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Raising Development Impact through Evaluation

Effectiveness of Participatory Approaches: Do the New Approaches Offer an Effective Solution to the Conventional Problems in Rural Development Projects?

Evaluation Document | 1 December 2004

This evaluation provides feedback on the performance of the bottom-up, participatory approaches, including an assessment of initial results and effectiveness in overcoming the conventional problems.

Using the principal-agent model as a conceptual framework, the study examines the roles of policymakers, project providers, and beneficiaries in resource control, information, decision making, project delivery, and accountability.

Assuming top-down and supply-driven approaches were the cause of the conventional problems, a new set of participatory approaches emerged as solutions to these problems.

Typical forms of participatory approaches include engagement of nongovernment organizations, formation of beneficiary groups, provision of beneficiary training, conduct of consultation workshops, and preparation of village development plans.

The study selected six rural development projects financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as case studies to examine how the roles and relationships of policymakers, project providers, and beneficiaries changed by the participatory approaches.

Summary of findings

The typical forms of participatory approaches did not offer an effective solution to the conventional problems because they did not alter the principal-agent relationships among policymakers, project providers, and beneficiaries.

There was evidence that the participatory approaches improved information flows and created new delivery mechanisms. However, even in the case of intensive consultations, there was no evidence that the increased participation empowered beneficiaries in resource control and decision making, nor did it give them authority to hold project providers accountable, enhance their ownership, or motivate them to take care of project facilities formally transferred to them. The old problem of poor sustainability of project benefits continued.

The fundamental cause of the problem was the grant nature of projects, which were largely free to beneficiaries, whose lack of payments to providers underlay their lack of real power to control providers. In a competitive market, clients individually act as the principal to hold providers accountable, because they control payments to providers. In the projects examined, project funds were controlled by policymakers. Beneficiaries controlled few resources and therefore had little power in decision making and in controlling providers.


  • Since participation is not a goal in itself but a means to achieve an objective, the use of participation should have a clear purpose. The form of participation may vary depending on that purpose, as well as on local conditions in particular project areas.
  • Depending on specific conditions, alternative forms of participation may be explored, such as those focusing on the establishment and strengthening of direct relationships between beneficiaries and providers by making providers more accountable to beneficiaries.
  • In cases where the direct approach is not practical, appropriate incentives should be designed for policymakers and providers so that their best interests lie in achieving the objectives of the public.
  • The study proposes alternative measures, with a view to encouraging innovation and discussion of these. The need for pilot testing of such measures is highlighted, and this should be followed by an evaluation of the pilot testing before more widespread application.


  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Performance of Participatory Approaches
  • Issues, Underlying Causes, and Alternatives
  • Conclusions