A Process for Participatory Rural Appraisal

A Process for Participatory Rural Appraisal


Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is considered one of the popular and effective approaches to gather information in rural areas. This approach was developed in early 1990s with considerable shift in paradigm from top-down to bottom-up approach, and from blueprint to the learning process. In fact, it is a shift from extractive survey questionnaires to experience sharing by local people. PRA is based on village experiences where communities effectively manage their natural resources.

PRA is a methodology of learning rural life and their environment from the rural people. It requires researchers / field workers to act as facilitators to help local people conduct their own analysis, plan and take action accordingly. It is based on the principle that local people are creative and capable and can do their own investigations, analysis, and planning. The basic concept of PRA is to learn from rural people. Chambers (1992) has defined PRA as an approach and methods for learning about rural life and conditions from, with and by rural people. He further stated that PRA extends into analysis, planning and action. PRA closely involve villagers and local officials in the process.

Similarly, Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) reflects the new thinking about development, needs, and people oriented responsibilities. It is a process that is highly systematic and structured, relying on interdisciplinary teamwork and special strategies for data collection and analysis such as triangulation, probing, and iteration. Some critics consider RRA to be a quick and dirty technique.

The main purpose of this paper is to share the experience on the process for conducting PRA in a rural area. The process of conducting PRA is the same for most of the situations however, the application of available tools may vary from situation to situation.

A brief account of the status of PRA and wood energy at the Institute of Forestry (IOF) is presented in the Annex I.

Process for RRA/PRA

There are a wide range of participatory tools and techniques available. People can use these tools and techniques according to their situation or needs. Generally, the application of different tools may vary from one situation to another. However, the process for conducting RRA/PRA remains the same.

Organization of RRA/PRA


1. Selection of RRA/PRA team members
2. Objectives
3. Formation of sub-topics
4. Selection of methods, designs and respondents
5. Interview
6. Sub-team meeting
7. Whole team meeting
8. Report writing

A group of people as an interdisciplinary team is required to perform an exercise before and during fieldwork while using PRA tools and techniques. The team members must identify topics or sub-topics or checklists on which to build questions before going to the fields. It is recommended that the team members stay together until the end of the process to make working objectives achievable. There are guidelines on how to proceed in conducting PRA and in using specific tools and techniques before and during the field works.

There are some rules of PRA/RRA which should be followed by the team in order to get precise and reliable information. It is important to understand the rules while conducting PRA/RRA. The main rules are:

a. Do not interrupt - do not interrupt when someone is talking in his/her turn at interviewing or probing for information. And also do not interrupt the respondent.
b. Do not assume - do not assume either that you know the answer or that an information is wrong about something.
c. Do not lead or give clues - do not lead or give clues to the respondent with your preconceived ideas. Stay neutral while asking questions so that you do not lead the respondent.

If the rules are not followed by each of the team members, it may mislead the information. Therefore, the team must be careful with the above mentioned rules while applying different tools and techniques of RRA/PRA.

Before fieldwork

There are some step swhich need to be followed by the team members in order to collect reliable and precise information. The steps for before fieldwork are:

Use of secondary information

Secondary data are important for background information and basic assumptions of fact that the rural people provide. Therefore, a careful review and assessment of the secondary data are necessary from secondary sources before fieldwork. It may be helpful in developing topics, sub-topics or checklists to be used in acquiring information. The team must know why they are in a village.

Selection of interdisciplinary team

PRA methods are considered good when they are carried out by a team consisting of especially trained interdisciplinary persons. The team approach is necessary in this method because a great deal of diverse information is generated rapidly where a single person may not be able to sort it out and understand it effectively. A single person may not be perfect in all areas. Therefore, an interdisciplinary team approach is recommended for this method.

Experience shows that a small interdisciplinary team consisting of three persons is the best for conducting RRA/PRA methods. Furthermore, the team is considered to be the best if it consists of a forester, a sociologist/anthropologist, and an agriculturist for conducting the study on natural resource management since, usage of forest and agriculture resources are fundamental to rural life. Similarly, a basic understanding of the society in relation to resource uses/practices is necessary. Therefore, it is highly advantageous to include broadly based researchers/practitioners with the knowledge or experience in different disciplines. Grandstaff et al (1995) provid some examples of different types of membership in a team for conducting the following study:

(1) An RRA team studying wood fuel flows consisted of a general forester, a forest hydrologist and a statistician, supported by two anthropologists as advisors.

(2) A team studying cooperative labour in rural areas was composed of an agronomist, social scientist and development planner/economist.

(3) A team studying charcoal making was consisted of an ecological anthropologist, agricultural economist, and an animal scientist.

As we believe, there is a professional bias in the field and each professional will seek information from his/her point of view. A small team facilitates close cooperation and organize team members for role sharing. The role, who does what should be discussed among the members and also should be agreed by all while assigning the roles. The role of the ‘facilitator’ and the ‘gatekeeper’ may be rotated depending on their agreement and understanding. The other roles including taking one’s turn at questioning, taking notes, listening etc. may be shared among the members.

Developing sub-topics

Generally, a brainstorming session is organized for developing topics or sub-topics. A number of experienced people, not necessarily team members are invited in the session to generate specific issues on a particular area. The raised issues in the session are listed in flip chart or board, depending on the availability. The issues are repeatedly discussed in the session relating to the practical situation and are finalized as guidelines for collecting required information

The team members should also discuss how to carry out field works, especially tools to be applied for collecting the required information. Generally, the choice of tools depends on topics and expected output. The team should consider the situation and select the tools which fit better for collecting reliable and precise information. Therefore, it is the team that decides which tools and techniques fit better for a particular area.

