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Participatory learning and action or Participatory acting?

PLA Notes encourages practitioners to share information and experiences ‘in the field’, emphasising innovation and timely reporting on recent activities. While this is a useful function, we believe that in many cases, self-reflection (one of the supposed mainstays of PLA approaches) can only come with the benefit of longer and more sustained hindsight. In this article we reflect on a participatory project that took place over two years ago: a project that in many senses we felt ‘went wrong’ and one that we have thought and talked about quite a bit since.
PLA is a family of methodologies that is supposed to enable
stakeholders to learn and to take action for positive change. There is a danger, however, that a project using participatory methodologies can get stuck in ‘theatre play’, where the stakeholders, including PLA practitioners, take up roles that are well rehearsed and where the outcome has already been written into the script. With the benefit of hindsight, this is exactly what happened in the project described in this article. The process which we will describe contributed only to personal development, but not to systemic transformation.

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