Participatory rural appraisal
Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is an approach used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other agencies involved in international development. The approach aims to incorporate the knowledge and opinions of rural people in the planning and management of development projects and programmes.
Origins of participatory rural appraisal
The roots of participatory rural appraisal techniques can be traced to the activist adult education methods of Paulo Freire and the study clubs of the Antigonish Movement. In this view, an actively involved and empowered local population is essential to successful rural community development. Robert Chambers, a key exponent of PRA, argues that the approach owes much to "the Freirian theme, that poor and exploited people can and should be enabled to analyze their own reality."
By the early 1980s, there was growing dissatisfaction among development experts with both the reductionism of formal surveys, and the biases of typical field visits. In 1983, Robert Chambers, a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (UK), used the term Rapid Rural Appraisal to describe techniques that could bring about a 'reversal of learning'. Two years later, the first international conference to share experiences relating to RRA was held in Thailand. This was followed by a rapid growth in the development of methods that involved rural people in examining their own problems, setting their own goals, and monitoring their own achievements. By the mid 1990s, the term RRA had been replaced by a number of other terms including ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)’ and ‘Participatory Learning and Action’ (PLA).
Chambers acknowledges that the significant breakthroughs and innovations that informed the methodology were not his, but that development practitioners in India, Africa and elsewhere were responsible for this. Practitioners such as James Mascarenhas, Parmesh Shah, Meera Kaul, John Devavaram and others in India collaborated with Chambers to explore emerging techniques and tools. These early pioneers were responsible for the spread of PRA to Africa and elsewhere. In Africa, the methodology found enthusiastic advocates in Kenya (Charity Kabutha, Daniel Mwayaya), South Africa (Kamal Laldas Singh and others), Zimbabwe (Sam Chimbuya, Saiti Makuku), Ghana (Tony Dogbe). Chambers raised funding for South-South Exchanges which were seminal to the internationalisation of the PRA community of practice. Kamal Laldas Singh who joined Chambers at the IDS, helped catalyse the South-South and in-country networking that attempted to encourage reflection and learning amongst practitioners. The rapid spread and adoption of the methodology led to issues of abuse and quality.
Overview of PRA techniques
Hundreds of participatory techniques and tools have been described in a variety of books and newsletters, or taught at training courses around the world. These techniques can be divided into four categories:
- Group dynamics, e.g. learning contracts, role reversals, feedback sessions
- Sampling, e.g. transect walks, wealth ranking, social mapping
- Interviewing, e.g. focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, triangulation
- Visualization e.g. venn diagrams, matrix scoring, timelines
To ensure that people are not excluded from participation, these techniques avoid writing wherever possible, relying instead on the tools of oral communication like pictures, symbols, physical objects and group memory. Efforts are made in many projects, however, to build a bridge to formal literacy; for example by teaching people how to sign their names or recognize their signatures.
A 'new professionalism' for development
A key idea that has accompanied the development of PRA techniques is that of a new professionalism. Robert Chambers has explained this as follows:
"The central thrusts of the [new] paradigm … are decentralization and empowerment. Decentralization means that resources and discretion are devolved, turning back the inward and upward flows of resources and people. Empowerment means that people, especially poorer people, are enabled to take more control over their lives, and secure a better livelihood with ownership and control of productive assets as one key element. Decentralization and empowerment enable local people to exploit the diverse complexities of their own conditions, and to adapt to rapid change".
To be an external agent of change within this discipline implies two-way learning. Development agents learn to both appreciate and lever the power of oral culture and the transformations that are possible within it. Walter J. Ong has argued that “many of the contrasts often made between ‘western’ and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness.”
- Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action (PCHP)
- Participatory action research
- Participatory technology development
- Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM)
- Participation (decision making)
- Farmer Field School
- Community-led total sanitation
- Community-based participatory research (CBPR)
- Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)
- Praxis intervention
- Participatory development
- Robert Chambers. Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last Intermediate Technology Publications, London, 1997, p. 106.
- Rural Development: Putting the Last First, Robert Chambers, 1983, Longmans
- Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference on Rapid Rural Appraisal, Khon Kaen University (Eds.), 1987, Rural Systems Research Project and Farming Systems Research Project, KKU, Thailand
- "Handing over the Stick: The Global Spread of Participatory Approaches to Development", Kamal Singh in Edwards and Gaventa (eds) (2001),Global Citizen Action, pp 163-175. Boulder:Lynne Rienner Publishers
- Challenging the Professions: Frontiers for Rural Development, Robert Chambers, 1993, ITDG London
- Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy, p. 29.