Development Policy in Thailand: From Top-down to Grass Roots

Matthew Kelly, Phattaraphon Yutthaphonphinit, Sam-ang Seubsman, Adrian Sleigh


Top-down industrial development strategies initially dominated the developing world after the second World War but were eventually found to produce inequitable economic growth. For a decade or more, governments and international development agencies have embraced the idea of participatory grass roots development as a potential solution. Here we review Thailand’s experience with development strategies and we examine the current focus on participatory approaches. Thai government planning agencies have adopted “people centred development” and a “sufficiency economy”, particularly emphasised since the disruptions caused by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. They aim to address the inequitable sharing of the benefits of decades of rapid growth that was particularly unfair for the rural poor. Thai policies aim to decentralise power to the local level, allowing civil society and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) more of a voice in national decision making and promoting sustainable farming practices aimed at enriching rural communities. An example of this change in Thai government policy is the Community Worker Accreditation Scheme which is aiming to develop human resources at the local level by training community based leaders and supporting networks of community organisations. This enables autonomous local development projects led by trained and accredited individuals and groups. The political tensions notable in Thailand at present are part of this modern transition driven by conflicting models of top-down (industrial) development and the bottom-up (participatory) development ideals described above. Once resolved, Thailand will have few obstacles to moving to a new economic level.

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Asian Social Science   ISSN 1911-2017 (Print)   ISSN 1911-2025 (Online)

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