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Plan for participation and partnerships

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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Access to justice programmes should be participatory and should draw on a network approach when feasible. Ensuring participation and developing effective networks can be challenging, but these strategies can significantly enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of programs.

The meaningful participation of those affected by a problem is considered a fundamental right in itself. Participation helps increase accountability, brings the knowledge of those experiencing the problem into the process, and can help to address power imbalances.

A network approach to access to justice brings partners together around a common goal. Using networks to advocate for change allows groups to maximize resources, avoid duplication of efforts, and draw on the social capital (relationships, reciprocity, reputations) of multiple organizations.

Creating meaningful participation in programmes

Meaningful participation is generally understood to mean that the participants have a degree of real decision-making and control in the process. A participation plan is an important part of the programme planning and design process. Organizations should consider the following when developing a participation plan (Asia-Pacific Rights and Justice Initiative, 2003; UNDP, 2005):

  • Identify level and means of participation of women, girls, and others who are most affected by the problem.
    • What kinds of participation are feasible given political, financial, and time constraints?
    • Do different stakeholders need to be involved in different ways?
    • What channels for participation already exist?
  • Identify obstacles and incentives to participation.
    • What is inhibiting women’s, girls’, and other stakeholders’ participation in the justice reform programme effort?
    • How can the capacity of women, girls, and other stakeholders be enhanced so that they can be active participants in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation? Do women need training in the short-term? Is illiteracy or language an issue? Is transport or childcare a concern?
    • How can non-discrimination be assured through the programme planning and design process?
    • Who are the groups and individuals who must be involved early on to ensure success?
    • How can outreach and consultation take place to maximize input from all stakeholders?
    • Who may be difficult to involve?
  • Develop strategies to strengthen capacities for participation.
    • Trust-building – may involve building networks with credible organizations and leaders, assuring confidentiality, transparency about motives and funding, sharing results with all stakeholders
    • Techniques – public meetings, traditional community gatherings, conferences, focus groups, workshops, roundtables, advisory committees, task forces, open houses, site visits, demonstrations
  • Incorporate participation into all stages of the programming cycle including appraisal, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Detailed information about participatory data collection methods is available in Programming Essentials, by scrolling down through the Baseline Assessments section.

Additional resources on participation:

Researching Violence Against Women: A Practical Guide for Researchers and Activists (PATH/WHO, 2005). Information on using participatory qualitative data collection methods appears at pages 138-152. Available in English.

Gender-based Violence Legal Aid: A Participatory Toolkit (American Refugee Committee, 2005). Available in English.

Partnerships and networks are powerful tools

Developing networks can be a very powerful tool, but the partnership or networking process must be carefully managed and monitored to ensure success (Varga, 2006; U.S. Agency for International Development, 2007).

Networks have several advantages:

  • Increasing credibility, urgency, and legitimacy through multiple organizations pressing a single issue or transmitting a consistent message
  • Appealing to a broader constituency than an organization working alone
  • Providing support to advocates through less isolation
  • Avoiding duplication
  • Learning from others’ past mistakes
  • Harnessing complementary strengths on complex issues

Key considerations in developing networks include:

  • Assigning a coordinating role
  • Developing a leadership structure
  • Clearly defining purpose, roles, and expectations for network members
  • Memorializing expectations in written documents

Breakdown in communication or lack of clear expectations can undermine the effectiveness of networks and coalitions. Many find it useful to create documents that specify expectations for coalition members. The following are examples of documents coalitions have used to clarify expectations, communication, and roles:

More detailed information on developing a network or coalition is available in the Legislation: Advocacy section.