Participatory Action Research and Learning in Sustainable Local Economic Development

Participatory Action Research and Learning in Sustainable Local Economic Development

Marius Venter (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2642-1.ch014


Participatory action learning and action research in sustainable local economic development strategies is not a common practice. In this chapter, the author firstly gives an introduction of the concept of sustainable local economic development; the importance of local economic development is outlined, as well as the aims. The author proceeds by discussing participatory action learning and action research as integrated empowering concepts. Lastly, the author describes how participatory action learning and action research were used by the Overstrand Local Economic Development Agency in partnership with the Hawston community to assist them to develop a sustainable neighbourhood development strategy. The steps of the participatory action learning and action research cycle are discussed coupled with the learning and actions taken, that emanated from the reflections during the research.
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The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the Hawston Tourism Gateway project as an example of a sustainable local economic development (SLED) strategy and to demonstrate how participatory (P) action learning (AL) and action research (AR), (P)ALAR as integrated concepts can be applied by LED professionals in the (SLED) workplace. According to Zuber-Skerrit (2015):

PALAR is one possible approach to effective, collaborative, creative, innovative, and self-developed community engagement where a shift is needed in mind-sets, paradigms, and skills for social justice and sustainable development (p.5 and p.13)

SLED is about local people deciding to take charge of the economic and employment future of their community. The Hawston Gateway Tourism project produced valuable guidelines to LED professionals and communities that could be considered before implementing a neighbourhood development strategy (NDS).

The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) (2011) defines NDS strategies as:

… strategies that facilitate the revitalization or redevelopment of neighbourhoods that are struggling to overcome significant economic, social, and physical distress or devastation (p.2.).

This chapter endeavours to explain the following:

  • 1.

    What is sustainable local economic development (SLED) as experienced in South Africa?

  • 2.

    What is (P)ALAR and how can it be applied in the case of a NDS?

  • 3.

    What were the key lessons learnt; and

  • 4.

    What are the guidelines that were formulated to assist LED professionals that may to implement NDS in the future to achieve SLED?



The aim of this section is to introduce the reader to the concept of SLED in South Africa. It is generally believed that municipalities are the foot-soldiers of local economic development (Venter, 2014). Sections 152 and 153 of the Constitution of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996) (Republic of South Africa, 1996) indicate that municipalities must be structured in such a way that one of their objectives is to promote social and economic development (Rabie, 2011).

The concept of SLED has an interdisciplinary character and application because it evolved over time with influences from a diversity of disciplines, such as geography, urban planning, sociology, public administration, systems thinking, and regional economics.

In 1994, the South African government decided to embrace the principles of a developmental state (Black, Calitz, Steenkamp, & associates, 2005, p.5). This resulted in an effort of the national treasury to allocate additional resources on the national budget to further the government’s development functions. Legislation was promulgated to gradually transform local government spending to promote upliftment, empowerment, and poverty relief. Due to the fact that in South Africa municipalities struggle with service delivery, the government introduced the Local Government Turn-Around Strategy (LGTAS) in 2009. In this policy, the local government is described as a

… key part of the reconstruction and development effort in our country. The aims of democratizing our society and growing our economy inclusively can only be realized through a responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government system that is part of a developmental state. (Department of Local Government, 2009, p. 3.)

In order to intensify and strengthen economic development efforts and to combat poverty and inequality, the New Growth Path (2010) and the National Development Plan (NDP)–Vision 2030 (NDP, 2011) were conceptualised, and SLED strategies will contribute towards the aims and objectives of these policies, (Draft LED Framework 2013-2018, pp. 21-22).

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