The RCPLA network is an alliance of seventeen different organisations from around the world, that strives to promote the empowerment of the disadvantaged through participation in their own development. The Network helps researchers and practitioners share information and experience about Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approaches, and encourages the improved implementation of these approaches globally. The Network hopes to further the role of participatory approaches into governance structures to create change. Each member of the Network brings with it specific strengths, but are united in their desire to provide access to a variety of resources.
The RCPLA Network was established in 1997. The original goal of this collection of resource centres was to bring together, organise, synthesise and distribute information on participatory approaches prefarably in more appropriate formats and local languages. This would contribute to the exchange of knowledge and ideas between members, and help promote effective participatory approaches at local, regional and international levels.
Since its creation, the RCPLA has helped to facilitate the development of PLA ideas, organise workshops and seminars on PLA, to provide training support, and to aid with research. Sharing resources across continents has helped encourage the adoption of particpatory methods around the world. Through the Network, partners have also influenced the development and application of participatory methodologies on local, national, and international levels.
Goal & Principles for Action
We recognise that we are only one group of actors, still in the early stage of learning. These goals represent an attempt to contribute to better practice for ourselves and others. We invite others to share their experiences and to add to our goals to make a difference.
Help maintain the integrity of PLA principles: The Network realizes that the use of participatory approaches has become increasingly popular with a variety of types of organisations, presenting opportunities and challenges. “Participation” has been sanctioned and promoted by government and aid agencies around the world, thus bringing about increased access and control over resources, decision-making processes, and traditional institutional barriers to local people. However, a question still remains surrounding co-optation and who controls the ultimate agenda surrounding the projects. The fear is that “participation” is mentioned in proposals, followed through in name only, without adherence to the true principles of the methodologies, diluting the quality and potential of PLA. The Network aims to make access to quality information about attitudes, behaviour, and techniques to practitioners and decision-makers a priority.
Encourage the allocation of resources to make information management a priority in project planning: Information management is crucial to the practice of development. It avoids the repetition of errors, ensures the quality of practice, and avoids the duplication of efforts. Therefore we strive to work towards an increased allocation of resources for time, personnel and finances to record the experiences of communities and practitioners.
Focus on the generation and distribution of appropriate research and development approaches regarding policy change and institutional capacity building: In addition to methodological, institutional and policy issues, the Network considers issues surrounding the quality of materials regarding professional and personal attitudes, behaviours, and ethics towards local people. Stressing the value of the information produced by agencies and local communities, as well as the importance of access to it is key to addressing an imbalance in traditional, top-down literature.
Encourage the creation and production of grassroots documentation: Currently, most documentation does not come from grassroots sources, and when it does, it does not fully acknowledge its sources and tends to be inaccessible. It is often suggested that the “grassroots” lack the ability, time or interest to write. However, our experience suggests that traditional systems have excluded the contributions of the grassroots and make it challenging to create appropriate resources. In addition, there has been a failure to create incentives to allow this information to blossom. We must find the time, incentives, and offer examples that facilitate the exchange of experience at the grassroots.
Encourage the creation of language and non-text accessible documentation and communication to record the experience of local people: Documentation has been primarily provided in dominant languages and in formal, linear, text, and expensive forms. Rich oral traditions cannot be accommodated by this traditional format and are subsequently easily ignored. Raw experiences have not been recorded in the language of the participants, in picture or audio-visual forms to accommodate varying levels of literacy, and instead translated materials are provided from the dominant agencies. There has also been minimal investment in translation into languages other than English, and from one field of work to another.
Create a culture of sharing information: Instead of fostering a competitive environment within the field of development, the Network strives to establish an example of knowledge and best practices sharing.
Encourage a non-exploitative ethic on research and documentation: Communities have often not benefited from the research that have exploited their experiences and have instead benefited the researchers or practitioners. Documentation must properly acknowledge the substantial costs incurred by grassroots communities in their creation and space must be created for grassroot communities to produce and direct their own work.