Participation in practice – Nabeel Hamdi, Oxford Brookes University

By on 03/31/2014

mp3 icon Participation in Practice – Nabeel Hamdi

Nabeel Hamdi


Nabeel Hamdi qualified at the Architectural Association in London in 1968.  He worked for the Greater London Council between 1969 and 1978, where his award winning housing projects established his reputation in participatory design and planning.  From 1981 – 1990 he was Associate Professor of Housing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was later awarded a Ford International Career Development Professorship.  In 1997 Nabeel won the U.N. – Habitat Scroll of Honour for his work on Community Action Planning. He has consulted on participatory action planning and upgrading of slums in cities to all major international development agencies and to charities and NGO’s worldwide.  He is the author of Housing without Houses (IT Publications 1995) Small Change (Earthscan 2004) The Placemakers Guide to Building Community (Earthscan 2011) and co-author of Action Planning for Cities (John Wiley and Sons 1997)


This lecture outlines the impact of participation on practice, in particular how it can expand the scope and nature of practice in order to add strategic value to practical work. Nabeel Hamdi introduces the issues of equity and efficiency and their convergence in participatory work, and articulates the value of participation in building community and in human development.

The U.N. World Development Report 2013 cites enhancing equity and enabling greater voice and the participation of citizens as two of its goals in improving global governance.  Examples of projects and research demonstrates the value of participatory work in good governance, in particular, how more equity is key to more efficiency (participatory budgeting, the glass house project, the work of Involve and the New Economics Institute, etc). Evidence also suggests three cross cutting themes which recur as a measure of the success or failure of projects and programmes: ownership, organisation and asset building. When negotiated through participatory practices rather than imposed or gifted, Hamdi argues that these three inter related themes serve to ensure the sustainability of programmes and their scaling up in size and impact.

The lecture is structured around two main themes:

1. Equity and efficiency in participatory practice

2. The value of participation and partnerships in making practice more strategic.

Propositions for addressing the issue:

Inducing change, in practice procedure, in professional conduct, and the change, which is induced when we intervene.

Crossing boundaries, and breaking down barriers between levels of organisation, between disciplines, between knowledge and know-how.

Dealing with primary causes of problems not just symptoms.

Reducing vulnerability by ensuring through participation more access to essential resources in order to sustain livelihoods.

Managing constraints, both programme constraints and constraints to accessing resources.

Going to scale, scaling up ideas, methods and programmes in size and impact.

Learning lessons, which change the way we think, do and organise.


Andrea Cornwall, The Participation Reader (Z books 2011)

Nabeel Hamdi, The Placemaker’s Guide to Building Community (Earthscan Tools for Community Planning) (2010)

Nabeel Hamdi, Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities (2004) 



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