Participatory planning is not a magic trick – it requires preparation and appropriate methods. This includes knowledge of methods and group facilitation, about teamwork and problem solving. It is equally important to understand the planning processes themselves and to have the skillset to manage them: drawing up schedules, leading negotiations, monitoring implementation and evaluating progress and results.
It is important to note that participation and participatory planning is first and foremost a question of attitude, and not of choosing a method. Making this attitude your own means recognising the importance of involvement and ownership, and of needs and resource based planning and sustainability. By assuming this attitude, you will be able to adapt traditional planning methods in a way that is appropriate for the context, the target group and the object of planning, and that involves participation. A range of methods has been developed specifically for participatory planning, or has been adapted for it.
The first step is a needs assessment, which consists in gathering data about existing needs and resources in a way that demonstrates the difference between the current state of things and the desired one (key words: geomapping, social mapping, stakeholder mapping). It may be necessary to conduct interviews and/or a thorough survey before you are able to start the planning phase.
After establishing an overview of needs and resources, you need to define goals and the means for attaining them. It can be helpful to develop a vision of the world that we want to live in together with everyone, so that goals can be set in accordance with this vision. Together with the whole team, you set priorities and decide on who takes on which task.
You draw up an implementation plan and test it for feasibility. It often makes sense to visualise the planning process with images, graphics or models.
A well-tried method is called “Participatory Rural Appraisal” (PRA). It serves rural development and international exchange among rural populations. Similar planning methods are available for the urban context (PUA).
Another umbrella term is “Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation” (PM&E) for accompanying an ongoing planning process and its implementation. It can be used, for example, for correcting biases by introducing gender mainstreaming and/or by strengthening marginalized groups.
In practice, participatory approaches include…
- a lot of active listening
- considerations of power dynamics
- involving target groups in all stages of planning processes
- including target groups in decision-making
- including collaborative learning, building relationships, and community empowerment as part of the purpose of any project or activity
- joint reflections not only on content and methods, but also on the group processes themselves