Myths and Realities of the NGO’s Role in Participatory “Slum” Planning

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Despite ongoing criticism, a celebratory “virtue narrative” on NGOs’ contribution dominates the literature and informs public policy in many developing economies. This article broadens the conversation around the NGOs’ role in alleviating poverty by providing a critical analysis of conventional approaches to the study of NGO participation. Through a heuristic framework, this article offers a counter-narrative based on secondary evidence from other studies, including the authors’ observations from the implementation of the Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY program) in Madurai, India. It focuses on the underlying “myths” of the NGOs’ role in 2012 in India’s “Slum-free City Planning” initiative, RAY, which prioritized the NGOs’ involvement in engagement, surveying, and planning in slum communities. By aggregating scholarship and evidence against a set of “myths” underpinning government policies on the role of NGOs in slum redevelopment projects, this paper highlights how the overemphasis on NGOs as “agents” of community participation may be detrimental to the overall objectives of participatory planning.