Participatory Research, Natural Resource Management and Rural Transformation: More Lessons from the Field
The word ‘lesson’ can refer to a teaching exercise that is structured to provide facts, skills and information, or to the meaning and awareness that is extracted from an experience. By reflecting on what we are doing and why, we can hope to limit our mistakes and create new ways of seeing, negotiating and resolving problems and opportunities. Lessons are important to the future of participatory research, as the recent critique of participatory development as a ‘tyranny’ shows (Cooke and Kothari, 2001). They call for a critical review of participatory development approaches and research methods – to study the controls on the processes behind ‘participation’ paradigms, and to demonstrate why it should be preserved as an approach. However, even ten years ago, FalsBorda and Rahman (1991) were also warning of the take-up of participatory methods by agencies as a requirement and new form of control and social engineering, that would bring criticism of the role of participatory research methods. They emphasized the need for reflection to counter such outcomes, going on to stress instead how the importance of participatory research might increase in the future. This is through its demonstration of the complexities and stresses of local joint action in changing social and political conditions, at the same time as showing the changes achievable by people in such joint action – to continue to understand the commitment, understanding and support their everchanging context might require. Although participatory research may also
provide better ‘knowledge’ for more enlightened action by planners and policymakers, or create more local civic action, the changes it achieves are part of a more profound self-awareness about the taking of action for change.