Limitations of Participation

Despite the importance and benefits identified above, participation has limitations, particularly in relation to being context specific. Campbell (1992)[1] identified four constraints to participation: institutional, cultural, knowledge and financial (cited in (Chamala 1995) page 38)[2] . There are limits to what participation alone can achieve in terms of equity and efficiency, given pre-existing socioeconomic inequalities and relations of power (Agarwal 2001)[3] . Biggs and Smith (1998)[4] have found that participatory events (such as PRA) can construct knowledge in ways that strongly reflect existing social relations of power and gender. Devas and Grant (2003)[5] identified that participation can be inhibited by social dynamics of exclusion and inclusion at the community level. Barriers to participation may include professional elitism, time and financial costs, lack of interest and skills among proponents and planners, and uncertainty about the results of public involvement (Jaffray, 1981: 6 cited in (Sarkissian, Walsh et al. 1997) page 23)[6] . Bamberger (1988)[7] has identified the following costs of participation:

  • Project start-up may be delayed by negotiations with beneficiaries
  • Participatory approaches frequently increased the number of managerial and administrative staff required
  • Well organized communities are able to exert pressure to raise the level or widen the range of services beyond those originally planned, with consequent increases in project costs

Grimble and Chan (1995)[8] suggested that methods need to be located within a broader frame that enables stakeholders to be identified and conflicts potentially defused, circumvented or resolved. Participatory methods per se cannot guarantee success (cited in (Biggs and Smith 1998) page 240)[8] . Kleemeier (2000) found that of projects implementing various methods of community participation, the smallest schemes and the newest ones were performing best in terms of long-term sustainability. Skeptics argue that participation places unrealistic demands on people, with more pressing demands on their time (Golooba-Mutebi 2004)[9] . Non-participatory methodologies for resource management have negative impacts for efficiency but the damage that poor participatory methodologies do is more significant in setting norms and expectations for future participatory methodologies – even if they are better designed and informed with the right intention (Turner 1999b)[10] .


  1. Campbell A (1992) Community participation: a new frontier in land management. In ‘International Conference on Sustainable Land Management’. Napier NZ. (Ed. RP Henriques) pp. 18-27. (Hawkes Bay Regional Council) ^
  2. Chamala S (1995) Overview of participative action approaches in Australian land and water management. In ‘Participative approaches for Landcare’. (Ed. K Keith) pp. 5-42. (Australian Academic Press: Brisbane) ^
  3. Agarwal B (2001) Participatory Exclusions, Community Forestry, and Gender: An Analysis for South Asia and a Conceptual Framework. World Development 29, 1623-1648. ^
  4. Biggs S, Smith G (1998) Beyond methodologies: Coalition-building for participatory technology development. World Development 26, 239-248. ^
  5. Devas N, Grant U (2003) Local government decision-making – citizen participation and local accountability: some evidence from Kenya and Uganda. Public Administration and Development 23, 307-316. ^
  6. Sarkissian W, Walsh K, Cook A (1997) ‘Community participation in practice : a practical guide.’ (Institute for Science and Technology Policy, Murdoch University: Murdoch, W.A.) ^
  7. Bamberger M (1988) ‘The role of community participation in development planning and project management : report of a Workshop on Community Participation, held in Washington, D.C., September 22-25, 1986.’ (World Bank,: Washington, D.C.) ^
  8. Grimble R, Chan M (1995) Stakeholder analysis of natural resource management in developing countries: some practicle guidelines for making management more participatory and effective. Natural Resources Forum 19, 113-124. ^
  9. Golooba-Mutebi F (2004) Reassessing popular participation in Uganda. Public Administration and Development In Press. ^
  10. Turner MD (1999b) No space for participation: pastoralist narratives and the etiology of park- herder conflict in southeastern Niger. Land Degradation & Development 10, 345-363. ^

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