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Locating the value of the participatory approach to ‘humanitarian accountability’ in displacement contexts

Citation: Mathias, Bethan (2021) Locating the value of the participatory approach to ‘humanitarian accountability’ in displacement contexts. [Discussion or working paper]

RLI WPS No. 53.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

So-called ‘participatory approaches’ are, along with associated concepts of accountability, empowerment and community development, now part of mainstream humanitarian discourse and reflected in many of the major standards and initiatives of the sector. Yet ‘participation’ is neither well defined nor is there consensus regarding its aims or its value to affected populations, particularly those affected by forced displacement. This review explores the different, sometimes contrary, strands of thought within the humanitarian sector regarding ‘participation’ of affected persons in humanitarian programming. It traces the rise of the concept from its origins in the development sector to its transition through the arrival of rights-based approaches and the influence of shifts within Western governance. This history allows for an analysis of the varying motivations for participatory programming, whether ‘normative’, ‘instrumental’ or ‘emancipatory’ – all contributing in different ways to how accountability is viewed, pursued and found to be elusive in the sector. Whilst participation remains a popular concept in itself, this article touches on the evolution of the concept over recent decades, providing context to newer debates around system innovation and governance, modalities of intervention such as cash-based programming and ultimately the drive for accountability to which all these contribute.

Creators: Mathias, Bethan and
Subjects: Human Rights & Development Studies
Sociology & Anthropology
Keywords: Accountability, participation, displacement, refugees, humanitarian
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Collections: Refugee Law Initiative
  • 22 February 2021 (published)


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