Power in participatory processes: reflections from multi-stakeholder workshops in the Horn of Africa

Abstract

The sustainability science literature views the participation of local stakeholders as a necessary element for both conducting transdisciplinary research and implementing sustainable development projects. However, there is very little critical reflection on how power dynamics between researchers and local stakeholders affect the success of participatory processes. This article draws on the critical tradition of political science and sociology to examine how power dynamics are inherent to, and should always be a concern during, participatory processes. This also applies for sustainability science research and the implementation of sustainable development projects, especially in developing contexts such as those of Africa. While local participation enhances the voices of local stakeholders, power dynamics between them and the researchers driving these processes can dampen local voices or elide critical pieces of information. Using evidence from participatory workshops in Djibouti and Kenya, we demonstrate that these power dynamics can unintentionally exclude critical knowledge and perspectives from the formal proceedings of participatory workshops, despite an express focus on stakeholder inclusion and participatory methods. Using Steven Lukes’ tripartite conception of power, we elicit how the workshop structure and the actions of researchers as the designers and facilitators of the workshop may have prevented the emergence of this critical information. The central argument is that reflecting on power will help researchers and practitioners identify the power dynamics inherent in the participatory processes so they can work to overcome them. Such self-reflection can strengthen sustainability science and practice in African and other contexts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Notes

  1. 1.

    For this study, traditional development practices and sustainable development practices must be evaluated jointly as an overall look at the system of international development. In the literature review, we use “sustainable development” when the authors we cite use the term, are from the conservation or environment literature, or are explicitly evaluating socio-ecological systems. We use just “development” or “international development” when we cite authors who are speaking about the system of international development more broadly.

  2. 2.

    In the context in which the authors work, Kenya is considered part of the Horn of Africa.

References

  1. Adano WR, Dietz T, Witsenburg K, Zaal F (2012) Climate change, violent conflict and local institutions in Kenya’s drylands. J Peace Res 49(1):65–80

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Aguilar J (2005) A survey about fuzzy cognitive maps papers (invited paper). Int J Comput Cogn 3(2):27–33

    Google Scholar 

  3. Azzarello R (2016) Unnatural predators: Queer Theory meets environmental studies in Bram Stroker’s Dracula. In: Giffney N, Hird MJ (eds) Queering the non/human. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Hampshire, pp 137–157

    Google Scholar 

  4. Banerjee SB (2003) Who sustains whose development? Sustainable development and the reinvention of nature. Org Stud 24(1):143–180

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Banerjee SB (2011) Corporate social responsibility: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Crit Soc 34(1):51–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Berkes F (2009) Evolution of co-management: role of knowledge generation, bridging organizations and social learning. J Environ Manag 90(5):1692–1702

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Berkes F, Folke C (1998) Linking social and ecological systems for resilience and sustainability. Link Soc Ecol Syst Manag Pract Soc Mech Build Resil 1:13–20

    Google Scholar 

  8. Berkes F, Folke C, Gadgil M (1995) Traditional ecological knowledge, biodiversity, resilience and sustainability. In: Perrings CA, Mäler KG, Folke C, Holling CS, Jansson BO (eds) Biodiversity conservation. Ecology, economy & environment, vol 4. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 281–299

    Google Scholar 

  9. Berkes F, Folke C, Colding J (2000) Linking social and ecological systems: management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  10. Brinkerhoff JM (2002) Partnership for international development: rhetoric or results? Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  11. Brown K (2003) Three challenges for a real people-centered conservation. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 12(2):89–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Burke MB, Miguel E, Satyanath S, Dykema J, Lobell DB (2009) Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106(49):20670–20674

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Carley K, Palmquist M (1992) Extracting, representing, and analyzing mental models. Soc Forces 70(3):36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cash DW, Clark WC, Alcock F, Dickson NM, Eckley N, Guston DH, Mitchell RB (2003) Knowledge systems for sustainable development. PNAS 100(14):8086–8091

