A participatory approach means that the person in charge of solving a problem or designing an innovation involves people who are directly concerned by the result of his or her work. Participatory approaches are necessary in agroecology as they facilitate the development of local resources, whether natural, economic or social ones. Joining local actors to the effort does not guarantee an optimal solution, but rather improvements which are acceptable and appropriate for their context of implementation. Problem solving and innovation are thus conducted directly with regards to the situation to be transformed. It therefore becomes possible to learn from the implementation of the found solutions in order to revise them.
Opting for a participatory approach is justified from a pragmatic point of view and by the pursuit of a democratic ideal. The pragmatic objective consists in enhancing the experience, intelligence and creativity of the actors within a context of irreducible uncertainty even with science. The democratic ideal considers the participatory approach as a mean to give citizens the possibility of choosing which innovations to develop. The ends and means are in this case collectively debated within the participative project.
Different tools can be used to implement a participatory approach. They all share the same philosophy which is to facilitate the expression and the participation of different and diverse actors. This includes covering a wide range of forms of expression: oral communication, written communication and schematic representation (participatory modelling/mapping, mind map, rich pictures, cognitive maps …). These different modes of expression facilitate the transition from a passive attitude of learning to an active and creative attitude. Engaging actors in such a process of co-construction promotes the ownership of results and the involvement of participants in their implementation.