Waiting to be heard Waiting to be heard

Introduction to project and report


“Ask us what we want.” :  forty-five years later, this simple request is still rarely met. Understanding what people need and want is the most basic prerequisite to intelligent collaborations, interventions, and assistance. It is relatively easy to discover. Yet so often this step is skipped, as governments impose their agendas, international agencies carry out their mandates, businesses look for profitable relationships, and NGOs rush in to help. The Equity & Sustainability Field Hearings project was designed to rectify this omission by taking one simple step: asking people what they want.


Why this Field Hearings project?


Initiative for Equality (IfE), a global network of advocates for social, economic and political equality among the world’s peoples, undertook the Equity & Sustainability Field Hearings project motivated by a deep desire to see a transformation of the world’s societies and relationships in the direction of meaningful equity and deep equality. We believe that strategies to achieve this vision must be based on an understanding of what currently disempowered communities need, want and think—which can only be ascertained by asking.


Our goals included: (1) effectively channeling the voices of disempowered communities into the Rio+20 and Millennium Development Goals dialogues and other multilateral processes; (2) learning what people in currently disempowered communities are thinking, so that we can develop effective, collaborative, grassroots strategies for moving towards greater equity and equality; (3) gathering input from these communities to help direct the writing of a global civil society Equity & Sustainability Treaty and a Post-Rio Action Plan for Equity; and (4) developing long-term working relationships with others who share some of these same goals.


“…participants of Hearings were really glad to know that their voices would be presented at Rio+20 and Millennium Development Goals dialogues. The idea that their opinions will be listened to at international events inspired them very much.” (Kyrgyzstan)


Our long-term vision for the Equity & Sustainability Field Hearings is to build a well-organized and sustained global network of partners, reaching broadly across civil society and deeply into grassroots communities, as part of an unstoppable people’s movement for equity and equality.


Project organization and governance


The Equity & Sustainability Field Hearings Project (hereinafter called the “Project”) was coordinated by Initiative for Equality (IfE) and ultimately conducted by 18 Field Hearing Partners (“Partners”) in 34 communities. The Project was launched in January of 2012, with a global call for partners. Initially, more volunteer Partners were identified, but by the time of this writing, only the 18 Partners were able to complete the Field Hearings, while others dropped out because of lack of resources. Initially, IfE’s Equity & Sustainability Steering Committee2 provided direction and decision-making for the Project, developing the preliminary questionnaires and reaching out to organizations and individuals whom they knew might be interested in collaborating. Once the Partners were identified and the Project was underway, individuals from the partnering groups came onto the Steering Committee to finalize the questionnaire and make needed decisions for the Project. Deborah S. Rogers was the coordinator of the project, editor of this full report, and author of Part One of the report.


Field Hearing Partners


Field Hearing Partners included research groups in university programs (Bangladesh, China, Hungary, Nigeria, Philippines, Uganda) and government programs (South Africa), as well as organized civil society groups (Bangladesh, India, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mauritius, and Nigeria). In three cases (China, Hungary and South Africa), researcher groups collaborated with civil society groups. Some partners had as many as 20 people working together to conduct the interviews and discussions, while others had only one or two people to gather the information.


Communities surveyed


A total of 34 communities were surveyed through paper or on-line questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, focus group discussions, or open public meetings. These communities were distributed as follows:

  • ASIA
    • Bangladesh: Barisal District, Dhaka university students
    • China: Kunming
    • India: Bhopal, Raisen, Jhabua, Panna , Shahdol, Hoshangabad, Sehore Districts (Madhya Pradesh State)
    • Kyrgyzstan: Chui, Ysyk-Kol, Osh and Talas oblasts
    • Mauritius: island-wide survey
    • Philippines: Mountain Province, Benguet and Pangasinan; Zambales Province; Bulacan Province
    • Malawi: 11 villages in Nsanje District
    • Nigeria: university students; Dagiri, Jiwa and Kabayi communities (Abuja), Makurdi (Benue)
    • South Africa: Kenton (Eastern Cape); Manenberg (Western Cape); Khayelitsha (Western Cape); and Diepsloot (near Pretoria)
    • Uganda: Busoba Sub-county (Mbale District), and Wanale Division in Mbale Municipality
    • Hungary: Cserepes sor segregate, Árpa utca segregate (both in Szeged)
    • African immigrants in Edinburgh, Scotland




The method of the Project was to ask questions and gather direct input from a broad range of communities in different parts of the world, to better understand both the common and differing circumstances that people are experiencing today, and their perceptions about these experiences. It is important to recognize that this was not a scientific, statistically valid survey undertaken for reasons of academic research, but was instead a form of outreach to solicit input from individuals and communities in order to accomplish the goals outlined at the beginning of this chapter. To accomplish these goals, a questionnaire was developed by the Steering Committee with input and revisions from the Partners. Individual Partners were then given the task of ensuring that the questionnaire was both linguistically and culturally appropriate for their own communities. In other words, they were asked to translate it into the local language(s), as well as to make any necessary modifications to make sure that it made sense to the people who were interviewed, in the context of their lives and circumstances.



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