[When Participatory Learning and Action is done well] “local people, and especially the poorer, enjoy the creative learning that comes from presenting their knowledge and their reality. They say they see things differently. It is not just that they share knowledge with outsiders. They themselves learn more than anyone knew alone. The process is then empowering, enabling them to analyse their world, and can lead into their planning and action. It is not the reality of the outsider which is transferred and imposed but theirs which is expressed, shared and strengthened. In this final reversal, it is more the reality of local people than that of outsider professionals that counts.

(Chambers 1994c and quoted in a number of donor agency Evaluation Manuals)

Participatory development methodologies have their roots in organizational, research and planning methodologies developed in the 1970s.  They include particularly:

  • ‘Activist Participatory Research’ (APR) and Participatory Action Research (PAR): techniques for community conscientisation and mobilisation developed under the various names of
  • Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) diagrams and oral research techniques which originated in farming systems research and anthropology
  • Appreciative Inquiry and ‘DIPs’ (Deliberative and Inclusionary
    processes) focusing on community-based participatory planning, including evaluation of existing policies
  • NGO experimentation with systems of internal participatory
    monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment.
  • World Bank participatory consultations in the form of Beneficiary
    Assessment and use of participatory methods generally in a series of Participatory Poverty Assessments by the World Bank at the end of the 1990s.
  • Empowerment Evaluation looked at ways of facilitating people to conduct their own evaluations as individuals as well as groups.

These participatory processes vary widely in:

  • the actual purpose of the participation and who initiates it
  • who is participating and how participants are selected
  • stages in a project where participation occurs
  • tools and processes involved – whether these are pictorial or verbal
  • ways in which participation is linked to decision-making.

Participation as transformation?

Participatory development methodologies have been promoted on the basis of a number of arguments:

  • Rights argument: Participation, and particularly and explicitly participation of the poorest and most vulnerable participants is a human right and an inherent and indivisible component of pro-poor development strategies and empowerment.
  • Effectiveness argument: Participation of the main stakeholders increases the accuracy of information and relevance to the realities of peoples’ lives and policy decision and implementation processes.
  • Cost-efficiency argument: Involvement of the main stakeholders increases ownership of the development process, better use of resources and is likely to enable mobilisation local resources to augment or even substitute those from outside
  • Process argument: the participatory process, through building skills, capacities and networks is a contribution in itself to pro-poor development, civil society and empowerment.

Participation as Tyranny?

Since the mid-1990s, parallel to the rapid expansion of participatory methods, have been a series of critiques of both practice and the underlying theoretical underpinnings of these methods. ‘Participation’ in the sense of ‘taking part’ in collective forms of action and decision-making at some level and between some individuals is an inherent part of all social life. Even slaves ‘participated’ in the building of ancient and recent empires. Many people ‘participated’ in the Nazi rebuilding of Germany and in ethnic cleansing of minority groups. There is nothing inherently desirable about ‘participation’ per se.

Many of the theoretical critiques of participatory development have their roots in very much earlier debates about the nature of democracy and political systems for representation.

  • Participatory development cannot be seen as a substitute for strategic policies to address poverty, inequality and empowerment.
  • Participatory processes, even those initiated from the ‘bottom-up’ are not necessarily either inclusive or egalitarian. People’s Movements frequently exclude or marginalise the very poor, women and other disadvantaged groups.
  • Outsiders may further reinforce existing inequalities because of their ignorance of local inequalities and/or their dependence on these power structures to gain access to ‘communities’. Reference to ‘cultural sensitivity’ and the need for ‘community participation’ are often cited as reasons for not addressing gender issues without even consulting women or men about gender concerns they may have.

A key concern in critiques of participatory methods from the empowerment/rights perspective has been the ways in which development agencies (from multilateral agencies to NGOs) and politicians have used the rhetoric of participation and participatory development to mask processes in which participation is extremely superficial and/or unequal and/or manipulated to support their own ends.

