Negotiating the 'paradox of participation' to increase the social equity of participatory ecological monitoring in Nepal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences

Abstract

Inequalities in access to and control over benefits of natural resources threaten to undermine advances made in participatory development over the past 30 years. Participatory ecological monitoring is proposed as a backbone of new payments for ecosystem services projects and carbon trading schemes like REDD+, and is already integral to sustainable forest management through Nepal's community forestry programme. The Nepalese government believe that forest carbon trading could be a significant contributor to development in Nepal in the future, but acknowledges that all forestry schemes need to better promote national goals of poverty alleviation.

This Fellowship responds to this urgent challenge by engaging practitioners and policy makers in Nepalese forestry to co-create approaches to participatory ecological monitoring which focus explicitly on the goal of social equity. My PhD thesis exposed the social outcomes of one such project in Nepal, finding that it served - unintentionally - to reinforce existing processes of marginalisation based on gender, caste and literacy. It sought to understand how this 'tyranny of participation' could be transformed, suggesting that this will only occur through meaningful engagement with deeper cultural, political and institutional contexts. This Fellowship will build on my thesis to reach out to those across Nepal's community forestry programme who deliver participatory monitoring projects on the ground, and who develop the policy space within which they take place. It will engage them in a dialogue around the paradox that participatory projects can in fact be disempowering, and build on that critical reflection to co-design approaches and policies which pay attention to the fundamental factors critical to delivering social equity.

This Fellowship will be dedicated to engaging practitioners and policy-makers in Nepal, and beyond, in a critical dialogue aimed at promoting the social equity of participatory forest monitoring projects on the ground. Through these collaborations, I would seek to build on my PhD to:
Build a global overview of the ways in which social equity and benefit sharing are currently considered in participatory ecological monitoring projects, and how they are conceptualised by academics working in this sphere
Bring together projects involving participatory approaches to monitoring in Nepal (either as part of sustainable forest management or carbon-related assessment) and provide them with a space for; critical reflection on the current framing and assessment of equity and benefit-sharing, for sharing experiences and expertise in this area, for co-designing procedures to promote the social equity of on-going and future projects, and for monitoring the challenges to implementation as part of an iterative design process
To take the experiences from Nepal to a global academic and non-academic audience and engage them in the lessons to be learnt
Build international networks of academics, practitioners and policy-makers, through which I can create opportunities for future research in this area and secure a successful academic career

A GCRF Fellowship would have a vitally important, lasting impact on my academic career. Since completing my PhD I have proven myself able to produce high quality papers, to successfully branch out into complementary fields of study, and to initiate collaborations with colleagues in academia and beyond. A Fellowship would allow me to cement my expertise and influence as an academic in the field of community-based conservation, to build my capacity to collaborate with stakeholders to co-create impacts, and to continue doing so into the future in order to respond to on-going global challenges.
 
Description This award has enabled engagement with over 50 individuals from over 30 government, civil society and development agency organisations in Nepal in in-depth discussions and reflections over issues of equity and social inclusion in community forestry. A number of key themes have emerged from this debate and reflection, namely the multiple ways in which development and community forestry professionals come to understand what 'equity' and 'social inclusion' entail in reality. This understanding not only reflects professional and disciplinary knowledge and training, but also importantly their own identity (including for example as from an urban middle-class) and their personal experiences and observations based on experiences of family, friends and wider society. When it comes to intervening through community forestry initiatives to promote equity and social inclusion, the knowledge and understanding that professionals have is very much constrained however by development practices and procedures, for example funding mechanisms, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks, and seniority and power within and between organisations. These structural constraints limit the potential of many interventions to meaningfully transform social relations and norms in order to actually deliver equity and social inclusion. In other words, the 'paradox of participation' - in that interventions (inadvertently) result in elite capture of benefits from participation and thus further disempower already marginalised groups (such as women, men and women of so-called lower castes, and those who are the poorest within communities) - reflects development practices and procedures which fail to fully account for what 'equity' and 'social inclusion' really mean in practice and what they require in interventions.

