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by Doreen Boyd

edited by Phil Bartle, PhD

Some of the Benefits:

This exercise either verifies the things they intuitively know about the community or in changing false information and the way they perceive situations when empirical evidence is applied to current conditions.

A professionally carried out survey/assessment of the community done by the people themselves, begins the process of participation and motivation vital to sustainability of activities. People really get involved, and going through the analysis of the data commence an awareness of the root causes of their conditions that facilitate development education which in turn create an understanding of their advocacy and lobbying roles to make the changes necessary. It helps to move community members away from an 'individual' or subjective approach to assessing 'needs' toward a broader objective 'community' approach.

That has always been, for me at least, a major difficulty in other methodologies for determining needs and even assets in a community. The natural tendency is for people to be subjective, in the sense that they make judgements from their own personal perspective. Not that this is entirely bad, but it does skew findings and also set individuals up for disappointment when their 'personal ' needs are not met and can result in 'dropping-out' in terms of their participation.

The report of the survey exercise provides a document that can be used at all levels in much the same way that national poverty assessments are used, i.e. to develop a plan of action and poverty eradication strategy specific to the community conditions based on the survey findings, to make a case for policy changes and other 'up-stream' interventions thus providing opportunities for community groups to input into the 'macro' decision-making that impact their lives and finally to make a case for mobilizing resources to carry out necessary interventions.

These are some thoughts for now based on my own experience in many different parts of the world and applying PAR techniques as part of the process.

It usually follows the community mapping (drawing the map) exercise, which in many instances begins the process of uncovering false information or lack of information about things like boundaries, where strategic infrastructure (e.g. toilets and pipes, shops) are located. It leads naturally into 'finding out for sure' and from there onto the idea of a community survey.

Incidentally, I have never had an incident where the community members refused to carry out the exercise or was incapable of doing so after being trained for it.

Further Thoughts:

The main thing to stress to facilitators in this kind of process, is the need recognize and acknowledge that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people even when they live in poverty conditions. In other words, material poverty does not mean that there is poverty of ideas, dreams and aspirations or the capabilities to translate ideas into action, make dreams come true and aspirations become reality.

They must have 'faith' if you will, in the ability of the people as well as in the process they are facilitating.

Many professionals still do not understand the need for community members to make decisions on issues that affect them, but more importantly, they do not believe that they have the ability to do so based on information that they determine is useful for them, and have collected and analysed themselves.

All of the above is, of course, a 'chapeau' for all the work that facilitators do, but it is critical for the PAR process because 'research' is usually seen as the purvey of highly trained specialists and not for the 'illiterate or uneducated masses' who are often the ones 'surveyed' rather than being the researchers.

Doreen Boyd, UNDP Barbados

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.06.08

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