea of advocating on behalf of the marginalized to the practice of enabling the marginalized to speak for themselves’[viii]

Reference is made to responses from researchers who participated in an e-forum following the publication of the Prajateerpu report. Stirling points to the importance of the use of selected jurors such as in Prajateerpu, when the objective is ‘opening up’ up of policy debate rather than ‘closing down’ or achieving consensus. Gaventa suggests that though important, concerns of scienticism, rigour or validity are ultimately less significant than the concern about whether or not such deliberative processes serve to provide voice and participation in development strategies.

One observation (perhaps by Robert Chambers) draws attention to the need for calling for an articulation and examination of differing values:

For a scenario exercise to be valid and useful the alternative scenarios should be equally appealing to participants, for example, in terms of the impact they would have on their lives. This is the way in which values and aspirations can be brought out into the light and made explicit, but without introducing biases that could invalidate the exercise.[ix]

The response from DFID on Prajateerpu was:

In parallel, more opportunities need to be created for poor people to earn income, and, as Vision 2020 notes, these are likely to be in services and manufacturing, leading to a reduction in the proportion of people gaining their livelihood primarily from agriculture. DFID does not find any references in Vision 2020 that suggest that this shift in employment will be coerced, as implied by some[x]

An articulation and examination of values and systems of beliefs that underlie different solutions or pathways of development are ultimately needed when choices have to be made.

Thus, two learnings from Prajateerpu are particularly pertinent: one, that participatory processes can be designed to articulate viewpoints that may not be otherwise heard, or heard at the level at which policy formulation happens, and that this type of objective is not necessarily unfair; and two, that an examination of values may also need to be done publicly and that negotiations may be between differing value systems.

The innovation by the organizers of Prajateerpu of connecting those involved in international policy formulation to those who are affected by the policies was an important contribution to the practice of participatory process.

Innovations that can help integrate these concerns in participatory processes, and make the trade-offs and choices more transparent would certainly be a step forward in making sustainability strategies be more informed and inclusive.


India set out to develop its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), as required of all signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. In a major departure from the usual method producing strategy documents, the Government of India commissioned the NGO Kalpavriksh to lead the process of preparation of India’s NBSAP. A range of participatory planning tools were used – workshops, village level meetings, as well as a biodiversity yatra, exhibitions, radio outreach etc. The process of putting the plan together was as important as the final product. A stated objective of the process was to increase awareness of biodiversity, empower people through participation, and inspire local initiatives to begin implementation of local plans. In this it was very successful – tens of thousands of people were involved in the three-year process. Finally, more than 70 state, sub-state, eco-regional and thematic plans were prepared, in addition to one national plan.

However, when the final draft NBSAP was submitted, the Ministry of Environment and Forests declined to approve and release the national plan.

The NBSAP India process was very successful in its stated objectives of enhancing awareness and encouraging local action. However, it did not have enough dialogue with the more powerful groups including the industry, landowners, politicians and trade unions. An important lesson from the Indian NBSAP experience is that it is essential to strike a balance between ideology and political reality. The voices of the marginalized must be heard, but the ones who have to listen also have to be part of the discussion process[xi].


Participatory processes seem to be successful in enhancing awareness levels, a sense of citizenship, and when thus designed, in articulating the voices of the disadvantaged, all of which are important in the evolution of sustainability strategies. Innovations are yet needed that help in examination of values and clear articulation of trade-offs between different solutions. Over the long-term, such praxis can help in strategies become more informed and inclusive. Participatory techniques are not easy, are time-consuming, and may yield results over the long-term for development of sustainability strategy. ‘Community development’ type of work is more easily done and visible, and may lay the ground for participation in strategizing kind of processes.

Ultimately, the framework of democracy under which participatory processes operate is important because there has to be a clear linkage between decisions made through participatory processes, the acceptance of these decisions, and finally, the ability to hold to account those responsible for implementing the decisions made thus.


[i] Dalal-Clayton, B. and Bass, S. (2002) Sustainable Development Strategies: A Resource Book. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

[ii] accessed June 2007

[iii] Jakes, Susan (2005) Dabbling in Democracy, Time April 16, 2005,,9171,1050191,00.html accessed June 2007

[iv] Dove, Lesley (2004) Providing environmental urban services to the poor in Andhra Pradesh: developing strategic decision-making, Environment and Urbanization 2004; 16; 95

[v] Department of Municipal Administration and Urban Development (DMAUD) and DFID (2000), “Andhra Pradesh urban services for the poor: project document”, unpublished, quoted in Dove (2004)

[vi]  Roberts, Ian (2000) Leicester environment city: learning how to make Local Agenda 21, partnerships and participation deliver, Environment and Urbanization 2000; 12; 9

[vii] Pimbert, Michel and Tom Wakeford (2003) An introduction to Prajateerpu: a citizens’ jury/scenario workshop on food and farming futures in Andhra Pradesh, India, PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED.

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Contributions on issues of evidence, legitimacy, and authenticity, PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED

[x] Reflections on the e-forum and Prajateerpu report by the UK Department for International Development, India. , PLA Notes, February 2003. IIED

[xi] Apte, T (2006) A People’s Plan for Biodiversity Conservation: Creative Strategies That Work (and Some That Don’t). Gatekeeper Series No 130, IIED, London quoted in Participation, Planning, Politics and Power: Lessons Learned from the Development of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for India. BioSoc: the Biodiversity and Society Bulletin. PCLG, IIED Issue 14: April 2007. Available at


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