Participatory Rural Appraisal: All For One, One For All

Participatory Rural Appraisal: All For One, One For All
Posted on April 26, 2016 by Megha
NGOs - Participatory rural

NGOs have been gaining steam over the last few years, especially after the CSR mandate was announced in the Companies Act, 2013. But for an NGO to work well and make a lasting change in the society, it needs to understand the requirements and issues of the people at a grassroot level.

One of the many ways NGOs do this is by conducting studies and surveys within villages, also called Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRA).

But before we get to how PRAs assist NGOs, here’s how the study works.

What is a Participatory Rural Appraisal?

A Participatory Rural Appraisal is a tool employed by NGOs and agencies involved in local, national, and international development. It’s used to determine and incorporate the opinions and knowledge of the locals in the planning, management, and running of developmental programmes and projects.

PRA manages to enable the local people to provide their opinions, conduct studies, and come up with plans to tackle issues that their community is facing. The project staff of the NGO joins the locals and together they learn all they can about the village.

The Evolution of PRA

Participatory Rural Appraisal is now considered one of the most popular methods of gathering information about projects in rural areas. But this wasn’t always the case. It was in the 1980s that developmental experts began to feel dissatisfied with the meager number of formal surveys being conducted in rural areas and the biased results that were coming in. It was only in 1983 that Robert Chambers designed the Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) where a group of practiced individuals was sent out into the field to gather information and create new, unbiased theories about rural life.

The term ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal’ and ‘Participatory Learning and Action’ (PLA) were only coined in the mid 1990s.

When To Use PRA

PRA involves the community as a whole, and the locals themselves become analysts and investigators in the process. This works in their favour as they are able to determine and prioritize their needs, document and analyse relevant data, and select and train members to work actively for the society’s betterment.

This method of analysis works so well because the actions that rise from it tend to focus and serve the local community in a much more streamlined manner.

Though volunteers from a particular NGO run the programme, they don’t take an active part in the analysis. The organisers use group discussions and exercises to ensure that the locals share, analyse, and come up with an action plan. They assist the villagers and gradually help them understand the issues plaguing their community without influencing their decisions.

PRA works as a tool for transfer of knowledge and also helps improve communication among the villagers and the NGO.

Commonly Used Techniques

There are a vast number of techniques used in PRA. We’ve picked three of the most common methods and illustrated how they’re conducted.

Commonly Used Technique - CSR

Participatory Mapping and Modelling
This method involves the use of local materials to create a ground or wall map with the participation of the locals. The villagers draw, or in other ways, represent the historical and current situation of the area. The researcher then interviews each villager about what the map represents and document forests, types of soil, residential areas, farms, water sources, health and welfare conditions, and more. NGOs also create social maps to document who is related to whom, classes, and where they live.

A researcher can use matrices as a means to gather information and to facilitate analysis among the villagers. They use grid-like formats to illustrate the link between different activities and factors. For example, a problem-solving matrix is used with columns containing labels like land use, soil types, available resources, and cropping patterns. Then there are rows with labels like constraints, solutions, and initiatives already attempted.

Seasonal Calendars
Variables such as labour, income, rainfall, debt, expenditure, animal fodder, pests, and harvesting periods are documented to show a month to month variation and seasonal issues. Using this data, the NGO goes ahead with a plan of action. The calendars can be used to identify produce grown, plants, harvest seasons, labour issues, and marketing opportunities. Often an 18-month calendar is used, as it illustrates issues and variations much better than a 12-month calendar.

PRA has evolved over the years and is helping the rural population be more empowered and proactive about the different constraints they face in the village. This method clearly illustrates that when NGOs start at the grassroot levels, the society as a whole benefits.


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