Module 1: What is Participation?

How do people think about community participation?

“Proponents of participation are critical of state social provisions, arguing that they are centralized, bureaucratically administered, governed by impersonal regulations and routines and unresponsive to the problems and needs of individuals. Participation not only humanizes the bureaucracy, but strengthens the capacities of individuals and communities to mobilize and help themselves. In this way, dependence on the state is minimized and ordinary people rediscover their potential for co-operation and mutual endeavor … Community participation serves immediate instrumental goals such as the identification of felt needs as well as the mobilization of local resources. But it also promotes broader social development ideals: by participating fully in decision-making for social development, ordinary people experience fulfillment which contributes to a heightened sense of community and a strengthening of community bonds.”(1)

How is such a state of community participation achieved?

“Participation requires the direct, face-to-face involvement of citizens in social development and ultimate control over decisions that affect their own welfare. Since participation must involve the whole community, the disadvantaged must be empowered to take an active part in the political process … Also, since participation must take place on a direct interpersonal basis, the unit for participation and the primary forum for the expression of views, must be the small local community.”(2)

As Botes and van Rensburg suggest, however, “obstacles prohibiting participation abound, ranging from institutional to socio-cultural, to technical, to logistical, and are spread over a seemingly endless spectrum.”(3) Before examining the “nine plagues” they have identified as the principal causes of non-participatory action, one must first understand their distinction between internal and external obstacles.

“‘External obstacles’ refer to those factors outside the end-beneficiary community that inhibit or prevent true community participation from taking place. External obstacles suggest the role of development professionals, the broader government orientation towards promoting participation, the tendency among agencies to apply selective participation, and their techno-financial bias.”

“‘Internal obstacles’ refer to conflicting interest groups, gate-keeping by local elites, and alleged lack of public interest in becoming involved.”(4)

Go To Module 2: "Nine Plagues" of Community Participation >>


(1) Midgley, J. Community Participation, Social Development, and the State. (Routledge, 1986): 8-9.

(2) Ibid, 10.

(3) Botes, L., and van Rensburg, D. “Community Participation in Development: Nine Plagues and Twelve Commandments.” Community Development Journal. 35.1 (January 2000): 42.

(4) Ibid.