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Chambers R (1983) Rural development: putting the last first. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  16. Chambers R (1994) Participatory rural appraisal (PRA): analysis of experience. World Dev 22(9):1253–1268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Chambers R (2005) Ideas for development. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  18. Chambers R (2012) Revolutions in development inquiry. Earthscan, London

    Google Scholar 

  19. Clegg SR, Courpasson D, Phillips N (2006) Power and organizations. SAGE Publications Ltd, London

    Google Scholar 

  20. Collier P (2008) The bottom billion: why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  21. Contu A, Girei E (2014) NGOs management and the value of “partnerships” for equality in international development: what’s in a name? Hum Relat 67(2):205–232

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Cooke B, Kothari U (2001) Participation: the new tyranny? Zed Books, London

    Google Scholar 

  23. Crewe E, Harrison E (1998) Whose development: an ethnography of aid. Zed Books, London

    Google Scholar 

  24. Denier L, Scherr S, Shames S, Chatterton P, Hovani L, Stam N (2015) The little sustainable landscapes book. Global Canopy Programme, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  25. Dijkzeul D, DeMars WE (eds) (2015) The NGO challenge for international relations theory. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  26. Dowding K (2006) Three-dimensional power: a discussion of Steven Lukes’ power: a radical view. Polit Stud Rev 4:136–145

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Easterly W (2006) The White Man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to Aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. The Penguin Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  28. Emerson RM, Fretz RI, Shaw LL (2011) Participant observation and fieldnotes. In Atkinson P, Coffey A, Delamont S, Lofland J, Lofland L (eds), Handbook of ethnography. SAGE Publications Ltd, Thousand Oaks, pp 352–368

    Google Scholar 

  29. Ennsa C, Bersagliob B, Kepec T (2014) Indigenous voices and the making of the post-2015 development agenda: the recurring tyranny of participation. Third World Q 35(3):358–375

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Folke C, Hahn T, Olsson P, Norberg J (2005) Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annu Rev Environ Resour 30(1):441–473

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Foucault M (1978) The history of sexuality, vol I. Vintage, New York

    Google Scholar 

  32. Freeman OE, Duguma LA, Minang PA (2015) Operationalizing the integrated landscape approach in practice. Ecol Soc. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-07175-200124

    Google Scholar 

  33. Gasparatos A, Takeuchi K, Elmqvist T, Fukushi K, Nagao M, Swanepoel F, Swilling M, Trotter D, von Blottnitz H (2017) Sustainability science for meeting Africa’s challenges: setting the stage. Sustain Sci 12:635–640

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Gaventa J (2003) Power after Lukes: an overview of theories of power since Lukes and their application to development. Participation Group, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

    Google Scholar 

  35. Glicken J (2000) Getting stakeholder participation ‘right’: a discussion of participatory processes and possible pitfalls. Environ Sci Policy 3(6):305–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Gray S, Sundal M, Wiebusch B, Little MA, Leslie PW, Pike IL (2003) Cattle raiding, cultural survival, and adaptability of East African Pastoralists. Curr Anthropol 44(December):S3–S30

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Gray SA, Gray S, Cox LJ, Henly-Shepard S (2013) Mental modeler: a fuzzy-logic cognitive mapping modeling tool for adaptive environmental management. In: Proceedings of the annual Hawaii international conference on system sciences, pp 965–973. https://doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2013.399. Retrieved Dec 5 2014

  38. Gray SA, Gray SRJ, De Kok JL, Helfgott A, Dwyer BO, Jordan R, Nyaki A (2015) Using fuzzy cognitive mapping as a participatory approach to analyze change, preferred states, and perceived resilience of social-ecological systems. Ecol Soc 20(2):11

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Hara K, Kumazawa T, Kimura M, Tsuda K (2016) Participatory approach in vision setting: emerging initiatives in local municipalities in Japan. Sustain Sci 11(3):493–503

