Climbing the participation ladder

Community participation is the foundation of the Community-based Sanitation Marketing Enterprises (CBSE) that are being piloted by Live & Learn in Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu through the Australian government Civil Society WASH Fund. Without effective community ownership and participation the CBSEs will not be able to become effective community businesses. Community participation is a term that is thrown around a lot in community development projects – but participation is about more than providing labour or attending meetings. It’s about having the choice and ability to contribute at each of the steps within a project, including making the decisions. In the Western Pacific Sanitation Marketing & Innovation Program (WPSMIP) Live & Learn uses a Ladder of Participation tool to measure changes in the quality of individual participation.

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Participation ladders can be used to monitor how effectively women, men or groups report they are participating in decisions being made in committees. They can also be used more broadly to support planning for participation in all stages of a project. The Ladder of Participation is a simple visual aid that illustrates the different steps of participation – from token participation, to active involvement, to decision-making and finally ownership and control. The ladder is completed by an individual, with the help of a Live & Learn facilitator if needed. It is based on reflecting on changes in participation over time – with T = Then and N = Now.

Live & Learn is now two years into implementation of the WPSMIP. Many hours have been spent in communities in talking about the CBSE and doing specific skills training. In the example above Josephine (a CBSE member) has assessed herself in Red marker, and her husband in Blue marker. Two years ago when the project started both Josephine and her husband felt they were at the bottom of the ladder – allowed to join in meetings but not making any rules themselves. Now, after being involved with the CBSE, Josephine says that she is making decisions in the community. It’s wonderful to sit in a community and talk with women and men using such a simple tool and see clearly how their participation level has increased their confidence and abilities.

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For more information on the Ladder of Participation you can read the full resource guide at this link.

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