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Authentic Participatory Engagement: Community Action and the Foundational Principle of Maximum Feasible Participation

Author: J. TRAVIS BLAND
Published in PAQ, Vol. 42 No. 2

Recognizing that poverty and powerlessness are inextricably linked, the Community Action Program (CAP) adopted the foundational principle of maximum feasible participation (MFP). This principle represented an audacious experiment in extending the democratic principle of local, participatory self-governance to socially disadvantaged, poor populations. Although declared a failed experiment in the 1970s and 1980s, this article offers a detailed analysis of the 21st century CAP and provides some strong evidence that this declaration was premature and inaccurate. Despite the many struggles or barriers to authentic participation described by the local leaders interviewed for this study, this study offers a number of examples of how the CAP has met the spirit of MFP. For others interested in rectifying social inequities, this article highlights the substantive importance of adopting a foundational principle or operating norm that values authentic participation.

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