The Challenges for Participatory Development in Contemporary Development Practice


ACFID Universities Linkages Conference

This is the third conference as part of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) Universities Linkages, which brings scholars and aid practitioners together to discuss important development issues. 
Participatory development involves including people who are affected by the development process as planners in that process and became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s as a response to globalization and neoliberal development policies.  It is inspired by the work of Robert Chambers as a way of overcoming the shortcomings of top-down development and the limitations of expert research and planning. Participatory development’s catch cry might be 'ordinary people know best'. It has, however, been criticized for being tokenistic and not been able to address the issues of top down development and more recently results-based planning. This conference will explore these issues from both an academic and practitioner perspectives.

Keynote Speakers

Prof Robert Chambers  is a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. He has worked on rural development in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and is currently concentrating on the development and spread of the approaches and methods of participatory rural appraisal. He is author of Rural Development: Putting the Last First; and his latest book is: Provocations for Development.

Prof Gita Sen combines a distinguished academic career with policy advocacy and NGO activism. She is a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India, and Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her recent work includes research and policy advocacy on the universal health care, the equity dimensions of health, and the gender dimensions of population policies. She is the author, co-author or co-editor of several books on these gender-related issues. She is a founding member of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Woman for a New Era).

Emele Duituturaga is a Pacific Islands gender and development specialist, academic, consultant and trainer. Emele has served in senior roles including CEO of the Fiji Ministry for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation and Head of the Pacific Women’s Resource Bureau for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Dr. Alan Fowler is an Emeritus Professor at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague and for more than thirty years an advisor to and writer on civil society organisations involved with international development.  Now based in South Africa, his current advisory work focuses on reforms in the governance of international civil society alongside academic initiatives around the theme of Civic Driven Change (CDC), that is civic innovation stemming from citizens and their (in)formal associations.

Program, Presenters and Abstracts

Conference Keynote Sessions:

Opening Plenary:

Introduction: Patrick Kilby
Opening: Gareth Evans ANU Chancellor
Keynote Address: Prof Robert Chambers
Participation for Development: A Good time to be alive?
Summary of Keynote address:

Plenary 2
Susan Harris Rimmer and Prof Dennis Altman
About the ACFID University Linkage Network
Keynote Address: Dr. Alan Fowler
‘Spontaneous Participation:  Can Development NGOs Engage with Unbounded Activism?’

Plenary 3
Keynote Address: Prof Gita Sen;
Motherhood and apple pie? Being feminist in a development organization
Keynote Address: Emele Duituturaga;
Whose Development if not mine? A Glass Ceiling look at Participatory Development

Closing Plenary Panel

Alan Fowler; Gita Sen; Robert Chambers; Emele Duituturaga; Elizabeth Reid; Julia Newton-Howes

Conference Slide Show

Some Visual Representation of the Conference

In Conversation with Gita Sen and Robert Chambers

Gita Sen Public Lecture
Two steps forward one back, or the reverse: feminism in a fierce new century?

The Big Push Forward
A number of concerns were raised at the conference about how participation in the development process can be undermined by narrow approaches to the assessment of results and value for money. The Big Push Forward initiative is hosting a conference on this topic next year, and there will also be further work in Australia. They are looking for input on this issue. We encourage people to respond to the short survey that this group is currently undertaking. It can be found here"

You tubes of the Conference

"Follow the conference on Twitter"



UNSW Arts and Social Sciences




Date & time

Wed 28 Nov 2012, 9am – Thu 29 Nov 2012, 5pm


Manning Clarke Conference Centre, Australian National University


Updated:  23 January 2013/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications