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of the
International Workshop
Participatory Action Research (PAR)
Dhaka March 27-29 2004

Organised by
Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB)
Poverty, overcoming poverty and self-realization - insights from people's self-initiatives in Bangladesh
Md. Anisur Rahman
(condensed version for seminar presentation)

Some introductory remarks in view of the grave political context in which we have gathered here today:

The context may be summed up as follows:

globally, democracy is controlled by corporate powers promising "dollar a day" to the ordinary people to exploit their labour cheap, depriving them of a decent share of human civilization;

nationally in Bangladesh, democracy is in the hands of feudal powers and godfathers ravaging the people and the ecology, and our poverty watchers also counting heads crossing the "dollar-a-day" line and claiming one-to-two percentage points success rate every year in overcoming poverty.

At both these levels, people are increasingly becoming apathetic to the slogans of democracy and poverty alleviation, turning to crimes and drugs and to fatalism, joining fundamentalist forces, and the powers that be turning to producing and using firearms and bombs to subjugate dissent. This is the basic achievement of so-called modern civilization that has denied 70 to 80 per cent of the world's people to a decent share of its fruits.

In Bangladesh, the greatest beneficiary of the current confrontation between the two major camps of "godfather democracy" seems to be the fundamentalist forces which are on the ascent in winning the allegiance of the people and laughing beneath their sleeves at the election sword fighting between rival “democratic forces”.

In our independence struggle the people fought with the promise of an equitable society and, as happens in independence and revolutionary struggles everywhere, many were fulfilled dying to achieve it, as a human mission much greater than poverty alleviation. Those who survived were ready to give their best to rebuilding of the ravaged country even without outside resources, to fulfill themselves by showing what this so-called "poor nation" could do. Poverty alleviation was not the concern of the people - “showing what we can do with whatever we have" was, waiting for the call from the Leader, many taking initiatives of their own in nation-building without even waiting for call from the Leader. In the process some poverty was and would have been alleviated, while many would have died in poverty but fulfilled in having shown their best in their life.

Sadly, under anti-people leadership the nation was split quickly after independence to build a class of affluent elite to cheat and rule over the masses. This great betrayal bewildered the people, and many either submitted to patron-client relations with different elite-camps for sheer survival, or turned to anti-social acts in a bid to catch-up with the elite in their life styles, or turned to religious fundamentalism including the "burqa" which was hardly seen among our proud women through and for some time after the srtuggle for self-determination to independence. Government and NGO programmes came to alleviate people’s poverty through mechanisms unaccountable to the beneficiaries that are in general increasing fortunes of the manpower of the "development agencies", and often of the trading middlemen, more than of the beneficiaries.

But the spirit of the human has survived among many disadvantaged people as is evidenced in the initiatives reported in the RIB People's Creative Initiatives project. We have inspiring accounts of people’s self-initiatives for advancement of their lives independent of government or NGO programmes such as:

Some specific instances of creative initiatives of poverty groups:

• agrarian revolution through land redistribution and all-round collective development in maheswarchanda village in Jhinaidaha;

• union of science and farmers in "agricultural clubs" revolutionalising agricultural production in baghapara, Jessore;

• fish revolution with collective fishing in dhanuakhola village in Illiotganj;

• innovative duck nurseries in nasirnagar, brahmanbaria;

• group fish farming by the "hard core poor" in gurguri village in Nilfamari;

• productive enterprises by low-income farmers in vegetables, fish, poultry, bio-gas, by low-income groups in cherenga village, nilfamari, some going into "rakhi business" (keep the surplus ourselves) replacing the middlemen;

• nursery enterprises in sripur village in rangpur;

• numerous self-initiated group saving and loan initiatives by low-income groups including "mushtichal" samities of women of extremely low-income families

• productive use of every inch of homestead and neighbouring land by landless labourers technically assisted by a very motivated Agricultural block Supervisor in chuhor block in mithapukur;

• "hard core poor women" making improved ovens in house-to-house visits in villages on the outskirts of Jamalpur city;

• organising and running a village hut for "rakhi business" by chilly farmers of khalishapani of Nilfamari;

• building and running of public libraries by village youth and low-income villagers and teachers by voluntary labour, in dihi union, Jessore;

• public library specially to extend for loans to high school and college examinees, created and run by yoghurt seller who could not finish schooling himself for lack of family funds to buy books;

• instances of heroic struggles of women abandoned by husbands or with husbands unable to provide them, to stand up with dignity by hard work, widowed mothers not marrying again to help their children move up sacrificing their own "basic needs";

• schools for children run by voluntary initiatives of low-income groups;

• numerous instances of persons from very low-income groups preferring fulfillment of artistic/innovative urges – singing, painting, sculpture, block design, artwork with bamboo or clay, textile designing, innovation of agricultural implements – to higher incomes doing other kind of jobs; some such artists even training free-of-charge other low-income youth with similar urges, living very modest lives themselves and aspiring to give exhibitions in Dhaka rather than earn high income;

• instance of one blind person earning whatever he gets by singing to families, often starving all day with his family, because he thereby can sit on a chair in listeners’ houses, a privilege that both he and his wife prefers to higher income he could get by begging;

• the poignant case of a rickshawpuller-cum-clay model designer making exquisite models of dwelling mansions and selling them, with the distant dream that some day the proceeds of these sales will entitle him to live in a mansion like those;

• inspiring accounts of indomitable courage and determination of so-called “disabled” persons (an unfortunate coining by others for those some of whom prefer to be called not “disabled” but “specially challenged”) to face physical handicaps with honour and dignity – e.g. writing with legs or elbows and going to school and seek highest degrees, including accounts of such heroism inspiring even normal children of low-income groups to go to school;

• untouchable communities fighting for dignity mobilized by “gonogobeshona” or participatory action research.

• and many other initiatives of varying such natures.

To these should be added the “kajoli model” pre-schools for children of the “hard-core poor” started by a friend of the poverty groups in kajoli village in Magura which has today spread to about 150 villages in different parts of the country.

We are also receiving independent reports of gonogobeshona or people’s research – collective deliberations by the poverty groups themselves - which are themselves generating economic initiatives by the participants individually or collectively, in addition to giving the participants a sense of status, power of their mind and collective strength, together revealing the role of collective thinking forums -access to means of thinking together- as a poverty-alleviating resource.
An outstanding result of gonogobeshona, combined with the “kajoli” pre-school model for hard-core poverty groups, has been progress toward social integration of an “untouchable” rishi community in Satkhira that is worth narrating many times over.

The poverty discourseSuch insights as obtained from the survey of creative initiatives of the disadvantaged along with results of gonogobeshona processes point to the need for fundamental rethinking on the notion of poverty. I have been criticizing the inhumaneness of what I have called the “livestock” notion of poverty being in vogue in the dominant poverty discourse, which in terms of economic needs alone denies many basic needs of human beings.

It should be recalled that the original basic needs concept introduced by the ILO called for giving much more to every person in view of requirements of modern living. More fundamentally, the notion of needs of humans as it is conventionally viewed on a hierarchical i.e. linear scale, is seriously flawed – people’s needs are intertwined in a systemic way, and for many in specific socio-economic conditions economic needs even for physical subsistence co-exist with acute non-economic needs such as the need for dignity, honour, security, cultural and creative fulfillment, and are agonizingly competitive with economic needs in specific socio-economic and cultural conditions.

Thus the customary notion of the “poverty line” has no empirical validity. Nor has it any normative validity from the point of view of the right of all people to a decent share of human civilization which was the inspiration of the original formulation of “basic needs” by the ILO. If at all an income measure of poverty were to be conceived I would suggest the "income tax exemption limit" as one with greater empirical as well as normative validity, to grant to every individual, and not only the elite of society, a fair share of modern civilization the perception about which is constantly ascending in terms of higher order consumables whose display is more open today than ever before thanks to IT, so as to attract “hijacking” by the “have nots” unless shared with them gracefully.

From the same point of view the conventional poverty discourse is also seriously deficient counting and projecting as it does incremental progress, overlooking the fact that social stability is not possible with a sizeable “other half of the glass” – the percentage of population remaining below the “poverty line” – at any given time. We are seeing many economic and government literature and pronouncements complacent at the pace of progress in the country in terms of “poverty alleviation” – sometimes close to 2 percentage points a year -, overlooking the fact of increase in the crime rate and fundamentalist tendency in the society because the “other half of the glass” is becoming more and more turbulent in not seeing a promise in the social system for fulfillment of their legitimate human aspirations. It is like, in neo-classical theory, satisfaction of the “marginal condition” with failure in the total condition resulting in total bankruptcy of the enterprise. And one wonders if we are also not moving toward liquidation of the “democratic enterprise” notwithstanding satisfactory marginal improvement on the poverty front but failing the “total condition”.

It should also be noted that a quantum jump in the aggregate growth rate of the economy is needed from its present magnitude of 5 per cent or so per annum – and that also with faulty conceptual basis as I have elaborated elsewhere – to make a dent on the poverty front fast enough.

The incremental progress calculus also overlooks the fact that poverty in the society is constantly being created and recreated, to create newer disadvantaged groups and often throwing the same persons beneath “the line” who have once crossed it, by the operation of structural processes well–known in political-economy analysis, so that poverty alleviation of this nature is like walking up a downward falling escalator, a process which may therefore never end unless the downward glide can be switched off.

However, a sharing of the fruits of modern civilization more equitably, as also the switching off of the downward glide of the “escalator”, is a question of structural reform for which no easy answer is available at the moment. But even within the present structural framework a lot can be immediately done by way of alleviating poverty by learning from the creative initiatives of the poverty groups themselves, and by spreading the word and experiences of the ability of the people themselves to do a lot by way of creatively moving forward, taking inspiration from and learning from each other. A lot more can be done, than what the NGOs and may be some dedicated government programmes are doing, by way of poverty alleviation, by a strategy yet not taken that I shall call “promoting and assisting people-to-people technical cooperation for development”.

Disadvantaged people of the country are showing what they can do by way of moving forward, singly or collectively, many without outside assistance, some with assistance but not necessarily financial, many with just assistance by way of technical knowledge, or organizational guidance, some with external financial help, not necessarily of the Nobel-winning “micro-credit” nature but of both small and large magnitudes, and so on. It is not within the means of these people themselves to spread these examples all over the country to inspire and show the path to others. But shouldn’t development agencies and social activists and all others who have the necessary means, grasp these and spread the message and the know-hows all over the country? The news and social methodology of voluntary redistribution of land in Maheswar chanda village that has revolutionalized agricultural production; the technology of improved ovens dramatically raising income of women taking this technology from door to door in some villages; the mushtichal saving-and loan schemes of village housewives; formation of krishi clubs and inviting agronomists to come and advise and many such other “success stories” can easily be spread all over the country to inform educate and inspire other poverty groups. Let some agency invite and help Matiur Rahman and the landless of Chuhor to take the “produce on every inch of land” model to landless of other villages far and wide to generate a self-reliant development movement of the type that had been started by district Agricultural Officer Momtazuddin Khan of Rangpur which had spread to 60 villages in one year. Let dedicated NGOs take the message of "rakhi business" all over the country and help develop primary producers' co-operatives with technical assistance on marketing and organization development if needed. Organize “people-to-people” study tours, “people’s initiative festivals”, etc. etc., to inspire all so-called “poverty groups” to startle the world with their creativity stimulating, educating and cooperating with each other. And let “gono-gobeshona” be built into these processes for the disadvantaged to collectively deliberate on these experiences, plan initiatives for themselves, review on-going experiences and plan newer initiatives, in a framework of solidarity and mutual care that gonogobeshona is revealing it generates among them, to show, to anticipate Manik Mahmud’s presentation on gonogobeshona, the “power of the [collective] mind of the people. This, I suggest, can be easily done, and the result in a few years can be galvanizing.

development philosophy and self-realizationAnd at the end of the day, let us ask ourselves what the human mission on earth is – is it to liberate “individual freedom” à là Amartya Sen; or to eradicate poverty à là the World Bank; or to show the best in the human species, by way of human creativity in favourable as well as in challenging conditions, by serving humanity and the ecology rather than just oneself, by struggling against oppression and for social change, and to create history and even dying in the effort earlier than one’s life expectancy, to hand over the torch to one’s successors to carry on with the mission to show what human being is worth. This has been the message of all great humanist philosophers of mankind – e.g. Marx, Tagore and Mao who never talked of alleviating poverty as the task of social effort. Through contributing to such mission the human being “realizes itself”, whether his/her poverty has been eradicated or not. This, I suggest, is the Mission of the Human which is being distorted into a mission to alleviate " poverty" sloganized in terms of a "dollar-a-day" to serve the cheap-labour ideology of corporate-to-godfather powers. A word, finally, on the much loved “human development index” of the UNDP in which something vital is missing, giving as it does a front seat in human development to Nazi Germany and to Miloshevik’s Serbia –a high school examination question: what is missing in this “improved index”?

Final Conclusion
We were once a proud nation, when our people fought the independence war against mighty tanks and sacrificed their lives for it thus realizing themselves, and after independence collected whatever they had, many nothing more than the human spirit, and yet not considering themselves "poor", to move forward to rebuild the nation, some even rejecting any form of material assistance from outside because "we don't want our Leader to beg for us from other countries". Today we are a proud nation again having won the Nobel, after the pride of many of our people has been successfully humbled and they have been taught that they are "poor", and should be grateful to receive small loans at the terms of the benefactors to do small "entrepreneurship" that also keeps the bulk of their surplus in rentier hands. But the "other Bangladesh" still exists, as dug out by our patriotic journalists. And with the nation's pride crumbling on the ground today as its "godfather democracy" is blowing up from its inner contradictions, this "other Bangladesh" is still carrying the torch of the true spirit of the human seeking to realize itself on the soil of Bangladesh, and we could be prouder and have realized ourselves as well if only we had first the eyes ourselves to see it and then extend a hand of comradeship to it.

Response to Professor Anisur Rahman: Participatory research as a “means of thinking together”
By Peter Reason

May I say first of all how delighted and honoured I am to have this opportunity to make a contribution to your seminar? I very much regret that the political circumstances in Bangladesh means that it doesn’t make good sense for me to be with you in person. I sincerely hope that your current political disturbances are part of a struggle to create a strong democratic tradition in this country with independent political institutions and freedom of expression and that you will come through these difficulties stronger.

I want to focus my remarks on the idea of providing a ‘means of thinking together’. Professor Rahman draws on Manfred Max Neef’s analysis of human needs to argue that “Fundamental human needs must be understood as a system” with “no fixed order of precedence in actualization of needs”. Thus, Professor Rahman argues, we cannot understand human needs simply in terms of a threshold of material needs, but must include as fundamental the needs for self-reliance, for community, for a sense of agency.

… a rather new awareness among the disadvantaged is emerging from some of these gonogobeshona initiatives, on the primacy of access to means of thinking together as a poverty-alleviating resource. A number of gonogobeshona groups have analyzed and concluded on the importance of thus thinking together, which is opening up avenues for overcoming their poverty that they had not thought of previously…

On my last visit to your country I was privileged not only to listen to accounts of gonogobeshona projects in your seminar, but more important to visit villages, communities and schools, sit down with people and listen (as far as I could without understanding Bangla) to their stories about how thinking together had changed their lives. Of course it is impressive to hear how the rice yields in a village have increased many times and to see the physical and material improvements in peoples’ lives. And alongside this, it is profoundly moving to hear people say that being a peoples’ researcher has ‘sharpened their minds’, ‘made us realize we are not stupid’, that ‘we can think and no longer need to be afraid’.

I want to touch briefly on a number of themes where it seems to me that your work in Bangladesh touches on issues that the international community of action researchers are dealing with. It seems to me that your work in Bangladesh is part of an international movement which is encouraging participatory research toward self-reliance in many different fields of endeavour. One must not be too sanguine about this because pushing in the opposite direction are powerful forces of a managerialist nature seeking ever increasing control. But I am confident that humanity will not be able to meet the challenges of the C21 without strengthening democratic institutions and practices at all levels.

Action Research as a ‘means of thinking together’: Parallel processes in the WestI don’t want in any way to diminish the experience of ‘hard core’ poverty among people in Bangladesh; most of the people I work with are ridiculously affluent and have extraordinary opportunities compared with the people Professor Rahman is telling us about. But I do think the idea of participatory research as about finding ‘ways of thinking together’ shows important ways in which participatory research in the West may parallel the experience in Bangladesh. For many in Western society also experience themselves as significantly impoverished not materially but in their ability to influence their own lives and to live with a satisfactory degree of self-reliance. They may also feel isolated in an individualist culture that lacks any serious means of ‘thinking together’. So while action research is often described in terms of cycles of action and reflection, I find myself often emphasizing the importance of the term communicative space, which Stephen Kemmis uses drawing on the work of Habermas:

The first step in action research turns out to be central: the formation of a communicative space…A communicative space is constituted as issues or problems are opened up for discussion, and when participants experience their interaction as fostering the democratic expression of divergent views. (Kemmis, 2001:100; 2006:103)

As I learn from my position as editor of the journal Action Research and of the Handbook of Action Research, participatory projects around the world are contributing to this capacity, just as they are here in Bangladesh as Professor Rahman as so thoroughly demonstrated. Let me provide some brief examples

Carlis Douglas: Working with Black women in UK organizations

Carlis, a Black British woman, is a leading ‘equal opportunities’ consultant in the UK. As a result of reflections on her own experience she focussed on the fundamental life question, “Is it possible for Black women to thrive in Britain?” That question was first triggered during a Maya Angelou poetry reading concert in Lewisham. Carlis wrote:

The issues that face us all are not just how to survive – obviously we are doing that somehow, but how to thrive – thrive with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style. (Douglas, 2002:250)

Carlis also wanted as part of her research to shift the traditional power balance by using the research as a vehicle for the voices and thoughts of Black women to be expressed. She knew that people from oppressed groups develop a sophisticated level of skill at seeing and analysing human interactions and detecting discrimination in its more subtle forms within interpersonal transactions. But she also knew that this knowledge was usually not recognized or explicit and so that suitable spaces needed to be created where this knowledge can be articulated.

