People’s Participation in Rural Development: Nature, Scope and Problems


1.    Introduction …………………………………………………  01

2.    People ……………………………………………………….  01

3.    Participation ………………………………………………… 02

4.    People’s Participation ……………………………………….. 02

5.    Typology of Participation …………………………………… 03

6.    Development ………………………………………………… 04

7.    Rural Development ………………………………………….. 05

8.    Nature of People’s Participation in Rural Development …….. 05

9.    Scopes of People’s Participation in Rural Development …….. 09

10.  Problems of People’s Participation in Rural Development ..… 12

11.  Conclusion …………………………………………………… 15

12.  References …………………………………………………… 16


A refocusing of development strategies in the mid 1970s led to the emergence of people’s participation as a central concern, and to an increasing recognition of the need for development strategies which were not primarily capital centered, but seeking to involve people more directly in development process. Initially these strategies laid emphasis on the notion of human resource development as an important adjunct to existing economic and capital centered method. In the 1980s, however, the interpretation broadened into a more general argument for wider people’s participation in national development. The concern with in the development community to promote effective people’s participation was motivated by the wish to improve the distribution of the benefits of development.


Bangladesh, a South Asian country, presently has a population estimated at 158,570,535 (July 2011) within an area of only 55,813 square miles (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 2007). Inherently, most of the peoples of the country live in rural areas where half of the number lives on the poverty line. The Government of Bangladesh with the help of development agencies has been trying to eradicate poverty by providing adequate physical infrastructures at rural areas since independence. To implement these physical infrastructures and other service delivery, the government has emphasised the development of local government bodies and people’s participation at all levels of rural areas. The concern with participation is becoming popular day by day, and one can hardly be against the concept, because it is used as a broader concept.



People generally mean a body of citizens of a state or country. In social science parlance, people denote a group of humans, living in the same country under one national government; a nationality and who used to sharing a common religion, culture, language, or inherited condition of life.


Merriam Webster Dictionary defines ‘people’ as a body of person who compose a community, tribe, nation, or race; and aggregate of individuals forming a whole; a community; a nation.



In the decade since the notion of participation become so dominant in the literature, there have always been two broadly different schools of thought.


ð  Participation is the key to inclusion of human resources in development efforts; previously, development planners had overlooked the contributions that people could make and the skills that they could bring to development projects. If, therefore, one could incorporate the human element in such project in persuade people to participate in them, and then there would be stronger change that these projects would be successful.


ð  On the other hand other school saw this participation in very different light-as more linked to tackling the structural causes of people’s poverty, rather than as yet another input into a development project. People are poor because they are excluded and have little influence upon the forces which affect their livelihoods.


Participation is part of the process where by such people seek to have some influence and to gain access to the resources which would help them sustain and input their living standards.


People’s Participation:

Aristotle observed that if liberty and equality are to be found in democracy, people need to be involved.’


The term participation is very often used to cover all the forms of action by which citizens take part in the operation of administration. It is also understood in that sense in United Nations document. The word people’s participation is used broadly to refer to the role of members of the general public as distinguished from that of appointed officials, including civil servants, in influencing the activities of government or in providing directly for community needs.


‘Participation does not refer simply to voting … [but] requires that individuals have a voice in the decisions that affect them’Joseph Stiglitz.

People’s participation implies the active environment in development of the rural people, particularly disadvantaged groups that form the mass of the rural population and have previously been excluded from the development process.


The World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD): In 1979 stated that “participation by the people in the institutions and systems which govern their lives is basic human right and on also essential for realignment of political power in favor of disadvantaged groups and for social and economic development.”


People’s participation should be viewed as an active process in which people take initiatives and action that is stimulated by their own thinking and deliberation and which they can effectively influence.”


Typology of Participation:

Participation which means the degree of influence exercised by the people on decision making process in government and administration can assume different typology. The major typologies are democratic, social, administrative and community development.


S. N. Mishra mentions two parallel approaches to participation. These are:

Political participation and programmatic participation.


D. P. Fauri describes 4 types of participation. These are:

1.   Democratic participation

2.   Social protest participation

3.   Community development participation and

4.   Programme participation


1.   Democratic participation:

Democratic participation may be called political participation. It is the basis of democracy and political modernization or development. According to S. P. Huntington and John M. Nelson, “political participation is the activity by private citizens designed to influence governmental decision making.”


2.   Social participation:

It includes all types of participation. Social participation sometimes takes the form of social protest. The deprived section people have less access to the center of authority to influence the decision making process in government and politics. In this situation social protest can be an effective form of communication between social and political system.


3.   Administrative participation:

Various scholars called it in different forms as “programme participation” and “community development”. It is used synonymously with decision making process. Such as policy planning, programme planning, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes.


