The Role of Participatory Approaches in Global Health and Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management for Global Health

Anne Ballard Sara

CCP | Program Officer II
Participants at a knowledge-sharing meeting

Participants at a knowledge-sharing meeting talk to each other about their experiences working on district-level advocacy with the Improving Contraceptive Method Mix (ICMM) and the Advance Family Planning (AFP) projects in Indonesia. © 2014 Sarah V. Harlan/CCP, Courtesy of Photoshare

Whether it’s a soccer game or a board game, you’re much more invested in the outcome if you’re part of the game. It’s the same for global health projects, where the inclusion of community stakeholders leads to greater engagement and contributes to the overall success of interventions.

Participatory approaches are used to work with community members and key stakeholders. By using a bottom-up approach, participatory methods create a collaborative environment where knowledge can be captured and exchanged among those who have a stake in the program or intervention. Working with and engaging community members and key stakeholders, such as local governments, community leaders, and NGOs, throughout the life of the project helps build community ownership, empowers communities, and facilitates sustainability.

Knowledge is essential to improve the quality of health services, yet knowledge alone is often not enough to change behaviors. Knowledge needs to be collected, synthesized, and shared in a way that is accessible and usable to targeted audiences. Knowledge management includes participatory approaches as it encourages interaction between key stakeholders and creates an environment for knowledge capture and exchange. Participatory approaches provide a unique avenue to share tacit knowledge, which is intangible knowledge that is often learned from personal experience.

Participatory approaches can be used before, during and after an intervention. Net-mapping, peer assists, knowledge exchange forums, and after-action reviews are all examples of participatory approaches.

  • Net-mapping can be used prior to the implementation of a project or intervention. It is an interactive tool to help participants visualize, discuss, understand, and improve situations that are influenced by varying stakeholders. During a net-map session, participants create a map that lays out who the actors are, how they interact with one another, and their perception of the amount of influence each actor has. Net-mapping helps those involved understand the situation and discuss possible ways forward.
  • Peer assists are a useful way to help a group learn from one another to guide implementation. In a peer assist, a group comes together to give advice or explore possible solutions to a specific issue. It is a way for those more experienced to share their knowledge.
  • Knowledge cafes, or world cafes, provide small group settings to share experiences, problem-solve, and plan for next steps. At a knowledge cafe, participants move from table to table, building upon the discussion.
  • After-action reviews are often used at the end of a project to discuss key lessons learned and how they can be used to guide future projects. During an after-action review, the group meets to discuss the initial goal of the project, how the project went, lessons learned, and future steps.

Working as a team with community members and key stakeholders throughout the life of the project helps nurture interest in seeing the project succeed with lasting effects. Using participatory approaches in global health and knowledge management projects is important for ensuring that community members are involved in designing and implementing initiatives that affect them.