Community Participation is accepted as essential in planning and decision-making – and is both expected and demanded by communities. The greater the degree of participation the more likely final decisions and outcomes are to be blessed with cooperation and success. It must be recognised that good participation takes time – both from practitioner and community – sometimes leading to “participation fatigue”. Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, the deeper the level of participation that can be achieved, the better. 


Talking to, telling, and advising a community does not bring community buy-in, and this short-cut invariably leads to alienation of community from the process and eventual project failure.  In all development it is absolutely vital to move away from the old top-down approaches so prevalent in the past, to shared approaches that draw on the power of community to take full ownership of both planning and implementation. There has been a radical shift in the understanding of the value and need for participatory decision-making, and participatory approaches have become mainstream over the past 25 years.

There are a number of different participatory approaches – developed for particular circumstances and needs - and there are a number of participatory methods or techniques used by all or some of these styles of participation.  Methods may be adopted and used as circumstances require and permit. There are no hard and fast rules as to what techniques to utilise – but the basic rules in applying these methods (see below) must always be adhered to.


Participatory techniques were first formalised as a way of giving voice to the “poorest of the poor”. It is important to ensure that even the most humble and quiet of voices are heard and that these are not drowned out by those who are strident or happen to hold the most power. The secrets to a good plan often lie in the voices of those who do not speak easily.

This section outlines the most commonly used approaches for participatory planning in the catchment context, and methodologies used by these approaches. The CMP team or project team should select the approach that most suits their needs or type of information they require. Participatory work is a skill that comes naturally to some, but not to all.  Training in these skills is recommended and until or unless the CMP Team has these skills, it is important that professional experience be drawn into the process.

Participatory approaches include:


Methods or techniques used by these participatory approaches are listed in Table 6‑1. These techniques can be used singly or in conjunction with each other.

Table 6‑1: Participatory Methods or Techniques


Participatory Methods or Techniques


Village meetings


Visual mapping


Semi-structured interviews


One-to-one interview


Transect walks


Time lines


Historical (and other) matrices


Ranking, rating and sorting (e.g. three pile sort)


Problem trees


Venn diagrams


Group work (focus groups)


Action research


Figure 6 1: Example of a transect walk (Source: S. Braid)



There is excellent detail on all of these and other methods published on the internet.