Carlis drew together a co-operative inquiry group of Black British women to explore these issues. Through a research process that encouraged ‘thinking together’ the participants reflected on their experience, and gained access to their rich, but not easily seen, insights:

… we were able to gradually uncover our habits of surviving and gain choice. In these ways we developed ourselves and learnt how to create more opportunities in which we are able to thrive. In the course of this work we came to better understand that paradoxically the very strategies that have keep us surviving inhibit our ability to engage intimately and therefore to thrive. The surfacing of the multifarious (and often not visible) ways in which we habitually mask in order to protect the self, and in doing this unintentionally create and maintain separation from the other, is important for effective engagement in Co-operative Inquiry. (Douglas, 2002:262)

Working with Middle managers in Welsh Public Service

The National Assembly of Wales (Cymru) and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) have been created as part of the devolution strategy of the UK government. The WAG, building on the need to create a quality of Welsh Public service, commissioned us to design and conduct an action research programme whose aims are to “Develop the capacity of public service managers in order to help improve the quality of public services for users, citizens and communities” and to create a more responsive citizen-centred public service for Wales.

Connect4Cymru is an unconventional programme based on practical experience, careful action, thoughtful reflection and not just taught theory. It combines:
◊ Individual learning with a keen eye on shared service development
◊ Working on real live issues with visions for a better public service
◊ Developing a network of peers to share issues and goals with people from different organisations.

Our assumption in designing the programme was the middle managers in public service bureaucracies who were significantly disempowered by the bureaucratic structure of their organizations and constrained by their roles. If we wanted to create a more responsible public service we needed to create ‘communicative spaces’ in which people could ‘think together’ about their own conduct and about how they could work together across organizational boundaries on specific public service tasks.

To do this we established ten inquiry groups focussed on a particular issue of current importance (e.g. health improvement, community cohesion, integrated transport). The groups engaged in cycles of action and reflection to develop greater understanding of the issue to hand, and to find ways in which they could take initiatives and learn from experience both individually and collectively. From the evaluation is it clear that the participants valued the development opportunities afforded by the programme. They reported increased confidence, energy and empowerment, better working relationships, and a more outward looking aspect which is more likely to result in the development of more creative ways of working with others (Earll, 2006).

So, in a very different context from work on Bangladesh villages, participants in an action research project valued the time to ‘think together’ and as a consequence were able to contribute better both to immediate public service tasks and more generally to the development of a stronger public service in Wales

Safe Expression of Sexuality

We have been helping the YWCA establish co-operative inquiry groups with young teenagers to help them reflect on safe expression of sexuality:

Young women who may be experiencing social or economic disadvantage, carry out the research themselves. This 'participative action' method is unique because they are not only the participants, but also the project designers and researchers. They will determine the emphasis for their group and decide the research question. This method is being used because YWCA believes young women are the experts and only they can identify what are the important issues for them and how to research them. The method has never before been used to look at the combination of women, sex and sexual health. (http://www.ywca-gb.org.uk/itsasexthing.asp)

Thinking together at different levels

Thinking together in new ways implies action in new ways—one of the points about action research is to generate knowledge that is useful in action. I have found it useful to think of action research taking place at three different, although overlapping, levels.

First-person action research is about the way each one of us can reflect on our experience, understand more deeply what we really want and need, see if what we do matches what we want to do, try out new behaviours and so on. In the work Professor Rahman tells us about many examples of individuals taking new initiatives because they have started to think in new ways.

But there is of course a limit to what an individual can do, so in second-person research people may come together to support their individual inquiries and maybe join together with others on shared projects. The coming together of farmers to deliberate on how to improve their economic and social life in the village Maheswarchanda, which Professor Rahman tells us about and which I visited myself, is a wonderful example of this. All around the world you can see initiatives being taken in very different situations to bring people together to think together in this way. We call these by different names, but what is important is to see the similarities and learn from each other.

But I think there is another, third-person level of inquiry that is important, which is how to move action research to influence on a larger scale without losing the very heart of opening communicative space and having people thinking together. Another way to put this is how to change the system in which different action research and gonogobeshona projects take place. How do we learn from each other without reinventing the wheel, how do we impact on the wider system at regional or even national levels? Our Connect4Cymru project is not just about setting up a set of interesting individual action research projects but it also addressing the question ‘How do we develop public service in Wales.’

Moving to wider scale and impact

My Norwegian colleague Bjørn Gustavsen has addressed this issue in a number of papers and book chapters. Looking over the history of some 40 years of action research to develop work life in Scandinavia, he asks how we can learn to move from a number of interesting and important action research cases to have a wider impact. If we are interested in helping people think together, is there nevertheless some way in which we can develop cumulative knowledge and cumulative change? Does each group have to start from the very beginning? If this is true, the prospect of creating significant change through action research in Scandinavia with its population of 24 million people, not to mention the possibility of creating significant change in Bangladesh with its population of nearly 150 million, is rather remote. How can we move from the single action research project or gonogobeshona group to create a wider impact without losing the quality that makes this ‘thinking together’ (which is so easy to do in large scale project)?

Gustavsen suggests
First and foremost: the idea is not to replace the single case with a number of cases but to create or support social movements. A social movement is a series of events that are linked to each other and where the meaning and construction of each event is part of a broader stream of events and not a self-sufficient element in an aggregate. (Gustavsen, 2003:95)

Obviously in order to do this, we need to have an overall action research initiative of some size, but it is unlikely that we will be able to fund the kind of intensive facilitation or animation that goes into some of the work we have looked at so far.

At this point we need to turn to what is involved in working with social movements rather than single cases. If we use action research in a distributive way to create social movements it becomes more important to create many events of low intensity and diffuse boundaries than fewer events that correspond to the classical notion of a “case”. Instead of using much resources in a single spot to pursue things into a continuously higher degree of detail in this, resources are spread over a much larger terrain to intervene in as many places in the overall movement as possible.(Gustavsen, 2003:96-97)

Gustavsen and his colleagues are working on large scale development projects, for whole regions of the country, or for the health service in Sweden (Ekman Philips, 2004). The role of the researcher becomes less the animation of individual projects and more a process of building networks and relationships between projects, what might be called ‘development coalitions’, bringing more and more partners into the development process and linking them through a variety of dialogue conferences and other networking events. The strategy is to initiate and nurture a broad base of change which is distributive and low-intensive through which many of the actors involved are exposed to the change-generating forces at intervals and relatively briefly each time.

Ernie Stringer, one of our Australian action research colleagues, adopted an approach somewhat like this. He was invited by the government of newly liberated East Timor to use participative action research as a means of both formulating and implementing national education policy. With a new emerging government, very little funding and many schools destroyed in the liberation struggle, this project both helped develop effective parent teacher associations devoted to improving local education, and also worked with a wider group of stakeholders, including the Ministry of Education, to develop national policy and to develop democratic capacities. The action research task was in part to help create opportunities for ‘thinking together’ at a local level between teachers and parents (and of course more than thinking together, actually rebuilding schools and deciding what it was important to teach). But equally important was to create ways in which what was being learned in individual communities was shared with other communities and with the regional and national governments, to create opportunities for ‘thinking together’ across the emerging new educational system. (Stringer, in press 2008)

Such action research networks can reach also internationally. Dave Brown and Rajesh Tandon describe how practical efforts at consciousness raising and empowerment of the marginalized people around the world have attracted the attention of policy makers in international institutions. They point to the importance of coalitions of institutions which span the ‘North-South divide’, which are both grounded in local issues and can have access to policy makers. They have established long standing partnership between PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) in New Delhi and IDR (Institute for Development Research) in Boston, USA. While PRIA has well established links with grassroots activities, IDR can help establish a voice in international institutions such as the World Bank:

The ability of PRIA and IDR to influence the debate grew in part from their contributions to research and educational literatures… It also grew from their roles in mobilizing a world-wide network of civil society support organizations that could speak authoritatively about capacity needs in many different regions. (Brown & Tandon, in press 2008)

I am not, or course, arguing that RIB should stop supporting and animating individual gonogobeshona projects which help people ‘think together’. My own view is that Gustavsen overemphasizes the low intensity and underestimates the transforming that is possible in the individual and the small group. I am raising the question of how much energy and attention needs to be put to individual projects, and how much into bringing people from different projects together to learn from each other and stimulate wider processes of change. How much resources should put into working with separate communities and how much should be spent on building a broad based movement? Are you actively experimenting with ways to link peoples’ researchers from different projects? Are you helping create peoples’ institutions that network different activities? Is there an important role for RIB, in collaboration with other institutions, to provide means by which ‘people’s self-initiatives’ can link together to gain wider influence?

Thinking together about climate change

While I appreciate the immediate importance overcoming poverty in Bangladesh, I have committed myself to drawing attention to the wider issue of climate change in all my activities. As the recent Stern Review, commissioned by the UK Treasury, puts it The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response. (Stern, 2006)

My own assessment as an informed lay reader of the scientific evidence is that the challenge is much more immediate and more severe that our everyday imagination can encompass. I have no idea whether complex industrial societies such as my own will be more or less able to respond than majority world countries such as Bangladesh where so many people live much closer to the land.

What I am sure about is that we all need to learn to ‘think together’ about our response to climate change: I am sure that action research and other participative practises have an important role to play. My colleague David Ballard has written about the response to climate change in terms of awareness, association, and agency (Ballard, 2005). Generally speaking, awareness of climate change is low but growing, although in depth understanding remains rare. But even it we develop individual and collective awareness, it is difficult to establish a sense of agency, to feel we can actually do anything about it. But there clearly are things that each one of us can do day to day which will contribute; and from time to time significant opportunities open up (for example when a new investment opportunity arises). The task, then, for those who would provide leadership in this field is to help people identify those moments of increased agency, those moments when an opportunity arises for action. In order to do this we need in close association with others, to be able to ‘think together’ and support each other in taking action.

My point, in the context of Professor Rahman’s paper, is to point out that while some of us are grossly richer than others in material terms, the challenge of climate change makes us all impoverished in our ability to take meaningful self-initiatives. We need ‘peoples’ research’ on a global scale to begin to address this issue. As Willis Harman put it

Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from the dictates of governments and the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds—sometimes only a little bit (Harman, 1988:155)

In conclusionSo in essence, Professor Rahman’s paper stimulates me to realize that finding ways of ‘thinking together’ is something that is needed by both fortunate and disadvantaged people right round the globe. When I have told my English friends stories about initiates in Bangladesh their eyes light up because, I suggest, the need to find self-initiative in collaboration with others is a fundamental human need, not one that is just driven by extreme poverty.

Second, I am reflecting that we as animators and facilitators of action research need to consider how we can create a context in which action research and gonogobeshona initiatives can thrive and expand, as well as how we can facilitate change in individuals and communities. Third, I want to point to the relevance of all this to the challenge we experience in our wider context of how we respond to the damage done to our eco-system by global industrial economies.

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Brown, L. D., & Tandon, R. (in press 2008). Action Research, Partnerships and Social Impacts: The Institutional Collaboration of PRIA and IDR. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.
Douglas, C. (2002). Using Co-operative Inquiry with Black Women Managers: Exploring possibilities for moving from surviving to thriving. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 15(3), 249-262.
Earll, L. (2006). Connect4Cymru/Cysylltu dros Gymru: An evaluation of the Public Service Management Development Programme for PSMW. Bath: Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice, University of Bath.
Ekman Philips, M. (2004). Action Research and Development Coalitions in Health Care. Action Research, 2(4), 349-370.
Gustavsen, B. (2003). Action Research and the Problem of the Single Case. Concepts and Transformation, 8(1), 93-99.
Harman, W. (1988). Global Mind Change: The promise of the last years of the twentieth century. Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems.
Kemmis, S. (2001). Exploring the Relevance of Critical Theory for Action Research: Emancipatory action research in the footsteps of Jürgen Habermas. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative inquiry and practice (pp. 91-102). London: Sage Publications.
Kemmis, S. (2006). Exploring the Relevance of Critical Theory for Action Research: Emancipatory action research in the footsteps of Jürgen Habermas. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Concise paperback edition (pp. 94-105). London: Sage Publications.
Stern, N. (2006). Stern Review on the economics of climate change. London: HM Treasury.
Stringer, E. T. (in press 2008). "This Is So Democratic!!" Action Research and Policy Development in East Timor. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

The International Workshop on Participatory Action Research
(Dhaka, March 27-29, 2004) organized by Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB)
Executive Summary *

Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB) aims to contribute towards (a) promoting an understanding of poverty and poverty-related structures and processes in all their dimensions, and (b) encouraging the efforts of the disadvantaged people of Bangladesh to imbibe their lives with positive social values, through developing their own creativity with the non-dominating support of professionals where considered helpful. This is in tune with what has been called demand driven research i.e. 'research from below', which meets the concerns that exist in society. It encourages the active participation of different stakeholders in the various stages of implementation. One of the more effective ways in which to operationalise such research is through the use of the Participatory Action Research (PAR) method with corresponding capacity building networking and social mobilization. This is why RIB has chosen the theme of Participatory Action Research as the theme of its first international workshop.

Many development research, however, use the terms 'participation' and 'participatory research' as involving the people in research in various ways, by way of consultation or giving them 'assignments', tasks and tools to work with, but where the 'ownership' rests with external researchers. Such research does not meet or articulate the independent concerns of people except incidentally or by chance knowledge or understanding of their concerns by external researchers, which in any case remains 'nvalidated' by the people. Nor does such research unite organically with people's actions to advance their lives - people generally wait upon service 'deliveries' by others to advance their lives. The 'participation' content of such research, therefore, needs to be distinguished from participation in PAR in which people participate as full subjects of research and hence own such research as a part of their very own process of inquiry and action.

Obviously, PAR requires special skills/orientation of external agents (variously called "catalysts", "animators", "facilitators"), to stimulate and facilitate people's self-research processes without imposing their own thinking and preconceptions upon the people. There is thus a question of methodology for creating/orienting/sensitizing such agents as well.

The broad objective of the current workshop was therefore to promote understanding of PAR as a methodology of development research in which people themselves participate as full subjects, and own such research. This understanding will distinguish between PAR and other approaches to research (such as PRA or Participatory Research Appraisal) that involve people's participation in the research process without granting them ownership of the process.

Among the participants of the workshop were researchers of RIB and other institutions, members of voluntary organisations and research institutions, scholars and some international resource persons. Among the foreign delegates were Professor Peter Reason of the University of Bath, UK, Professor Yoland Wadsworth of Swineburne University of Technology Australia, Professor Akke Van der Zijpp of Wageningen University, the Netherlands Diana Espinoza of ADESO " Las Segovias", Nicaragua and David Obot of NURRU, Tanzania.

The keynote paper of the workshop Participatory Action Research: Learning from the School of Life by Professor Md. Anisur Rahman presented the philosophical basis of PAR. One of the fundamental notions of PAR is to emphasize 'that a people however short of resources they may be, can keep moving forward by mobilizing whatever they have'. Courses of action suggested by a large section of development economists tend to suggest that the accumulation of external resources should be delivered (philanthropically'/strategically/expediently) to them who have less. The keynote idea of the workshop was to reinforce a stand, now almost forgotten that even with meagre material resources, in response to appropriate stimulation, self-reliance awareness can emerge in a people traditionally given to dependent thinking and therefore prone to a culture of dependence.

Ideas contained in the keynote paper were elaborated and extended by some instances from home and abroad and a synthetic cohesion prevailed. The theoretical underpinnings of the PAR approach were discussed. The intellectual environment of the workshop emphasized critical thinking to address the issues of the poor. It critiqued the shortcomings and failures of various endeavours directed towards poverty alleviation, but this did not form the main body of discussions.

Poverty was defined in a humane way. Exploration of the inherent causes of poverty was also a process where the participation of the people would be envisaged. Researchers have been probing into the origin, history and construction of notions of poverty. This kind of research cannot be unilateral. It cannot be accomplished merely with the collection of data or analysis of some curves and identifying of statistical variations at diverse conjunctions. The key word is participation. Here, the researcher and the 'researched' interact together to discover new knowledge, which ironically could be considered to be very old. This knowledge resides within the marginalized and disadvantaged people themselves. This potential should be brought out to benefit those who by virtue of their position or situation can then transmit it further.

The deliberations in the seminar had a tendency to focus on situations in Bangladesh and quite reasonably so. Some of the research projects conducted with the support of RIB were presented in the workshop. They contained a feature of inclusiveness, which through the application of the PAR method offered a space to the disadvantaged, as well as allowed researchers to play the role of animators enhancing the potential inherent in peoples' indigenous resources. The self-esteem of the poverty group has been highlighted creating again a standard that treats the disadvantaged not as objects but subjects. In the process, both the empirical knowledge and epistemology behind PAR was thoroughly discussed and debated with a view to contribute towards the viability of the method. An elaborate list of the issues that came up and generated enthusiasm, instances of experiences and intensity of feelings, were presented in the concluding session. Not only did this summing up enumerate what went on in the workshop, but it also graphically recorded the comprehensiveness of the voice and support for the PAR process.

Placing the disadvantaged centrally ensures their ownership, which in turn, helps to build up an effective collectivity. People organized in this manner are the basic force that PAR attempts to create. The collective energy generates a confidence, which is likely to percolate into the communities and neighborhood. PAR is not to be compared with the type of quantitative research that emphasize only on volume. The intellectual component of PAR constitutes its value. Animators/leaders/champions are the transmitters of this value. The animator's work is substantially connected with initiation of the local people to the understanding of their own problems. However, his/her journey to a rural place from an urban centre has an inherent risk, which has been unfortunately confused and amplified by some humanitarian ventures of NGOs operating all over the country. The difficulties of the job of the animator to facilitate the PAR process were discussed elaborately.

