Monday, September 8, 2014

Participatory approaches, community and the ladder of inclusive innovation

Considerations when planning the next steps

As we enter into a discussion on the next steps of this project, we have considered the use of more participatory methods or adopting participatory/community-based perspective. The following blog entry highlights some topics for discussion, particularly focused on participatory approaches and inclusive innovation.

A participatory approach

A participatory approach can be used either with or without a community-based approach. Our rapid prototyping process (based off of the action research cycle) can be very participatory if stakeholders are involved in each aspect of the process. Perhaps one of the first questions may be, to what extent do we want a participatory approach moving forward? To what extent should stakeholders be involved in the rapid prototyping process? Which stakeholders? Whose participatory involvement do we want?

A participatory approach definitely has its strengths.
-          Builds organizational capacity
-          Helps ensure that a wide range of diverse perspectives is considered,
-          Encourages the use of accessible and relevant language,
-          Ensures the relevance of the project activities to stakeholders,
-          Helps facilitate the implementation of research into practice
(Banks, 2014; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008; Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

A participatory approach that is community-based has additional strengths:
-          Build community capacity
-          Build community credibility
-          Further ensures that a diverse range of perspectives is considered
-          Further enhances the relevance of the project to the community itself
-          Further facilitates implementation of research to practice
-          Is recommended when engaging marginalized or potentially vulnerable populations
(Banks, 2014; Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008; Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

Levels of (community) participation

Participation can be classified into 5 levels ( There are others who have developed levels of community participation, but this one is fairly accessible:
  1. Informing – there is clear communication with community about the project
  2. Consultation – the project gathers feedback and ideas from the community, e.g. through focus groups and interviews. This is an initial step towards benefiting from local expertise.
  3. Deciding together – making decisions together, ideas are brought forward from within the community, e.g. through project committees and decision making initiatives. The community is involved in some aspects of decision making process.
  4. Acting Together – partnership with community that involves planning and implementing the plan together. Power sharing.
  5. Supporting independent initiatives – community is self-mobilized, simply rely on researcher/practitioner as a consultant
Once we enter into levels 3, 4 and 5, it would be considered participatory and if community is involved in those levels, it would be considered community-based.

What level of community participation are we striving for moving forward? What level of participation do we want from each stakeholders?

In developing a training program or education modules for tech stewards, to what extent do we want technology stewards to engage the participatory involvement of their communities? Perhaps technology stewards should be trained also on participatory methods to use in their community? To what extent are (or should) tech stewards representatives of their community?

Community-based research

A general description of community-based research (CBR) is:

community-based research is intended to empower communities and to give everyday people influence over the direction of research and enable them to be a part of decision making processes affecting them” (Sclove, Scammell & Holland, 1998)

There is a focus on the collaborative and equitable involvement of community through various phases of the research. It seeks mutually beneficial outcomes for all partners/stakeholders, but with a particular emphasis on community outcomes/action. It is iterative and collaborative and could complement our rapid prototyping process if desired.

While CBR is a useful method in many community contexts, it is not necessarily the best fit for all community projects. As we’ve said before, we can adopt aspects of CBR without claiming to be doing CBR.

Inclusive innovation

Another, possibly more relevant theory for us to situate ourselves is Inclusive Innovation. Richard Heeks (2013) describes inclusive innovation as that which is designed specifically for those who are excluded. Further, Heeks describes the “ladder of inclusive innovation”, providing a step-wise approach to inclusive innovation (levels 1-6), with higher levels representing greater inclusivity. It would be a useful exercise for us to consider where the project currently is on the ladder of inclusive innovation and where we aspire for it to be…then determine how we get there. Do we want to align ourselves with the language of inclusive innovation?

-          Level 1/Intention: an innovation is inclusive if the intention of that innovation is to address the needs or wants or problems of the excluded group. This does not relate to any concrete activity but merely the abstract motivation behind the innovation.
-          Level 2/Consumption: an innovation is inclusive if it is adopted and used by the excluded group. This requires that innovation be developed into concrete goods or services; that these can be accessed and afforded by the excluded group, and that it has the motivation and capabilities to absorb the innovation. All of those stages could be seen as sub-elements of this level of the inclusive innovation ladder, though all will be required for consumption so they are not hierarchical sub-steps (as appear in later levels).
-          Level 3/Impact: an innovation is inclusive if it has a positive impact on the livelihoods of the excluded group. That positive impact may be understood in different ways. More quantitative, economic perspectives would define this in terms of greater productivity and/or greater welfare/utility (e.g. greater ability to consume). Other perspectives would define the impact of innovation in terms of well-being, livelihood assets, capabilities (in a Senian sense), or many other foundational understandings of what development is. For those with concerns about inequality, this could include a condition that the benefits were restricted to the excluded group, or were greater than those achieved by ‘included’ groups using the innovation. One can therefore differentiate an absolute vs. relative notion of inclusive impact of innovation, the latter being a sub-step above the former.
-          Level 4/Process: an innovation is inclusive if the excluded group is involved in the development of the innovation. It is highly unlikely that the entire group could be involved so this immediately shrinks down to “members of the excluded group”: a point taken up further below. This level needs to be broken down according to the sub-processes of innovation: invention, design, development, production, distribution. These would create a set of sub-steps with, for example, an assumption of greater value of inclusion in the upstream elements than the downstream elements. Further complicating matters, the extent of involvement is equated with different levels of inclusion. Again, there would be sub-steps akin to those seen when discussing participation in development with higher sub-steps representing deeper involvement. Borrowing from Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of participation, sub-steps can include: being informed, being consulted, collaborating, being empowered. controlling.
-          Level 5/Structure: an innovation is inclusive if it is created within a structure that is itself inclusive. The argument here is that inclusive processes may be temporary or shallow in what they achieve. Deep inclusion requires that the underlying institutions, organisations and relations that make up an innovation system are inclusive. This might require either significant structural reform of existing innovation systems, or the creation of alternative innovation systems.
-          Level 6/Post-Structure: an innovation is inclusive if it is created within a frame of knowledge and discourse that is itself inclusive. (Some) post-structuralists would argue that our underlying frames of knowledge – even our very language – are the foundations of power which determine societal outcomes. Only if the framings of key actors involved in the innovation allow for inclusion of the excluded; only then can an innovation be truly inclusive.

Where is our project on the ladder of inclusive innovation?

Identifying where we are on this ladder is not straight forward. A case could be made that we are currently in the process of moving from level 3 to level 4. The tendency of using a model that is a ladder or levels, is that we place value on higher levels. But, do we aspire to reach a higher level of inclusive innovation? Or perhaps we further develop how to improve at our current level?

We will hopefully spend some time discussing this as we review the campaigns together at the end of September.

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