"Something that the NGOs do"? Notes on participation and governance in the environment and development policy field

"Something that the NGOs do"? Notes on participation and governance in the environment and development policy field

At the fundamental level, participation relates to the nature of relationships between human beings, often reflected in, through or by social institutions, through particular values, norms and reciprocal processes of interaction.

At the governance level, participation relates to power, its control, distribution and to classical democracy questions in a society concerning who decides what, when, where, how and why. Participation is thus a phenomenon or a concern within the state and public sphere, but also in the private sector, in civil society, in communities and/or between community actors and “even” within kinship groups and among household members. In other words, participation involves the rights and duties related to involvement, to decision-making and sharing of values in society.

At the overall level, debates about participation relate to theories of democracy and governance; to politics; to the content and distribution of power, resources and influence; and to how people through various organizational structures, institutions and political processes engage in political, economic, socio-cultural management or other social deliberations or decisions and implementations. Both structure and agency impact on, and are influenced by, participatory ambitions and interventions. Democratic participation is further a precondition for that authorities’ use of power and attempts at resolving conflicts find legitimacy among people. This, again, has relevance for the effectiveness and efficiency of policies, also in a more instrumental way.

At the micro-level, participation can both concern self-empowerment and rights-based development, but will also relate to participation as an instrumental approach to make local people do or accept what someone else or society at large wants. Important debates here relate to how the “state chooses to treat its citizens and how this is manifested in action” and “every-day state-making”, the processes in which citizens encounter state “machinery”: state organizations; policies, institutions and people. Herein are further issues on human agency and how people actually act, both as individuals and in groups relating to more ontological issues of motivation and adaptation. There are also links to how people feel they are treated by the state; where both issues about policy legitimacy and to rights and distributive and procedural justice, offer interesting meeting places (and research themes).