The various presentations in the workshop sought to formulate the necessary answer to all these doubts and uncertainties. The research projects discussed included the running of pre-school among children of poverty groups, learning centres among the river-gypsies, the livelihood concerns of people living in the very low tiers of society, the pig-rearers,-a very neglected section of society in Bangladesh. What emerges from these and other presentations is the rediscovery of the strengths of the disadvantaged. All of these studies have one uniform note that hopes are more powerful than the voices of concern, the mobilization of own resources are more effective than external aid; collectivization of efforts is the right way to encounter the ills of so-called local politics and divisiveness; leadership of the 'poor' people should not be undermined and 'poor' should not be a word with some pejorative connotation. The people whose images surfaced during the presentations belong, in the theoretical stratification of the social scientists, to the margin of margins, but in the conference room, the participants could reinvent them as people with a Promethean heritage.

* The complete version of Professor Md. Anisur Rahman's keynote paper "Participatory Action Research: Learning from the School of Life", Professor Peter Reason's comments as well as the detailed minutes of the conference is available at our website: www.rib-bangladesh.org
Day 1 March 27 2004

Inaugural Session

Chair : Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, President, Bangladesh Economic Association

The session opened at 9:45 am.

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director, Research Initiatives Bangladesh welcomed the guests in the inaugural session. In addition to the workshop participants, a good number of intellectuals, scholars, civil society members and NGO leaders were present. Dr. Guhathakurta underlined RIB's objectives and the process in which it works. She said that RIB has been consistently trying to contest the conventional definition of poverty. Most of the people consider lack of economic resources as the only element of poverty. A group of economists and NGO leaders have prescribed and put to use the micro-credit and other ways to alleviate poverty. In spite of good intentions behind them, we have not moved significantly ahead to empower the poor. The poor should be empowered in a way so that they can themselves come forward to improve their state. RIB is committed to the promotion of participatory action research as a means to achieve that. This workshop will deliberate on that process. I would now request Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairman RIB to welcome guests from home and abroad in this inaugural meeting.

Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairman, Research Initiatives Bangladesh, made some introductory remarks to enlighten the audience about the context and rationale of the Workshop. He briefly described the scope of RIB's activities, the principles that work behind the planning and implementation of such activities and the process of its operation. He focused on the nature of RIB's work.

Primarily, this organisation offers support to research activities undertaken by others. However, all these research projects must have, as their primary concerns, emphases on and connection with the of state of poverty and problems of development. But RIB insists on a knowledge-based approach that seeks to investigate specifically on areas of education to find some strategic answers to alleviate poverty. The conventional definition of poverty has some practical specificity related to material possession and problems of economic stress that suspends the access of poor people to the basic demands of living. RIB claims a fundamental deviation from such a commonly-accepted attitude. People are not to be pointed out as poor since they do not have the purchasing power. Poverty of most of the people who are grouped as 'poor' lies in their ignorance of so many practical aspects of life and the underuse of their dormant capabilities. What they seriously lack is the knowledge about themselves and their conditions.

It was incidentally fortunate and meaningful to find out that our efforts do have identical features with the views on development of the Dutch foreign ministry which concentrates on a knowledge-based approach. We came to know of MMRP-a special kind of Dutch development programme, which is being implemented in various Afro-Asian countries. We understand the logical and intellectual validity of the programme with emphasis on three major areas.
1. The need to rethink about the viewpoints of the so-called poor in order to do what it is important to devise appropriate strategies.
2. The need to involve the poor in the programmes of poverty alleviation.
The right answer to this point can be found in the process of participatory action research (PAR).
3. The need to undertake research in selected areas.
This requires valid research approaches to be applied by a new breed of researchers.

RIB has undertaken such research projects in which some 200 young people are involved in the process of participatory action research (PAR).

Dr. Bari expressed his hope that the dialogue that would take place among the participants of home and abroad during various sessions of this Workshop would generate some new thoughts to strengthen the process of PAR in our context.

He said that the sharing of experiences with foreign delegates present in this Workshop about the application and impact of MMRP would open new grounds of survey and experimentation. He hoped that in these three days some very useful deliberations would take place. He then introduced the foreign participants.

Mr. Jaap van der Zeeuw, Deputy Head of Mission, Royal Netherlands Embassy presented his remarks. He wanted to look into the process and prospects of participatory action research from a broader view. He said that the most positive aspect of PAR is that it negates the systematic and silent exclusion of the poor in the development process. PAR emphasizes on the holistic approach to poverty alleviation and that offers validity to the process itself.

Mr. Zeeuw said that the notion of involving people fully in action research implies recognition of the dynamic environment in which they live. And dynamism in this context means taking into account all of the social, political, economic, cultural and environmental factors that influence their lives. It sets out the pros and cons. They understand why the perfect solution to a problem cannot be enough for them. They are the people who understand the dynamics. It also forces us to look differently to concepts like sustainability and feasibility.

Mr. Zeeuw is of the opinion that doing the right things mean starting with a clear vision of the context in which you work. Being flexible so that you can adapt to new situations. Knowing where you are headed to and how to get there. I believe this notion is one of the keys to successful poverty reduction. It is also one of the bottlenecks.

So what are the right things to do in capacity building and technical assistance? A few answers spring to mind.

Before a country can begin to build its capacity, it has to define what its goals are and how it plans to get there. We call it ownership. Every country has to answer this question on its own. That is why PRSP's are so important. But let us not forget that institutional development is not just a matter of government and good government structures. There is also a vibrant private sector and civil society that provide primary impulses, checks and balances. The core message of our Minister for Development Cooperation is very clear on this: less government and more society. Shifting from ownership towards genuine partnerships because of shared interests and shared responsibilities. We should all take an active stance in that.

He looks at capacity building as a synthetic training that begins with listening, talking, analyzing and mapping out the problems. To respond is to ask questions, questions that may bring out potential technical assistance. But it is not the only one. We should also consider entirely different forms of knowledge transfer and exchange. By acknowledging that it is not enough for organizations to be well-organized, to work efficiently and have enough people to run it. In many developing countries we see a process of systematic but silent exclusion of the poor.

Mr. Zeeuw concluded with these words:
RIB has shown us that for effective development applied research should also be conducted at the micro-level, calling for a more integrated or holistic approach to poverty alleviation and involving the people directly, making them the experts and researchers. Because often there are no ready-made solutions from one angle only, given that poverty has so many faces and dimensions. The success of the PAR approach rightly reminds us about the limitations of technical assistance and top-down directed research, irrespective of its origin either from foreign or home-grown experts and researchers. I compliment RIB for doing the right things right and would like to express the hope that you will be having a successful workshop.
(Mr. Jaap vander Zeeuw made a written statement)

The first part of the inaugural session was concluded in a unique way. All the persons present lent spontaneous voice to a song written by Dwijendralal Ray, a renowned Bengali dramatist and lyricist. The composition emphasizes on the beauty of and love for the motherland. The foreign delegates were supplied with English transliteration of the Bangla words. Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman led the chorus.

After a short tea break, the session resumed and it went straight into business.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman, a leading economist and member, Board of Directors, RIB presented the keynote paper.

He noted that the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 virtually prompted him to look into the application and possibilities of participatory action research (PAR). The impulse was individual but it originated from the commitment to community. He referred to initiatives of self-reliance as against the outsiders' assistance in the field of development. He also referred to his feeling of inspiration ignited by the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who led the country to independence through a long and strong resistance movement.

According to Prof. Rahman, participatory action research is a kind of an organic process. The primary spirit of the process is to contest the conventional and widely-talked of definition of the poor as the population that suffers from chronic shortage of resources. This ideological departure is characterised by the ways of practice too. The roles of the researchers and of the people covered in the process of participatory action research should be reframed. However, it is important to note that PAR is not simply limited to research; it is a sympathetic treatment of the issue of poverty. It has concerns about outside help but that is not necessarily material in nature, rather this is a process to help the poor to understand their own situations in a better way. The process would not create a sense of alienation as is experienced in the receiver-giver methodology. In fact, PAR has no set methodology. It develops in the situational order through the dialogical interaction of the researchers and the people. In the process, some ideas and patterns emerge and through mutual sharing, a course of action is developed. Eventually, the process leads to action and while it gets translated into some action, we can say that participatory action research has taken place.

The basic idea is that nothing should be presented to people as abiding, proven and sacrosanct. The role of the people is emphasized in order to encourage them to contribute their input in the process and thereby to produce output. However, PAR cannot absolutely exclude the element of subjectivity since this is connected with the social sector. Objectivity is usually the demand of modern scientific research. But participatory action research concentrates on indigenous knowledge and not on texts written or compiled by authorities. People's experiences are what really matter.

But inspite of the comprehensive integration of the people, the role of a kind of 'leadership' cannot be totally ignored. The researcher plays the role of an animator who infuses in the people a sense of confidence so that they can better scan the situations in which they live. Once they are rightly encouraged to examine their own state and to explore the causes behind it, their dormant talents do surface in a proactive way to push them into the process of action. The animator is the key person who unlocks age-old doors that barred the people to look into the reality they live in. S/he animates people without becoming a virtual teacher. This is a difficult task, but if this is done, it successfully removes the rust from people's brain.

The successful animator works in a two-way approach. S/he tries to understand the various viewpoints that are put up by the people and at the some time enables them to internalize the gaze that s/he wants to underline.

According to Prof. Rahman,

"The term 'animation', with its specific connotation in grassroots work, means, in the very literal spirit of the word, animating the underprivileged people to regard themselves as the principal actors in their lives and not as subordinates to other social classes, to stand up with self-esteem, to develop a critical understanding of the conditions of their lives and to express and assert themselves through collective action to meet life's challenges."

He says that the term 'poor' should not be used. The people should be led to understand that poverty is a particular situation. The people may not have security in the economic significance of the term, but these 'poor' people may be rich in various other resources. Similarly, those who suffer from the lack of cultural resources, they should also be grouped as poor. The 'poor' usually have some rich experiences of life. The animator is supposed to enrich herself or himself with the learning that is contained in their experiences. Listening to these experiences will provide some new ways of thinking. One will be excited to discover that people's language contains profound conceptualization of the problems that common poverty alleviation programmes seek to address. Their experiences offer reflections on a macro situation, which may lead to the agenda of revolution. Participatory action research (PAR) is directed to contribute to the actions of people to the ends of revolutionary achievement.
(See Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman's paper in RIB's website)

Prof. Peter Reason, University of Bath, UK.
Prof. Reason, the main discussant on Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman's keynote paper, gave a detailed written response to the key issues raised by Rahman. He emphasized on the communicative space that may open out multiple ways of knowing. One of the major areas of PAR, according to Reason, would be to help people explore their effective role in governance. But that necessitates a confident-looking response to the problematic situation. He says, "a people, however short of resources they may be, can keep moving forward by mobilizing whatever they have, while those waiting upon outside resources may be wasting their time and energy and/or falling into the trap of patron/client relations with outside quarters surrendering their self-determination."

Prof. Reason referred to one of his experiences in conducting action research in his home country, in a rural location distant from all kinds of services. The experience was a disappointing one. However, his experience prompted him to point out some of the important issues in action research.
* Usually the people under the review of action research represent a passivity in participation. Their silence was taken to be granted and research was formulated accordingly. However, PAR is directed to open space for communication and dialogue enabling people to find their place in a forum.
* PAR should be open to involve people from various segments of the society since the problems do have multiple faces. Some problems may have origins at a unilateral point, but their impact may be felt at social, economic, cognitive, psychological and even spiritual levels.

Prof. Reason underscored three important points :
i. The creation, development and maintenance of democratic dialogue and the establishment of institutions for democratic inquiry are forms of action in their own right. The establishment of democratic dialogue may well be a far more important and compelling purpose in an action research initiative than the addressing of immediate practical problems.
ii. The establishment of participation in a world increasingly characterized by alienation and individualism is both far more urgent and far more complex than we allow ourselves to believe. We need to keep deepening our understanding of what we are up to.
iii. Forming participative spaces takes more time, energy, skill, persistence, optimism and resources than we usually reckon on.

Participatory action research attempts to form a commitment among the people themselves. This is likely to lead to a kind of mutual understanding to deal with issues. Two important questions are usually raised as to the sustainability factor and legitimacy of conclusions. Repetitive occasions of democratic dialogue provide good answers to these questions. Dialogues gradually proceed to form small institutions of democratic inquiry. To elaborate on the point of democratic inquiry, Prof. Reason said in a digressive note that even today the world has two super powers, one is the US and the other is world public opinion.

According to him, in action research, there is little space for tools. Rather it depends on pre-positional and practical knowing through which we can identify good ideas and conventional thinking. People's national participation in research can give birth to a new economic movement. What is essentially important is the objective approach to conduct all the experiments. Continual checking can be of good help. The experiments should hold up some evidences to point out that the poor really become self-reliant for some worthwhile purposes.

Prof. Reason noted the emphasis made by Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman on the role of the outsider or animator. The animator's role of persuading the people to self-inquiry is very important in PAR. This has similarity with the self-reflective practice advocated by Reason and his colleagues. He referred to a good number of articles by various authors.
(His elaborate analysis can be seen in RIB's website)

Open discussion followed after the remarks made by Prof. Reason.

Mr. Arifur Rahman
The challenges of the PAR process should not be underestimated. People can identify their problems and they can be enabled to see and understand their problems in a clearer way with the help of the animator. But there exist other social forces in the society. There are enemies of social progress. Thoughts should be given about the ways to tackle them. The animator has to face big challenges there and s/he must show abilities to address those challenges.

Dr. Monirul Islam Khan
One important point should be included. We find that external organisations usually intervene in the rural areas. One answer to it may be the conscientization approach. But it also has some limitations. It may not work while it is initiated without some kind of approval of the local forces. The common experience is that the NGOs want to have working relationship with the local power structure. Take the example of the micro-credit programme. It is a popular strategy. There is a framework of compromise. It does not face any kind of conflict with the prevailing power structure. So in PAR, the challenge to cope with the local forces remains a big question.

M M Akash, Professor, Department of Economics, Dhaka University
We must remember that we live in a world where enemies also live. The society largely depends on the power structure determined by the ruling power. It is a reality that whenever you initiate something, however noble and benevolent it may be, you have to be ready to face the obstacles of law and the state itself. One is easily reminded of the Marxist approach. The odds and obstacles are there, they are seen and unseen. No one can skip them. I understand the necessity of dialogue, but mere dialogue is weak enough to undo the power structure that exists in the society and that protects the interests of some people. Popular struggle means much more than dialogic process and the revolution is much more away. The animator has so many good and well-meaning agenda in his pocket, but dissemination of those may be difficult since there will be the opposing forces. Unless the animator is able to cope with these forces, s/he is even under the risk of abandonment by the people. This really is a very difficult task. S/he can create some good followers, some new leaders in the local context, but eventually they can leave him/her. There are two ways to combat this situation. One is transparency coupled with accountability. That can disarm the enemies morally. And the second is continuation of the democratic dialogue in a more inclusive way, which may weaken the enemies.

People usually identify themselves, with some affiliation to a place, a class or a political party. This involves differences. And this is a threat to the inclusive process. But they have some identical wants, similar experiences of repression by the privileged class. Such a context gives the opportunity to unite them for the cause of self-emancipation. There lies the importance of the role of the animator.

Dr. Halida Hanum Akhter, Health Promotion Ltd.
I think through the participatory action research process, RIB can contribute to capacity building. In our country, we have some able and talented researchers, but unfortunately, they are lost in various NGOs and other different organisations. These researchers are trained and directed to do research in some stipulated fields determined by others, say the donors. But the researchers should find some independent spaces to utilise their creativity. RIB's support to indigenous organisations is a great initiative. The definition of poor that RIB insists on is a big departure. This is very encouraging. I wish RIB will give some attention to technical assistance issues to ensure success of their research projects.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, The Hunger Project
The poor people existed before the NGOs intervened. But now with NGO interventions, they are in a greater mess. We should review the work of the NGOs. Many of them have really trained themselves into conventional contractors and businessmen. They have been quite successful to create a dependence on them. In the way, what they have produced is a culture of ownership and not partnership. We have to think of the animator. Who is he? Is he an insider or an outsider? Would the work of animation be a continuous process? How do we measure the success of them?

Can you give some thoughts to the role of the local government leaders? Can they play the role of the catalyst? The problems of people have a local nature and these should be better solved locally. A better relationship between the local leaders and the poor is the key and that should be meaningfully exploited.

Professor Muinul Islam, Department of Economics, Chittagong University
We have seen some wonderful experiences documented in the booklet authored by Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman. Some points have been raised regarding sustainability. But the issue of sustainability as it existed in the 70's of the last century is not of similar nature now. Bangladesh started with pro-people economy after its emergence in 1971 and the post-1975 situation showed some strategic diversion. The case of Bhumisena of India has been referred to, but it used to enjoy some kind of subsidy.

Importance of the role of the animators should be certainly emphasized. His or her role as a sensitizing agent is so crucial. The process involves complex layers. They have to address the people. Poverty binds them together. But the points that have been raised about the role of political parties in the local situations and of the local government agencies should be seriously taken into account. The role played by various NGOs should also properly be examined and assessed.

The question of dependence on others including the NGOs has created a different mindset among the people. So, in PAR, the involvement of people has been logically and intellectually motivated. External help has established itself as a necessity in the rural areas. While the animators remove rust from the brains of the people, they should give serious attention to these characteristics of socio-economic relations present in the rural areas of Bangladesh.

At this point, Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman responds.
Illustrations of experiences have been given as documents of the reality in which PAR can be executed. Notable points have been raised and there cannot be any easy answer to all of them. But sharing of experiences is one good avenue. The question of sustainability has been raised. But there can be no guarantee of this aspect of the issue.

