Blog Fostering inclusion in participatory approaches

Credit: Foundation for Ecological Society

Foundation for Ecological Society

In a new paper and guide, we share tips to promote inclusive facilitation of participatory environmental management processes.

By: Haley Zaremba and Marlène Elias

While challenges like climate change, land degradation, and biodiversity loss are happening at a global scale, local communities experience the tangible effects of these crises in their day-to-day lives. But when it comes to mitigating and adapting to these interconnected challenges, many initiatives are designed and managed by outsiders, instead of by the communities themselves according to their needs, desires and strengths.

When environmental management initiatives are designed and implemented by or in partnership with local communities, initiatives tend to be fairer and more sustainable. Yet, even participatory processes that are said to center on local priorities often leave out members of marginalized groups—which may include women, Indigenous peoples, landless groups, and the poorest individuals and households—who often have the greatest stakes in the challenges at hand.

In participatory processes, equipping facilitators with the skills to manage and communicate in a way that is inclusive of diverse participants is essential—and much easier said than done. Inclusive facilitation is an art that can be nurtured and developed. In a new paper, scientists at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT argue that facilitators often lack sufficient preparation and capacities to manage inclusive processes, however; and there are few resources offering actionable steps and strategies for doing so.

Guidelines for inclusive facilitation

To help bridge that gap, we reviewed a number of guidelines, research, tools, and frameworks related to inclusive facilitation and worked with partners at the Foundation for Ecological Security to compile relevant lessons in an easy-to-use guide. “Inclusive participatory approaches: A facilitator’s guide” is designed for facilitators—whether they are themselves members of participating communities or partnering with them—who want to learn techniques that uplift and valorize the voices of all community members and challenge the inequalities that perpetuate social exclusion. It offers strategies for both in-person and online discussion spaces, which are increasingly important as more of our lives and conversations are taking place online since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Identifying the diversity of people who should participate in community discussions, and the context-specific factors that silence some groups while maintaining the dominance of others, is a crucial first step in preparing for inclusive facilitation. This makes it possible to determine how the attendance of marginalized community members in local meetings can be made as safe, convenient, and comfortable as possible. Having a “critical mass” of women and members of other marginalized communities—typically at least one third of participants—can help tip the scales toward enabling these groups to participate more meaningfully.

Once all participants are in the room, the real work of facilitation can begin. We have organized the strategies we compiled for inclusive facilitation into four groups, namely those for:

By following the recommendations set out in these general areas, facilitators can include a wider and more diverse group of participants as full partners in a participatory process.

Credit: Muhammad Faridah Aini

Creating an environment of trust involves building rapport with marginalized participants as well as influential community members and gatekeepers. Facilitators can make explicit rules calling for mutual respect, and model this behavior themselves, including by recognizing differing perspectives, speech patterns and meeting rhythms as equally valid and valuable. To support active and equitable participation from all, facilitators can invite marginalized participants to speak up and speak first.

Other strategies like supporting the capacities and confidence of women and less influential participants to express themselves in participatory contexts through adequate preparation, practice, and familiarity with the topics at hand are also tried and true. The concerns of these groups should sit at the top of meeting agendas, and activities and topics should be tailored to their strengths and capacities. Finally, a number of post-dialogue strategies, like reflecting on the process itself, organizing follow-up events, and importantly, translating participants’ ideas and agreements into action, can support continued and inclusive participation.

We conclude the guide by discussing how inclusive and well managed participatory processes may lead to greater inclusion and equality outside of meetings as well. Facilitators can play a role in publicly valuing the contributions of, and giving recognition to, marginalized participants, while helping diverse groups work together toward a common goal. The guide aims to help create this kind of change, to support communities in collaborative problem-solving in a way that advances the voices and priorities of their marginalized members. When facilitators are equipped with the skills and self-awareness to manage participatory processes inclusively, these can contribute to transformative change toward more equitable and empowered communities.

Funding for the guide “Inclusive participatory approaches: A facilitator’s guide” was generously provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (led by IFPRI) and the CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.

Top image credit: Foundation for Ecological Society