2019: This award has so far resulted in 5 publications, including 1 journal article and 4 international conference presentations. A journal article reporting specifically on the findings of this award is in preparation and due to be submitted in the next month to a well-respected international journal. Another journal article (written for a well-respected Nepali journal) will emerge in due course from the final part of the award's activities - see below.
As the final part to this award I will be facilitating a workshop over the summer of 2019 in which I hope to engage with 'GESI Officers' i.e. those people within development organisations now tasked with promoting GESI - Gender Equality and Social Inclusion. GESI Officers are now a feature of development and community forestry organisations and institutions across Nepal, and working with them to reflect on how understandings of equity and social inclusion influence their work and how structures and wider social norms constrain their own ability to enable GESI, will get to the heart of what can be done to transform 'the paradox of participation'.
This award has resulted in collaborations with Nepali institutions both with regards postgraduate teaching opportunities (in the form of an annual 'summer school' for University of Edinburgh Masters students in Nepal, and in the form of collaboration on a PhD studentship supervised by the award holder) and on applications for further GCRF funding opportunities (namely the ESRC GCRF Equitable Resilience call).
Within the UK the award has resulted in the establishment of a growing network of academics and development practitioners based in and around Edinburgh through the 'Edinburgh Environment & Development Network' (EEDN). The network has resulted in healthy discussion, debate and sharing of experience and expertise between those working in the broad field of environment and development and has served as a bridge between the sometimes siloed fields of academia and practice. This has resulted in collaborations between academics and practitioners on funding proposals and the personal relationships and trust being built will provide a sound basis for longer-term engagements hopefully far into the future.
The objectives of the award have largely been met, or will be met through on-going work and engagements in Nepal planned for a little later this year (contributing to the 'user impacts' the award aimed to create), and through final submission of publications in preparation (contributing to the 'academic impacts' the award aimed to create). The delay in fulfilling objectives have been partly due to the award holder securing a permanent academic post (and with that teaching responsibilities), which in itself was an objective of the award (the 'career impact' the award aimed to create). This permanent post will enable the award holder however to continue their engagements in Nepal, both through postgraduate teaching and through further research and funding bids (examples given above).

April 2020 update:
1. Follow-on 2 day workshop in Kathmandu completed September 2019 "Promoting social inclusion and equity through reflective learning and journals - For environmental governance and development practitioners in Nepal" collaborating with two Nepali experts in gender and social inclusion and on reflective learning. Workshop involved 25 participants from development and environment sector, from government, donor agencies, grassroots movements. This was the start of a follow-on action research project and since there has been a follow-up meeting in Kathmandu without PI, but COVID-19 restrictions have now come into force so we wait to see the best way forwards as the PI can no longer travel to Nepal in April 2020 for the third follow-up meeting.
2. Publication in press of main research findings, invited for a Special Issue on "Beyond forestry: knowledge practices for sustainable landscapes with trees" in Rural Landscapes - due for publication by end 2020
3. Follow-on funding has been secured with GCRF (Scottish Funding Council GCRF Strategy) for which I am joint PI, with Dr Clare Barnes, entitled "Learning to 'Leave No One Behind (LNOB)': Supporting equitable and sustainable livelihoods in a changing rural environment (Nepal and India)- developing an international research cluster" worth £37,295. This will take place during 2020/2021, given COVID-19 travel restrictions for now. The Nepali collaborators for this project all stem from the current 'Paradox' research grant

