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IV. Conclusions and Recommendations

The two dimensions of participatory planning: local and institutional

Participatory planning, as mentioned earlier, should be viewed as a two-way learning process of dialogue, negotiation and decision-making between insiders and outsiders, concerning activities to be undertaken by the insiders and supported by the outsiders. Participatory development approaches aim at promoting sustainable development on the basis of local empowerment and the accountability of individuals, groups and communities. To achieve local empowerment and accountability, local capacities need to be strengthened (information, organization), access to and control over benefits from natural resources should be guaranteed (tenure systems and legislation), and claim-making power needs to be developed.

Participatory development approaches do not imply that projects should respond mechanically to whatever individuals or groups in the local community want them to do. Projects should have something to offer, not as pre-established packages but as proposals to be defined and negotiated on the basis of local priority needs, opportunities and constraints. This process of definition and negotiation of activities involves different interest groups and the definition of their respective responsibilities.

Participatory planning must be seen as an initial step in developing a negotiating dialogue between the local community and the project/institution in order to define a common agenda. After some years, this initial step should evolve towards self-directed local development planning and decentralized institutional planning. These two planning levels should be closely interrelated and work towards comprehensive and integrated plans for sustainable development of natural resources. This requires consolidated procedures for consultation and negotiation between the parties involved. When this stage has been reached, participatory approaches, methods and tools can be said to be in the process of being institutionalized. Current processes of decentralization and privatization of public services in many countries represent new challenges, which will need new strategies. More attention should be paid to institutional networking with both governmental and non-governmental organizations at different levels, such as municipalities, secondary-level farmer organizations and village associations.

On the basis of the case studies it can be concluded in general that more progress has been made in developing the local dimension of participatory planning than the institutional dimension. In the long run this situation will hamper comprehensive and integrated planning for natural resource management. Participatory planning needs effective institutional commitment and support, and a framework of conducive policies and legislation. These points should be worked out explicitly during the identification and formulation of participatory projects. They should be reflected in project design documents, in the project objectives, strategies and expected impact.

Approaches, methods and tools

The case study projects all exhibit progressive capacity building in participatory appraisal and planning at both local and project level. They are working seriously with approaches, methods and tools in order to define project interventions that respond to local needs, opportunities and constraints. Although there are still many problems to be solved, there is no doubt that local groups are gradually assuming accountability for their own projects. The participatory methods and tools have proven to be effective in this area, particularly in those cases where a strong relationship has been developed between the local community and the project, based on mutual respect and confidence. The ability of the project staff to internalize their role as facilitators and their corresponding behaviour patterns and attitudes in the field are of fundamental importance in achieving this confidence.

It was found that the direct involvement of the field staff in the development, testing and adaptation of the different methods and tools contributes to a better understanding of the participatory approach. The effectiveness of the methods and tools thus would appear to depend in particular on the internal dynamics of the project (feedback mechanisms, reflection, discussion and analysis). The way these tools are used in the field for data collection, sharing of information and facilitation of self-analysis, and restitution of the results of the exercises to the community members are also key elements in making them effective. In particular, this last point (restitution) seems to be extremely important. In many cases it was found that local people start wondering after a while why so much time should be "lost" in meetings, exercises or discussions. It is important for the project staff to return the results of this work to those directly concerned as early as possible. Visualization of the process and the results through video, pictures or printed materials was found to be an effective way to communicate the feeling that progress is being made.

Certain "unsolved" problems emerged at field level with regard to the four basic assumptions of the study regarding participatory processes. Although there have been individual examples of empowerment of disadvantaged groups (the first assumption), in general these groups have not been able to benefit equally from project activities. In order to facilitate more equal access to project facilities and services, the projects need to differentiate their approaches, strategies and technical menus to correspond to the specific characteristics of the different interest groups. For this to function, however, a political balance also must be found at the local level when moving between various groups. Institutional support is needed from local authorities and powerful groups in the community before elaborating development plans that respond to the more disadvantaged groups.

A related question that is often raised concerns the comparative advantages and disadvantages of working with small groups as opposed to working with the whole community. The case studies indicate that small groups with shared interests can serve as more effective vehicles for promoting participation, and produce better results. Community-wide approaches appear to suffer from weaknesses deriving from the hierarchical structure of most communities. However, the sustainable management of natural resources requires at least. some degree of communitywide cooperation to achieve significant benefits. The question is, therefore, to what extent small functional groups can serve as vehicles for action at community level. Examples from Bolivia, Senegal and Pakistan seem to indicate that much depends on the internal organization of the local community. In particular in Bolivia, strong reciprocal relationships exist between the individual family and the community and, hence, Community Forestry Plans are implemented for the benefit of individual families, groups and the community as a whole.

Regarding the second assumption of this study, it can be observed in the study projects that while participatory approaches are implicitly enhancing local knowledge and skills, thus far little explicit attention has been given to the assessment of specific local knowledge systems related to natural resources. In the past few years, various international programmes and networks have been established in this field, and interesting results are becoming available. However, the case studies indicate that very little information has been collected in most of these projects. In depth studies may need to be undertaken in order to fill this gap.

