“If you plan something for me without me, then it is against me.” This French saying recently caught my attention and sparked my interest. It succinctly captures the importance of a participatory approach in decision-making processes that involve multiple parties. A prescriptive approach rarely succeeds when addressing the needs of a group of people. The “I know what’s best for you” mindset often leads to failure. Undoubtedly, individuals know what is best for themselves, and decisions made without their involvement are unlikely to yield the desired positive outcomes.
The participatory approach to decision-making is strongly advocated for in the non-governmental sector. This approach emphasizes the necessity of including the voices of project beneficiaries in every decision that affects them. It is argued that only through this inclusive process can beneficiaries truly benefit from the project.
A compelling example of this can be seen in the story of a water project aimed at constructing a water point in a village. The project intended to alleviate the burden on women who had to travel long distances to fetch water from ponds, carrying heavy containers. Despite the construction of the water point, the women in the village continued to travel far to the water ponds, and the use of the newly built facility remained limited.
An investigation into its limited use revealed that the women still preferred the arduous journey to the water ponds. These walks provided them with an opportunity to socialize with friends, share personal concerns, and experience a sense of freedom not typically afforded to them when confined to their homes. The moral of the story is that the project should have delved deeper into the true needs of the intended beneficiaries, gaining a thorough understanding before prescribing a solution—such as the water point—that did not align with their preferences.
For quite some time now, our country has been plagued by political, social, and economic turmoil, with the political unrest exacerbating the other two. Negotiation attempts are being made here and there in an effort to bring opposing parties together and restore peace.
However, I have observed that these negotiation and decision-making processes often overlook crucial parties, posing a risk that the resulting decisions may be more harmful than beneficial. It is disheartening to witness decisions pertaining to opposing parties being made without the involvement of key stakeholders who should rightfully be part of the decision-making process.
It is widely understood that implementing such decisions will breed resentment among those excluded, ultimately leading to retaliations that can prove destructive for all. So, why not include all opposing parties right from the start? Selectively including some parties while disregarding others is a recipe for disaster, as it creates an environment of division and antagonism.
Whether parties are intentionally excluded or unknowingly left out from decision-making processes, the outcome remains the same. As the French saying aptly states, a decision made for the concerned parties without their meaningful participation is inherently against the excluded parties. Regrettably, such decisions not only harm those who are excluded but also have detrimental consequences for all parties involved and even extend beyond them.