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Participatory development : the role of a local Indian NGO in a watershed development program in central India Kelpin, Kevin Dean

Abstract

"Participation" has become an increasingly important discourse within the global practice of development. Rhetorically used by a disparate array of development organizations ranging from government departments and large multi-national development agencies to small local non-government organizations (NGOs), "participation" has come to broadly represent the attempt to involve local individuals and groups within the planning and management of the development activities directly affecting them. The far-reaching and enthusiastic acceptance of what participation conceptually represents, however, has tended to definitionally cloud the more intricate and human matter of how participation as a development process is to be practically achieved at the local level. How macro-level conceptual policies of institutionalised development, such as "participation", become visible in the micro-level realities of rural communities is a central question. This dissertation examines the work of a small Indian NGO (INDEV), involved in a participatory watershed development project in Madhya Pradesh, India. How participation emerged as a social process between INDEV and local farmers to bring about social, economic, and ecological change is documented. Essential to the emergence of a process of meaningful participatory development is the intersubjective accomplishment of meaning. Therefore, the local-level experience where the social construction of knowledge and relations of power were negotiated daily within the interactions between INDEV, local farmers and the government district administration is emphasised. Participatory development can be an empowering activity for marginalized communities, but this depends on a shift in power relations between development officials and local individuals. The meaningful participation of communities can be severely limited when state development policies, often inextricably tied to rigid management practices, fixed time frames and quantitative measurement standards, are favoured over local knowledge, local time frames and a social space in which participation happens through the unmeasurables of trust, compromise and self-confidence. This research focuses on INDEV's struggles with both the district administration's reluctance to surrender control over development actions, as well as the hesitancy of local farmers who, in light of their past interactions with the authoritative nature of government development activities, often see non-participation as the best way to avoid risks to their short and long term economic survival.

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