Participatory rural appraisal (PRA)

Brief Description

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is a set of participatory and largely visual techniques for assessing group and community resources, identifying and prioritizing problems and appraising strategies for solving them. It is a research/planning methodology in which a local community (with or without the assistance of outsiders) studies an issue that concerns the population, prioritizes problems, evaluates options for solving the problem(s) and comes up with a Community Action Plan to address the concerns that have been raised.

PRA is particularly concerned that the multiple perspectives that exist in any community are represented in the analysis and that the community itself takes the lead in evaluating its situation and finding solutions. Outsiders may participate as facilitators or in providing technical information but they should not 'take charge' of the process.

In PRA, a number of different tools are used to gather and analyse information. These tools encourage participation, make it easier for people to express their views and help to organize information in a way that makes it more useful and more accessible to the group that is trying to analyse a given situation. In this appendix, a number of tools are presented that might be useful in a PRA studying the institutional aspects of a community forestry activity. These are by no means the only tools that would be useful in such a study and those which are proposed here would have to be adapted to any particular situation. They are intended to give a sense of what information can be obtained by using different tools and how diverse issues can be looked at from multiple angles. In no case are these tools ends in themselves. Rather they will help to provoke discussion and bring up issues that can then be followed up in interviews (which will often take place around the diagram that has been produced) focusing on relevant institutional issues. The key, in other words, is not just to make a Venn (or some other) diagram but to use the diagram to probe further and ask questions about how decisions are made, -what happens in different conflictual situations, etc.

It is hoped that the presentation of these tools will help stimulate the facilitator's ideas about how to gather the kinds of information recommended by this manual and will help people who are already familiar with PRA to get an idea of how the participatory toolkit might be applied to these institutional issues. Readers who do not yet have experience with PRA but who are interested in applying it to an institutional analysis are encouraged to contact an experienced practitioner or consult the literature for more extensive information on the correct use of the methodology.
Some features of PRA which make it well-suited as a learning and problem-solving tool for the rural poor are:
  • It encourages group participation and discussion
  • The information to be processed is collected by group members themselves
  • It is presented in highly visual form, usually out in the open and on the ground, using pictures, symbols and locally available materials
  • Once displayed, the information is “transparent rather than hidden” - all members can comment on it, revise it and criticize it. This assists in cross-checking and verifying collected data.


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.

When to use

PRA supports the direct participation of communities, with rural people themselves becoming the main investigators and analysts. Rural people set the priorities; determine needs; select and train community workers; collect, document, and analyse data; and plan and implement solutions based on their findings. Actions stemming from this research tend to serve the local community. Outsiders are there to facilitate the process but do not direct it. PRA uses group animation and exercises to facilitate information sharing, analysis, and action among stakeholders.

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 followup meeting) generally frame the sequence of PRA activities. A typical PRA activity involves a team of people working for two to three weeks on workshop discussions, analyses, and fieldwork.

How to use

Participatory mapping
  • Create a wall or ground map with group participation. Members should do the marking, drawing and colouring with a minimum of interference and instruction by outsiders.
  • Using pencils, pens or local materials (e.g. small rocks, different coloured sands or powders, plant material) members should draw maps that depict/illustrate certain things. Each group member is then asked “to hold the stick” to explain the map or to criticize it or revise it.
  • Create resource maps showing the location of houses, resources, infrastructure and terrain features-useful for analysing certain community-level problems.
  • Create social maps, showing who is related to whom and where they live - useful in conducting PPP baseline surveys, etc.

Seasonal calendars
These charts show monthly changes in climate (rainfall or temperature) or agricultural activities (agricultural hours worked, different activities undertaken, crop cycles). The calendars are useful in identifying planting and harvesting times, labour constraints and marketing opportunities.

These are grid formats used to illustrate links between different activities or factors. They are useful in information gathering and analysis. An example is “problem-solving matrices,” where a series of problems affecting a group are placed on the vertical axis and their possible causes placed on the horizontal axis as below:

Possible causes:

Other work
No profit
Distrust of leader
Low member attendance

Low savings

Lack of unity

The matrix technique is useful for identifying and prioritizing problems, in spotting inter-relationships, etc.

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