Topic 1 Participation as a strategy at the service of a more humane development

Until a few years ago, the current development paradigm focused on well-being and economic growth as a way to expand people’s options, rights and freedoms. Individuals and societies were considered rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped, productive or unproductive, legal or illegal, educated or illiterate, included or excluded, central or peripheral…because indicators and strategies focused almost exclusively on a single option: income, and with it, the opportunity to access consumer goods considered basic and people’s production capacity. But no one was wondering about people’s well-being, their abilities, or their happiness or satisfaction with these strategies.

Development as a model promised that, through the mixture of state and individual actions, and the combination of capital and technology, the poverty and backwardness of the least developed countries and the most disadvantaged groups would be reduced little by little.

The conceptual world of the economy that was imposing itself on the idea of development, continued to explain the growing anomalies of a global nature as secondary effects, and not as a consequence of a structurally exclusive and unequal international regime.

But fortunately, the experience often frustrated or with limited results, of other development policies and projects to combat poverty and social exclusion left as a favourable result the confirmation that social and community participation could have very important potentialities to obtain significant achievements in terms of coexistence, inclusion and equity.

In this way, participation has been placed in a different frame than in previous decades. No one today would dare to go against participatory discourse. It is no longer a discussion between utopians and anti-utopians. To say that participation is not necessary, good, pertinent, useful, etc. would be to disregard the apparent consensus that exists on its behalf and, beyond that, it would be to go against the prevailing discourse of democracy. On the contrary, it seems that there is a broad consensus at the national and international level regarding the importance of participation as an element that contributes to the strengthening of citizenship, democracy and the exercise of public policies.

For the new approaches to development, people now occupy a central place. Development is analysed and understood in terms of people and policy packages, even with variations between different countries and organizations, they have some common characteristics:

  1. The goal is to improve people’s lives, not just expand production processes.
  2. A society needs to develop human capacities but also to ensure equitable access to opportunities. It is not just about training in skills (improving health, education…) the use that people make of these skills is also important, whether in employment, in political affairs, in free time…
  3. People are both the means and the end; they cannot be seen as simple instruments or recipients of a “management project”. We must pay attention to the process, so that it is sustainable, egalitarian, so that it generates a flexible “collective proposal” that trains and empowers people.

From this perspective, development will share the same coordinates with participation, placing us on the map under other coordinates different from the traditional ones:

For this reason, when talking about participation, when designing and formulating our strategies and programs, it is important to take into account what development (social and community) is, and under what paradigm we are moving. We cannot isolate participation from its context (development), nor lose sight of the fact that the inclusion of people in social participation strategies will be determined by a historical experience, a cultural pattern and a social context that defines the itinerary of these people in relation to a role, a position, a class… There is no single formula or definition of participation that can be applied in all cases; it will depend on the cultural and social conditions of each context, as well as the characteristics, skills, needs and specific objectives of each person, group and community.