Participatory Development: Some key questions

Participatory development which aims to make a significant contribution to poverty eradication and empowerment must be constantly reflecting on the following questions:

  • Why is participation being advocated
  • Who is participating
  • When they are participating
  • How they are participating
  • Who benefits from the participatory process
  • Who benefits from the outcomes.

The understanding of the participatory pictorial methodologies being explored here is that goal of participatory development needs to be clearly this last issue ie ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable people benefit most from the outcomes of the participatory process. It is this concern which should determine decisions about who participates, how and when and not any inherent commitment to ‘as much participation by as many and at any cost’. It is also crucial that these people should benefit directly and as far as possible from the time and energy they give to the participatory process and not treated as unpaid labourers for agendas determined by outsiders.

Source: Mayoux, L 2005 Between Tyranny and Utopia: Participatory Evaluation for Development and references therein (also many other reviews and published articles by me on these issues that I need to relocate/upload on gamechangenetwork and then link.)

Livelihood Strengthening: CPT Tanzania

The Vuasu Review and Livelihoods and Leadership Strenghthening Workshop was a 3 day workshop co-funded by Hivos (for the review and livelihoods) and Tutunze Kahawa Limited (for leadership and governance). This was the first workshop after the withdrawal of Tutunze’s commercial operations in Kilimanjaro and was intended as a workshop to strengthen the capacity of the Vuasu GALS champions to continue the GALS process independently from TKL.

The workshop was co-facilitated by Linda Mayoux and Grace Murungi.

Participant expectations

for the training  were to:

  •  develop further skill in GALS tools in order to train other people
  •  learn to facilitate better and reach out to other people
  •  learn livelihood tools to expand business and start new business ventures
  •  be trained in good leadership skills in order to make changes in their communities

From the expectations above participants were divided after the Multilane Highway review into two groups:

  • livelihood tools: Hawa, Yona, Khatib, GoodnessPrayGod, Ahadi,  Paulin, ??
  • leadership skills: Lickson, Anna, Elisante and Dina.

Facilitation skills  were reinforced and discussed as the trainings went on, partly through participants facilitating themselves for parts of the time. Some people moved from one group to another to learn as much as they could from each.

Vuasu Review: Day 1 Multilane Vision Journey

The training started with the song of Empowerment Leadership Map (Ni mpango shirikishi) champions started drawing multilane monitoring to track down the changes in their lives and also number of farmers trained in GALS since the first training.

Champions drew a multilane of process since November 2013 when they were trained. The multilane consisted of three lanes on Vision Journey, Gender Balance Tree and Empowerment Leadership Map, following the usual way, the opportunity that helped them to reached the goals and challenges that they face, champion were explained that they continue to plan or to monitor whenever opportunities and challenges emerge. On the multilane, the milestones explained the actions on the three lanes, the milestone were split in quarters depending on champions plans, by July 2014 recorded all what had been achieved and the years target remained at October 2014.

GALS facilitation skills were revised with champions allowing each champion including the new ones to facilitate, applauding, singing and pair wise discussions were part of the training throughout the training session

Livelihoods Strengthening Days 2 and 3 


The participants began by brainstorming individually, then sharing, ideas on possible businesses to diversify their livelihoods. They identified  40 different enterprises,  including:

  1. Clothes enterprises
  2. Wood enterprises
  3. Maize business
  4. Cosmetics enterprises
  5. Seedlings business
  6. Groundnuts selling business
  7. Chicken business
  8. Hair dressing saloon
  9. Restaurant business
  10. Butchery business
  11. Fish selling business
  12. Water selling business
  13. Kiosk (retail shops for household goods)
  14. Pharmaceutical business
  15. Veterinary business
  16. Car selling
  17. Agricultural inputs business
  18. Motorcycle hire business
  19. Grain business
  20. Hard ware business
  21. Cattle fed business
  22. Chicken feed business

Business and coffee trees

Champions were then asked to choose one business that they would really implement when they went home. They were then taught the business tree and drew these for their chosen business, and also for coffee in their notebooks.