March 2021 update:
4. During the summer of 2020 a series of on-line workshops were run with practitioners (many of whom had attended the physical 2019 workshop), expanding the focus on equity in forest and rural governance, to also include the impact of the COVID pandemic on practitioners professional and personal lives
5. Based on the this on-going reflective learning (physical workshop 2019 (point 1 above) and online workshops 2020 (point 4 above)) we are collectively writing a journal article for the Journal of Political Ecology
6. On-going planning of the follow-on funding from GCRF for 'Learning to LNOB' (point 3 above), with engagement activities due to take place April-June 2021
7. Convened conference session at POLLEN 2020 on "Political ecology of professional practice: plurality and possibilities in environmental governance" with 8 presentations from academics and practitioners
8. Based on the POLLEN conference session (point 7 above) I will be co-editing a Special Section on "Political ecology of professional practice: plurality and possibilities in environmental governance" in the Journal of Political Ecology
9. I will be presenting at the Third International Forest Policy Meeting
10. I was invited speaker to the ICN Reflexive Turn in Conservation group
Exploitation Route Findings from the award will be taken forward by different people in different ways. The 'user impacts' created through this award will enable community forestry and development professionals working in Nepal to apply the insights from this award to their own work and their own role in promoting equity and social inclusion. The 'academic impacts' created through this award will enable academics and researchers to build on the insights shared through publications and presentations, and to further contribute to critique of failing development.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description This award has enabled engagement with over 50 individuals from over 30 government, civil society and development agency organisations in Nepal in in-depth discussions and reflections over issues of equity and social inclusion in community forestry. I have been told that these debates and reflections have given professionals the space and opportunity to think more carefully and deeply about issues of equity and what more can be done to promote it within community forestry, ultimately to benefit the poorest within Nepal's rural communities, women, those of so-called lower castes, and other marginalised groups. Shifting how forestry and development initiatives are planned and practiced (in order to pay greater attention to equity) is a slow process, but in connection with wider and increasing attention to issues of equity and social inclusion across Nepal, this award has helped facilitate that process with those engaged with and their organisations. As the final part to this award I facilitated a 2-day workshop in Kathmandu in Sept. 2019 "Promoting social inclusion and equity through reflective learning and journals - For environmental governance and development practitioners in Nepal", with two collaborators in Nepal, specialists in GESI and in reflective learning in development. In the workshop I engaged with 'GESI Officers' i.e. those people within development organisations now tasked with promoting GESI - Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, and a range of others working in policy and practice at the nexus of development and environment. GESI Officers are now a feature of development and community forestry organisations and institutions across Nepal, and working with them (and others) to reflect on how understandings of equity and social inclusion influence their work and how structures and wider social norms constrain their own ability to enable GESI, will get to the heart of what can be done to transform 'the paradox of participation'. This will create societal impacts in the form of increased attention to issues of equity connected to Nepal's community forestry and natural resource management more widely. Whilst working with a specific group of GESI officer and other participants, the outcomes of this action research will be shared more widely within their organisations. The workshop involved 25 participants and in-depth reflection and shared learning on the barriers and opportunities to promoting GESI in Nepal. We focused much on the connection between personal experience and professional practice, and this is the focus going forwards with the 'reflective learning' by participants. This was supported by a meeting in December 2020 (without the PI) and was meant to involve another follow-up meeting in April, however COVID travel restrictions now mean this is not possible. Participants are receiving online remote support however. During 2020, the award led to a follow-on series of on-line workshops in July and August "Reflective Learning for Social Inclusion - Learning from Change", which continued from the work above, but adapted to COVID by taking place online and by focusing attention also on the impacts of COVID on the practitioners professional and personal lives. The series of events were attended by a sub-set of those who attended the physical workshop in Sept. 2019, given the trouble with online access for some. Those who took part however reported a feeling of collective strength and solidarity from the events, and how this helped them deal with their work during the pandemic. We are now collectively writing up this transdisciplinary action research as a journal article (as detailed in Key Findings). We are planning on applying for follow-on funding from ESRC-IAA to continue this work into the near future i.e. over the next year.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

 
Description PGT training for MSc Environment & Development, University of Edinburgh
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Based on partnerships developed through my original funding, I have co-designed and delivered training for PGT students at the University of Edinburgh on the Masters in Environment & Development. The training comes in the form of a 2 week fieldtrip in Nepal (proceeded by pre-trip training in Edinburgh), facilitated by Nepali collaborators. The fieldtrip has led to increased understanding of the environment and development challenges in Nepal, and similar LMICs, and an appreciation of the work done by professional practitioners and policymakers. It has also included a focus on reflective learning (as within the original funded work too) on the part of the students. Out collaborators and those we engage with on the trip have found it a very positive two-way exchange of knowledge and learning. We ran the trip first in 2019, remotely in 2020 given the pandemic, and aim to run it again in 2022.
URL https://www.sias-southasia.org/httpwww-sias-southasia-orgnew/sias-uoe-field-course-2019/
 