4.   Community development participation:

Community development is the process by which the people combine their efforts with a view to improving the socio-economic and cultural life of the communities. Community development in South Asian countries primarily mean encouraging rural people to become self reliant making them capable of enlighten their participation in socio-economic development and nation building measures through mobilization and utilization of resources.

For rural development activities together, these 4 kinds of participation may be treated as something like a cycle.



Development means any positive change.


Development is the most widely used term of the recent world. It has also become a universal appeal. Obtaining development has become the main objectives of all the developing countries. As a result, it has become a highlighted area in the field of public administration.


The concept ‘development’ has numerous appeals. It can be defined as a multi dimensional process involving major changes in social structures, popular attitudes and national institutions as well as acceleration of economic growth the reduction of inequality and the eradication of absolute poverty.


Rural development:

Rural development generally refers to the process of improving the quality of life and economic well being of people lives in relatively remote and less populated areas. In general rural development indicates the total infrastructural, financial, political, social improvement in a specific area which will be supported by most of the people of these rural areas.


      According to World Bank rural development means, “A strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of the rural people” (The World Bank, 1975).


Rural development means the development process of rural people by which they can improve their economic, educational, entrepreneurship, physical infrastructure, and social infrastructure by their own strategy.


Nature of people’s participation in rural development:

‘Local government may sound small but it is often one of the largest employers and most diverse organisations within any particular area. Encouraging innovation and setting access to its potential benefits is a real and complex problem within these organisations.’ – Audit Commission, (Orange et al. 2007, p. 243)


The last two decades of the 20thcentury saw major changes in the local government system worldwide (Bovaird & Löffler 2002). Bangladesh was no exception. From medieval times to the present, the country has experienced several changes and effected decentralizations in the local government systems to make it effective and efficient (Sarker 2006b). The government and international development partners have also put emphasis on pro-rural development by strengthening the local government system in the country. In attempt to achieve strong local governance, the government has introduced several reforms and decentralisation programs to bring the government close to the people.


Increasingly, people’s participation in local governmental affairs is considered an indivisible part of the meaning of democracy at local levels. However, people’s participation is not a new discovery. What is new is people’s direct participation in decision making, which is increasingly considered an essential practice in governing agencies. People’s participation is a legal requirement or prerequisite for local governmental decision making in most of the developed countries.


Through this participation, local people get empowered to raise their voices in government decisions that affect their lives (Holzer & Kloby 2005). Thus a participatory decision provides more appropriate outcomes and the highest use of any development program, which enhances economic growth. These economic improvements then reduce poverty and enhance equity among all community members (Barten et al. 2002).


A World Bank discussion paper (Parker & Serrano 2000) has conceptualised how people’s participation impact on local governance elements and sustainable local development.


















Moreover, good local governance helps to develop relationships between social actors. These relationships prompt the local governing authority to provide services as per local people’s choices, which consequently helps them in harnessing local development programs to alleviate poverty. Sobol pointed out that ‘governance is the process of steering societies in such a way that it circumvents the dangers of problems related to collective action or inequitable social relationships and removes barriers to the enhancement of social welfare’ (2008, p. 195).


According to many international development agencies, good local governance is indispensable in all domestic efforts to eradicate poverty from developing countries (ADB 2004a; UNDP 2006b). So does, the Government of Bangladesh put emphasis on local governance to get rid of poverty.


Generally we see two types of nature of people’s participation in rural development-


Æ  Direct Participation:

In the Upazila Development Co-ordination Committee (UDCC), one member is selected from local elites or from ‘freedom fighters’ two and three female members from the Union levels, which is directly representing local people. Similarly, in the Project Implementation Committee (PIC), except for the president, all other members are selected from the local people to link them with development programs. In addition, there are local management committees, formed mostly by local people, to look after the development activities when implemented by the contractors.


If a project costs more than seventy five thousand taka or covers more than one Upazila or countrywide, a contractor is selected through an open tendering process to implement those projects, and local management committees are responsible for monitoring and evaluating the works. For example, there are two tier market management committees to monitor a development project related to the local market, which is as follows. The following figure shows the members of these committees and their span of control.


Æ  Indirect Participation:

The Upazila Parishad has been designed to work as a focal point of all development and service activities in rural Bangladesh. Most of the development activities which were previously performed by the central government have been transferred to the Upazila Parishad. The present Upazila Development Coordination Committee (UDCC) has the main responsibility for planning, coordination and monitoring of all development activities at rural level (UNDP 2004).


People are participating in the UDCC through their elected Member of Parliament, as the advisor of the committee, and also through the elected UP chairmen, as the president and member of the committee. Moreover, if a project is less than fifty thousand taka, a Project Implementation Committee (PIC) is formed to monitor and evaluate the development activities. The president of these PICs is also elected UP chairmen or UP members. Payments for development works are not handed over without the approval of the president of the PIC.


