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Participation ladder: a meter for the quality of engagement

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Components of Each Type


Self- mobilization

People participate by taking initiatives independent of external institutions to change systems.  Such self initiated mobilization and collective action may or may not challenge existing inequitable distributions of wealth and power.


People participate in joint analysis, which leads to action plans and the formation of new local groups or the strengthening of existing ones.  It tends to involve interdisciplinary methodologies that seek multiple perspectives and make use of systematic and structured learning processes.  These groups take control over local decisions, and so people have a stake in maintaining structures or practices.


People participate by forming groups to meet predetermined objectives related to the project, which can involve the development or promotion of externally initiated social organization.  Such involvement does not tend to be at early stages of project cycles or planning, but rather after major decisions have been made.  These institutions tend to be dependent on external initiators and facilitators, but may become self-dependent.


Participation for material

People participate by providing resources, for example labor, in return for food, cash or other material incentives.  Much in-situ research and bio-prospecting fall in this category, as rural people provide the resources but are not involved in the experimentation or the process of learning.  It is very common to see this called participation, yet people have no stake in prolonging activities when the incentives end.

by consultation

People participate by being consulted, and external agents listen to views.  These external agents define both problems and solutions, and may modify these in the light of people's responses.  Such a consultative process does not concede any share in decision-making and professionals are under no obligation to take on board people's views.

Participation in
information- giving

People participate by answering questions posed by extractive researchers and project managers using questionnaire surveys or similar approaches.  People do not have the opportunity to influence proceedings, as the findings of the research or project design are neither shared nor checked for accuracy


People participate by being told what is going to happen or what has already happened. It is unilateral announcement by an administration or by project management; people's responses are not taken into account. The information being shared belongs only to external professionals.

(Source: Pretty, J.N. 1995. Regenerating Agriculture: Policies and Practice for Sustainability and Self-Reliance. Earthscan, London; National Academy Press, Washington - adapted from Adnan et al. 1992)


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