The evolution of participation is seemingly built on trial and error with participation enjoying questionable success and at times practice represented perversion. Participation theory represents a move from the global, aspatial and top-down strategies that dominated early development initiatives to more locally sensitive methodologies. Although there are differing opinions in the literature as to the origins of participation theory there is consensus that it stems from political sciences and development theory. The importance of participation grew out of the recognition that the worlds’ poor have actually suffered as a result of development, and that everyone needs to be involved in development decisions, implementation and benefits.
There is no commonly agreed definition of participation this vagueness and lack of conceptualisation of the concepts of participation and empowerment cause confusion over expectations and over the evaluation of outcomes of the participatory development process. It is agreed that participation is about decision making.
The terms usefulness has been significantly undermined by the popularity or pervasiveness of the term. As a result the term has gained almost honorific meaning and used without recognition of its meaning. In this way application of the concept is often misused and becomes instrumental, rather than transformative. In an attempt to categorise the various extents of participation, a number of typologies have been created to explain the continuum.
Although having many important benefits, participation also has a number of limitations, most importantly being that methodologies are context specific. Skeptics also argue that participation places unrealistic demands on people, with more pressing demands on their time.