Interactive participatory planning, by definition, enhances two-way learning processes (the third assumption). A necessary condition, however, is that the field staff should have internalized their role as facilitators, no longer acting as extension agents sending out "messages". In addition, participatory project management styles and annual project planning procedures should be developed in order to maximize the institutional capacity of the project at all levels. Participatory planning in the field is not likely to take place if participatory principles are not applied at office level. The more important aspects of internal organization and functioning of the projects have not been sufficiently documented. For example, there would be the need for a report illustrating and analysing the different steps that have been followed for the elaboration of annual workplans.

Not enough attention is being paid by the projects to producing documents about the development and verification of their approaches, methods and tools. Most of the documentation consists of drafts or preliminary working papers. Consolidated and systematized materials are lacking. Without minimizing the importance of recording the physical results in the field, projects should also attempt to properly document qualitative results. For example, the general impression is that logical sequencing in time and in space of the different methods and tools could be further improved. However, no "hard evidence" could be found to substantiate this observation and to use in making concrete suggestions. Similarly, participatory planning is meant to be an iterative and progressive process but in most cases it has yet to be demonstrated (documented) that this is indeed happening.

Initiatives to mobilize the institutional networks for analysis of approaches, methods and tools on the basis of results from the field should be further promoted. The objective should be to develop a minimum level of standardization, since the experience of a single project cannot be expected to achieve major breakthroughs at policy and planning levels. Although expectations of what can be achieved in this respect should not be overestimated, the case of Senegal has clearly illustrated that "pooling" of resources and experiences of different projects and programmes is a viable strategy.

Project identification and formulation

In almost all cases examined, methodological reorientations in project strategies have been introduced in the course of implementation, particularly in the "older" community forestry projects. In the process, important operational, technical, methodological lessons have been learned. First, it is now clear that these projects need to be implemented over a reasonable length of time if sustainable results are to be expected. The period of two years initially approved in the case of the PUCD projects, for example, constituted an important constraint to the identification and implementation of priority activities. Participatory resource management projects appear to need an initial period of at least five years in order to set up sustainable mechanisms of participatory planning and development. In some cases, depending on ecological and climate conditions, a second or even a third phase might also be needed.

Second, it is also clear that participatory projects need inputs from the social sciences. Although progress has been made in monitoring and evaluation of results at field level, little has been done to monitor environmental and socio-economic impact and sustainability. In the case of projects where approaches, methods and tools have been verified, high priority should be given to carrying out cost-benefit studies. Specialized expertise in this field is required, and existing studies carried out by various international agencies should be analysed carefully.

Third, it is interesting to note that none of the technical menus of the case study projects consider the production, planting or marketing of trees as the single key issue. Rather, technical proposals are focused on developing sustainable land use management systems, where shrubs, grasses, crops, livestock, water and soils are considered on an equal footing with trees and forests. Therefore, a more interdisciplinary approach is required for these community forestry projects, which reinforces the need for institutional networking and for coordination among the different line agencies at field level. This should be considered carefully during project identification and formulation.

A drawback of this wide area of intervention has emerged from some of the PUCD projects, however. These projects have encountered difficulties in developing coherent technical proposals for either the short or the long term. An excessively wide variety of activities has been identified and initiated, ranging from income generating activities to soil conservation, water sources protection, gully control, tree production and livestock improvement. This has created a situation where the "profile" of these projects is not sufficiently clear at community level, leading to a feeling of confusion and distrust among intended participants.

The case studies have demonstrated the need to develop technical menus that respond to the specific needs, opportunities and constraints of the most disadvantaged groups. The available options should be carefully assessed during project identification and formulation, and the required inputs should be included in project design. In particular, specific groups such as tenants, the landless, women and nomads are easily excluded. If no viable technical options can be identified in the forestry sector from which these groups might benefit, then community forestry is not likely to provide an adequate alternative for improving their living conditions. In such cases, other proposals will need to be worked out.

In this connection, the importance of clearly defining the target group of project participants from the outset cannot be overemphasized. Success in reaching the most disadvantaged groups can be expected only when the target group is clearly defined and the project foresees the need for specific targeting mechanisms. This needs to be a part of project design.

Suggestions for further research

Within the framework of this study, it has not been possible to elaborate on the important issues of impact and sustainability. During the past 15-20 years, a great many community forestry projects have been implemented. Community forestry is meant to be a feasible alternative for promoting sustainable development of forest and tree resources at the local level. It has yet to be demonstrated that this method fulfils these expectations from political, economic, technical and social points of view. Therefore, there is a great need to carry out ex-post studies on the impact and sustainability of past community forestry interventions. An interesting challenge would be to use RRA and PRA methods and tools for this purpose.

The present study focuses on a comparative analysis of approaches, methods and tools in different political, ecological and socio-cultural contexts. However, it has proven very difficult to reach detailed levels of analysis. For example, perceptions of the different groups of participants concerning the intervention process and results achieved have hardly been worked out (do they perceive themselves to be "empowered"?). Similarly, in most of the cases it was not possible to explore the extent to which the approaches, methods and tools were actually practised in the field. This would require more intensive and lengthy fieldwork than was possible for this study. As illustrated in Chapter 2, important information gaps have been identified at both institutional and local level.

Therefore, it is suggested to select a limited number of projects (two or three) in which to carry out follow-up research that should generate a more detailed level of analysis of certain issues. Some issues that need further exploration are participatory technology development, the appraisal of local knowledge systems and benefit distribution mechanisms with reference to disadvantaged groups. At institutional/project level, further research is needed on internal management and organization, institutional networking and monitoring and evaluation.

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