Business market map

The group was also trained on market mapping where the champions were asked to identify markets around them, challenges and opportunities were identified on each path, the market mapping was to assist champions to find new markets and look into prices of goods sold in different markets and getting right communication channels.

Business and coffee multilane vision journey

Champions were also trained on coffee business tree multilane where they analyzed income, expenditure and profit, champions realized that coffee is profitable and committed to increase production by practicing good agricultural practices, the coffee multilane is split into the activities of the coffee calendar by monthly .

Leadership Strengthening: Tanzania

Leadership Strengthening 2 day workshop

Why do you want to be a leader? reflection and visioning

Participants were asked to why they wanted to be leaders. All participants came up with 5 different reasons why they wanted to be leaders. The next step was to draw a good leader, how a good led community would look like, and what does a good leader do? Different drawings came from all the participants explaining qualities of what they thought a good leader is! Discussions came around what they highlighted as qualities of a good leader for example one participants drew a fat man seated in front of thin people giving instructions to them as his car was parked by the side. From different discussions came from the group on what they all agreed as qualities of a good leader:

  • cooperative
  • hard working
  • listens to people
  • visionary
  •  optimistic
  • contributes to the needs of the society
  •  cares for people
  • is a doer
  •  is a good advisor
  •  is a good manager

A leadership song was composed based on the qualities of a good leader and participants were asked to draw in their notebooks qualities of a good leader based on the decided upon qualities.

Leadership Diamond tool

Participants were asked to draw a shaped diamond and two lines were drawn to split and a middle line was drawn, on the left side qualities of a good leader were drawn, and on the right qualities good members were drawn and down wards left side, were qualities of bad leaders and right side qualities of bad members.

After the discussions, the similar qualities of both members and leader were drawn in the middle of the diamond tool; also the bad qualities were changed into positive and drawn in the middle, participants came to a consensus on qualities of both members and leaders.

Consensus on good leadership and good membership

LeaderQualities for bothMember
Good manager Good implementer Good advisor Good listener
Hard working Attendance Visionary Responsible Contributor Caring

Organisational governance map

The participants then came together to draw an institutional relationship map of Vuasu and the primary cooperatives. They discussed

  • how the system worked for decision-making and benefits – which decisions are made where and by whom
  • how far leadership was a challenge at the different levels
  • specific barriers to women becoming leaders

The conclusion was that much of the challenge was due to political interference in approval of candidates and into the voting meetings themselves. This meant that even if good people were proposed and accepted their nomination, they could not even be presented for election.

Leadership Vision Journey

After the discussion on the Diamond the champions reviewed their leadership visions and drew their own vision journey for leadership in their community and/or cooperative.

Multi-Stakeholder Change Movement

Although the prime focus of PALS is to empower women and men to vision, plan and achieve their goals through individual and community-level actions, this process seeks to link stakeholders in private sector companies, government and other agencies to make the process both sustainable and enable significant gains in wealth creation, development and social justice. Through developing mutual understanding, communication and listening skills of powerful stakeholders. How this is done depends on the purpose and also context, but includes:

  • Training local government and other stakeholders by the champions
  • Identification of local funding from private sector, local government and community-based organisations for continued upscaling to new communities and organisations and other gender, livelihood or leadership activities to further deepen the local process.
  • Advocacy research and media linkages through local research institutes and media to document and promote the process on an ongoing basis.