Can we just go back a little? We saw some glorious and epoch-making revolutions in the 20th century. The success of these revolutions created so much enthusiasm in us, so much excitement spread all over the world, so many new directions were prescribed and all hopes seemed to be on the way to fulfillment. We all are aware of the success stories and many of us walked in an identical path. But have we sustained the success of the efforts and struggles and agenda of these revolutions?

So what I ask, is the mental make-up to reformulate our ideas. We have to take people on our side; together we should feel strengthened. Our duty is to encourage popular awareness, to enable them to understand their own situations not just from the context of belief they have never questioned so far, but from the context of reality and rationality.

Peter Reason referred to the US and world public opinion as two existing super powers. But the recognized third world has its place too. And here, the animators have a great role to play. I do understand the difficulties that have been pointed out regarding the success of an animator in the existent social structures of our country or say, the third world. I again say that there is no easy or only answer. Experiences and the uniqueness of the difficulty faced in a particular situation will guide the animators to the right path.

Mr. Kh. Mozammel Haque, Grameen Bank
Participatory action research is one of the best tools in the programme of poverty alleviation. We have seen the narration of life-stories of poor women. We have heard about the power structure that stands in the way of poverty alleviation. The stories enlighten us about the deprivation of which the poor are the victims. We know about discrimination. This is a reality throughout the world. In a world, which is characterized by utter poverty of a large population, we can find ministry of war and defence. We know huge funds are allocated for the business of spying. All kinds of available means of verification are used in this business. We hear of the global financial system, which has failed to generate employment. Reference has been made to the possible confrontation of rural power structure. The structure exists because of maldistribution of available resources. We should think whether we can make investment capital available in the villages.

The rational background of PAR is very praiseworthy. It tries to indicate that the poor is a person who is unable to use his/her inherent capacity. We must have faith in the possibilities of people. People may be illiterate but they are not uneducated. PAR is a process to listen to people. I think that the survival scheme is the most important PAR tool. PAR encourages and believes in the collective ownership of the disadvantaged and that is the sure answer to development.

Prof. Dalem Ch. Barman, Chairman, Dept. of Peace and Conflict Studies, Dhaka University
We may take our lessons from the Comilla experience. Most of the distressed people do not come forward on their own. Many of them cannot realize the reasons behind the state of their poverty. But they need to be strengthened. They look at the NGO persons as elites or outside agents. In the PAR process, this feeling of strangeness should be removed.

Dr. Akhter Sobhan Khan, Integrated Development & Research Foundation
We should also give attention to the methodological issues. This is very important for success in any research work. We should not maintain that PAR is the only way to acquire knowledge. That would lead to a kind of methodological orthodoxy. Reference was made to the German philosopher Heidegger who emphasized on individual perception as a key to instrumental use of knowledge.

Mr. David Obot, Executive Director, NURRU, Uganda
Research Initiatives Bangladesh and NURRU of Uganda are using similar ways. I can smell some flavour of political element in PAR. And the process depends intensively and extensively on the active participation of people. But since it concerns people who are poor and not literate, the projects should be handled with care. Prior thoughtfulness is required in matters of planning. The implementation is always a good test. The ways of operation should be decided upon in a meeting. Preference should be given to the expectations of the poor.

We experience pervasive poverty in Africa. We are trying to solve it through partnership. Experience says that people can mobilize their own local resources, but the need of help is there. The US, UK and UN usually come forward with help. They want to improve situations, but the developmental process is never smooth. There are so many shortcomings in real-life situations and conflicts are endless. Now-a-days, we find civil society interventions which have left some positive impact. Participatory action research can be one very important way to promote development in a successful way. It encourages the investment of energies for the undertaking of welfare activities.

Mr. Mohammad Zakaria, Action Aid Bangladesh
Answer to problems should be sought out through experiences in the field. The central aim of the animator would be to build up the capacity of the people. They have talents in themselves. The task is to make them aware of their possibilities. S/he will create an urge in them. Eventually, in the process of animation, a collective vision comes out. This vision is unique and inspiring. This vision cannot be brought out in a donor-driven context. The traditional donor-funded programmes have failed to offer the people a feeling of self-confidence. In the process, so many wrong things creep in and these hold back people's development.

This is a graphic picture of our system. The teachers of the universities teach development in the classrooms, they do not teach poverty. PAR emphasizes on an empirical as well as experimental process. That is its strength.

Ms. Farida Sheikh, Consultant, Directorate of Public Health Engineering
I am interested to know that how is monitoring work conducted in PAR and whether there is any emphasis on the gender element.

Prof. Peter Reason,
The debate is on as to the comparative emphasis on micro versus macro. The levels are interconnected, micro leads to macro. The need for social movement is a priority. This can be achieved through activisation of various networks. Longer social trends can be accommodated while networks become operative at different levels. Participatory research should also promote inclusiveness.

Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chair of the session
During the deliberations, power structure has been identified as the major obstacle to the realization of the ends of participatory action research. The reality of the society is known to us all. We are increasingly experiencing the power of money and muscles over other social and moral values. The social leaders get entangled in the system. Politics, rather partisan politics dictates terms of development both at the national and local levels. Most of the political leaders are elected or selected for their capability to deliver monetary or muscular power. The question of morality has visibly subsided. PAR is a very good move. It may provide some substantial input in the society to save the degeneration of social values and to lead people in building up self-confidence, which is the key to their emancipation. This ultimately matures into a social movement.

We are talking of action and research. We have a very disappointing experience in this area. What we see is that some people are trained in research, they acquire some skills in the area but eventually they are lost to others. They get more money in World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USAID and other large organisations. They lose their initial creativity and work in the framework of the organisations they work in and serialize their findings as per their prescriptions.

PAR is unique in the sense that it attempts to involve all segments of the society, particularly the poor. The animators have a very responsible role to play here. They will discover the latent quality of the poor people and encourage them to use them for their own benefits. They must look into the nature of human relationship.

In fact, we have two sets of relationship. Men relate one to other in a vertical way, but when they all combine, it acquires a horizontal nature. The animator should use it accordingly.

Experience says, micro-credit programme looks very large in our country, but it has not yet reached the very bottom.

PAR seeks to correlate human and environmental relationship. In spite of the constraints, it is a very meaningful process. There is everybody's contribution in it and all factors indicate that the output is achievable.
March 27 2004

Working Session-I

Moderator : Prof. M.M. Akash, Department of Economics, Dhaka University

First presentation was made by Prof. Yoland Wadsworth, Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia

The theme of her presentation was PAR for Professionals.

She spoke at length and made a comprehensive presentation. She started with the illustration of a pineapple. She tried to show how different parts of a pineapple correlate with relationships of power. In Australia the term is used 'the rough end of the pineapple' - denoting how the so-called 'poor' end up being offered the spiky spines while the non-poor have already grasped the juicy fruit part. From this can be understood the idea from Vygotsky (the Russian psychologist) regarding how the facilitator or professional can help construct a 'scaffolding' of new ideas from the people's self-knowledge and self-understanding, so the people can come to see themselves as equally worthy of the juicy fruit pineapple. In this way the issue of presumptive knowledge can be countered. Professor Wadsworth quoted from Lilla Watson, an Australian native educator and activist.

If you've come to help me,
you're wasting your time.
But if you've come
Because your liberation is bound up with mine,
Then let us work together.

These beautiful words virtually set the tune of the session and effectively delivered the message of PAR. Epistemology, methodology all these characteristics of research become a little indistinct when it is connected with action and popular participation. The keywords contained in her paper are action research, participation, collaborative inquiry, human services, professionals and capacity building. She maintains that research plays an important part in the works of most professionals since most professionals base their claims to having special expertise on research that shows an effective connection between theory and practice.

Prof. Wadsworth noted with importance the paradigm shift in the new approaches of research in the field of social sciences and connects it with the change of understanding of the world around.

She noted that :

* Our observations of the world are always a result of our human perception, bound up by both our physical sensing apparatus and our sense-making of social and psychological 'lenses' and 'filters';
* Our perceptions and interpretations are inevitably relative to our past experience, accrued concepts, theories and value-driven purpose-conscious or not conscious, and
* Our individual, personal as well as group, organizational, community and social conditions are inevitably so complex, changing and uncertain, as to always mean the possibility that our current stock of knowledge might not be right for even the next situation we encounter.

Prof. Wadsworth raised a crucial concern?research for whom? All persons involved in the business of research whether it is of professional or consultative nature should identify the relation of their work to the critical reference groups and all other potential parties to research. It may or may not be a conscious effort. She emphasized that "the empowerment that comes from ... active participation is a crucial indicator of achieving resonance with the interests and life worlds of critical reference groups-whether it takes place at the small 'r' micro level of the client, group or community being interested in inquiring into the best way forward in their personal or particular situation-or whether it is at a more medium 'r' or macro level of a group of clients in inquiring into the best way forward in their collective situation.

Prof. Wadsworth wanted to deal with the work of research in a precise way. She puts the question whether this is a justifiable proposition to do research on people. Many researchers find it worthy of endeavours and they have real good intentions. However, persons like Professor Yoland have found that even the most apparently 'reprehensible subjects'-if researched with-have stories to tell which cast important light on a situation, supply essential insights or intelligence or even suggest (or result) in saving graces-any of which may contribute to critical reference groups' situations by informing them for future actions in longer term.

She furthers her proposition. She says that if research on people uses one-way questions to get answers, research for people may not ask them directly what their views are at all. Instead it may examine examples from other people's research into people like them, or it may ask other professionals for their opinions or knowledge of 'a case' and extrapolate from those other settings and views to speculate for these people, or it may be working on population data or historical or other written documents.

Such an argument quite naturally leads to research by and with the people. There are a range of ways the researchers can work to strengthen the voice of the people they are working for and to take the direction of the research more towards being with these people. These include meeting with the people in a group (strength in numbers); helping them form and meet as a group if they are not already one; or even doing so on their own (peer-facilitated) to work through their views or report back on their findings for a discussion with the professionals working with them. The participation of the people in the process of research work which is done on them, with the purpose of creating benefits for them, more particularly the critical reference groups is virtually the crux of the matter.

Prof. Wadsworth suggests a course, which she has drawn on the views of French philosopher Michael Foucault. The path of the researchers (for her it is always interchangeable with professionals) is to act with critical reference groups to (a) assist them to find their voice, (b) facilitate them deciding on their preferred courses of action and (c) support them in their decisions, and learning from what happens next. It is an experience that when the people belonging to, what Prof. Yoland says, the critical reference groups feel initiated to speak out, they actually begin to deliver their own theory of their situations and experiences. By nature this is a 'discourse that ultimately matters, a discourse against power.'

In her attempt to suggest new approaches to include the critical reference groups, Prof. Yoland says that the professionals should try to :

* Assist all parties speak and be heard,
* Ensure the exchange of participants' perceptions and the reaching of new and improved understandings (as many times as is necessary, possibly over an extended period of time),
* Facilitate deciding on new actions, the taking of them and their monitoring for further observation and action during the research process.

Prof. Yoland Wadsworth offered a detailed analysis of the process of research. She refers to situations of multiple experiences. The important aspects that claim attention of research work, which seeks to incorporate the views of the poor through their participation are:

(a) organisational cultural pressures
(b) insider/outsider issues and
(c) collaborative research.

The floor was then open to discussion.

Prof Dalem Ch. Barman
What has been said in the presentation of Prof. Yoland Wadsworth is very interesting. But when it comes to application, say in the countries like Bangladesh, there are problems. The experience with our people may be similar. But our policy level process is not congenial. It is not helpful to people.

Dr. Monirul Islam Khan, Department of Sociology, Dhaka University
It has been a wonderful presentation. The arguments are so interesting. But I want to know how we negotiate the losses. Problems arise in the process of power relationships, which naturally leads to conflicts. As a result, there should be efforts to find out ways of conflict resolution.

And the second thing is that participatory action research also involves some set targets. It is not only important to ensure the participation of the people for whom the research project has been undertaken, it is equally important to fulfill the targets which really can bring some benefits for concerned people.

Ms. Farida Sheikh
The reference to and visual illustration of the pineapple convey a lot of understanding. We understand how different parts of the pineapple correlate. I think we should be careful to indicate the issue of participation of women. It is important to include gender in any participatory action research.

Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Director-Research, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies
We may try to define more precisely what actually is action research. How is it different from the structured kind of research that we are usually engaged in? We must understand what kind of changes it undergoes as it includes the participation of them for whom the research really is. There are set activities in PAR. The recipients can be clearly grouped or categorized. But I am of the opinion that certain groups of people may be interested in certain methods. We must find out which is the right way of research. Is it when the target individuals undertake it or when the independent groups try to involve the target group into it?

Dr. Hameeda Hossain, Vice Chairman - RIB
Participatory action research may face different kinds of problems. The objective is certainly to contribute to the well-being of the community, but experience says that it becomes very difficult since there are groups within the community and they are often involved in conflicts among themselves. They have their own affiliation to various parties and their interests clash. In our country, bureaucracy is also a major problem even in the rural areas. They may create problems even for research programmes involving the people.

Prof. M M Akash, Chair of the session
The comments and interventions made by the participants are really worth taking particularly in our country. We all have many negative experiences in this regard. The conflicts are not homogenous. So many problems come up owing to the interference of local bodies, local political organisations. However, the ways to resolving of conflicts have to be different because of the variety of contexts. However, it is not impossible. In fact, the solution can be best devised through the participatory process. Some techniques come out inspite of the dangers even of some violent kind involved in the process.

Mr. A.K.M. Maksud spoke of the action research project involving the Beday (river gypsy) community of certain areas of Bangladesh. This community represents a way of living, which is nomadic in nature. The very special thing about them is that they roam around the country by boat. More than 80% of the Beday people live below poverty line. Maksud stated that-

The development objective of the action research is to test some strategies for inclusion of Beday community in mainstream development process of Bangladesh and to suggest some innovative ways of human development for this community. The specific objectives of the project are: to ensure participation of Beday community in designing interventions for their human development; to introduce mobile school facility within the nomadic groups of Beday community for eradication of illiteracy and awareness building on health and human rights; to impart skill training for individual capacity building and income generation and to establish innovative and replicable intervention models of development of this particular marginalized community.

The action research was preceded by a baseline survey. Some development programmes aimed at the extension of assistance to the community were primarily reviewed. The major thrust of this move was to find ways of including the Bedays in the popular stream of life with emphasis on mobile school programmes. Education' is thought to be one important factor of motivation. In the gradual process, education is most likely to provide them with some necessary skills of capacity building. Leadership and entrepreneurship development of the women was emphasized.

Then the floor was made open for the participants for brief interventions. There was a serious time constraint since participants, specially the foreign delegates were supposed to make a field visit to river gypsy school and women's centre at Savar.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
The river gypsy school is a good project. We have just heard of it. It is interesting and the endeavour in very worthy. The research has also underlined about the replicability of the model. But I am anxious whether such models would be used by some NGOs who have already some education programmes. Many of these NGOs are at work but not with a sincere mission, rather they provide some delivery services. The government initiatives are also implemented by some selected and appointed agencies. This ultimately brings no benefit to the people.

Dr. Lenin Azad, Unnayan Gabeshona Foundation
We all know about the Beday community. They are simply marginalized. They have no voice. They live without education, primary healthcare and basic facilities of life. I do not know how much good can be done with the schools on boat. But my point is that whether the Beday community had any kind of active participation in this action research and whether any kind of motivation could be achieved. I think that was not there.

The open discussion part was short. Prof. M.M. Akash, the Chair of the session did not offer any concluding comments. He hoped that many of the comments could be raised later in connection with various presentations to be made in the forthcoming working sessions.
Day-2 March 28 2004

Working Session II

The session started at 9.00 a.m.

Chair : Prof. Muinul Islam, Department of Economics, University of Chittagong

At the very beginning Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman talked about the format of discussion. He said that generally we have a tendency to ask questions to the presenter only. But in the PAR method, we think the problems should be discussed by everybody. He proposed that it was better not to ask question to the presenter only. Rather people should raise issues, which the whole house can address. That would give to it a more interactive character. And in the process, participants would become more conversant with the PAR approach.

Prof. Muinul Islam
I would like to relate what Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman has just said. People who are really involved in the projects should enlighten us more about the animators. We would like to hear from them. What is the nature of field experience of the animators? What really happened when she/he is withdrawn. The animators, as we have heard, should not end up as agents of some donor agencies. We must have a rewarding experience. We really insist on some kind of interactive discussion.

Mr. Akhtarul Habib Tuhin (RIB) : Presentation of RIB' s research on PAR

In his introduction, Mr. Akhtarul Habib Tuhin mentioned that they have actually started an unconventional and alternative journey through participatory action research to explore and unravel the prospects and potentials of PAR along with its pitfalls and other hindrances in Bangladesh. All of the field level experiences on PAR carried out so far over a short span of time, in fact, have extracted some valuable learning and insights for future experiments.

The impulse behind PAR has originated, to a large extent, from a response to conventional top-down development approach and its subsequent effect. The people of Bangladesh have a long history of witnessing conventional development and poverty alleviation approach practiced over decades and its aftermath as well as effect on their own lives. So the people themselves are the beholders and appropriate evaluators of those top-down approaches that, in fact, have implicitly and explicitly ignored people's own potential, value of indigenous system of knowledge and the tenacity, strength and resources of people's psychology. Under this context, it is quite rational to search for an alternative paradigm, which will consequently lead to actualization of people's potential and reveal the covert strength of people for some dignified self-development efforts. Another deep-rooted impulse concerned with an epistemological stand propels us to Participatory Action Research.

Mr. Akhtarul Habib Tuhin mainly explained Gono Gobeshona (People's research). He presented three experiences :

1) Collective analysis of poverty in Parbatipur.
2) Participatory Action Research Experience in Nilphamari : A participatory Learning Center and a movement conducted by Gono Gobeshoks and
3) Learning from a failure : experience of PAR with a Marma community.