1.  Participation as collaboration:

As a poor country like Bangladesh in nation-wide health, literacy, resource conservation or agricultural production programmes for example, people’s collaboration will be required as a means to ensure the success of the programme. While rural people may participate in the sense of collaborating with the programme, they rarely have any direct involvement in programme design, control of management so it could be argued that participation as collaboration is the interpretation which dominants much of the practice of current development programmes and projects.


2.  Participation as specific project:

When any development project is taken in any specific area, the involving people of this area get benefited by two ways. One is, this project brings the development of their region and another is they get employment opportunities on this project.


For example- If a canal digging project is taken in any specific area the local people of this area can participate as a day labor (employment opportunity) and they will get better water supply for their irrigation.


3.  Participation as empowerment:

Increasingly in the past decade participation as an exercise in of empowering people has gained wide public support and the term has been accepted into development vocabulary. Empowering means the development of skills and abilities to enable people to manage better or negotiate with existing development system. Being empowered the rural people can take any decision for the development programme by using their resources, knowledge and skills. That will also helps government development programmes like land reform, crop production, wipe out of illiteracy and public health campaigning’s.


4.  Participation as organization:

Rural organization plays a vital role to develop a rural area and as a member of this organization the people of this area accelerate the development programme. In terms of participation, the distinction lies in the origin of the organization; either such organizations are externally conceived and introduce into rural areas, for example co-operatives society, farmers’ associations or irrigation management committee or else they emerge and take structure themselves as a result of a process of participation. The more usual practice is the former and dynamic efforts have been made to ensure, for example, that co-operatives society or farmers’ association’s authentic vehicles of popular participation.


Scopes of people’s participation in rural development:

To develop a village, the participation of the majority must be needed. Sustainable development is not possible without people’s participation.


There are a number of remarkable scopes of the present system of engaging people in local development programs in rural Bangladesh. Rural people are now engaging with local development programs in a different way, mainly through their representatives or elected committees or directly.


The scopes of people’s participation in rural development are given below-


1.   Agriculture and irrigation:

Bangladesh is an agrarian country. The economic growth of rural areas depends on agriculture. The people who are live in the village most of them are farmer. They participate in various programmes to know about cultivation such as seeds programme, rural fisheries plantation by the road side, social forestry cultivation, horticulture programme, development of poultry, small flood embankment and so on.


2.   Decision making:

Decision making is one of the most central points of participation. Decision making means generation of ideas, formulation, and assessment of options and select a decision from those options and make it effective. By identifying of local needs the people can take decision.


3.   Decision Implementation:

To implement any project at first the project manager should take decision from the people of project area that helps the project manager to finish his project properly without any loss of the people.


4.   Gain benefits:

Three possible kinds of benefits can be expected from a project. They are

i.    Material,

ii.   Social and

iii.  Personal


Among these benefits personal benefits is generally highly desired because though these benefit the material and social benefit can be gained. When the personal benefit will be fulfilled the project can be finished properly.


5.   Forestry conservation:

In forestry conservation and development people’s participation has become increasingly influential. In the past decade their have been a world wide recognition of the dramatic destruction of existing forestry resources and of the critical role of forest and their products in the livelihoods of millions of rural people. Since the early 1980s their 3 main arguments have emerged for forestry development strategy. First, the causes and consequences of deforestation are well understood. Second local communities must have central role in developing and managing forestry resources. Third forestry is an essential part of rural development.


6.   Physical infrastructure:

Rural people participate in the infrastructural development of rural areas. Some of

the infrastructural development programmes are given below:

–     Road constricting and repairing

–     Constricting and reconstructing of small bridges and culverts

–     Digging cannel

–     Market construction


7.   Social infrastructure:

Social development of rural areas depends on its social infrastructure. Rural people develop their social infrastructure by organizationally, co-operatively and many ways. Social infrastructure developed by the rural people, some of them given below:

–     Development of educational institution

Education building, playground and education equipment and materials

–     Religious institution


8.   Small and cottage industry:

–     Small and cottage industry workshop programme

–     Skill development

–     Trading and extension income generating activities


9.   Construction of house and physical planning:

–     Hat and Bazar construction

–     Community center construction

–     Supply of drinking water

–     Construction of low cost sanitary latrine system


10. Health and welfare:

–     Arrangement of health and sanitation

–     Cleanliness and creating disease resistance environment

–     Family planning

–     Social activities for the welfare of child, youth and women


11. Sports and culture:

Entertainment is one of the basic human needs and sports and cultural programme are important source of entertainment by which helps people to concentrate their daily work.


From the above discussion we can say that the concept of people’s participation in rural development influence on the major sectors in development.


