Participation is a prerequisite for development projects to have positive effects on the lives of the poor; without participation, it is unlikely that programs will have any positive impacts. The level of participation almost certainly also affects positive outcomes from development interventions, and if that variation in outcomes by participation level can be measured, then future programs can be designed with inducing more intensive participation to produce larger positive effects in mind.
An important example for IFPRI of this dynamic in action are agricultural interventions designed to improve nutritional status among vulnerable groups. Nutrition sensitive agriculture requires participation on multiple levels—both in agricultural production and in changing consumption– to improve nutritional status. An example of a success story is HarvestPlus’ Reaching End Users (REU) project that took place between 2006 and 2009 in Mozambique and Uganda. The REU aimed to promote the adoption and consumption of orange sweet potato (OSP) rich in vitamin A through integrated agricultural, nutritional, and market level components. The impact evaluation associated with the REU found that vitamin A intakes increased in the treatment groups relative to the control group, the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency decreased among target populations in both Mozambique and Uganda, and serum retinol levels increased among moderately deficient children in Uganda.
In a paper just published in the Journal of Development Studies, we go beyond merely providing estimates of the average treatment effects on the treated of the REU on nutritional outcomes in Mozambique. Though the REU model was integrated, farmers chose their level of participation in the intervention once it was offered at the farmer group level– they could effectively choose their level of involvement in both the agricultural and the nutrition components. To measure participation intensity, we use project data and the endline survey data to measure whether or not farm households participated in specific activities associated with the agricultural and nutrition components. In constructing our measures, we chose specific activities that clearly suggest more intense participation (for example, participating in agricultural extension rather than just receiving vines).