Organisational Mainstreaming

Organisational mainstreaming builds on and links with the community-level process. Staff are trained by the champions, and then have a role later in monitoring and supporting service improvement and/or advocacy on issues arising from the community process. The mainstreaming process follows the same stages integrated with the community process:

  • Catalyst Inception meetings (1-3 days before the catalyst process) for preliminary introductions and training of a small team of core staff who will be involved in leading implementation. Ideally they would also go to see PALS in an existing PALS resource organisation. They also use the tools for themselves. Following the catalyst workshop, there is also a planning meeting to look at short term implementation and possibilities for longer term sustainability.
  • Organisational/stakeholder visioning and planning after 3-6 months larger numbers of staff are involved in the process strengthening workshops, trained by the champions. By this time the value of PALS and working on gender should have been established on the ground with both men and women community advocates. This enables a discussion of ways of mainstreaming upscaling within existing staff activities involving the champions.
  • Review and Sustainability Plan introduce the methodology properly for staff, demonstrate its proven value for the organisation and discuss ways of mainstreaming using facilitated by the champions and core catalyst team to . Ongoing implementation and tracking of progress at individual level, group sharing of experiences, organisational quantification and aggregation of information on changes by the local core catalyst team and work on integration into the business model and supporting institutions. includes and trains field staff who will integrate gender justice and relevant PALS tools and processes into other organisational activities including technical and other training.

Phase 3: Annual Review And Sustainability Plan

After 1 year an Annual PALS@Scale Review and Sustainability Planning Workshop agrees or at least initiates a sustainability plan for further deepening gender and livelihood changes, strengthening leadership and scaling up for the following year.

  • Achievement review brings together aggregated information on achievements on: core aims (eg livelihoods, health etc) to establish the local business/efficiency case for PALS; gender justice and deepens understanding and commitment to gender justice and women’s human rights and peer sharing networks and upscaling.
  • Sustainability plan identifies the most effective strategies for pyramid peer sharing to accelerate voluntary scaling up and strengthen leadership networks and certifies a core set of the best champions who have changed their own lives and taught a significant number of people in their own communities to a good quality standard, and who have participatory facilitation skills. They will qualify to be involved in upscaling, documentation and dissemination on a paid basis in other regions (locally, nationally or internationally) in recognition of their contribution to increasing profits of the company/cooperative and/or reducing costs for the service organisation.
  • Leadership and facilitation strengthening trains the champions to facilitate larger meetings using soulmate visioning, gender justice diamond, challenge action trees and organisational vision journey.
  • Multimedia documentation for promotion and advocacy and to finalise training materials that can be used at different levels, establishing the business/efficiency case and covering gender issues arising to feed into gender strategies and advocacy.

Phase 2: Advanced Tools And Leadership Strengthening

After 3-6 months more advanced versions of the same tools are introduced for the most active champions emerging through the catalyst phase through:

  • core skills strengthening (eg livelihoods, health, climate change) (3 days) to: introduce more advanced versions of the basic diagram tools adapted for livelihoods (increasing incomes challenge action tree, household business tree, market map, livelihood calendar vision journey) and examine areas for collaboration to increase incomes. This starts to look at how the business/efficiency case for gender and PALS could be established and how to collect the necessary information.
  • leadership strengthening (3 days) introduces tools for leadership development (leadership soulmate visioning, leadership diamond, leadership challenge action tree and leadership vision journey) and reflect on PALS facilitation and peer sharing experience.
  • initiating monitoring system reviews experience so far looking at the achievements (red ripe fruits) on the original diagrams and introduces the core PALS monitoring tool for the whole process (Multi-lane Vision Journey).

Catalyst Process

PALS Phase 1: Catalyst Phase

The Catalyst Phase is a 0-6 months process involving two parallel activities, sequenced and adapted to the overall aims and design of the intervention, the needs of the participants involved and the context. It generally consists of:

