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.
The philosophical roots of participatory rural appraisal techniques can be traced to activist adult education methods such as those 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, argued 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 (RRA) to describe techniques that could bring about a "reversal of learning", to learn from rural people directly. Two years later, the first international conference to share experiences relating to RRA was held in Thailand. This was followed by a rapid acceptance of usage 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 By the mid 1990s, the term RRA had been replaced by a number of other terms including participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and participatory learning and action (PLA).
Robert Chambers acknowledged that the significant breakthroughs and innovations that informed the methodology came from community development practitioners in Africa, India and elsewhere. Chambers helped PRA gain acceptance among practitioners. Chambers explained the function of participatory research in PRA 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.
Overview of techniques
Over the years techniques and tools have been described in a variety of books and newsletters, or taught at training courses. However, the field has been criticized for lacking a systematic evidence-based methodology.
- Understanding group dynamics, e.g. through learning contracts, role reversals, feedback sessions
- Surveying and sampling, e.g. transect walks, wealth ranking, social mapping
- Interviewing, e.g. focus group discussions, semi-structured interviews, triangulation
- Community mapping, e.g. Venn diagrams, matrix scoring, ecograms, timelines
To ensure that people are not excluded from participation, these techniques avoid writing wherever possible, relying instead on the tools of oral communication and visual communication such as 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. Often developing communities are reluctant to permit invasive audio-visual recording.
Developmental changes in PRA
Since the early 21st century, some practitioners have replaced PRA with the standardized model of community-based participatory research (CBPR) or with participatory action research (PAR). Social survey techniques have also changed during this period, including greater use of information technology such as fuzzy cognitive maps, e-participation, telepresence, social network analysis, topic models, geographic information systems (GIS), and interactive multimedia.
- Asset-based community development (ABCD)
- Community-based program design
- Community-led total sanitation
- Farmer Field School
- Participation (decision making)
- Participatory 3D modelling (P3DM)
- Participatory development
- Participatory GIS
- Participatory monitoring
- Participatory poverty assessment
- Participatory technology development
- Praxis intervention
- Problem structuring methods
- Progress in Community Health Partnerships
- Public participation
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- Castelloe, Paul; Gamble, Dorothy N. (2005). "Participatory methods in community practice: popular education and participatory rural appraisal". In Weil, Marie; Reisch, Michael (eds.). Handbook of community practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. pp. 261–275. doi:10.4135/9781452220819.n13. ISBN 978-0761921776. OCLC 55008364.
- Narayanasamy, N. (2009). Participatory rural appraisal: principles, methods and application. Los Angeles: Sage Publications. ISBN 9788178298856. OCLC 265732154.
- Flower, Charlotte; Mincher, Paul; Rimkus, Susan (2000). "Overview—participatory processes in the North". PLA Notes. 38: 14–18.
- Chambers, Robert (1997). Whose reality counts?: putting the first last. London: Intermediate Technology Publications. p. 106. ISBN 978-1853393860. OCLC 36589868.
- Chambers, Robert (April 1981). "Rapid rural appraisal: rationale and repertoire" (PDF). Public Administration and Development. 1 (2): 95–106. doi:10.1002/pad.4230010202.
- Chambers, Robert (1984) . Rural development: putting the last first. London; New York: Longman. ISBN 978-0582644434. OCLC 9196254.
- Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference on Rapid Rural Appraisal: Khon Kaen University. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Published by Rural Systems Research Project and Farming Systems Research Project for Khon Kaen University. 1987. ISBN 9789745552517. OCLC 19025969.
- Search results for 'participatory rural appraisal' and 'participatory learning and action' on Google Ngram Viewer
- Singh, Kamal (2001). "Handing over the stick: the global spread of participatory approaches to development". In Edwards, Michael; Gaventa, John (eds.). Global citizen action. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 175–187. ISBN 978-1555879686. OCLC 45879585.
- Chambers, Robert (1993). Challenging the professions: frontiers for rural development. London: Intermediate Technology Publications. ISBN 978-1853391941. OCLC 28470414.
- Pretty, Jules N.; Vodouhê, Simplice D. (1997) . "Using rapid or participatory rural appraisal". In Swanson, Burton E.; Bentz, Robert P.; Sofranko, Andrew J. (eds.). Improving agricultural extension: a reference manual (2nd ed.). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 978-9251040072. OCLC 456586976.
- Sontheimer, Sally; Callens, Karel; Seiffert, Bernd (1999). "PRA tool box". Conducting a PRA training and modifying PRA tools to your needs: an example from a participatory household food security and nutrition project in Ethiopia. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Leurs, Robert (August 1997). "Critical reflections on rapid and participatory rural appraisal". Development in Practice. 7 (3): 290–293. JSTOR 4029070.
- Robinson-Pant, Anna (1995). "PRA: a new literacy?". PLA Notes. 24: 78–82.
- Campbell, John R. (Winter 2001). "Participatory rural appraisal as qualitative research: distinguishing methodological issues from participatory claims". Human Organization. 60 (4): 380–389. doi:10.17730/humo.60.4.4bgnlmy60fkvq4r2.
- Hickey, Samuel; Mohan, Giles, eds. (2004). Participation, from tyranny to transformation?: exploring new approaches to participation in development. London; New York: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1842774601. OCLC 55016221.
- Mukherjee, Amitava, ed. (2004). Participatory rural appraisal: methods and applications in rural planning: essays in honour of Robert Chambers. Studies in rural participation. 5. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. ISBN 9788180691058. OCLC 56597737.
- Mukherjee, Amitava (2009). Frontiers in participatory rural appraisal and participatory learning and action: PRA and PLA in applied research. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. ISBN 9788171887248. OCLC 477280350.
- Mukherjee, Neela (1993). Participatory rural appraisal: methodology and applications. Studies in rural participation. 1. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. ISBN 978-8170224730. OCLC 31012523.
- Mukherjee, Neela (1997). Participatory appraisal of natural resources. Studies in rural participation. 3. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. ISBN 9788170226185. OCLC 37579543.
- Participatory Learning and Action / PLA Notes archive. Started in the 1980s and first known as RRA Notes, then as PLA Notes, and then as Participatory Learning and Action, this archive of articles is a joint collaboration of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).
- Scrimshaw, Nevin S.; Gleason, Gary R., eds. (1992). RAP, rapid assessment procedures: qualitative methodologies for planning and evaluation of health related programmes. Boston: International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries. ISBN 978-0963552204. OCLC 27320692.
- Selener, Daniel; Endara, Nelly; Carvajal, José (1999). Participatory rural appraisal and planning: workbook. Quito, Ecuador: International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR). ISBN 978-9978408148. OCLC 41874096.
- Veldhuizen, Laurens van; Veldhuizen, Laurens van; Waters-Bayer, Ann; Zeeuw, Henk de (1997). Developing technology with farmers: a trainer's guide. London; New York: Zed Books in association with ETC Netherlands. ISBN 978-1856494892. OCLC 456590542.