The aim of project 1 was to sensitise the local animators and people themselves to simultaneously conduct participatory action research with underprivileged people's researchers with the help of people themselves. It was their first experience in PAR. The animators thus sensitised in this project are now working in different areas of the country. 228 Gono Gobeshoks (people's researchers) involved in this research are working in the field to accelerate the programmes poverty alleviation. The process of people's self development issues has been triggered in the rural areas. The basic objectives finalized by the people themselves were to promote collective understanding of their situations, exploring causes of their poverty, identifying the origin of poverty as well as the reasons of its perpetuation and reviewing its background, different dimensions of poverty and identifying existing potentials, which can be used to eradicate poverty. The people of the community had some bitter experiences regarding their initiatives of large-scale fish and crop cultivation. Due to some resistance from different vested interest groups they failed to run the projects. Individual and collective failures to combat their sufferings and adversities had given them an impetus to analyze it through group activities and search for an alternative way to poverty alleviation.

The people's researchers with external animation completed all aspects of the exploration in a number of brainstorming discussions and workshops.

People's researchers were suspicious about the research at the beginning, but subsequently they earned the confidence. In particular, women's participation was quite exemplary. The women researchers who did not feel free to discuss at the earlier workshops turned out immediately as very active participants. Even they began to take some initiatives to reduce their common problems such as gambling, dowry and torturing against women. They expressed their raised awareness and courage in a large public rally where hundreds of male and female researchers (Gono Gobeshok) gathered together to declare their research results. Many assertive women took active part in presenting the research results.

He also focused on the weaknesses of the research. He said that during the research some expectations for external aid was induced in the people's researchers due to some misdirected conversations of a research personnel. From the experience they realised that animator's conversation and interaction with people can negatively affect the spirit of people's self development achieved through PAR. It is really a new experience in Bangladesh. People's searching of social, cultural, economic and psychological origin of poverty and their action for removing the causes is exemplary for poverty alleviation practices. This has happened due to their changes in intellectual understanding. At the beginning of the research, Gono Gobeshoks perceived poverty as a lack of work, and of cultivable land, absence of just wages and not owning a house-lack all these material resources was perceived as poverty. The more participatory discussions went down the deeper level, the more their understanding of poverty changed to a different direction. As a result of these changes, they increasingly began to understand that poverty is not an economic condition but a humane condition. They began to emphasize on human values, their potential and ability to promote their own conditions rather than focusing only material aspects in explaining poverty.

Mr. Akhtarul Habib Tuhin narrated their experience in a Bandarban village. A participatory action research was conducted with local groups in seven Marma (an ethnic community in the Chittagong Hill tracts region of Bangladesh) villages in Naikhonchori Thana Under Bandarban district. Most of the people of these villages are severely deprived of formal education, health facilities, communication and other facilities. The underprivileged Marma people are dependent on local hilly resources and Jum cultivation, which cannot mitigate the needs of the people. Being geographically separated by hills from the main lands and inheriting different culture and language they live a closed life.

The animator conducted the participatory action research with the help of a formally educated Marma young man. The basic objectives of the research were to develop a people's plan for self-development and poverty alleviation by discovering people's own potential and using existing hilly resources available to them.

The basic impetus and core values of participatory action research are congruent with the traditional values of the Marma community These elements in cultural, social and geographical areas have been very congenial for participatory action research. But the animator was more inclined to seek external financial aid rather than liberating people's own potential for self-development. The animator, who coordinated the process, in fact, did not internalize the core values of self-development, nor was he properly sensitized to the PAR process prior to the process of animation. This drawback in the animator's orientation diminished and misdirected the spirit of self-exploration, self-development and the community's sense of dignity.

He said that the role of the animator is very important. The animator can construct and even destroy the whole spirit of research. Lack of animator's orientation to PAR made the people expectant for external aid.

Prof. Muinul Islam
Prof. Islam expressed his immediate reaction to this presentation. He particularly referred to the Marma animator seeking financial aid. He raised two important points.

We should concentrate our efforts to see whether we can establish a regular institution to sensitise the animators.

What is more important is the issue of orientation of the animator since the question of bringing external aid has been pointed out.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
At the end of research, people told that they do not really want money; they just want regular contact. That speaks of the success of PAR. But we cannot have similar experiences at all places. The researchers have been working with sincerity and commitment to bring in a change in the understanding of poverty.

Prof. Peter Reason
I am interested to learn more about the animators' experiences.

Dr. Lenin Azad
He was also involved in the project. He made an elaboration of the learning through experience in an attempt to respond to the points raised:

At the very beginning, people did not have the confidence to challenge the conventional mode of thinking.

Rather all of them discussed the problems in small groups and a representative from each group shared it in a large group. They became very excited and charged as they realized the fact that now they have the knowledge and they can read and perceive things with clarity.

They discussed issues from their own life, issues, which retard their path to self-development.

At the beginning, it was a little difficult to understand the animator's role properly but later on people could follow him/her and could feel the importance of such a person.

But gradually, people were encouraged and asked to discuss various issues separately in intimate situations.

Mr. Mohammad Zakaria, Action Aid Bangladesh
We shared experiences on peoples' initiative/research in Jessore area. Our experiences say that it is always a very slow process to reach somewhere. If we really want to do something together with people we should care for their opinion.

The people usually suffer from problems of land and property distribution. These problems often create quarrels and feuds. But they may be motivated to find a settlement in these issues. All we need to do is to create an environment of people's participation. We had been quite successful to conduct a participatory village survey. We understood that it is helpful if we can involve the local government officials. More often we find that they are not co-operative. But when they can read our good intentions, they also come forward. We received some useful help from them. There is one important point I want to raise. In spite of all the hard work that the animators do and in spite of some steps to mobilize people and their resources, PAR should be strengthened with some scientific and technical information at regular intervals. The mission of collectivization of villages is an ambitious objective, but with the gradual empowerment of people, we think we can achieve success. As leadership in the rural contexts is consolidated, the initial tensions may give way to productive negotiation.

Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairman- RIB
The experiences that we have heard is quite heartening. However, we do not have any room for complacence. We must be ready to uphold the initial outcome. Some depression has taken place in the rural areas consequent to some programmes of some NGOs. With all its publicity, micro-credit has not clicked for the rural poor. It has, in some instances, created family feuds. The women borrow, the men persuade them to borrow. In the end, sometimes the responsibility of repayment comes over to men. People are now resistant to such help.

So we should outline the role of RIB as an institution to see that people do not become dependent on any external support?

Mr. Alauddin Ali
I worked with a different organisation called GSS for 11 years. I have quite a long experience in organising the landless poor. I worked with people very closely and that experience in GSS helped me a lot to do my present work. In the end, the decision and planning must come from the people. People should decide on the context of their own situation and they should not work with the persuasion of any external force. I am not saying that people know everything but at least they know better about their own conditions. There are some aspects of information such as technical, scientific, which they may not know. The animator will help them take decisions in those areas.

By its nature, the responsibility of the animator is a very demanding one. But it has been further complicated by the interventions of NGOs for years in the rural areas. The micro-credit programme has some attraction since it remits cash to the people. There are stories of success. Primarily, micro-credit programme is very encouraging, but often it brings in disasters. At the psychological level, it takes away the self-esteem of the poor. It creates an environment of dependence. With the predominance of this, it is very difficult to motivate people with good ideas. People shrug off ideas and advice on awareness. The animators face a great challenge here. People are living in a culture of receiving. The animators have to be patient and even tactful to form groups. They have to move to places and prepare to look for causes behind the reasons of problems or lacking and also to identify and mark such reason. They have to continue with their efforts till some success surfaces. As an animator I have found that earlier men were reluctant and women were very much enthusiastic but now men's participation is improving. Women are helping to form men's group.

Dr. Lenin Azad
There are some poor areas where people do not want micro-credit. The people's researchers encountered a background of suffering with their very unwelcome experiences from money-lenders and micro-credit programmes. People of this area saved approximately Tk. 25 lacs. There are some local leaders who are interested in it. They are also connected with some NGO workers. The micro-credit givers and money-lenders have brought in miseries to the lives of common people. People consider them as enemies. An area called Devidoba is an example of positive experience. They have now developed their local leadership. They can now preside over family and social feuds and can settle them.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
My experiences say that the University educated people are preachers of high ideas and they are agents of exploitation of people. Micro-credit programme has been widely talked of. It is true. Whenever a penny is delivered thereupon a dependence originates.

In the Hunger Project, they have been going through the same experience for the last couple of years. People sometimes say what the animators want to hear. This 'give and take' habit is deeply rooted now. There is the issue of the importance of the role of animator. It is very difficult to animate people. He asked the house, 'who are the people we want to be the animators?' RIB has started a great job. More animators should be created. The problem now is that-are they sensitized? What does RIB do to empower them. This is the core aspect of the intervention. We have to bump into the areas of micro-credit interventions. He concluded saying that we need to create a social movement for a collective action since individual success does not matter much for the general welfare of the society.

Mr. Dewan Akhtaruzzaman
The male members become encouraged by the female members to participate in the group. The animator's role is very important here. S/he sits down with people, discusses things with them. In the process, the participatory action takes place. And the villagers find it convenient to use this in their family and social life. If the animator is always there, it transpires that things have not improved. There must be a saturation of the animator's job. The leadership issue is of permanent nature. The successful animator is supposed to create local leaders who may eventually take charge of the responsibilities.

Mr. Alauddin Ali
We should not fix the animator's definition. He said, if we want to know who is the animator, we cannot come to a closed definition since it varies. Animators can work at different levels and tiers. They may be paid or unpaid. The poor people may also become animators. RIB is providing a model that is simply flexible. That flexibility works because of the diversity of situations.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
The animator's role is a self liquidating process. The process demands that the animators should gradually withdraw. The mission stays with people, but the animator liquidates his or her self.

Mr. Monwarul Islam
The local process should go with the local initiator. He added that we would have to analyse the success factors and causes of failure. There comes the question of RIB's role, whether it should continue with its project with animators or not. One may put the issue of sustainability. These should be seriously examined as apriori observations. It is for certain that our fundamental thrust is on poverty alleviation. To address this issue in an unconventional and rather comprehensive way, we have thought of the emergence of the champion who stays in the village, participates in the struggle of the villagers, tries to encourage and strengthen them and actively waits for the achievement. S/he also knows that nothing succeeds like success. Now comes the next question. Does s/he organise a strong institution? S/he must. Without that the animator may get lost. Individual leadership is not just enough. There should be some tangible proofs that the groups can work on their own. There lies the strength.

RIB does not want to prescribe any final thing. At one level, it is true that our task is to identify the leader. We try to assist in the process of the emergence of the leader. But in the end, it should be spontaneous.

Dr. Shamsul Bari
What is RIB's role? Our efforts might get lost without a structure. It may be a cooperative or any institution where the group may feel confident. In RIB, should we identify the leader? There cannot be one answer to it. The success stories have naturally created a pressure on us to continue the work of animation. We still believe in it. But it has been rightly pointed out that the external animators cannot stay back permanently, nor is it wanted. Our help and resources will be available as long as we can survive and sustain.

Prof. M M Akash
Lenin Azad earlier said that people saved Tk. 25 lacs. Now the question is what do they want to do with this money?

Dr. Lenin Azad
People are saving and giving credit to the members. They are trying to build a financial institution. We have constituted a federation. There are seven committees, which deal with socio-political problems of the areas including leasing of land. There is a co-operative basis if it and it is functioning very well.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
Mr. Tilakratna of Sri Lanka conducted a study on the animator's role. He commented that the external animators should withdraw and the internal animators should take over. The question of developing an animator is crucial. The external animator is instrumental in producing the internal one. At one stage, it develops into a fusion of the external and internal. But we must remember that in Bangladesh, we have an intriguing situation. However, regarding the PAR approach, we can say that we are able to create a good supply of animators. We have great potential in our society. Some animators come forward with a sense of voluntarism, some are paid. What is important is the motivation. RIB is committed to extend its assistance in this respect.

Prof. M. M. Akash
Prof. M M Akash's presentation focused on his experience of capacity-building projects. He said that the programme was conducted by his students and he worked as the animator. Prof. Akash underlined the students' exposure to conventional ways of research as the major problem in the exercise of PAR in connection with the objective of capacity building. Students usually learn in the 'banking' way, a concept expounded by Paulo Freirie. Any alterative to it is almost unrealistic in the context of the constraints of the Bangladesh classrooms. However, my students themselves chose the topic, which was-rural agricultural poverty and survival strategy of the rural poor. Earlier to field research, a workshop was arranged to infiltrate the idea of PAR. There were three facilitators, myself, Prof. Ahmed Kamal and Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman. They asked questions in order to seek answers from the facilitators. That was a problem. It was difficult to bring them into the format of PAR. However, we worked out in a manageable way.

We insisted that students should develop themselves as active and not passive learners. They are supposed to take on this role since they would reformulate the same exercise with the villagers. Another problem was to synchronize their study and research time. But the students found it quite interesting to go to the villages to have a first hand experience of the poverty of the rural poor. To understand the survival strategy of the poor, we selected the lean season. The points that the students wanted specifically to explore about the life of the rural poor were: income, consumption, savings, awareness, their strategic plans of survival in the lean season.

One important aspect of our experience was the lack of trust by the people. But the students enjoyed cooking and eating in association with the villagers. That created the necessary trust. In order to glean more elaborate answers, the researchers chose evening hours for interviewing them.

The major findings were:

a) In spite of micro-credit programmes, the NGOs cannot reach the poor of poor.
b) Marginalized peasants are in dire need of agricultural credit.
c) Fluctuations of all indicators of livelihood are quite visible in peak and lean seasons.
d) The poor themselves have strategies of survival without external aid.

Effects of the research study on students:

a) Discovery of villages by students of urban background.
b) Love of the country and its people.
c) Finding that every man is an open book, one can learn from them.

The next presentation was 'Capitalizing the Collective Efforts for Socio-economic Upliftment of the Community: Case Study of the three Villages-Kisamatfolia, Bandobila and Maheshwar Chanda by Mr. Naimuzzaman Mukta. It concerned with MMRP experiences of PAR.

Since Mr. Naimuzzaman Mukta was out of the city, Ms. Abantee Haroon presented the experience on behalf of the research team. Their project was also conducted with the involvement of local students.

Ms. Abantee Haroon
The objective of our research is to evaluate people's participation in the research and development process. We were curious to know what are the conditions and factors that influence people's collective efforts and to know how better people can utilize their collective force.

The expected outcomes of the research are:

* To compare the socio-economic contexts of these villagers in terms of achievement of utilizing their collective efforts
* To identify the problems of the villages and implementation of previous experience of success there
* To ensure people's participation at all levels of policy planning and implementation
* To involve people of all categories, with special reference to women; and finally
* To identify the collective requirements and possible solutions.

Details of research

* Villagers were informed about the objectives and methodology of the research. They provided the name-Gonogabeshona.
* Initially, group discussions were conducted. There were different groups of women of each para, students, and other community members. Initially, intra-group discussions were conducted and women's teams have been formed as the result of these discussions. Then inter-group meetings, particularly among the students, youths and village elders have been initiated. Each group evaluated the previous programs and initiatives, and discussed what could have been done for the success. The outcomes of the group discussions had been documented by the evaluation team and presented to each group. In the light of the discussions, some probable steps have been planned for future actions. For example, what resources they have or how much time they could spend, who would be the best persons as actors.
* In the second step, villagers expressed that they were willing to under take training on some particular issues. For example, women from Moheshwar Chanda wanted training on embroidery and tailoring. Female students of Kishamotfoila preferred to be trained in block and dyeing (boutique).
* It is expected that these trained people would work as the trainers for others.
* Particular emphasis was given on experience sharing. It was expected that through this experience-sharing villagers would learn and feel encouraged from other people's experiences. Having this objective in mind, three experience-sharing trips were organised.
* People became aware of women's active participation in the development process. Small groups were formed in each locality. Women themselves identified their problems and asked for solutions. According to their requirement, some skill training programmes were arranged.
* Students have completed the village history documentation program. They have also collected the local proverbs, riddles, poems, stories myths etc.
* A cultural team has been formed in Moheshwar Chanda, which has become a major source of recreation of the villagers. They compose, jarigaans (ballads) containing local history within it, and inspiring songs. Besides, youths are planning to perform a local drama and arrange cultural festivals. At present, the establishment of a local library is in progress.

They had chosen the village Maheshwar Chanda to make a comparison of the three villages where people's organisations and collective efforts became successful to eliminate poverty. In their project area, they claimed that people collectively take decisions not only on agriculture but also on health, environment, nutrition and so on.

They got Mr. Omar Ali as their animator or researcher who had a long background of struggle for the country and people. That really helped them to make the work easy.

The floor was made open to all for general discussion after the two presentations by Prof. M M Akash and Ms. Abaneei Haroon. The following questions were raised by the participants.

Mr. Mustafizur Rahman
He enquired about the specificity of the lean season and raised a question that whether there was any difference between different agro -ecological zones?
He also said that in the project of M M Akash the gender dimension is missing.

Prof. Akke vander Zijpp, Wageningen University
What about the sustainability of this programme? When you worked in a community there must work some kind of obligatory approach. How did you tackle that? Was it only for gathering of some experience or you really wanted to do something for the people in the village? When you conduct research among the villagers, you really raise some expectations in the minds of the poor. Do you have any strategy to respond to that? And can you make any kind of evaluation of your students in terms of course-work since only 6 were involved? Does it in any way contribute to agricultural research?

Prof. Muinul Islam
The gap between the village and city is increasing day by day. How did the villagers take the students from the urban background? I wonder whether that was a happy experience for either sides. Anyway, this was an interesting exercise, which, I think can be replicated by others.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
Omr Ali, the animator in Maheswarchanda was a revolutionary leader and had a very strong commitment to the country and the people. He is, by his own virtues, a renowned figure. Our organisation Hunger Project also had some programmes there. We had programmes of women development and nutrition. It started very good but did not eventually sustain. The killing factors behind it were local politics and dishonesty. I would like to underscore the importance of the local champion, the finest example of which had been Omar Ali. However, I think the presence of critical mass of initiators can prevent chances of failure.