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Heras M, Tàbara JD (2014) Let’s play transformations! Performative methods for sustainability. Sustain Sci 9(3):379–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Hickey S, Mohan G (2005) Relocating participation within a radical politics of development. Dev Change 36(2):237–262

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Hsiang SM, Meng KC (2014) Reconciling disagreement over climate-conflict results in Africa. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(6):2100–2103

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kapoor I (2005) Participatory development, complicity and desire. Third World Q 26(8):1203–1220

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Kates RW, Clark WC, Corell R, Hall JM, Jaeger CC, Lowe I, McCarthy JJ, Schellnhuber HJ, Bolin B, Dickson NM, Faucheux S, Gallopin GC, Gru¨bler A, Huntley B, Ja¨ger J, Jodha NS, Kasperson RE, Mabogunje A, Matson P, Mooney H, Moore B III, O’Riordan T, Svedin U (2001) Sustain Sci Sci 292(5517):641–642

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. Kealiikanakaoleohaililani K, Giardina CP (2016) Embracing the sacred: an indigenous framework for tomorrow’s sustainability science. Sustain Sci 11(1):57–67

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Kemp R, Martens P (2007) Sustainable development: how to manage something that is subjective and never can be achieved? Sustain Sci Pract Policy 3(2):5–14

    Google Scholar 

  47. Komiyama H, Takeuchi K (2006) Sustainability science: building a new discipline. Sustain Sci 1(1):1–6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Lang DJ, Wiek A, Bergmann M, Stauffacher M, Martens P, Moll P, Thomas CJ (2012) Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustain Sci 7(1):25–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Lele SM (1991) Sustainable development: a critical review. World Dev 19(6):607–621

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Leventon J, Fleskens L, Claringbould H, Schwilch G, Hessel R (2016) An applied methodology for stakeholder identification in transdisciplinary research. Sustain Sci 11(5):763–775

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Levy DL, Reinecke J, Manning S (2015) The political dynamics of sustainable coffee: contested value regimes and the transformation of sustainability. J Manag Stud 53(3):1–46

    Google Scholar 

  52. Liao C, Ruelle ML, Kassam KAS (2016) Indigenous ecological knowledge as the basis for adaptive environmental management: evidence from pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa. J Environ Manag 182:70–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Livesey SM (2001) Eco-identity as discursive struggle: royal Dutch/Shell, Brent Spar, and Nigeria. J Bus Commun 38(1):58–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Lukes S (1974) Power: a radical view. Macmillan, London

    Book  Google Scholar 

  55. Maathai W (2011) Challenge for Africa. Sustain Sci 6(1):1–2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Metzger AE, Gray SA, Jetter AJ, Papageorgiou EI (2018) Typologies and tradeoffs in FCM studies: a guide to designing participatory research using fuzzy cognitive maps. In: McNall M (ed) Innovations in collaborative modeling. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing

    Google Scholar 

  57. Miller TR, Wiek A, Sarewitz D, Robinson J, Olsson L, Kriebel D, Loorbach D (2014) The future of sustainability science: a solutions-oriented research agenda. Sustain Sci 9(2):239–246

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Mohan G, Stokke K (2000) Participatory development and empowerment: the dangers of localism. Third World Q 21(2):247–268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Moyo D (2009) Dead aid: why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York

    Google Scholar 

  60. Mwangi OG (2006) Kenya: conflict in the ‘Badlands’: the Turbi Massacre in Marsabit District. Rev Afr Polit Econ 33(107):81–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Nuijten M (2004) Peasant ‘participation’, rural property and the state in western Mexico. J Peasant Stud 31(2):181–209

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. O’Reilly K (2008) Key concepts in ethnography. SAGE, London

    Google Scholar 

  63. Oba G (1992) Ecological factors in land use conflicts, land administration and food security in Turkana, Kenya. Pastoralist Development Network (ODI) Paper 33a. http://www.eldis.org/static/DOC59.htm. Retrieved 10 Aug 2015