Description Plan Vivo TAC
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description SFC GCRF Open Call 2019-20 (University of Edinburgh, CSE)
Amount £37,295 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Scotland 
Department Scottish Funding Council
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 07/2021
 
Description IIED GCRF Equitable Resilience 
Organisation International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are collaborating on a proposal to the GCRF Equitable Resilience call, for research in Nepal to build on my award research there. We do not know yet the outcome of this proposal. I am offering intellectual insight and network contacts in Nepal in order to build this proposal. * This application was unsuccessful, but let to collaboration for a recent successful funding application, involving the IIED partners worked with here
Collaborator Contribution We are collaborating on a proposal to the GCRF Equitable Resilience call, for research in Nepal to build on my award research there. We do not know yet the outcome of this proposal. IIED are offering intellectual insight and access to their Forest Farm Facility initiatives which would be the case-study for the research, if it were to be funded.
Impact the collaboration is interdiscplinary, brining together social scientists, ecological scientists, climate scientists and industry. There are no outcomes as yet.
Start Year 2019
 
Description SIAS Summer School 
Organisation South-Asia Institute for Advanced Studies
Country Nepal 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This collaboration has arisen from my GCRF Fellowship and involves a collaboration with South-Asia Institute for Advanced Studies (SIAS) in which they will facilitate a postgraduate student field trip to Nepal for students from the Masters in Environment and Development at the University of Edinburgh. * This trip went extremely well in 2019 and was due to take place again in Nepal in April 2020 - given COVID-19 restrictions, we are now running this trip remotely.
Collaborator Contribution Expertise and intellectual input; training of postgraduate students
Impact Postgraduate teaching
Start Year 2019
 
Description Conference Panel Convened at POLLEN 2020 International conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I convened a panel at the POLLEN 2020 international conference, on the topic of "Political ecology of professional practice: plurality and possibilities in environmental governance". The panel included 8 talks by a range of international researchers and practitioners, all reflecting on issues of resource governance and the opportunities to improve this through professional practice. I convened the panel with colleague Floriane Clement. Following the conference panel we will be Guest Editors for a Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology, bringing together some of the presentations given at the conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://pollen2020.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/cfp-pollen-2020-political-ecology-of-professional-practi...
 
Description Edinburgh Conservation Science (ECoS) - invited speaker at launch event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to speak at the launch event of a new Scottish-based initiative, the Edinburgh Conservation Science (ECoS) I spoke about my research, including that within this GCRF Fellowship. The talk was very well recieved and led to further discussions with a number of researchers. The talk was reported by ECoS thus:
"This talk originally and effectively illustrated the importance of communication with and between different stakeholders when trying to initiate and maintain conservation projects."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Edinburgh Environment & Development Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An on-going Network which convenes a monthly series of events including discussion groups and speaker presentations. The Network was launched on 22/02/18 and is in its early days, but has generated discussion and request for further information. (date completed 13/03/18)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Edinburgh Environment & Development Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Edinburgh Environment & Development Network (EEDN) was established as part of my GCRF Fellowship and continues to run, now funded by the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes. Now in it's second academic year, it has built into a great monthly meeting which specifically attracts a mix of academic and practitioners (in industry and third sector primarily). Sessions are introduced by someone and then general discussion follows on - this academic year most sessions have been introduced by a practitioner, talking about an issue of interest to them and this has always been followed by lively debate and sharing of ideas, resources and enthusiasm. Sessions have been well attended by a variety of people each month, with a regular group forming, plus others who come along when they can. Participants have shared the following sorts of feedback:
"It was a fantastic session, and really great to see you and lots of familiar faces, and of course the students who really bring a lot to it. Peter's presentation and research was really topical and thought-provoking, particularly as I came to the session from designing a similar project with WWF, and so really nice to have a space to step back and think about these approaches."

"A quick note to thank you and your team for the event yesterday. A stimulating talk and great to meet people with similar interests. I'm certainly interested in continuing attendance."

