Abstract, Master of Philosophy, Institute for Educational Research
Title:Participation.A study of two Norwegian humanitarian organisations: Their experiences and organisational inquiry into participation and dilemmas of participation in development aid.
Degree:Master of philosophy. Institute for Educational Research, Faculty of Education, University of Oslo. Spring 2005.
Key concepts:ParticipationOrganisational InquiryNorwegian Peoples Aid and Norwegian Refugee Council
Focus and research questions:The object of this thesis is to study participation as a method and approach to development aid. Participation in this context means participation by beneficiaries or their representatives. I explored what characterises the theoretical discussion about participation and considered which questions and dilemmas are addressed. I investigated how the experiences of humanitarian organisational practise can highlight dilemmas concerning participation. I have carried out an empirical study of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Norwegian People's Aid, and their organisational inquiry on participation. Based on the empirical experiences of these two humanitarian organisations, the aim of this thesis is to contribute to the discussion of participation. This thesis explores two main research questions:
How do Norwegian humanitarian organisations inquire into participation as a working principal and method?
How can theory, theoretical criticism and the Norwegian humanitarian organisations' organisational inquiry highlight the questions and dilemmas of participation in development aid?
There are three main dilemmas that will be identified and explored through theory, theoretical criticism and organisational inquiry. The first is to what degree the main functions in development work should be handed over to the beneficiaries. Secondly, should representative members of humanitarian organisations aspire to influence as little as possible the process of development projects? Thirdly, what role can and should local organisations play in these processes?
Concepts of organisational knowledge, organisational learning and organisational inquiry from Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, are used to study the organisational inquiry. The concepts are taken from their book Organizational Learning II (1996). To investigate the organisational inquiry, I looked at how participation is presented by the organisations themselves, in their information leaflets, through their strategies and working tools. Further, examined the organisational experiences and considerations around the dilemmas the thesis wants to highlight. Finally, I explored the conditions that influence the organisational practise of participation. The presentation of the organisations' inquiry is twofold. First, how organisational inquiry appears in information leaflets, policy papers and working strategies, and how participation is presented in these documents. Thereafter how organisations and their individual representatives inquire during the planning, implementation and evaluating of projects.
Methodology, sources and data:In order to address the first research question, how Norwegian humanitarian organisations inquire into participation as a working principal and method, I conducted an empirical study of both analytical and qualitative written work in the area and I also carried out half structured interviews. Information material, policy papers and various manuals and tools used by the organisations, have been analysed to see how the organisation as a whole inquires into participation. Individual representatives of the organisations were interviewed about practise, experiences and thoughts about participation. Representatives working in the head office as well as in local offices were interviewed; they all work connected to projects in the field. The data from the interviews in addition to project documents were studied to investigate how the organisations and their representatives, inquired about the planning, implementation and evaluation of projects.
A study of theory and theoretical criticism was used in addition to the data from the empirical study to answer the second research question. Robert Chambers (1997) theory Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is presented as a representative for the arguments for a high degree of participation in development aid projects. But his theory and the participatory approach have met with criticism. I present criticism from the books Participation: the new tyranny? (Cooke og Kothari 2001), and Gavens makt: Norsk utviklingshjelp som formynderskap (The Power of the Gift: Norwegian Development Assistance as Trusteeship) (Knut Nustad 2003).
Conclusions:My principal inference is that participation by beneficiaries is a central element in both organisations strategies and work. But participation as a working principal and method is presented and focused in different ways. Norwegian People's Aid used to present themselves as an aid organisation, but now they present themselves as a solidarity organisation. Their focus is that local cooperating partners should set the premises in the projects, while they hold a position as a counselling party. In contrast to this the Norwegian Refugee Council focuses on aid-giving as main concern, and is therefore an aid organisation. They have redefined themselves from a council organisation to an aid organisation through changing the name of the organisation. They changed their name from Flyktningerådet (refugee council) to Flyktningehjelpen (refugee aid), though the English name is not changed. These small linguistical differences found in the policy papers and the change of name, reflect a more fundamental ideological difference between the two organisations. These differences are also found in the two different main strategies for their work. In the Norwegian Refugee Council the local staff is mostly responsible for running the projects, while the Norwegian People's Aid hand over the responsibilities to local partners. But, in spite of these differences, both organisations argue that the projects should be based on the beneficiary's needs and wishes, and both organisations think local organisations can play an important role in their work.
The empirical study has shown that a challenge in development aid is to make sure that local participants take responsibility in projects within the frameworks and conditions set by external actors. The study has shown that there are great difficulties in engaging participants more actively in identifying concerns and planning due to enforced strategies and premises. International actors at both the economic level as well as the organisational level determine the parameters and structure for aid development projects. The study has also shown that an active engagement of participants from the very start is significant for the success of a project. Therefore an important question in my conclusion is whether or not the conditions for participatory involvement and local responsibility could be made to work better than the situation prevailing today. Projects to be carried out in a local community, should be governed by the needs of the community and not by the core component or strategies of the involved organisation. I consider whether or not both organisations has been so concerned with their chosen areas of commitment that this has made it more difficult for them to implement the projects governed by the needs of the community. Based on the empirical study I will argue that there is a need to discuss the factors and conditions set by the international actors in development aid. How can these conditions be changed so that participation by beneficiaries and local ownership improves? In this discussion both aid developers as well as policy makers need to take a stance.
The study has shown that the idea of development aid in itself necessarily influences the aid projects, all development organisations have objectives that they try to achieve. Chamber’s idea that the individual representatives of aid organisations are facilitators that hardly influence the process has a logical flaw. The facilitators and aid organisations will in all cases influence the process. In addition to this, the study has shown that there are challenging aspects to involving beneficiaries actively in all phases of a project. Based on my findings I will argue that there is a need to be more creative in the ways beneficiaries can participate actively, to ensure that projects are founded on the beneficiaries' initiative. In the discourse about participation it is important to think wider, and not only with participation in the different phases of a project. One central element is whether the implementation of a project is based on the initiative and active involvement of both beneficiaries and other local stakeholders. In that respect it is important to consider how the different stakeholders are involved. The empirical evidence indicates that it is not sufficient to involve local organisations, in fact the active involvement of the direct beneficiary are equally important contributing factor to the success of a project. Local organisations and direct beneficiaries are two different groups that both can, and should, play an active role, but in different ways. There should be other ways to involve beneficiaries actively, without necessarily being bound to the construction of a project design. My opinion is that there are potential new ways of thinking about this that can bring about fruitful changes and ideas to the field. I will argue that there is a need for improved distinctions in how to think about participation related to the different local groups and how they can be actively involved.