In October 2019, I got an opportunity to interview Shireesh Kedare, my hostel-mate and now a Praj Industries Professor at Department of Energy Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Shireesh has been working in the area of renewable energy, sustainability, and participatory development for over two decades. In this short interview (28 minutes) Shireesh tells us what systemic approach to participatory development is and its roles in solving wicked problems such as farmers’ suicide etc.
Here is the MP3 audio of the interview (11MB) (The interview was done on October 21, 2019 at Sustainable Development Lab, Dept of Energy Science and Engineering, IIT Bombay).
The questions explored in the interview are:
1:10 Why is participatory development relevant in a place like Indian Institute of Technology? Technology as a bridge between needs and resources on the pillars of science. What needs? Which resources?
6:30 What is participatory development? Who is doing to decide the needs? Centralized body? Elected members? Remote vs direct decision making, opinion-based vs study-knowledge based decision making, This has been done before e.g. Anna Hazare, Systemic approach of participatory development, Can we do this at the village level? City-level? Is it practical?
13:00 Can you give an example to illustrate the concept? Identified 6 villages in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra state known for farmers’ suicide, didn’t go with any agenda, started developing a dialogue, team led by Dr. Vijay Honkalaskar on a period of 3-6 months along with NGO workers, met women-men-farmers-young of the village on a sustained basis, tremendous pessimism-depression, village suicide, noted 42 different loops affecting farming – family size, cattle availability, land quality, atmosphere, pesticides, seeds, govt schemes etc. Documented all this and went back to the villagers, showed them some connects are working, some are broken (family size has become small), complete picture started evolving, once the picture was clear they started suggesting solutions, economics, organic farming, tinted word, people have a phobia, small farmer 1-2 acre land feels this is not for him, changed lingo, identified basic processes, gap between practice of organic farming and people is too much, community action needs handholding.
23:00 Key elements of the approach: Don’t go with any agenda, Try to understand, assimilate the complete system, Go back and show it to them, get their reaction on it, Establish collective clarity, they decide what to do. It can backfire. Needs iteration. Need to prioritize – people may not understand what prioritization means and how to do it. People are wise, they should be given an opportunity to understand and solve their problems.
Hope you find it useful. More details about Prof. Kedare can be found on his home page.