"I really liked the dynamic of the EEDN session, nice interaction between practitioners and researchers I thought. Great initiativenice to catch up with old colleagues and meet new people."

"I enjoyed it very much. It's always good to get some sort of dialogue going with a group of interested people that provides an opportunity to rethink issues"

"Just sending this note so that you know that they're really valuable sessions the two of you organise, and I would come if I could!"

"Thanks for a really engaging EEDN seminar last week. I'm really appreciating have a space to engage with development folks. Thanks for coordinating it!"

"Great seeing you at the Thursday event - I very much enjoyed it (I loved the approach you and Sam took for it!!) and was sad I had to leave a bit early"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.ed.ac.uk/sustainable-forests-landscapes/projects-and-activities/seminar-series
 
Description ForestAction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to share the findings of my research with the Nepali civil society and research group ForestAction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited speaker for GCRF Blue Communities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to speak on the ethics of GCRF research for the GCRF Blue Communities project. It involved around 50 people from their UK teams listening to a presentation and then I led them in a discussion on how to negotiate ethical dilemmas which can arise through such research in the global South. Many of those present had not previously worked in the global South as part of their research and reported that the discussion and debate had made them think differently about it. The project itself maintains contact and I am in touch with researchers involved in it. The project reported on the event thus:
"This was followed by an insightful and extremely useful discussion session on ethics, positionality, justice and cultural sensitivities, led by Dr Samantha Staddon, Lecturer in Environment & Development at Edinburgh University and also a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Fellow. This enabled the team to share knowledge and experiences of working with such a diverse range of stakeholders, covering the historical, political, social and religious issues that need to be considered when working with researchers and stakeholders from different regions around the world." (see URL below)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://blue-communities.org/News_Events/UK_partners_meet_to_discuss_progress
 
Description LTS International invited talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to talk to international development consultancy LTS International, to share the findings of my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Panel debate @ RGS/IBG 2017 "Avoid an imperialist approach!" Tensions in 'Decolonising geographical knowledges' through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Around 50 people attended the Panel Debate at the RGS/IBG 2017 conference which bought together key experts in the field, including leading academics and the Head of the GCRF funding programme at RCUK. There was very lively and frank debate and the RCUK representative shared that they and their staff grappled with the ethical tensions arising from the GCRF (as raised by the Panel and the audience) in their own daily work - there was real appreciation of this amongst the academics present. Audience members made suggestions of scholarly groups that the RCUK could go to for advice in negotiating these ethical dilemmas and the RCUK representative was keen to following these up. The RCUK requested a summary of the debate to share with their colleagues. This summary was also shared with the University of Edinburgh's Research Office in relation to guidance they are currently drawing up on creating sustainable partnerships.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://conference.rgs.org/AC2017/35
 
Description Talk for the ICN Reflexive Turn in Conservation group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to speak at the "ICN 2020/21 workshop theme: A reflexive turn in conservation?", specifically about the importance of reflection and reflexive learning, and its potential to transform practice and research in conservation. This was based on my on-going research and activities associated with this grant.
Feedback from the talk organisers: "We spend a lot of the remainder of the meeting talking about things you'd brought up;...you prompted us to think more deeply on a lot of topics. For me, and I think the others, it was the most thought-provoking set of presentations we've had in the workshop series"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.iccs.org.uk/content/icn-202021-workshop-theme-reflexive-turn-conservation#:~:text=Ever%2...
 
Description Workshop series convened with Nepali practitioners: "Reflective Learning for Social Inclusion - Learning from Change" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I convened - along with those in on-going partnership involving 2 experts in Nepal and colleague at University of Edinburgh, Dr Clare Barnes (detailed in Collaborations and Partnership section) - a series of online workshops with professional practitioners and policymakers in Nepal. These workshops continued our on-going participatory action research, begun in September 2019 with a physical workshop in Kathmandu, but importantly also responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. We extended the scope of discussion beyond forest and rural governance and issues of equity, to also focus on the practitioners responses to the pandemic in their professional and personal lives. The series of online events has been followed up with on-going email communication and sharing of resources, and we will also now be collectively writing up the action research as a collective for a Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020