Dr. Lenin Azad
The way the animators are being developed has a dilemma. He wanted to know that how far M M Akash's students were committed to PAR? We must recognize that there exists social capital in man and that must be exploited to the benefit of the poor.

Prof. M.M. Akash
The students did not have anything to do with PAR actually. It was a process of experience for them. About other interventions made regarding my presentation of research work undertaken by my students, I would like to add something. I think, those who have any idea of our peasantry and the climatic conditions of Bangladesh know that the lean season is concerned with the period when the farmers suffer from shortage of crops for marketing and consumption. The evaluation of students does not have to be necessarily connected with the general performance of the students. Some students can opt for some special projects against some specific courses. I think there is a flexibility of this kind all over the academia.

Ms. Abantee Haroon
They involved young people in the research from the local areas. But the elders were allergic to young people. She also said that some people are trying to create a network to share their experiences. In their study, they wanted to include female students. But there are some problems. Female students get married early and they have to give in to some family constraints. So eventually they lose connection.

Prof. Peter Reason
I want to know the real meaning of the words 'discover', 'curious', etc. used in the presentations. I would also like to know that how case studies and research organisations are combined in your country.

Mr. Monwarul Islam
PAR is a process. In this process, some committed researchers are being developed. These researchers feel initiated themselves. The discovery of reality that unfolds before them as they go to the villages is an interesting experience. Sometimes they have some knowledge of the reality from the books. But realization of truth makes the difference. So for them, it is a combination of wonder and challenge. That contributes to what is qualified as 'curious'. Different research organisations work in different ways. Some organisations conduct research for some specific purposes. There are researchers with or without any commitment. Case study is an important tool for participatory action research. It has no direct conflict with other ways of research. But PAR has a philosophy from which it does not want to deviate.

Mr. David Obot, Executive Director, The Network of Ugandan Researchers and Research Users (NURRU) based in Kampala, Uganda.

He made an OHP presentation. He presented NURRU's background, organisational structure, objectives, programmes and services it delivers, etc. Through some diagram he described NURRU's proposed advocacy programme: input and linkages; capacity building programmes: inputs and linkages to national level policy development processes and outcome and the inclusion of PAR process in NURRU.
(See Annexure-8)

Prof. Muinul Islam
I wonder whether this was a presentation of PAR.

Mr. David Obot, Executive Director, NURRU
They use PAR process in NURRU. They involve people at each and every level of their programme. They think it is very similar to PAR philosophy. They openly invited people to join the process before the proposal gets any shape.

Mr. Mohammad Zakaria
There is a lack of ownership in the process that NURRU follows.

Dr. Lenin Azad
The presentations have created some confusion about the PAR process. In PRA, we get the existing knowledge out of the process but PAR brings out new knowledge. I think we should look into the difference between PRA and PAR.

Dr. Shamsul Bari
This workshop does not require that every participant should conduct PAR. MMRP has the experience of social research, which is also valuable and it should be shared. Creation and alleviation of poverty should be analysed in the process. It is very ironical to state that in countries like ours, the state creates poverty, while the civil society, NGOs and others try to alleviate it. This is a real conflicting situation.

Working Session III

Chair : Dr. Kazi Shahabuddin, DG, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS)

Ms. Qurratul-Ain Tahmina
The presentation was on 'Poverty Alleviation: Locating and Promoting Community-Level Creative Initiatives. Tahmina describes that they (she and her team) have been working from 2003. It is a 2-year project. Their team is comprised of a new generation of journalists who do not have belief only in events. Rather as the stream of life moves ahead, they want to taste and test that. They are locating and documenting disadvantaged people's creative initiatives for poverty alleviation with a goal to support, promote and replicate these elsewhere. Their research projects cover different parts of the country.

The stories here are not conclusive ones and certainly not 'success stories' in black and white. We are picking up the threads at given points in time and just following the storytellers' journeys for brief periods. The stories are often of initiatives that some could brush aside as 'small' and they are always with hints of hurdles. But they are certainly worth listening to and that is the essence of what we are trying to communicate through our concerted efforts.

We are guided by a wider definition of poverty alleviation, encompassing all initiatives that people pursue for improving their lives and for realising their aspirations. These could be economic, social, educational or cultural in nature. We focus on the initiatives of the disadvantaged/marginalized people.

We are looking for creative initiatives, i.e. initiatives that reflect people's originality. We concentrate on disadvantaged people's own creative initiatives. We exclude the initiatives imposed on the community by outsider development agencies, government or non-government. We, however, recognise those initiatives that are adapted and controlled by the people, though at some stage they may seek investment or other help from outsider agencies. We also take into account programmes taken up or executed by local organisations.

Locating, documenting (features on all and short participatory studies on selected ones) and exploring the possibilities of the initiatives, which reflect the wisdom, the vision and the creativity of the people

Identifying and learning about champions who inspire and spearhead self-reliant development efforts, hoping that they could be involved in broader poverty-alleviation processes

Inspiring self-evaluation and improvement by facilitating wider recognition and self-explorations particularly when we conduct a participatory study on an initiative

Supporting such initiatives by facilitating people's access to information and skills training as per their own priorities

Promoting replication or adaptation of promising initiatives through wider dissemination of information and facilitation of exchanges between communities, following their stated requirements

Disseminating information about such positive initiatives mainly through mass media and publicising the stories of people's self-reliance and their successes.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
I appreciate the work and thank the team for their innovative activities. We had similar kinds of experiences. In some areas, we worked with savings of disadvantaged people; in other areas people donate labour since they have nothing else to give in the voluntary programmes of social welfare.

Prof. Muinul Islam
RIB should take a role to disseminate the experiences that we have just now heard from Tahmina. They have done a very commendable job. They should enjoy extensive publicity in the print media.

Ms Q A Tahmina
We do not want to go to the media rather it would be more meaningful if media comes in and undertake responsibilities of dissemination. In fact, Prothom Alo, a widely circulated Bangla daily publishes two of our stories on the weekly basis.

Prof. Peter Reason
I want to know how does it fit into PAR?

Dr. Lenin Azad
The team of journalists can have an exposure to PAR.

Dr. Shamsul Bari
RIB's efforts have some similarities with the work of these new brand of journalists. Their stories really discover new knowledge for us and in turn the poor people can also be benefited by that. Stories combined with knwoledge is one important ingredient of PAR. They have been able to produce a meaningful and creative space for action research. We should only recognize and explore that.

Mr. Mohammad. Zakaria
We have almost exhausted our discussion on animation. Now Ms. Tahmina has opened up before us a new dimension of studying society. So many case studies recorded with clarity of intention have an inspiring value. We must think of ways to make best use of their efforts.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
This project is not essentially a PAR project but the group was oriented into PAR. He said that the initiatives they are documenting can be included in PAR field or subjects. He further said that RIB can take some moves to integrate these journalists, who by their own right and sense of commitment can usefully contribute to the programmes of PAR.

Dr. Kazi Shahabuddin
However, I am of the opinion that RIB should not overburden itself. They are working with their mission and methodology and they should concentrate over there.

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta
I think, Tahmina and her team have worked in the PAR process.

Ms. Q A Tahmina
When the community speaks, it is the voice of the people. They get together, narrate their experiences and stories of success. And what really takes place is interaction. To me, that amounts to participatory action research. And we always do it with skill and commitment.

Prof. Muinul Islam
What we think is that the journalists are working as de facto animators.

Mr. Manik Mahmud
I have one little observation. We have heard that stories are reproduced by local as well as journalists coming from outside the area. I want to know whether this causes some kind of limitations. I think the locals can do it better.

Dr. Lenin Azad
But locals have some other disadvantages. There can be problems of authenticity. Moreover, skill is an important point, which the locals are likely to lack.

Annanya Raihan was supposed to make a presentation on 'Access to information for improvement of Rural Livelihood'. Since he was absent Mahmud Hasan, made a power point presentation on his behalf on SRL Information network.

Mr. Mahmud Hasan
The project is entitled Pallitathya : Sustainable Rural Livelihood Information Network. Pallitathya is trying to establish a sustainable rural livelihood information network. They believe that lack of access or poor access to information deprives people of justice, causes losses in production, increases costs of education, causes delays in solving problems.

A computerised data bank has been set up. People are being encouraged to set up an information center by themselves. They are now developing a business model. Improved access to information could dramatically change the situation in people's lives. We have found that information and communication technology (ICT) in various forms can significantly improve access to information by the poor and also by other people. The farmer in Nilphamari could go to a "Pallitathya Kendra" where he could get advice from the "rural infomediary" about the right type of remedy for his crop. He could also use phone to a "Agri-Hotline" to consult directly with a specialist. He could go to the shop with the name of particular medicine required for saving his "potatoes". The student in Bagerhat could download the application form from the Internet and thus can save three times less money and travel to Dhaka from his village and he could also get the result of admission test sitting in his own village. If the women with asthma could get the information where she can get treatment from the health directory, browsed form the "Pallitathya Kendra" through Internet or off-line and hence could get an appointment with the doctor sitting in her own village, her cost of treatment could be reduced dramatically. The divorced woman could get information about the existence of legal organization for legal assistance.

Sustainable Rural Livelihood Information Network (Pallitathya) project is developed with the vision to develop an integrated system of ICT based rural livelihood information to be disseminated through the locally owned Pallitathya Kendra, which has a viable business model for long term sustainability.

The components of the idea :

a. Information need assessment at village level
b. Understanding information supply potential at village level
c. Assessment of current information delivery channels for their effectiveness
d. Development of taxonomy of contents
e. Development of contents for suitability at local level
f. Experimentation of the contents for identification of most effective channel(s) of delivery
g. Development of a web portal to upload contents on a regular basis in collaboration with domain organisations.
h. Development of a mobile telephone based and web based "help lime" for each category in collaboration with domain organisations
i. Development of mobile telephone based and web based directory services in collaboration with domain organisations
j. Establishment of Pallitathya Kendra for experiment sustainability of the developed business model.
k. Active involvement of domain organisations for synergy in information dissemination.

The Distinctive Features of the Idea:

1. The idea is to primarily know the nature and demand for information
2. To know the information from a rural perspective and to do so from the research team with dominant rural participation
3. Perceive rural people not only as receivers but also as the major supplier of information
4. To explore the potential of all ICT channels, not only the Internet
5. To develop useful content in Bangla and to do so, solve several technical constraints
6. To test the suitability of contents before their development
7. Complement of three major components : web based information, help line and directory services. This combination will fulfill the information needs for the whole set of problems
8. The ownership of the Pallitathya Kendra is in the hands of rural poor people, which ensures access to information by the poor
9. The sustainability of the Pallitathya Kendra will be ensured through various income generating activities.
10. Relies heavily on the domain institutions but the key role of initiators is ensured at the primary level.

During the cognitive studies some extra findings have been derived which were also useful. They are :

* For agricultural information services, along with the information, soil test service in the potential information centre may be helpful to the farmers and remunerative to the information centre.
* For health information services, some medical devices like nebuliser could be very useful to the patients, who need immediate relief from pain of asthma.
* For each content category, there should be a team in Dhaka or in other major cites, who are ready to provide online consultation service. The necessity of "Help Line" emerged as a major addition to the need assessment research.
* The content development and update is a mammoth task, which is not possible and desirable to be undertaken only in D.Net. A system of information network [consisting of existing institutions] is essential for developing adequate quantity of contents.
* For some information, poster or meeting can be more effective than the online content.
* For most of the diseases there is no alternative to direct patient-doctor interaction. The content development effort for these cases should be concentrated for the doctors, in this case, for village doctors.
* In legal cases, awareness building can be done through ICT channels. Meanwhile existing media like newspapers, radio and television is playing enormous role in creating awareness among the people.

Dr. Sonia Nishat Amin
I want to know what kind of ideological information they are disseminating? Who will use these information and how?

Mr. Mahmud Hasan
We are working together with relevant organisations. We are trying to explore suitable mechanisms, which are available in other countries. We are still struggling for better delivery.

Mr. David Obot
I want to know how they would reach the user!

Ms. Q A Tahmina
There are many libraries and youth clubs through which information can be disseminated.

After the discussion session, Dr. Lenin Azad presented his research study.
The title of his presentation was 'Prospects and Challenges of PAR in the Field'. He raised the following points :

* How far does the animation go?
* Upto what level can the conscientisation go?

He described his vivid experience. He talked about the movement initiated by them. He reported that they have started working in four villages. We can say a movement has taken place. People were burdened with all kinds of problems in these areas. RIB project ushered some hopes in them. But incidentally it did not go very far. RIB withdrew and the programme collapsed. The same people changed sides. Confusion and indecision took over.

After a long interval, they again started organising themselves. The people who had been working as animators gradually took PAR as a tool to create people's interest and mobilise involvement. A committee comprising of many members was formed. The experience of the whole process made them realise the value and benefits of PAR again. They found three important aspects of PAR :

a. PAR has a philosophy;
b. It creates knowledge;
c. It focuses on social stratification.

He said that PAR has a dialectical mechanism and those who believe in that mechanism without having any expectation of material return continue working for people. We have experience of the glorious history of liberation war. The area has a long history of left movement. So it had some potential to develop hundreds of animators from this context. He suggested that RIB should facilitate this network.
(For Lenin Azad's article see Annexure-11)

Dr. Sonia Nishat Amin
I am feeling a bit hesitant to make some observations. In fact, I am not an expert in this area. I feel initiated to come here because of some persuasion from a friend and I had no opportunity to listen to other things that have been discussed earlier. Interventions in the rural areas is a healthy sign of the development agencies. PAR is, I understand, a different approach, but with all the information of the background and movement, it seems to me that the dimension of gender is missing in the presentation.

Dr. Lenin Azad
Women's participation was very much there. Women are taking a much more pro-active role than men. 90% of PAR participants were women. And it is the strength of the project. In PAR, there is no point to separate women from men. They work together.

Prof. Muinul Islam
RIB can facilitate a network of individuals to lead the movement. And efforts can be concentrated to include more women. However, in earlier presentations, it was stated that primarily it was women who were active in the process and then the men followed.

Dr. Shamsul Bari
We will seriously consider the proposal of facilitating a PAR network.

After the discussion some experiences from other countries were presented.
The first presentation was made by Dr. Diana Espinoza. She is the Executive Director of ADESO, Nicaragua. She is connected with a Dutch funded MMRP project.

Diana's deliberations were translated into English by Faruk Hasan

Ms. Diana Espinoza focused on

* Agricultural production
* Women and Children
* Natural disaster issues

Her experience in Nicaragua was not so different from Bangladesh. She expressed such a feeling. Their first experiment started with high schools where duty intervened with ideas to be injected into the students and teachers. Then they moved on to the University graduates. Their involvement brought in new energies to address various social issues. She described the long story of using chemicals for protecting crops, which were destroying butterflies. She ended the story telling that learning is a process and unlearning is also a process and the animator has a role to play in both the areas.

Prof. Akke vander Zijpp, Wagenningen University, The Netherlands
Her presentation focused on an animal husbandry project in her country. But the project had a larger moral and practical impact in other countries of Europe. The issue of subsidy in the agriculture sector was mainly highlighted in her presentation.

The approach chosen by our department Animal Production Systems is based on understanding of the system at farm, regional and national level. We therefore apply an interdisciplinary approach including ecological, economic and social aspects of the system. After analysis, which includes participatory activities with stakeholders we follow up the participatory discussion with farmers and policy makers to improve the sustainability of the farming system. On farm research , with individual options selected by each farmer will then be carried out and farmers invited to review and discuss the results for their own understanding and benefit. Often these farmers groups continue without further facilitation to discuss future options for development. The university plays an active role in involving students in facilitation and interdisciplinary research in livestock production.

Mr. Mustafizur Rahman
In reference to what Prof. Akke has said, I would like to note that RIB should do something so that the farmers would not be cheated any more.

Mr. Mohammad Zakaria
But we should remember that there is a serious imbalance between the developed and developing countries in approaches, policy-planning and implementation. The farmers of the poor countries do not get any support. But in the developed countries, they even get subsidies per cow amounting to $2. The farmers of our country are simply helpless.

Prof. Peter Reason
I appreciate the attitude that underscores withdrawing of subsidies in the rich countries. But in the poor countries, say in Bangladesh, farmers should be helped out in all possible ways. I do not know whether PAR can play any role in creating pressure on relevant authorities.

Mr. Monwarul Islam
I would like to bring your attention to the other side of the scenario. Let's have an example. India previously imported powder milk but now they are exporting it to Bangladesh. How did they make it possible? They have struggled and sacrificed for long. We should not complain any more, rather let us try to improve our capacity and intensify our efforts and let us get ready for some sacrifice also.

We want our animators to be trained in conflict resolution. We have lost the culture of compromise. We are not trained to negotiate. Should we go for a zero-sum game or train our people to some bargain?

Dr. Kazi Shahabuddin, Chair of the session
I am very happy to be here and to moderate the session. It is indeed a very interesting experience. Research is an endless exercise. What creates the difference between a good research and a bad research is the intention behind each endeavor. Whatever I have heard this afternoon, with all the deliberations made by some people who are activists as well as researchers, I understand, the exercises in RIB are not only and simply pro-people, rather it is directed to poor people. But there had been other researches on the state of poor people. What is missing is the application of the results of research in the policies of government. Thousands of pages are heaped up. There are many worthy findings and recommendations. But many of them have ended up as reading materials of a very few who have again used them for their own professional ends. Participatory action research has been the key theme of this seminar. The emphasis on it is a good sign. However, this is not something absolutely novel. It was there. But now I can understand that Research Initiatives Bangladesh is trying to put into it a philosophy of philanthropy, marked with activism. Some reports have opened our critical eyes. I am sure many more projects are going on in different areas of the country. I feel simply encouraged to know the dimension that has been created to define poverty itself. That makes RIB's approach very different from others. The work has begun. Stories of success have started to pour in. The intellectual leadership of RIB, I hope, will be able to map the trends of poverty, which will ultimately lead to its alleviation.
Day-3 March 29 2004

Working Session 4

Chair : Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Director, Research, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS)

The session began with a written presentation by Mr. Bashir Ahmed. The topic was? 'Innovating a Pre-School Model for the Children of Hardcore Poor Families'.