Problems of people’s participation in rural development:

To develop a village, people’s participation must be needed. But some time they are faced by some problems. These problems are discussed below:


1.   Lack of systematic planning:

Planning is very important before doing anything and that’s why planning is necessary for people’s participation in rural development. A project can be fruitful by using systematic planning. But in general we see that there is no systematic planning for people’s participation in rural development.


For this reason the rural people do not able participate any developmental project.


2.   Missing link with local people /beneficiaries

In rural Bangladesh, where elected representatives are supposed to represent local people, they were instead, found to be supporting government bureaucrats. Thus there is a big gap between ordinary people and elected representatives. These leaders do not keep good relation with local people once they have been elected. In most cases, ordinary people face difficulties in meeting their elected representatives as these representatives are found to be busy in the Upazila headquarters with bureaucrats. Nevertheless, the ultra poor have no or limited access to the office of elected representatives.
















3.   No information provided to the beneficiaries:

In most cases local government officials or representatives do not inform local beneficiaries about the local development programs. For this reason the rural people can not know about any kinds of information.


4.   Inadequate information:

Weak information tools, like notice boards, are the only tools used to inform local people. Even these notice boards are not placed in the best ways or places. The local governing agencies put up a signboard about a brief description of the projects to inform local people, and in most cases, that’s all that is done about people’s participation with development projects.


5.   Unavailability of information:

Though sometimes people get brief information through the signboards, detailed information is hardly available to the public or beneficiaries. At one end, common people have no access to the government offices; at the other end, officials do not supply any official documents to them and they deprived from their legal rights.


6.   Work schedule written in English:

The people who lives in the rural areas most of them are illiterate. As a result they can not read and write but the work schedule of any development project written in English. For this reason they can not know about any information of this project.


7.   Manipulation of people’s participation:

Both the Constitution and the government executive order put an especial emphasis on ensuring accountability of service providers to the people.

Article 7(1) of the Constitution mandates that: All powers in the Republic belong to the people, and their exercise on behalf of the people shall be affected only under, and by the authority of this Constitution (GOB 1972).


In the light of the direction in the constitution, a Project Implementation Committee (PIC) and a Standing Committee are to form to monitor each local development program (Local Government Division 2004). While the president of such a committee is to be an elected UP chairman or member, most other members are to be elected for each particular project by the local people. But the local people do not get opportunity to participate for implementing these projects.


8.   Structural defects:

Decentralization of political and administrative authority at the local government level that has the potential to de-concentrate decision-making and bring people closer to public governance have the merit of weakening abuse of power, strengthening accountability and combating corruption convincingly. The extent and quality of people’s participation have been variable. The direct participation is the opportunity of casting votes during the election to the local bodies. But elections are not held at regular intervals. Since independence in 1971, successive government has tried to use the local government system for their own political interest.


9.   Overlooking people while aiming to empower them:

Empowerment of the poor and women are two lucrative words to both the central government and international development agencies (IDAs). So, when the sponsoring department seeks funds from IDAs, they include them as issues whether they are practical to implement or not. IDAs are happy to provide funds in relation to the empowerment of women and the poor: a dire need in Bangladesh rural society. During the field study it was found that there are new buildings for local Market Management Committees, but, practically, such committees do not exist. Even the name of the committee was found to be different in different documents.


10. Lack of fund and influence in fund utilization:

Local government receives a major portion of funds from the Annual Development Programme (ADP). This funding system is full of loopholes creating serious setbacks in development activities.

The allocation is also prone to political interference. The interference by MPs in the Local affairs, particularly in development activities, has weakened the local government independence. The MPs often dedicate the development activities to be undertaken, most of the time without consulting with the local elected representatives or assessing actual needs.



Experiences in other parts of the world show that the closer the authorities and resources are to the people, the greater the benefits they bring for society. In Bangladesh local government structures remain weak, posing as a major obstacle in achieving the goal of poverty alleviation programmes. Local government as a political institution to ensure development and people participation in development activities in rural development is far from being an efficient tool of governance in Bangladesh.


Being mostly poor and illiterate, particularly at the grassroots, the people hardly go to bureaucrats with their problems because they are afraid to approach them. It people’s voices are heard, and their opportunities of participation are upheld, democracy can be strengthen. If local government bodies are not strong a well functioning, development at the grassroots level can not be ensured.






1.   Oaklui, P. (July 1995) People’s Participation in Development Projects, A Critical Review of Current Theory and Practice.

2.   Mohammad, S. N. (2010) People’s Participation in Development Projects at Grass-Root Level: A Case Study of Alampur and Jagannathpur Union Parishad.

3.   Rahman, M. S. (June 1991) People’s Participation at the Upazila Level: Problems and Prospects (A study of Twelve Upazilas in Bangladesh)

4.   Mishra, S. N. & Sharma, N. S. K. Participation and Development














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