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Equity, power games and legitimacy: dilemmas of participatory learning processes

Authors : Cécile Barnaud and Annemarie Van Paassen

Publication Date :  July 2010

Designers of participatory learning processes in heterogeneous social contexts often encounter problems ranging from claims that the processes and their designers are negatively influenced by powerful stakeholders, to accusations of illegitimate interventions in social settings where some stakeholders are empowered relative to others.

Drawing on experimentation in Northern Thailand, this paper serves to analyse how the adoption of a critical companion approach can counter these issues. The critical companion approach, inspired by the companion modelling and critical systems thinking approaches, proposes that the designer of a participatory learning process enter the process with a “critical companion posture”, while recognizing the existence of local power asymmetries. The objective of this posture is to propose an arena and framework of communication, whether accepted or not.

This paper can be of use to those designers of participatory learning processes in situations of inequality among stakeholders.