It was noted that early childhood development (ECD) is one area that has been conspicuously neglected by researchers in Bangladesh. Children of very poor families have been simply put out of any scope of research. Government and non-government initiatives in the field of education have not contributed much to improve the situation. This particular research project by Bashir Ahmed 'is expected to generate a practical way of education'. But it has to be based on indigenous culture and context. Attention should be paid to the overall achievement of the children so that their mental, physical, social and all aspects sensory motor and personality development are addressed. The cognitive development of children has been underscored. The researcher says, 'the whole process strongly ensures and emphasizes on community's and parents' participation so as to make pre-school self-sustaining and self-perpetuating. The project insists on and sustains from community participation. The role of the community is very critical to ensure the effectiveness of early childhood development of hardcore poor children.

Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairperson of RIB came forward to elaborate the subject. He stated that it is true that many children from the poor families are forced to jobs. But children of 2 to 5 years are not or cannot be engaged in jobs. So some endeavours may be taken so that we may develop a system to bring these children within the fold of early childhood education. Efforts have been made to involve the community. However, the results are quite encouraging. We believe education and healthcare should go together.

In the pre-school system undertaken by RIB, each mother of the child cooks food once in a month for the children's group. They bring the food, provide it to all children. Distribution wise it works quite well. And mothers feel motivated, they do not take it as a burden.

These children are taught without any book or any piece of paper. They gather in a room and usually the wall is the blackboard. This board is filled with illustrations of various items that the children encounter or see in their everyday life. These may include? mangoes, houses, boats, leaves, trees. The children find it a joyful exercise to identify the objects and then the facilitator writes the names of the objects at the bottom.

The salary of the facilitator is only borne from the project. Everything else is taken care of by the community. The space is donated or rented by the community. This gives a sense of ownership to the people. Since the approach is very simple and emphasis is laid on motivation, the project is quite inexpensive. The monthly cost is around one thousand taka. And it is not difficult to raise this amount.

Having some idea of the novelty and efficacy of the project, some organisations have already shown some interest to promote it with some financial assistance, but RIB is quite reluctant to accept it. It is not a reflection on their approaches. But RIB believes in and insists on the participatory approach. RIB initially provides funds for 2 years, it trains the teacher who can be termed as the champion. It is on the quality of teacher that the success of the project depends. His/her commitment, the urge to take the challenge, the guts to cope up with problems and above all his/her capability to work with and work for the poor matter so much.

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta made an interesting intervention. She asked whether this kind of participation has any counter-effect, whether it resists others' participation.

Dr. Shamsul Bari replied : NGOs have been working in our country, particularly in the rural areas. They always offer something to people, in kind, through services, sometimes even in cash. This practice has brought in a change in the nature expectations of the people. People's role is often underestimated there. It makes people passive receivers only. Their ownership is affected. RIB has learnt lessons from this experience. For us, the participation is genuine.

Mr. Dipendra Sarker, Syedpur
The pre-school system should be widely tried all over the country. We do not necessarily need a brick-built room to run such a school. Often we may find a good person who may provide a room or space for this purpose. Sometimes their love for the children prompts such a gesture. The people of the area can come forward to manage such a room. Local resources are there, these only need to be mobilised. The system can run only with available resources. The selection of students is an important task. They come from the illiterate families. Some arrangements are made to procure food for the children.

The facilitator sometimes faces the problems of children absenteeism. And the reasons are many. On Thursday, the children usually visit their relations in the neighboring areas, so they do not come to the school. In the harvesting time, even the kids often join their parents in their work. The harvesting season has a positive impact on the school system. During this time, some good amount of agricultural produces can be procured for the school.

The community participation can be increased and ensured in a variety of ways. The people may be requested to get together on the occasion of Eid reunion. Their involvement may lead to efficient running of the school. Even the teachers' salary can be raised. In fact, I would like to lend my voice to what Mr. Shamsul Bari has said. We need the champion, a really good champion with zeal and commitment and for that we do not need money.

Prof. Peter Reason
The issue of the champion, the definition of the champion and the efficacy of his/her role is a serious one. Local and political feuds may pose problems for the smooth functions of the champion. One important quality of the champion should be to promote the cause with the involvement of various political groups.

Mr. Monwarul Islam, Member, Board of Directors, RIB
We already have some first hand experience of the schools. And the experience is largely positive. A lot of important things have been achieved as well as learnt. The success is reflected in the endeavour to replicate these schools in new areas. There has been raised some doubts about sustainability. Problem-solving skills are being developed in the process. Small recurring expenses create no big problem, the teachers gradually learn to manage these.

In certain areas, the project has earned commendable popularity. The champion is sometimes able to manage the funds for teacher's salary. The quality of learning has also been highly appreciated. Some families want to send their children even by paying fees. Better learning and congenial environment of the schools have attracted the parents. But we do not accept this proposition of payment of fees since we think that this may cause some unwelcome discrimination. People's increasing interest in the schools is our real achievement.

Dr. Hameeda Hossain
The role of the animator is really quite challenging. In the process, probably s/he develops into a benefactor. And while this kind of role is highlighted, there is a possibility that s/he may take on the role of a dominant partner. Starting the initiative is a serious job. It may remind the people of some feudal notions. The institution is built on a philosophy of participation. But there is an underlying mission too. The centres must protect its autonomous character, which is sometimes a subject to threat with the involvement of parents who themselves are mostly illiterate. While raising money from the community itself, care should be taken to understand that where the funds come from.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
There cannot be a fixed model for the champion's role. One is a champion in the context of some special circumstances. If it is found that the people of some area can build up their own leadership, there is no need of a champion, s/he may be asked to withdraw. However, till the need is felt, champion must be ready to dispense with the necessary services.

The champion may be required to undergo some orientation. The project has to be sustained and so the role of the champion cannot be understated.

Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Chair of the session
We are all underscoring the participation of parents, but we must take into account that the parents are illiterate and they do not have the necessary expertise. Therefore, their views should be supplemented by an education expertise There should also be some balance in the financing of education. Parents may raise questions that while some urban and government schools enjoy the benefits of public funds, why should there not be some opportunity for poor men's schools?

Dr. Shamsul Bari again intervened to clarify the point.
He said that we are talking of a pre-school situation and it should not be confused with typical educational institutions. What we aim at is generating interest in learning. We want to create a healthy bridge for young children who would eventually join the regular primary schools.

Champions' withdrawal or what others have tried to indicate as self-liquidation is a problem. Experience says that the champion creates the motivation among young children. The children in our countries do not usually feel initiated to learning. That's the job the champion is expected to do. We can see other children who go to local primary schools. But they do not usually perform well. This is the difference that the champion or animator creates. Love for education requires a recurring motivation and the champion is involved in that. And if local people are properly motivated to the cause of education, then the element of politics may subside. In our experience, we have seen people approaching RIB to establish more centres in more areas. To them, this is an issue of social prestige. And we try our best to make their participation comprehensive.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
The parents who are convinced of the need for education feel so motivated that they play a corollary to champion's role. Some persons may have some special talents. They are more suitable for the champion's role. The parents may gradually take over some or all responsibilities of the champion. In the committee meetings, the guardians assemble and discuss problems. Everybody is asked to give his or her views. They actually form the committees, which may have some flexible character. But they decide upon what to do and how to do.

Mr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
The point of self-liquidation of the champion does not sound very practical to me. Enlightenment does not take place all too quickly. The standard of many goverment schools is far from satisfactory since these are bound by unnecessary and impractical formalities.

Mr. Monwarul Islam
In the traditional government schools, students do not have the opportunity to learn in a good environment. We can try to motivate parents of the locality so that they can create pressure for better management of government-run schools. The idea behind our schools can thus be incorporated into the government schools.

Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman enquired whether RIB can extend their education programme upto class III to which Dr. Shamsul Bari responded. The answer was negative though. It was stated that teachers of formal schools usually resist any such initiative.

Mr. Alauddin Ali
In our society, we have a traditional concept of teachers as 'masters'. We should have a clear concept of education. What do we mean by it. Education is learning, it means award of degrees too. But it really means much more. RIB wants to emphasize on that. With these preliminary words Alauddin Ali made his presentation.

He narrated his experiences in the endeavour of sensitizing a group of animators in 15 unions of Nilphamari. These animators are supposed to actively assist in participatory action research. They would eventually help eradicate poverty by all the means they have at their disposal. Young, educated and enterprising persons have been morally persuaded to work as people's researchers.

In Bangla, they are known as gano gabeshok.
This project is being carried out at two levels :

1. Animator sensitization programme through participatory discussion, workshops and direct field level experiences of people's research.
2. People's research with the help of new animators.

Prior to field research in the participatory method, a kind of orientation takes place. The young animators meet, discuss various problems of the society, exchange views to find ways of solutions. This is actually a collective and collaborative learning process. They have been supplied with some literatures on PAR field experiences which they collectively analyse. A dialogic method developed and this was supplemented and encouraged. The active and living participation contributes to the making of animators. These people's researchers come from the socially underprivileged groups. They also include women. The animator conducts a kind of an orientation session. The project has brought some visible changes in the domestic life of poor people's families.

Changes are occurring within the people researchers. The resolving of longstanding family disputes is being replaced by harmonious relationships among them. It stretches to the resolution of conjugal dispute between the husband and wife, quarrel between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Under the pressure of wife's argument, many husbands are saying good-bye to habits of gambling, drinking and unnecessary overspending. Mothers have stopped beating their children. People are learning how to struggle with the odds and problems of life.

Self-awareness, according to Alauddin Ali, is the starting point. The people are now motivated to think of their individual positions, to ask results of action and moves. They feel concerned about the state of family, neighbourhood and workplace.

From our practice, we understand PAR is not a method, but it is an all-comprehensive and holistic approach. It is a continuous process. It is based on needs and realities. It allows flexibility at different levels according to the demands of situations. People involved in PAR believe that human values can be translated into positive action. Our learning from the method is that manual labour of all kinds should be recognised. In the society, people have a conventional idea about the educated persons. There should be some change in this kind of mindset.

Prof. Peter Reason
The project is a good thing. It has a purpose and a time-frame. In the PAR method, our aim should be to think about how to move out of the project area, not exactly to replicate it all times, but doing something meaningful in the similar process. Three things are interconnected, first, we should give training which would prepare persons then to undertake action research involving the people. And as this is done, the people will be part of the inquiry process. That is the way participatory work is conducted in US and UK. I do not know, of course, how it would work in Bangladesh.

Mr. David Obot
The community usually lives in a conservative system with their age-old beliefs and practices. So building a separate awareness and mindset is a difficult job. There are many hurdles. We have talked of work, which has a direct linkage with household income. Availability of work fetches good results. But income of persons cannot help him meet all the family demands. So some social services need to be extended.

Our organisation NURRU is somehow a little away from the paths of awareness-building. However, some kind of people's ownership is there in our projects. The picture of activities that I get from Bangladesh is very heartening. RIB activities are very positive. If the government offers some resources to the people, I think it will work very well. The combination of household income and available resources is very important.

Dr. Shamsul Bari
What we feel is that there is a message in the changes that take place in the society that is left to ignorance and neglect. We must understand that the issues of life are external in nature.

So as a matter of fact any success of any project is supposed to be reflected in external results. But PAR is simply a different approach. It poses problems of measurement. The impact of PAR can be internal. The external reflection may surface later.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
The question that looms large is that are the people supposed to change their lives, all on their own. The internal changes and development that we are talking of is very crucial, but that is not everything. Concern only with the internal aspect would be a bad kind of reform. There is a structure of the society, of the world outside. People have to confront that reality in the wider world. The structure itself is a big obstacle. It has to be faced with courage and assertion. His or her home is within this structure.

Managing home is alright, it may be a good skill. But real changes may take place only when there are specific reforms in the structures of the outside world. Resources should be created for that kind of reforms. The struggle in the world outside needs to be boosted up. Then only, our desired society can emerge. Getting away from the situations or ignoring the difficulty in the outside world cannot offer great results.

Prof. Yoland Wadsworth
But I think success stories should be told and told again. Expectations are always high. The training period is important. During training, the participants may be apprised of the reality of situations and finding of answers can be spotted out. She again referred to a case of a psychiatric hospital she mentioned in her paper. The resources to facilitate the projects should be mobilised even in the participatory mapproach.

We should also remind ourselves that issues always scale up. The close and mutual understanding of the participants may build them up to face challenges. The role of the animator is very critical in this respect. S/he will work as a catalyst, will find immediate answers to certain problems, will motivate people that they may have differences, but the problems are identical and they all suffer from it.

Dr. Badiul Alam Mazumdar
The critical element in PAR is the animator. S/he has to be sometimes very careful, sometimes radical about how to start, where to start and what critical dimensions should be included in the PAR process to follow. Gradually s/he can use the lessons that have been already learnt. There should be some conscious efforts to measure the success or impact. It may not be always in black and white, but work assessment is always a good form of learning.

Prof. Akke vander Zijpp
I feel tempted to refer to one EU decision, which pertains to some social consciousness, the society at large. In 1990, EU decided not to vaccinate cattle. This was for international reasons. The vaccination could cause some virus. It was social consciousness, which worked behind this decision. Raising of this kind of consciousness through all possible ways is an important move.

About the animator, I would comment that s/he should involve all segments of people. The participation should be wider. This can help in problem-solving. S/he can draw a problem tree and all the branches would indicate a variety of problems. Then all the participants can discuss and decide on the priority and means of tackling them.

Mr. Md. Mujibur Rahman, Gana Gabeshona Unnayan Foundation
Mr. Rahman presented his experience and findings of a participatory action research on the livelihood pattern of pig rearers/sweepers (Kawra) community of a specific area, namely Jessore. He gave some introduction of his ogranisation and the activities they are engaged in. They conducted a PAR method to study the livelihood of a community, which is, in a way, more than marginalized. These people who usually work as sweepers in the local government organisation, are treated as social outcasts. As per the survey of Mujibur Rahman's organisations they all together constitute a population of 3095, living in 432 households. Of all the households about 90% are absolutely landless and about 70% of them have no homesteads even. Literacy rate is only about 05%. The children are deprived of any kind of formal education as majority of children of their age hate them because of belonging to a community rated as very low.

RIB's ideas really persuaded them to undertake such an action research. They found the approach so positively distant from traditional research. Research has been traditionally limited to University professors, pundits and scholars. They try to find things in a methodology, which is very different and academic. RIB's approach was a very valuable intervention in the system of conventional research.

Mr. Mujibur Rahman gave a brief background of their research work. They have been working in a project of clinical waste management. This was a risky endeavour. This work really persuaded them to undertake action research on the pig-rearing community since they could identify many problems and health hazards with which these people struggle to survive. There was a major social resistance from the Muslim community, which could not accept any research done on the rearers of pigs. It was really prompted by some religious beliefs and social taboos. Incidentally the Kawra community is also hated by Hindus. Because of their occupation, they are socially and culturally untouchables and have remained discriminated against all sorts of development activities. The specific objectives of the action research are :

* Collection of data on the livelihood pattern of Kawras with a survey of the position and condition of the women of this community.
* Research and observation on cross breeding of 4 varieties of pigs and increased income of Kawras by providing modern knowledge and appropriate technology.
* Dissemination of research findings among GoB, researchers, institutions, persons involved in lobbying and advocacy and concerned departments for policy adaptation.

Another presentation followed. This was also on a neglected community usually known as scheduled castes (Harijon). The presentation was made by Tofazzal Haque representing an organisation named FAIR.

Mr. Tofazzal Haque also acknowledged the assistance provided by RIB in undertaking the research on the Harijon community. The members of the community are natural victims of society because of their birth in low castes. In his presentation Mr. Haque tried to narrate the long story of the victimization of the Harijons. They inherit discrimination of social status, very restrictive opportunities of employment and all the obstacles to join the mainstream population. The paper also includes some historical background and the story of their sufferings from the ancient times.

The action research was conducted among 300 families of Harijons living in Kushtia, in the south-western part of Bangladesh. Most of them are sweepers appointed by the local municipality. They are deprived of minimum social rights. They are hated and discriminated by all in the society. They cannot eat or drink in an ordinary restaurant or tea-stall. They live an inhuman life under compulsion. They are usually engaged in gambling and drinking. This is a manifestation of their frustration too.

FAIR conducted the action research titled-'Poverty Alleviation and Empowerment Strategy of the Harijon Community'. The objectives were:

a. to investigate the inhuman conditions of life and livelihood of the Harijon community;
b. to identify the problems and prospects of poverty alleviation and empowerment;
c. to identify the means that can help raise their consciousness, self-reliance, self-motivation and confidence on basic needs, fundamental rights and human rights;
d. to initiate participatory approaches to overcome their mental barriers and to assert the state of their learning;
e. to identify means in order to create positive attitude and approach of society over Harijon community and to exercise higher human norms and values of the civil society.

The research team was properly oriented in a 3-day workshop to do the action research on the community. The team conducted a baseline survey in a variety of ways which included among other things-focus group discussions, exchange of opinion with the members of the community including women and observation of cultural activities. The research work fetched up some visible results. The Harijons have been motivated to identify and understand their problems that stand in the way of alleviation of their poverty. They now know how to discuss matters among themselves.

Mr. David Obot
The tackling of the situation of poverty is an enormous job. This is a serious problem in all the poor countries. In Uganda, poverty is increasing. Development strategies are linked with the agenda of poverty alleviation. So we are also conducting some specific research in which we emphasize on sharing of experiences. The two presentations that we have heard relate to poverty. It is good that these researches have some positive impact on the people. They have now become more aware of their problems. They are also encouraged to find out some solution with their own efforts.

