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SARAR: Techniques

Creative Techniques

Non-serial posters and participatory mapping are some of the creative techniques that can be used for evaluation.

Non-serial posters is a technique that uses a set of poster-size pictures showing dramatic human situations. Used in the context of group discussions, the posters are provided to participants in no particular order and each group is asked to choose a limited number of the posters, usually four, to construct a story about an issue of concern to them. In this way, the tool encourages an atmosphere of creativity and discussion of important community concerns.

In order to be successful as a creative exercise, the scenes represented need to be truly evocative and open to many interpretations. If different groups are working with the same set of pictures, it can be interesting to have them share and compare their stories.

Mapping  is a technique that is also used in the context of Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs). It can reveal different perspectives and can highlight, for example, conflicts over access to particular community resources or services.

Investigative Techniques

Pocket charts are used during group discussions to gather information on a wide range of topics. The poster-size charts contain "pockets" of cloth, paper, or cardboard inserted in each of the cells of a matrix, and with simple drawings identifying the subject of each row and column. Participants "vote" on various topics by placing counters in the pocket that indicates their situation or preference. By changing the symbols on the headings of the matrix, the same chart can be reused to investigate any number of issues.

For example, a chart could be constructed with symbols representing different water sources in a community (open well, river, standpipe, and so forth) along the top of the matrix, and symbols representing different uses of water (cooking, washing, drinking, and so on) along the vertical axis. Participants place their counters in the appropriate pockets to show where they get water for each of the different uses. The votes are then counted and the findings can be discussed immediately with the participants. The facilitator might, for instance, ask why so many people prefer one source of water for washing over another. Also, the participants might discuss whether there are any seasonal variations or gender differences in the use of different water sources.

Pocket charts are particularly useful in cases where most of the participants are non-literate, or may feel inhibited to speak freely-as the visual-based exercise aims at enabling everyone to have a "say" in the discussions.

Analytical Techniques

Three pile sorting can be used to assess participants' knowledge and perspectives on a given issue. The tool features a set of cards (each about 5 x 7 inches) depicting behaviors or village conditions that can be interpreted as good, bad, or in-between (usually due to special circumstances). In the case of community health issues, for example, participants place each card in one of three piles, representing good hygiene or health practices, bad hygiene or health practices, and in-between or ambiguous practices. Common behaviors that can be illustrated on the cards include children playing around a water source and damaging it, washing hands with soap, leaving food uncovered, filtering water, swimming in a dirty pond, burning trash, and planting trees or shrubs.

Alternatively, the cards can depict a set of problems previously identified by a community. In this case the cards can be sorted according to whom the group feels has responsibility to address or solve the problem, such as (i) the household, (ii) the local government, or (iii) both together. Many other adaptations of this tool are possible. The exercise can also provide a starting point to further the participants' analysis. For example, the facilitator might ask which of all of the bad practices identified are commonly found in the community, and what might be done to mitigate their effects. Or in cases where a behavior is not seen as either good or bad, the group might discuss why. The facilitator could then inquire what might be done in this situation.

Gender analysis - Access to Resources 
Video: 2.4 mb, 2 min. 12 sec.

Gender analysis concepts tend to be abstract and can often be controversial because they raise sensitive issues. Visual tools have been found to be very effective in getting both men and women to focus on gender concerns without feeling threatened. 

Gender analysis of access to resources is a technique that can provide insights into whether a development intervention  has had an gender differentiated impact on the access to and control of domestic and community resources. The process of conducting the exercise with community members also helps to raise their awareness about these issues. The technique can be used as part of a group discussion involving both men and women. If the women are to feel comfortable and express themselves freely, however, in many cultures it will be preferable, and perhaps even necessary, to meet separately with the women and men.

The technique uses three large drawings of a man, a woman, and a couple as well as a set of cards showing different resources and possessions owned by people in the community, including, for example, cattle, currency, furniture, radio, food, animals, huts, jewelry,  water pots and so on. Participants then assign the resources to the man, woman, or couple, depending on  who works with particular physical and community resources and who owns or makes decisions about them.

Planning techniques

Story with a gap is a particularly useful exercise for generating community awareness about a problem, and stimulating discussion about how to achieve solutions. This technique makes use of a pair of pictures illustrating a "before" situation and an improved "after" scenario.  Participants then discuss both drawings and "fill the gap" by identifying the steps that helped in achieving what is represented in the improved picture.

Alternative interpretations and suggestions can be gathered by dividing the participants into several small focus groups (for example of women and men, young and old people, or other categories) and giving each the same set of pictures. After analyzing the drawings, the focus groups can come together to report on their discussions and compare their views. 

Force-field analysis is another visual technique based on "before" and "after" scenarios. Force-field analysis has proven particularly useful in workshops with project staff or senior officials as a way of generating a shared vision of a future goal and an agreed strategy for achieving the goal. The technique also facilitates the identification of potential barriers to change. To stimulate discussion of the possibilities and constraints to improving agricultural production, for example, a "before" scenario that illustrates a field of very low quality and a diseased maize crop could be contrasted with an "improved" picture of a healthy crop. This techniques can be adapted for use with communities, using pictures instead of text.

Software-hardware exercise. This technique provides the basis for discussion between project staff and local people about the necessary components of project planning: both "hardware" activities (that is, those related to technical inputs and the physical infrastructure of the project) and "software" activities (or those related to organizational and capacity-building efforts). In participating in the game, participants are made aware of the value of integrating software concerns into hardware plans and vice versa, which can help to reconcile the need to promote people's participation with the need to meet hardware deadlines.

When used as a means of bringing project staff and community members together to discuss these issues, the technique can also generate a mutual understanding of each others' needs and a shared vision of what will be required to integrate software and hardware components. Discussion can also identify which activities are the responsibility of community members, which are to be done by the project agency, and which require close collaboration.

The game itself requires some preparation to list all the software and hardware components of the project involved. Participants then rearrange these components in the sequence in which they will need to be carried out.

Informative techniques help gather information and use it for better decision-making.

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