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Localizing development : does participation work?

Concept notes and papers

Promoting participation through community development projects and local decentralization has become a central tenet of development policy. The World Bank alone has invested about $85 billion over the last decade on development assistance for participation. However, some observers feel that policy making in the area is conceptually weak, that project design is informed more by slogans than careful analysis. There have also been questions about whether participatory development is effective in reducing poverty, improving service delivery, and building the capacity for collective action. Some observers also find that participatory projects are complex to implement and deeply affected by context, and are thus unsuited for large development institutions such as the World Bank. This groundbreaking report carefully examines each of these concerns. It outlines a conceptual framework for participation that is centered on the concept of civil society failure and how it interacts with market and government failures. The authors use this framework to understand the key policy debates surrounding participatory development and to frame the key policy questions. The report conducts the most comprehensive review of the evidence on the impact of participatory projects to date, looking at more than 400 papers and books. The report argues that participatory development is most effective when it works within a “sandwich” formed by support from an effective central state and bottom-up civic action.

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