Mr. A.K.M. Maksud
It is very interesting to listen to the presentations concerning the very poor and marginalized people of two areas. As examples of action research, they are very good. But even then, there are differences in methodology. Experience may direct the course of research. But the work on Harijon community seems to be more structured.

Mr. Dipendra Sarkar
Participatory action research approach has brought the technique of research nearer to people. This is a great contribution of RIB. The mission of research for development can be fulfilled if it is only turned to the poor. But the NGO world and the donor agencies have a definition of poverty which is more general than exact.

Research work on pig-rearers opens a different window. This is such an area in which you can hardly find anybody to come to your help. But these poor people do not have even the slightest idea of development. PAR is the process that creates a real sense of awareness in them. Their lack of knowledge about themselves is the most important manifestation of poverty.

Prof. H.K.S. Arefeen, Department of Anthropology, Dhaka University
Truly speaking, poverty concerns the whole of south Asia. We cannot really depend on some ad-hoc solutions and superficial approach to deal with it. Many of the social problems that characterize our backwardness are connected with poverty. We had been talking of marginalized people for decades. But have we stopped the rate of increase of these people? Many of the measures undertaken are lost in the way. In this workshop, we have learnt some precise things about the Beday and Kawra communities. We have never thought of including these awfully marginalized groups in our map of development. The PAR approach was particularly helpful to conduct case studies of them and thereby some ways of minimizing the distress of these people can be identified. I thank the researchers involved in the process.

Prof. Akke vander Zijpp
The research works that have been presented are great in the sense that these have included the poorest of the poor in a planned and structured way. We have also heard the hazards they had overcome. We now know the plight of these people. It is very good to make them aware of the problems. It is also very good that they now have acquired the capability to think. It is a thinking that encourages them to look forward with some prospects. In the PAR approach, they have been mobilized to find some answers on their own. But these marginalized people do not have any kind of material resources. That remains a problem. Help from outside should be made available to them. If they cannot have share in national development, the nation cannot move ahead. National and international agencies should come forward so that attention can be given to research findings.

Dr. Hameeda Hossain
What we have heard in the two presentations is the voice of small communities. We understand, in Bangladesh, such communities do live at many places. They are scattered all over the country. They remain silent. Silence is their religion. The voices are not heard in the civil society arena. One way of emancipating them can be found in the process of making them talk to each other within the community and between the communities. What we really should aspire for is to create in them a concept of citizenship, a respectful sense of belonging to the state.

Without any kind of confidence in themselves, they cannot find any meaning in citizenship. They accept marginalization as fate accompli. But these communities, say the Beday and the ethnic groups, can offer a strong variety to our national texture. Bangladesh should not be seen as a monolithic state. We have a pluralistic character. We have inherited it. For centuries, we have lived with this pluralism. But the small communities live under a pressurized environment. They are very poor economically, but they have discovered that they are rich in culture. Now if we appreciate their culture and consider that as our own, then it can produce a sense of security among them. They must be allowed to enjoy their fundamental rights. But they struggle to earn them. Through the initiatives of research, we may start the process to come near them. That is significant.

Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Chair of the session
I think we had a very meaningful session in which very interesting presentations have been made. In fact, the presentations, the motives behind them, the background of undertaking the projects have clarified the concept and message of what has been the focal theme of this workshop-participatory action research.

The distinction of participatory action research has been the key factor to the research findings that we have heard. The basic difference lies in the involvement of people in the research process itself.

I am involved in theoretical research, which is structured formally and the methodology is of a fixed nature. Since I work with development studies, I think I have to take into account some important concerns. We must distinguish between field experience and PAR and the linkages with overall development framework. Field experience has a limited character. It concentrates on the experience of a particular group or area. But PAR has a very positive direction. And the direction here has been spelt out by Research Initiatives Bangladesh. They have put their efforts to work on the underprivileged or marginalized people. The methodological process of RIB has an in-built philosophy. Possibly the process is also the outcome of the low level of effectiveness of traditional theoretical research. However, the findings of RIB should be put to test.

The strength of participatory action research lies in its sincere commitment to investigate and learn the truth. I think efforts should be made to find out ways through which we can integrate the PAR experiences with findings from other types of research being carried out in the country, particularly in the areas of poverty. That will be a very useful exercise. It will help the interfaces between quantitative and qualitative research. RIB's efforts through this vigorous exercise in participatory action research are directed towards the application of research to improve the situations of the very poor people. PAR exist since underdevelopment exists. I thank RIB for their efforts. I wish them all success.

Concluding session

This session was chaired by Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairperson, RIB.
In this session, Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director of RIB, made a presentation enlisting the major issues that were highlighted in various papers and in the interventions made by the participants in the different sessions of the workshop. These are noted below:

Areas of operation and essential features of PAR

* probing into underlying causes of poverty
* emphasis on new knowledge rather than the existing ones
* discussion on issues demanding precise attention
* efforts to combine the individual and collective endeavours
* observations made on the self-esteem of the poor
* stratification of the social structures
* the uses of epistemology in action research
* the cases of the marginalized people and missing poor
* involvement of these people in PAR
* ensuring ownership of the people in different projects
* profiling low-cost projects to enable their ownership
* inclusion of mutual trust-building in the process
* the extension of the individual into the broader circles which include the family and neighbourhood
* the sense of participation is to be continually cultivated
* PAR works at two phases, primarily it endeavours to bring in changes in the outlook of the poor people and hence helps them understand the problems of poverty and then it injects in them the urge to undertake initiatives to get out of the poverty circle
* efforts to strengthen people internally to assert their capacity
* understanding of the external structures that impede the emancipation of the poorer of the poor
* the distinction of PAR from other methods of research
* finding out ways to connect PAR with quantitative research
* PAR's contribution to the over-all development process
* the issue of gender: greater participation of women
* the role of men in the furthering of PAR approach
* efforts to achieve gender equity
* finding and preparing ways to facilitate more women as animators

Animators or Champions

* work is divided at three levels : internal; external and external-internal
* capability to cope with rising expectations
* understanding of social power structures and the quality to draw strategic plan to work within it and then to effect some transformation
* bridging a relationship with the people to make them capable to undertake responsibilities
* initiate process to pave the way for withdrawal.
* strengthening people to acquire greater abilities
* questions were raised whether animators can be created
* reviewing the role of the animator from the point of view of pure philanthropy
* the extent of the involvement of the external person
* risk of the champion to become a dominant partner
* danger of becoming an external benefactor
* the strengthening of people's committees to replace the champion

Necessary technical advice

* these should originate from the village itself
* formation of committees to maintain check and balance
* opinion about the eligibility of the animator
* whether students / journalists and other professionals are eligible
* development of their ideas about PAR
* the nature of institutional support in the field

Institutional challenges


* mobilising material support for PAR
* sources of such support : financial, institutional or organizational
* support from funds of the state, NGOs and international organizations
* examination of issues whether this kind of support can create a negative impact on the ownership and participation of the poor

* whether there exists an ideology of the politics of participation
* whether the withdrawal of institutional support is essentially connected with self-liquidation of the animator
* whether in the given social context generally characterized by political feuds, divisiveness and multiplicity of affiliation, the PAR would face the crisis of sustainability

Strategies of RIB

* creating a network of facilitators and animators
* greater attention to advocacy of issues already researched
* providing all possible institutional support for capacity building
* motivating animators to stay at the villages
* refinement and testing out of PAR approach
* intensification of efforts to initiate and realize collaborative action at the local, national, regional and international levels

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta's presentation attempted to give a brief report of all the issues raised and discussed during various sessions. Some more concluding interventions were invited.

Prof. Yoland Wadsworth
The questions of addressing the micro and micro as well as the mutuality of the internal and external roles of the animator are important and crucial. The efficacy of mutual relationship is also important in the individual, collective and community roles to ensure good results of research. But we know there is always a conflict of social forces. That makes the situation critical. So we have to initiate a dialectical kind of approach.

The issue of self-liquidating of the champion has been pointed out. I wonder whether this would be better to converge into something equal to self-replication. We understand, with the extension of knowledge of the people, the expectations continue to rise and it becomes difficult to tackle them. There is some risk in the work of the animator since people are likely to depend on him or her. But our objective should be clear. What do we really want? We may always try to change others. But whatever may be the degree of success of these projects, at least we can change ourselves.

Prof. Wadsworth also referred to the social structures, the hierarchy of power that controls reality. It is responsible for the complex system. PAR is a good answer and vehicle. The dialogic process is essentially honest and intimate. A lot of ideas can generate from the group through discussion. But these need to be properly handled. The silence in which they use to live must be broken. The poor knows better about their state. What we need to do is to channelise knowledge and ideas among them.

There has been discussion about quantitative aspect of research. But PAR is not simply contradictory to it. I do not believe that there is always something inherently objective in matters of number only. The social context is important. The conflict of several political parties and interventions of NGOs have to be taken into account. No egotistic attitude or individual findings can help the people, it is the critical interest in the welfare of the community, which really matters most.

We have also talked about the insider and outsider. The animator may come from outside but in the process of his/her involvement in sensitizing others s/he becomes an insider and s/he does not represent any level of the power structure. His/her contribution is of egalitarian nature.

Ms. Diana Espinoza, Executive Director, ADESO, Nicaragua
Experience is the key factor. It can always be different in different contexts. In Nicaragua, the problems are not very different, but the answers cannot always be identical.

Prof. Peter Reason
Participatory action research is a moral attitude. It serves to create new knowledge based on local experience. The involvement of people who themselves are the objects of research gives to it a fundamental difference. It offers self-esteem to the people who are otherwise marginalized. They have a right to know. The generation of knowledge is made available to them. This necessitates that PAR is to be grounded in local culture.

The process of enquiry in PAR is not just an objective survey or some findings, hard and prosaic, it is an appreciative enquiry. It helps us to follow tracks in a useful way. What is wanted in PAR is to benevolently advise the tapping of manifold resources for people's development. PAR is the process that actively links many people in an organic way. It connects people through a network. The missing poor is not just a theoretical term, PAR brings it up on a practical plane. But PAR really seeks to connect the privileged people too in the network of development. The researchers play the role of the catalyst. They work with the people who are poor, carries the institutional and intellectual support to them. They present the findings for the attention of the privileged people. But this itself is a challenging job. The power structure of the society needs to be reconstructed. And when this is done we can create our own power base.
RIB's objective lies in formation of this organic process. This is a long-term process. We have talked about the self-liquidation of the animator, in fact, it relates to self-transcendence of RIB itself. This is a recurring process, a continuous process. Through this reflective process, we will find ways to move ahead in a future in which the missing poor can claim a place. In this way, PAR develops and matures into a productive and creative process.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
It has been rightly pointed out that PAR involves a challenge. Our task is to organise appropriate mechanism of research to respond to that challenge and our answer lies in the process of participation. The process has already started working in our country. We are now addressing to large groups of people. The fragmentation only reflects the local context. And there is nothing contrary in it. Several endeavours, when put together, will put up and integrate the national scenario. Moreover, PAR has the flexibility, the inherent readiness to change its course as per the requirements of people.

Prof. Akke vander Zijpp
We must remember that poverty is not only an economic phenomenon. It has other faces too. And there is an alternative way to approach poverty. Participatory research undertaken by RIB should be able to deliver that message at local, regional and international levels.

The success of PAR depends on both internal and external causes that operate within the group. So the issue of capacity building is important not only for the people for whom PAR is being conducted but also for the researchers themselves. They must be able to incorporate confidence in the people. I think PAR can work excellently with the university groups. The students and teachers may develop themselves as helpful agents. They are in a better position to face institutional challenges. With their instances, others can learn and make effective use of PAR. In the process, PAR will be a useful method not only within the specific project, but it will create enthusiasm among others.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
In PAR, the most important component is people. The discourse of the poor has been built and rebuilt on theoretical studies, but our mission in RIB is to humanise the discourse, to find in people the grace and beauty and creativity that make life bearable and meaningful.

Mr. Monwarul Islam
While making deliberation now in Dhaka, I want to refer to the Cairo discussion, which included a comprehensive debate on the planning and implementation of MMRP. However, it is quite unfortunate that till date we do not find any visible impact in the policy framework of governments.

In Bangladesh, as we tried to help evolve PAR in order to study the life and livelihood, we invited the local government officials. We had some frank and honest exchange of opinion. The officials admitted that the delivery of services they create has not been demand-driven from the popular viewpoint. It was rather a percolation from the top to the bottom. As we discussed frankly they became aware of the shortcomings of their process and felt really enlightened. We were able to transmit people's insights into them.

Mr. Islam referred to the great African leader, Nelson Mandela. He insisted on the humane and social face of politics. The society's task is to create a space for people in which they find their voice heard. What we have felt is that in research methodology we should create the exit strategy. And if we can do that we can help the champion fade away without incurring any risk of PAR to take place in right situations.

Ms. Diana Espinoza
Let me add one point. Women who figure in history are mostly forgotten. My feeling is that the discussion I have heard so far has been male-centric.

Mr. A.K.M. Maksud
We have heard that the animator is expected to do away with the rust from the people's brain. This can be done by motivating them to inquiry into the social structure followed by subsequent inquiries. But there may be a problem. How do we select the group, which will be in charge of animation? The animator must be a perfect person to discharge his or her duties. But can we expect some fundamental honesty in our social structure?

Mr. Dwijen Mallick
We have heard three key words in relating to participatory action research. But there has been lesser discussion on action itself. As per the fundamental theory of economics, action must take place to produce any output. What the researchers can do is to initiate local activism. We know researchers can enthuse people to actions.

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta
In PAR, action is interchangeable with initiatives.

Dr. Lenin Azad
PAR's distinction is that it does not limit the people with the knowledge that they are poor. They are initiated to understand that the lack of material resources only does not make any person poor. They also understand that they are poor not on their own account. It is the lack of knowledge and awareness that put them in a backward state. PAR has its inherent strength herein. The conventional research on the poor is often used as an instrument of exploitation by the government and agencies of vested interests.

Dr. Hameeda Hossain
We must pay our attention to different levels of PAR. We should recognize the fact that within the group of poor there are further divisions. PAR's basic role is facilitation. It has been underscored by everybody.

I do appreciate the point that men should also see from women's point of view.
However, I think the question of self-liquidation of the champion is irrelevant. It must remain open.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
By self-liquidation we attempt to mean that there will be a gradual lessening of dependence of people on the champion.

Mr. Mohammad Zakaria
We must think of the role of animators in the present context of our society and also in the time-frame of the days to come. We should also consider the worldview of the poor. With the flexibility of approaches to the needs of the poor, we cannot absolutely specify the role of the animators. We only know that it begins with enthusiasm. Some of them, of course, may get frustrated as they encounter almost endless problems. But the committed persons soon identify the gap between academic research and people's needs. We must find out some effective mechanism so that the animators are enabled with some institutional support to face the challenges of livelihood of poor people at diverse contexts.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar
About the issue of animator, I want to say that they cannot be created, they are to be found. Our experience says that even the very poor people made enormous sacrifice for the country. So they have all the potential.

We should also recognize that there is not one body of knowledge. The process of knowing is enormous and open ended. It has been noted by some that the local animators are more effective. But they can also create problems. The external animators may have more effectiveness. What we really need is self-generating animators created within the process. They will not take any dominant role, but a congenial leadership can be created thereby. The animator must play the catalyctic role.

We know there are some political complications in the realization of PAR objectives. It is the conservative social structure that keeps hunger and poverty in place. In our society, everything is centralized. The structure perpetuates the deprivation of people. PAR gives the message of a journey towards self-reliant attainment. So we need to build up an effective and forceful research team. We should have a large army of animators who would volunteer to serve the people with the quality of professionalism. They will encourage people to become the authors of their own future. They would belong to an organized social force.

However, the PAR approach is not very well-known as yet. It requires a lot of individual efforts. We have seen that the converged moves of GO and NGOs have not ushered a path of liberation. The path of RIB may be a worthy one and may succeed in the long run with the committed services of the animators or researchers.

Dr. Lenin Azad
The PAR concept has been circulated even to the non-practitioners. It is a scientific approach to learn from the people. Even the intellectuals are invited to contribute their views. But PAR is quite different from conventional research. It generates and refreshes knowledge. That knowledge is kept with the people too. PAR can work with all classes.

Prof. Peter Reason
PAR is a step to building up a movement in the society. Such a movement was a great success in Quebec, Canada. The Advocacy Institution of America also helps in creating the animators we have been talking of.

We must emphasize on identifying and building up a strong community leadership.

Prof. Yoland Wadsworth
The question is-what are we going to achieve. Are we trying to represent the value, qualities and dignity of the poor? Do they a have a strong leader really?

Mr. Imtiaj Rasul
References have been made to MMRP experience. For the participants, I want to let you know that you can benefit from the information from our RIB website (www.rib-bangladesh.org)

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta
We should also remember that administering PAR is part of our experience, which is quite valuable.

Prof. Md. Anisur Rahman
This was quite an interesting and exciting session, though a little bit lengthy. We all gathered here to promote something, which is not absolutely new. PAR was always there in our social habits and formations. But there are hazards in it. PAR efforts claim great responsibility and we have no scope of complacency. PAR's major thrust is to empower people with their own resources. While most of the NGOs involved in the development process are selling micro credit programme as the safety net, we find nothing significant has been achieved. This is not the right approach to people's empowerment. PAR aims at empowering people differently. PAR delivers people a sense of own power without outside assistance. RIB seeks to create a space for people, a significant one. RIB depends on foreign funding. It may get liquidated if foreign funds are withdrawn. So we should introduce a new method of enquiry. We must expand our experimental process. Then the process can some day work without RIB. We may play the catalytic role and we will always try to do our best to deliver the required support. And we believe others can take as much as RIB can offer.

I thank you all present here for your active participation, which has made this workshop a success.