It is preferable to go for a short field visit to identify key informants, to observe the initial site and to try out the tools. This preparation may be assigned to a single team member, probably someone who is familiar with the locality. Based on the short field visit, the pre-designed tools may have to be changed or modified.

During fieldwork

The field work is people-oriented. It seeks information on indigenous knowledge, local customs and practices. Therefore, the team should begin analyzing and evaluating data at the very start of the work and continue on throughout the fieldwork.

Rapport building

Rapport building is an important task for the team for collecting reliable information. It is usually done to develop communications and to establish working relationships with the local people. Generally, rapport building is initiated immediately as the team enters a village. This may help the team to bring closer to the village people. The team should follow the following steps suggested by Pokharel et al (1997) for conducing PRA in rural areas:

  • Start talking to the rural people saying namaste whenever you meet them, for example, on the trail, agricultural fields, tea shops, homes etc.
  • Treat and respect rural people as per their local custom, for example, greet them first whenever you meet saying namaste buwa/dai or ama/didi depending on the person and ask a few informal questions such as What are you doing? Do you live in this village? How far is your house from here? etc.
  • Ask the knowledgeable people about a subject or area in a village
  • Try to meet with local leaders and officials before starting work in a village
  • Clearly explain reasons for coming to the area
  • Show genuine interest in the local issues
  • § Choose time and venue that are convenient for the local people

Maintaining protocols

Maintaining protocols in the team is the basic rule in PRA/RRA methods. Grandstaff et al (1995) defines protocols as a set of rules governing how people act in a given situation, a code of conduct. They further elaborated that RRA protocols are rules of interpersonal behavior by which an RRA team agrees to operate. The followings are the protocols suggested by Messerschmidt (1991) for conducting RRA/PRA in the rural communities:

§ A facilitator (from the team) controls the interview process by singling start, filling gaps etc.;

§ Each team member pursues a sub-topic, following one’s own line of questioning and reasoning;

§ The order of interviewing sequence (who starts, who follows, who finishes) predetermined, members take notes during each other’s turn;

§ Unanticipated questions that arise out of turn are held for later;

§ Unwanted persons (e.g. drunks, trouble makers etc.) are politely diverted by a team member (a pre-chosen gate keeper); and

§ After each day’s sessions, the members debrief as a group, discuss findings to verify and also incomplete information are noted down for recollection.

Data collection by applying tools and techniques
Start collecting information by applying appropriate tools and techniques once the rapport is developed in a village. Also, apply probing and iterating techniques for collecting more in-depth and reliable information. Some techniques for collecting information are:

Semi-Structured Interviewing (SSI)
Semi-structured interviewing is the principal method used in RRA. It is conducted using the sub-topics to guide the specific questions thought up by the researchers during the interview. SSI is conducted with key informants, who have good knowledge about the history of the village and its resources, and others using pre-selected sub-topics as guidelines. In this method, actual questions are created during the interview. Questions should be precise and easy to understand. Leading questions should not be used while conducting interviews.

Iteration is one of the techniques for collecting information in RRA/PRA methods. In this technique, the same question is repeatedly asked in different situation for conforming the given information. A very high pay-off from flexibility of the methodology through iteration occurs in the ability to reform questions and formulate new questions, especially within the interview itself (Grandstaff and Grandstaff 1989)

The main function of a probe is to encourage the respondent to answer more fully and accurately. Furthermore, it also helps to structure the respondent’s answer and make sure that all topics of interest are covered. Always start questions with who, what, why, when , who and how (the ‘six helpers’) for helping to establish the basic situation.

This is also used as a technique especially in the social sciences since a long time. In this technique, related indicators are used in the field to verify the collected information or to generate questions. For example, if the dung is used for cooking purposes, it means that there is a scarcity of firewood in the area.

Similarly, there are a wide range of participatory tools available which can be used according to the situation or needs. The most common PRA tools and techniques are:

§ Secondary data review

§ Observation

§ Building rapport

§ Semi-structured interviews

§ Key informants interviews

§ Group interviews/discussion

§ Ranking and scoring

§ Labour schedule

§ Decision tree (making)

§ Wealth ranking

§ Circle, bar and venn-diagramming

§ Seasonal calendar/diagramming

§ Timelines, time trends

§ Participatory transects

§ Participatory mapping

Debriefing session
Debriefing sessions and discussions are important during the fieldwork. The team members review their field notes after their fieldwork since, delay causes significant loss of memory and may seriously affect the results.

After fieldwork
A discussion should be carried out by the team about the collected information and going back for more should be arranged if it is necessary. Each team member is assigned tasks and results are meld by group members consensus. The findings are also presented in workshops or seminars for the comments. The comments/suggestions are taken care of and are incorporated in the final reports.


Participatory Rural Appraisal has become very popular in gathering reliable and precise information in rural areas. It is considered good for learning about rural life and condition from the rural people. The reliable and precise information can be collected with the available tools and techniques of PRA by pursuing appropriate process. The reliable and precise information gathering depends on how the process is followed by the interdisciplinary team. Therefore, process is important in RRA/PRA methods. Similarly, some techniques such as rapport building and key informants interview are also important in RRA/PRA methods. These techniques help researchers/practitioners to be more familiar with the area and also to collect reliable and precise information.

Understanding the rules of RRA/PRA method is important. It may mislead the information if the rules are not followed properly. Therefore, understanding the three broadly steps are vital in the process i.e., before fieldwork, during fieldwork and after fieldwork. The process of each steps are important for information collection. Approaching the respondents is one of the critical aspect in the process. Similarly, techniques and hints are also very useful in the process.

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