Making Connections: Learning About Participation in a Large Aid Bureaucracy: Seema Arora-Jonsson andAndrea Cornwall
Today's development talk is full of relationship words such as participation, ownership and partnership. Yet, most development organizations offer little opportunity for staff to reflect upon what these words mean for their everyday work. This chapter describes an experiment in using a participatory methodology in the headquarters of an aid bureaucracy, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), to engage a cross-departmental learning group of desk officers in reflecting and acting upon Sida's stated commitment to enhancing the participation of the poor in development processes and the everyday constraints to putting these fine-sounding ideals into practice. Our work sought to address two kinds of learning challenges for development organizations. One is developing the reflective and reflexive capabilities of those who work for them - that is, the capacity for self-critical awareness and being able to step back from a situation and look at it from different perspectives (Schon, 1983). The other is to find ways for the increasingly busy and beleaguered bureaucrat to gain opportunities of connecting with others in their organization who think differently and who work with different aspects of development, and to deal competently with the different realities, forms of knowledge and challenges that are part of development work and for which bureaucratic processes and procedures are often so inadequate.