Leading to Participatory Local Governance? Participation, Empowerment and Community-Driven Development

Author: Parvaz Azharul Huq

Huq, Parvaz Azharul, 2013 Leading to Participatory Local Governance? Participation, Empowerment and Community-Driven Development, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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This dissertation explores community participation and empowerment within the framework of Community-Driven Development (CDD) in the Bangladesh context. Stemming from critiques against state-led top-down models of development, a renewed interest in participatory development in the 1990s led a number of development agencies to implement projects using participatory mechanisms. This second wave of participatory development tended to be informed by broad-based social inclusion and empowerment discourses. More recently, participation has been related to the concept and practices of participatory local governance, aiming to bring transformation in institutional relations within the local governance sphere. Participation and empowerment are two concepts that incur different meanings depending on use and the context (e.g. social, political, institutional and cultural) in which they are applied. Hence, a precise understanding of participation and the underlying processes of empowerment requires a critical analysis of the spaces within which they take place. As such, this qualitative case study examines 'Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction' (UPPR), a CDD intervention in Bangladesh, to explore its contributions to community participation and empowerment in moving towards participatory local governance practices. Being inspired by the immanent process - 'development' as a historical process of social change - the study focuses not only on the immediate outputs of the project, but also on the processes and outcomes in relation to the overall socio-economic, institutional, cultural and political milieu of Bangladesh. Field work for collecting primary data was conducted in four project communities in Rajshahi City, Bangladesh during the years 2009-2010. The proponents of the CDD approach claim that this new type of participatory intervention bestows the participants with better control over the projects where they become 'makers and shapers' in local development. However, the study finds that this particular development intervention, and the way it has been managed, does not escape the legacy of the previous practices which have been termed as 'the tyranny of participation'. At the implementation level, project rules and guidelines, being infused with local socio-economic and political factors, encouraged the reproduction of pre-existing power structures instead of the radical transformation envisaged by the populist notion and CDD. In many instances the research findings indicate that the project intervention has initiated a process of community empowerment in terms of gaining access to local decision-making and resources within the existing, but evolving, socio-economic and political realities. Empowerment, vis-a-vis transformation, can be understood as creating new spaces and occupying existing spaces where power is not always about the exercise of power over others and, therefore, not necessarily confrontational but shared. Through an analysis of the development interventions and impacts on local development, this dissertation contributes to the understanding of various socio-political and institutional factors of the local governance process in Bangladesh. By positioning the development intervention within the broader framework of the immanent process of development, the research does not negate the transformative potential of CDD intervention, but rather suggests some context specific policy lessons which might be useful to adopt elsewhere.

Keywords: Community-Driven Development,participation,empowerment,Bangladesh,participatory local governance

Subject: Politics thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2013
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr. Jo Baulderstone