Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is a label given to a growing family of participatory approaches and methods that emphasize local knowledge and enable local people to make their own appraisal, analysis, and plans. PRA uses group animation and exercises to facilitate information sharing, analysis, and action among stakeholders. Although originally developed for use in rural areas, PRA has been employed successfully in a variety of settings. The purpose of PRA is to enable development practitioners, government officials, and local people to work together to plan context-appropriate programs.
Participatory rural appraisal evolved from rapid rural appraisal—a set of informal techniques used by development practitioners in rural areas to collect and analyze data. Rapid rural appraisal developed in the 1970s and 1980s in response to the perceived problems of outsiders missing or miscommunicating with local people in the context of development work. In PRA, data collection and analysis are undertaken by local people, with outsiders facilitating rather than controlling. PRA is an approach for shared learning between local people and outsiders, but the term is somewhat misleading. PRA techniques are equally applicable in urban settings and are not limited to assessment only. The same approach can be employed at every stage of the project cycle and in country economic and sector work.
- Participation. Local people's input into PRA activities is essential to its value as a research and planning method and as a means for diffusing the participatory approach to development.
- Teamwork. To the extent that the validity of PRA data relies on informal interaction and brainstorming among those involved, it is best done by a team that includes local people with perspective and knowledge of the area's conditions, traditions, and social structure and either nationals or expatriates with a complementary mix of disciplinary backgrounds and experience. A well-balanced team will represent the diversity of socioeconomic, cultural, gender, and generational perspectives.
- Flexibility. PRA does not provide blueprints for its practitioners. The combination of techniques that is appropriate in a particular development context will be determined by such variables as the size and skill mix of the PRA team, the time and resources available, and the topic and location of the work.
- Optimal ignorance. To be efficient in terms of both time and money, PRA work intends to gather just enough information to make the necessary recommendations and decisions.
- Triangulation. PRA works with qualitative data. To ensure that information is valid and reliable, PRA teams follow the rule of thumb that at least three sources must be consulted or techniques must be used to investigate the same topics.
PRA is an exercise in communication and transfer of knowledge. Regardless of whether it is carried out as part of project identification or appraisal or as part of country economic and sector work, the learning-by-doing and teamwork spirit of PRA requires transparent procedures. For that reason, a series of open meetings (an initial open meeting, final meeting, and follow-up meeting) generally frame the sequence of PRA activities. Other tools common in PRA are:
- Semi-structured interviewing
- Focus group discussions
- Preference ranking
- Mapping and modeling
- Seasonal and historical diagramming.
A typical PRA activity involves a team of people working for two to three weeks on workshop discussions, analyses, and fieldwork. Several organizational aspects should be considered:
- Logistical arrangements should consider nearby accommodations, arrangements for lunch for fieldwork days, sufficient vehicles, portable computers, funds to purchase refreshments for community meetings during the PRA, and supplies such as flip chart paper and markers.
- Training of team members may be required, particularly if the PRA has the second objective of training in addition to data collection.
- PRA results are influenced by the length of time allowed to conduct the exercise, scheduling and assignment of report writing, and critical analysis of all data, conclusions, and recommendations.
A PRA covering relatively few topics in a small area (perhaps two to four communities) should take between ten days and four weeks, but a PRA with a wider scope over a larger area can take several months. Allow five days for an introductory workshop if training is involved.
Reports are best written immediately after the fieldwork period, based on notes from PRA team members. A preliminary report should be available within a week or so of the fieldwork, and the final report should be made available to all participants and the local institutions that were involved.
PRA techniques can be combined in a number of different ways, depending on the topic under investigation. Some general rules of thumb, however, are useful. Mapping and modeling are good techniques to start with because they involve several people, stimulate much discussion and enthusiasm, provide the PRA team with an overview of the area, and deal with noncontroversial information. Maps and models may lead to transect walks, perhaps accompanied by some of the people who have constructed the map. Wealth ranking is best done later in a PRA, once a degree of rapport has been established, given the relative sensitivity of this information.
Preference ranking is a good icebreaker at the beginning of a group interview and helps focus the discussion. Later, individual interviews can follow up on the different preferences among the group members and the reasons for these differences.
Chambers, R. 1992. Rural Appraisal: Rapid, Relaxed, and Participatory. Institute of Development Studies Discussion Paper 311. Sussex: HELP.
International Institute for Environment and Development, Sustainable Agriculture Program. 1991-present. RRA Notes (now titled PLA Notes). United Kingdom.
McCracken, Jennifer A., Jules N. Pretty, and Gordon R. Conway. 1988. An Introduction to Rapid Rural Appraisal for Agricultural Development. London: International Institute for Environment and Development.
Theis, J. and H. Grady. 1991. Participatory Rapid Appraisal for Community Development. London: Save the Children Fund.
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