  • Inception consultations with the implementing organisations to agree on overall purpose of the PALS process, activity schedule, selection of field-testing and pilot locations and participants in the light of the overall goals and a sustainability plan. Ideally this involves a 2-3 day face to face meeting for detailed presentation of the methodology and a visit by the lead persons to an organisation already implementing PALS. Alternatively through setting up a draft blog page and e-discussion in advance and 2-3 days planning and field context visits by the external facilitator immediately before the Champion Catalyst Workshop.
  • Champion Catalyst Workshop/s (5 days – preferably as 10 half days over 2 weeks) with 20-60 champions from one or more communities and organisations facilitated by GALS expert practitioner/s. This introduces at least the first four tools: Soulmate visioning, Vision Journey, Gender Balance Tree and Empowerment Leadership Map together with songs and cultural innovations and basic facilitation and peer sharing skills.
  • Core staff and champion facilitation training (5 days – preferably as 10 half days over 2 weeks in parallel to champion workshops so that staff get hands-on facilitation practice)
  • Community Peer Sharing Community peer sharing workshops (1 day each) immediately following the Champion Catalyst Workshops. The champions practice the facilitation skills, start to establish their leadership networks and reinforce their own understandings of the tools.
  • Community Action Learning Ongoing tracking of progress at individual level, group sharing of experiences and support from the local core catalyst team. Champions then track and share progress in existing or new groups. Aiming to implement their visions and gender changes and for each champion to scale up by a factor of average 1 to 30 over 6 months.

From Thousands to Millions

Based on presentation and follow up to the IFAD Household Methodology Forum Rome June 2016.

Upscaling Household Methodologies: Presentation for IFAD Rome June 2016

From thousands to millions: Ways forward for Gender Action Learning for Sustainability at Scale Blogpost July 2016

PALS has been shown to be an effective methodology for enabling women, youth and men to vision and also achieve significant increases in income, food security, asset ownership and participation in civil society and higher level value chains. In some members of this network they have been delivered on a fully financially sustainable basis for thousands of people in rural and urban areas.

GALS methodologies in particular, through the focus on gender, have potential to empower not only women, but also men and youth to improve their lives, significantly increasing happiness and wellbeing as well as incomes. With spread effects then for communities and ultimately national economies. Conversely research has shown that gender and generational inequalities within households are a key cause of poverty, leading to violence, food insecurity and wastage of productive resources that ultimately benefit no one. The failure to address these inequalities undermines the effectiveness (and profitability) of financial services, agricultural and nutrition training and value chain development, leading to significant wastage of time and resources by financial service providers, cooperatives, private sector and government as well as NGOs and donor agencies. It is clear therefore that HHM are not an optional add-on to other interventions, but a cost-effective methodology for empowering women and men as a core business strategy making other interventions more effective and cost-efficient or even profitable. As such they should be an integral part of longer term business investment or any ‘mainstream’ development intervention.

Toolkits exist for integration into value chain development, good agricultural practices in cooperatives and private sector companies, responsible finance and have also been adapted for food security and climate change management and projects with youth.

There are also locally run web-based networks linking farmers to exchange experiences and dissemination through radio and other media.

But fully sustainable models still need to be developed and proven to gain global adoption. There is still a need for further community-led innovation to further increase ability of women, men and youth to significantly increase incomes and change intra-household and other inequalities in the longer term, accelerate community-level upscaling and contribute to community-led monitoring for action research.

Sustainable upscaling to millions and gender empowerment mainstreaming in business models will require more than just rolling out a few tools in a series of ‘expert-led’ TOTs. Capacity-building needs to be based on:

Training and certification of thousands of Community Empowerment Advisers (CEAs) proven community-level champions with a proven record of personal change and voluntary upscaling for more than 1 year who will convince local, national and international stakeholders that community-led empowerment methodologies can really change lives of their target populations on a financially sustainable and even profitable basis. These CEAs will play a significant paid role not only in local and national replication for upscaling, but also innovation and advocacy.
Training and certification of national, regional and global Empowerment Mainstreaming Advisers (EMAs) experienced in empowerment tools, but also high levels of participatory and gender expertise and qualification across a range of livelihood interventions, proficiency in adult education good practice including visual communication and ‘fun’ training activities, IT, multimedia and documentation skills.
Credible and inspiring documentation developed as action learning to improve and disseminate practice at all levels and firmly establish ‘the business case’ for mainstreaming, rather than mechanical policing just for donors.
Development of on-line resources and IT skills at all levels from mobile phones of people at community levek to engaging websites for an international audience. Internet services are now cheap in many countries and Facebook and local equivalents are used by increasing numbers of farmers. Effective use and development of social networking and local and international language blogs can significantly increase upscaling and reduce costs of sharing information. This offers a particular role for youth involvement and contribution.
Dynamic and sustainable innovation and advocacy networks at all local through to global levels that use their existing activities and opportunities for gender empowerment advocacy and fundraising. These networks need to strongly encourage independent thinking and creativity, and also sharing, reaching out to as many other organisations and forums as possible to promote the core empowerment and rights agenda.

