Education for Participatory Governance

Rajesh Tandon, Society for Participatory Research in Asia

In village Khatuakuda in Ganjam district of Orissa, every household has a toilet, bathroom and running water supply. Each of the 120 households has a blooming kitchen garden, irrigated through the recycling of waste water. Women have been able to save four to five hours of the day spent in fetching water; and they are now able to look after cattle and horticulture as well. Children are going to school. Bano Malik, the young tribal leader of this village proudly says that this has been possible because of unity and wisdom in the village. Maintenance of the new water and sanitation facilities is carried out through a community generated corpus fund.

Meenali walks to the panchayat ghar with a smile on her face; this young woman Sarpanch of village Jakhoda in Karauli district of Rajasthan has been able to reclaim the common grazing land which had been encroached upon by a local landlord. After discussing this matter in the Gram Sabha meeting last year, Meenali brought it to the Gram Panchayat. She convinced them to act together in this effort to reclaim the village pasture. Since then, nearly 100 acres of this land has been developed into a grazing land for the cattle of nearly 300 village households.

What has happened in these two villages? How has it been possible to bring about such positive results for the well-being of all households?

These are stories of effective governance of resources and issues in these villages. During the past decade, policy makers and practitioners alike acknowledge that good governance provides the base for sustainable development. Various definitions and characteristics of good governance have been identified (UNDP, 1997 and World Bank, 1992) which centre around aspects of transparency, accountability and responsiveness (DfID, 2006).

What is governance? In our work, we define governance as the structures and processes of decision–making, around resource mobilization and utilization for the common public good (Tandon and Mohanty, 2002). Viewed thus, ‘good governance’ implies effective participation of the governed in these structures and processes of decision-making.

Participatory governance starts with identification, prioritization and agreement on common public goods. In the cases above, water and sanitation facilities and village grazing land were agreed upon as common public goods. The process of building agreement around common public goods is itself a participatory deliberative process, which encourages conversations and learning.

The structure of decision–making in participatory governance is designed to be inclusive. In Orissa, a village committee nominated by all the households became the institutional mechanism, and its members elected Bano as their leader. In Rajasthan, Meenali was elected to the constitutional post of village Sarpanch through elections conducted by the State Election Commission, along with other Panchs.

While the structure of democratic institutions can be made inclusive and participatory, the practice may still be undemocratic. The Indian experience in most governance institutions and for a is that the practice remains non–transparent and unaccountable. The practice of governance needs transformation to be open, participatory and inclusive. In the cases above, both Bano and Meenali conducted various deliberations in the village and Gram Sabha in an open and participatory manner.

Bano and Meenali were supported by facilitators—Gram Vikas in Orissa and Society for Sustainable Development (SSD) in Rajasthan. These NGOs created learning opportunities for such leaders (through workshops, exposures, dialogues, etc) on an ongoing basis, resulting in their empowerment and self-confidence.

Village society in India is ridden with conflicts and tensions; and divided along party affiliations or caste, ethnicity or religious identities. Narrow sectarianism is so widespread that reaching decisions for the common public good has become almost impossible. Governance is in a state of paralysis in India. This paralysis is most acutely visible in respect of governance of natural resources — land, water, forests, minerals, etc.

Such confusion, paralysis and contestations can be navigated through a process of open dialogue, discussions and mutual learning. But our current formal structures of governance do not adequately provide for such dialogue; processes of decision–making only rarely become participatory. As a consequence, governance of natural resources in India has largely remained sub–optimal, meeting the narrow needs of limited vested interest groups. The sustainability of such decisions is widely questioned, and our future, and those of generations to follow, seems to have been substantially compromised already.

The alternative path of sustainable development requires supporting institutions, mechanisms and processes of participatory governance. The cases above are not unique or accidental; many such innovations have been around for a while. Our governance institutions and leadership are unable to learn from them in a manner that such approaches to participatory governance be scaled-up for nationwide, and global, implementation.

One of the main constraints has been inadequacy of learning opportunities for key actors and enablers of such participatory governance. Education is at the heart of such a transformation. Education for participatory governance is essential to move our institutions and leaders towards a more open and inclusive decision–making process, especially around issues of natural resource development. Such an education should itself be inclusive and participatory. Education for transformation is learner–centred and learner-controlled; it inspires learners to listen and speak out; it empowers them to question, critique and envision together for a common future.

This requires participatory citizenship — learning to be and act like a citizen (Mohanty and Tandon, 2006). Once again, citizenship learning — and education — are key to participatory citizenship.

The challenge today is to mainstream such education for transformation; it has been once again driven to the margins due to the emergence of pre-packaged, IT–driven, top–down educational provision. The new economic growth story may dwarf the stories of Bano and Meenali — that is the challenge is for the fraternity of such educators and institutions anchoring such educational networks —education can enable those stories to be heard again. Are we losing confidence in our own faith? Are we uncertain about the transformative power of such education? Are we afraid of participatory governance, lest we may lose our niche?

The practitioners of education for participatory governance towards sustainable development need to march in–step with Bano and Meenali!

For more information contact:
Dr Rajesh Tandon, President
Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)
42, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi 110062
Ph: 011–29966908; Fax: 011–29955183
E-mail:; Website: www.pria.


  • DFID, (2006) Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor.

  • Mohanty, Ranjita & Tandon, Rajesh (2006), Participatory Citizenship: Identity, Exclusion, Inclusion, Sage Publication India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi.

  • Tandon, Rajesh & Mohanty, Ranjita (2002), Civil Society and Governance, SAMSKRITI, New Delhi.

  • UNDP, (1997), The Shrinking State: Governance and Sustainable Human Development.

  • World Bank (1992), Governance and Development, Washington D.C.

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