Participatory Learning Networks:Empowering Grassroots Workers to Innovate in Context.

This project was kicked off as research under the aegis of an MA thesis at Aalto University. Right now, I am working with a number of collaborators to build certain aspects of it, and to iterate and test it in more contexts and with greater depth. I am also working on a standalone website. You can sign up for my quarterly newsletter for an update, when that resource is launched. Below is the abstract for the thesis, and links to download the document.

This thesis investigates the use of participatory media in large scale development projects to empower grassroots workers and middle managers to localise solutions by innovating in and for the context. It further supports the conceptualisation of ‘Participatory Learning Networks’, which act as asystem of principles to enable ‘middle managers’ to accomplish innovation in context.

The thesis conceptually builds on three bodies of research from the areas of development planning, organisational theory and information communication for development (ICTD). In each of these the principles of participation and community are explored and synthesised to form the central ideas that are manifested as the organisational paradigm shifts necessary for the effective implementation of ‘Participatory Learning Networks’.

The central idea of the thesis is further strengthened by field research undertaken in the early phases. This research builds on expert interviews with organisations and individuals working in the participatory media space in India. Another part of the field research is the passive observation of activity on selected online communities on WhatsApp. This research informs the principles towards designing the ICT platform aspect of the ‘Participatory Learning Networks’.

The thesis tests the ideas presented through pilot testing done in India in collaboration with TATA Trust and Centre of Gravity (COG). The testing was carried out as part of the pilot of a larger water, sanitation and hygiene behavior change program, with the team in the western state of Gujarat and team members from COG.

Primarily, the conclusions drawn from this testing, would be used to iterate the system in its application in a trial in the eastern state of Jharkhand, along with informing the plan while taking the idea to scale. Further, these conclusions inform the understanding of the complexities in implementing the principles and system of the ‘Participatory Learning Networks’.