Encountering Citizens is a long-term participatory research programme focusing on citizenship, participation, and accountability. The programme combines research with grassroots capacity building, training, and information sharing through drama, arts, and community dialogue. Encountering Citizens is conducted in collaboration with the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex) and a consortium of research partners from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In Nigeria, the programme is broken down in four phases. Research is combined with capacity building in grassroot agency, using a mix of participatory techniques including: theatre for development; participatory research; knowledge sharing through story, song, and dance; capacity-building and training; and community drama. The four phases are outlined below.
Phase I: Inception phase (2001)
This six-month phase of the programme was used by the Nigerian team to analyse theoretical notions of citizenship and the rights-based approach, exploring how these relate to the Nigerian context. The results were summarised in a book entitled "Geographies of Citizenship in Nigeria, Zaria" (Oga Steve Abah: Tamaza Press, 2003).
Phase II: Perceptions, Realities and Practices in Nigeria (2001-2004)
In this phase, the Nigerian team developed its participatory research methodology, characterised as "methodological conversations". The methodology combines a mix of participatory development techniques including:
- Theatre for Development (TFD): A "Citizen Drama" was used to kick-start discussions on citizenship issues in the community. The drama featured an itinerant person whose citizenship status is constantly in flux and who is in search of belonging. The character's struggles to define his/her place in the country encouraged people to share and analyse their own experiences.
- Participatory Learning and Action (PLA): A range of PLA tools were used to further analyse the community situation and included focus group discussions, key informant interviews, transect walks, social maps, and force field analyses.
- Indigenous Knowledge (IK): The community's store of knowledge on indigenous governance practices was compared to citizenship practices in Nigeria today (making use of indigenous forms of expression such as storytelling, songs, and dance).
According to the organisers, these techniques engaged community-based organisations (CBOs) and community members collectively, asking and analysing critical questions around citizenship and rights.
Phase III: Accountability and Participation (2004-2005)
Participatory research was conducted in the Niger Delta on mechanisms and processes through which local groups in this volatile oil terrain claim rights. According to the organisers, the research was not only about collecting information; it was, rather, an exercise of capacity building through training, networking, and community building as elders, women, and youth sat together to dialogue. The community dramas and other participatory strategies simultaneously served as research tools and communication media within and across communities. The community processes were documented on video for wider sharing.
Phase IV: Deepening Democracy and Violence, Participation and Citizenship (2006-2010)
The fourth phase of Encountering Citizens programme consists of two related community drama projects taking place concurrently in Nigeria. Both projects are designed to critically analyse the existing democratic system and governance practices in Nigeria, asking whether and how (under which conditions) these may be able to support pro-economically-poor development. "Deepening Democracy" focuses on the roles of political leaders and government bodies in triggering or preventing violence and asks what they may do to promote peace and pro-poor development. "Violence, Participation and Citizenship" aims to analyse whether and how people can articulate/claim citizenship rights in situations of violence, and explores which social actions people may engage in to move beyond and out of violence.
Democracy, Conflict, Citizenship
According to the organisers, the fact that the research in phase three took place at all can be seen as a success story in itself. In the contested terrain of the Niger Delta - where pitched battles occur daily between government and militia, between militia and oil companies, and between warring communities – organising and engaging with community groups over a 10-day period was, to them, a success story in itself.
Key results from the first three phases of the project are as follows:
- CBOs explored notions of citizenship and analysed their own roles as citizen agencies;
- CBOs have been equipped with participatory development techniques that can be used for rights-based actions;
- young men and women dialogued with elders, and youth groups formed community-transcending networks; and
- community processes were documented on video for wider sharing.
Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex); Theatre for Development Centre (TFDC), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria; Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Centro Brasileiro de Analise e Planejamento (CEBRAP), Sao Paulo, Brazil; Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, National University, Mexico City, Mexico; School of Government, University of the Western Cape, South Africa; and Society for Participatory Research (PRIA), Delhi, India.