Happy Family Happy Coffee

Testimonies of coffee farmers from Kenya.

The Business Case

Gender inequalities in power and resources negatively affect economic efficiency at all levels. Participatory analysis by men and women coffee farmers in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania using GALS tools have concluded that gender inequalities were not only a problem for women, but a key cause of low productivity, low quality and prices at the farm level.

Coffee is often seen as an ‘old man’s crop’. It is older men who control the land and also the income. But they are often not the main ones doing, or capable of doing, most of the work and adopting improved practices. Men are in many households only involved in intermittent heavy tasks. Many younger men farmers migrate outside, coming back to harvest and market the coffee beans when they want cash. Though they may be the only ones with enough time to go to trainings and cooperative meetings.

Many coffee farming households face a lot of conflict. Men estimated that 70% of men in the area had a drinking problem that wasted significant portion of family income. 70% of 495 men followed up by Bukonzo Joint in Uganda openly admitted to taking all the money from coffee, and even stealing their wife’s money, wasting much of this on drink and other women. Polygamy (59% men interviewed in 2009) increased the level of dependency on increasingly fragmented plots of land and also reduced men’s income and labour input into any one household. There was a high level of marital instability, domestic violence (40% of 887 men interviewed), male alcoholism (58%) and drug addiction. In some households men’s expenditure on alcohol in one month was equal to the costs of the school fees for a term. Similar patterns and proportions are reported by men from Tanzania and Kenya.

Women farmers of all ages play a crucial role in ensuring coffee volumes and quality performing an estimated 70% of the work in cultivation and processing tasks like hulling alongside cultivation of foodcrops and unpaid household work. But they have traditionally been excluded from ownership of coffee land and control over coffee incomes.  Women said that because their benefits from the work or any investments were limited, their motivation to produce/pick/process good quality was small. Trees are neglected because women who perform most of the work are often more interested in using any time and income they have for other crops.

Young men also do not own or control the land use either and are discouraged from cultivating coffee due to low prices, and lack of ownership.

In the research by Bukonzo Joint unripe beans or beans which were not fully processed/still wet were frequently sold by both husband and wife even though they fetched a lower price in order to prevent each other from taking it. Men took any coffee they could when they wanted money – including unripe and unprocessed coffee before women were able to sell it. Men even sold non-harvested coffee, and even the coffee flowers before beans were formed, in advance to get cash. Much of the cash was spent in bars conveniently located next to the trader shops. In some cases they did not even tell their wives and the trader simply came and took the coffee.

Women’s lack of buy-in to coffee and role in decision-making limited investment in production or efficient processing like hulling. In Bukonzo Joint earlier much of the coffee was dried in the dust on the ground leading to mixing with impurities which further reduced the quality.

The fact that those doing most of the work have little say or incentive to improve quality and quantity is a major reason why technical trainings to improve quality and quantity are often not implemented.

All of these factors contribute to a weak smallholder coffee sector, which lacks the dynamism to fulfil its potential as a very valuable income stream to coffee farming families.

This can change

One factor that discourages companies from addressing gender issues is the perception that things cannot change and/or change is inevitably conflictual and/or requires some sort of ‘separate women’s social project’.

The experiences of champions shown on this site show that this is not the case. Change can happen quite quickly and that this leads to improvements in coffee production.

See for example the case of Mberuseru, Mpole and Lickson from Vuasu

and the experience of Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union in Uganda

2015 SCAA Sustainability Award
and testimonies of coffee farmers in videos above from Kenya.