What does participatory planning mean?
Participatory planning means to involve the entire community in the process of urban or rural planning in order to foster community development. It harmonises views in a constructive way and deals with conflict between opposing parties with the aim to foster ownership by all participants. Unlike other planning processes, participatory planning makes sure that marginalized groups have a seat at the table and can participate in the process on an equal footing with other actors.
What does "participation" exactly mean?
- taking part in something
- being actively involved in something
- being part of a larger whole
- having ownership of processes that concern me
- engaging in a systemic and cumulative learning process where all participants (including locals, professionals, and trainers) create knowledge and learn skills from each other and from the process
- involving the whole community in strategic and operational planning
- shared decision-making
- supporting target groups in carrying out their own studies and preparing their own actions
What is the advantage of participatory planning?
Involving the people who will be affected by planning means making sure that it suits their needs and avoids wasting resources. Participation also bridges the gap between those who plan and those who someone else is planning for. Joint planning creates a shared sense of responsibility and ownership. Conflicts that will inevitably arise due to different interests of participants can be dealt with in a constructive manner and hurdles can be overcome by working together.
- empowers communities
- creates ownership and motivation
- promotes positive change
- appreciates and respects people: everyone is different but equally important
- recognizes the diversity of knowledge and perspectives
- promotes a common understanding
- minimizes the risk of excluding certain groups
- is context specific
- recognizes power relations
- contributes to our activities being relevant for the target groups
- builds a relationship and mutual respect between you and the target group
- leads to a more accurate and holistic understanding
- leads to more sustainable processes
- is more of an attitude than a methodology
All in all, it can make a difference in people’s lives.
Quiz: Do You Know Participatory Planning?
How do I get people to participate in the planning process?
First and foremost it is important to find out how willing individual people or groups are to get involved. Sometimes the wish for participation is very strong, but it can also be difficult to motivate people to take part. Anyone who intends to introduce a participatory planning process needs others to be prepared and ready to engage. People tend to get involved in things when they feel appreciated, when they can contribute with their knowledge and skills, and when they can see the results and/or receive the recognition of others for their work. When planning a participatory process, you should pay attention to these aspects to make sure you are creating the best conditions possible for people to get involved in your planning process.
Is participatory planning useful for working with diverse people / groups?
Participatory planning is especially useful when planning something for people or groups who are different from each other. When people of different backgrounds and with different interests, intentions and needs come together, there is often little knowledge about what the respective other groups might want. Common ground needs to be established so that people can get to know each other and exchange viewpoints and knowledge. This does not happen automatically when people meet – it has to be organised and facilitated. Joint planning processes are a good way of initiating communication between different groups.
How do we come to decisions in a participatory planning process?
Planning is especially participatory when the participating people or groups are actually involved in decision making. When a planning process is not managed in a top-down manner, reaching a decision is an important component of the participatory process. This is not always easy. In an ideal scenario, participation leads to a consensus, which means that everyone involved agrees on decisions that are made. But it is also possible that a consensus cannot be reached due to lack of willingness, experience or time. This is why you should discuss and decide on the decision making mode early on in the process, and if necessary define alternative ways of coming to a decision (for instance a majority vote, or systemic consensing).
Can we change a plan during the implementation phase?
Every plan depends on the real available possibilities, is influenced by different contextual factors and can change. If you try to implement a plan that has been decided upon one-to-one without modifications due to changing conditions, you will most likely encounter more problems than if you handle the plan in a flexible way. It is thus important to adapt or modify the plan. This should be discussed with all parties without losing sight of the common goal. Good monitoring is key in order to estimate if and how plans need to be modified.
Which methods and techniques are used in participatory planning?
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
What does a process of participatory planning look like?
Please view the graphic recorder on PNPM Rural Cycle on youtube to get a feeling how participatory planning can work:
What are the risks of participatory planning?
Participatory planning requires time and resources. If a planning process is being negotiated between actors with different interests it takes longer than if a top-down decision is made. This should be taken into account when drawing up schedules and communicating with the participants, but may cause impatience or fatigue among the parties involved.
It is rare that you are able to find a perfect balance between all (competing) interests. Some people may feel like their demands or viewpoints are not considered enough, or stronger or more vocal groups may overrule others. The facilitators and/or leaders need to be prepared for such problems and be ready to present proposals for finding a solution together.
Participatory planning is an ongoing process and the final result may differ somehow from the original goal that was defined. It is important that all participants understand that they are part of a dynamic process and that nothing is set in stone.
What about hierarchies and authority in processes of participatory planning? Do we need a leader?
Ideally, participatory planning is teamwork. But this is not always the case in reality. When planning processes happen within established institutions, the general formal framework for the process is already in place. When planning processes are initiated from within a community, one or more people need to prepare and plan the course of action. Hence, there is always a need for both facilitation and leadership in participatory planning – but that doesn’t mean the processes in question are necessarily characterized by hierarchies or imbalances of power.
When the planning process is happening within an institution with existing hierarchies or leadership in place, there may be a risk of tension between the people in leadership positions and the planning team. The planning team should try to gain as much autonomy as possible and find ways to consult with and agree on decision making modes with leadership, thus coming as close to a participatory process as possible. People in leadership positions who want to work in a participatory way have the potential to change old structures that are in place for planning.