  64. Polk M (2014) Achieving the promise of transdisciplinarity: a critical exploration of the relationship between transdisciplinary research and societal problem solving. Sustain Sci 9(4):439–451

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Ratner BD (2004) “Sustainability” as a dialogue of values: challenges to the sociology of development. Sociol Inq 74(1):50–69

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Redclift M (2005) Sustainable development (1987–2005): an oxymoron comes of age. Sustain Dev 13(4):212–227

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Rodrik D (2001) The global governance of trade: as if development really mattered. John F Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  68. Sachs J (2006) The end of poverty. Penguin, New York

    Google Scholar 

  69. Schilling J, Akuno M, Scheffran J, Weinzierl T (2014) On raids and relations: climate change, pastoral conflict and adaptation in North-Western Kenya. In: Conflict-Sensitive Adaptation to Climate Change in Africa, edited by Alexander Carius and Dennis Tänzle, pp 241–265

  70. Smith N (2010) Uneven development: nature, capital, and the production of space. University of Georgia Press, Athens

    Google Scholar 

  71. Sneddon C, Howarth RB, Norgaard RB (2006) Sustainable development in a post-Brundtland world. Ecol Econ 57(2):253–268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Somekh B (2005) Action research: a methodology for change and development: a methodology for change and development. McGraw-Hill Education, UK

    Google Scholar 

  73. Steelman T, Nichols EG, James A, Bradford L, Ebersöhn L, Scherman V, McHale MR (2015) Practicing the science of sustainability: the challenges of transdisciplinarity in a developing world context. Sustain Sci 10(4):581–599

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Stylios CD, Groumpos PP (2004) Modeling complex systems using fuzzy cognitive maps. IEEE Trans Syst Man Cybern Part A Syst Hum 34(1):155–162

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Thornton PK, Jones PG, Owiyo T, Kruska R, Herrero M, Kristjanson P, Omolo A (2006) Mapping climate vulnerability and poverty in Africa. ILRI, Nairobi

    Google Scholar 

  76. van Donge JK (2011) Ethnography and participant observation. In: Desai V, Potter RB (eds) Doing development research. SAGE Publications, Ltd, London, pp 153–163

    Google Scholar 

  77. Veisi H, Liaghati H, Vaninee HS (2014) Participatory assessment of the sustainability of livelihoods in the agroecosystem of Abesard, Iran. Sustain Sci 9(3):347–359

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Waas T, Verbruggen A, Wright T (2010) University research for sustainable development: definition and characteristics explored. J Clean Prod 18(7):629–636

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Walker B, Carpenter S, Anderies J, Abel N, Cumming GS, Janssen M, Lebel L (2002) Resilience management in social–ecological systems: a working hypothesis for a participatory approach. Conservation 6(1):1–14

    Google Scholar 

  80. Watson A, Alessa L, Glaspell B (2003) The relationship between traditional ecological knowledge, evolving cultures, and wilderness protection in the Circumpolar North. Ecol Soc 8(1)

  81. Wheeler D, Sillanpa M (1998) Including the stakeholders: the business case. Long Range Plan 31(2):201–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Wittmayer JM, Schäpke N (2014) Action, research and participation: roles of researchers in sustainability transitions. Sustain Sci 9(4):483–496

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. World Bank (2003) World development report 2003: sustainable development in a dynamic world–transforming institutions, growth, and quality of life. World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/5985. Retrieved 20 Sept 2013

  84. Ziker JP, Rasmussen J, Nolin DA (2016) Indigenous Siberians solve collective action problems through sharing and traditional knowledge. Sustain Sci 11(1):45–55

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Michael Denney.

Additional information

Handled by Dr. Alexandros Gasparatos, University of Tokyo, Japan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Denney, J.M., Case, P.M., Metzger, A. et al. Power in participatory processes: reflections from multi-stakeholder workshops in the Horn of Africa. Sustain Sci 13, 879–893 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0533-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Participation
  • International development
  • Power
  • Critical theory
  • Concept mapping