PARTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT AND RESEARCH
Guiding and Stimulating the Community to Look at Itself
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Core Document in the Module
How to encourage participation in the assessment, appraisal and evaluation of a community by community members
A very important responsibility that you have as a community mobilizer is to ensure that the community members objectively and accurately assess and appraise their own community, cataloguing its various problems, and evaluating the differences in community priorities for solving those problems.
Without an objective and collective community evaluation, different community members will have different ideas of what is more important and what is less important, and many myths and inaccurate assumptions will continue to be held by different members of the community. This contributes to disunity, and it hinders making transparent and effective actions to improve self reliance and reduce poverty. This means that you, as a mobilizer, need to learn techniques of encouraging and stimulating participation, and that you must train community members to understand the principles and learn the skills of participation in evaluation, assessment and appraisal.
When you reach a later stage in the mobilization cycle, designing a community project, you must determine what is the priority problem to be solved. There must be agreement and consensus among community members that the chosen problem to be solved is the one with the highest priority. Without unity organizing, and an objective community evaluation, there will be no needed agreement about which task to undertake first. Without this community participation in evaluation, different factions will choose different priorities.
Educated members will see different problems than uneducated. Men will see different ones than women. Landowners will see different problems than tenants or squatters.
People of different age groups, ethnic groups, language groups, or religious groups will not automatically agree what are the priority problems, as they each see the universe from different perspectives, and have different value systems.
A good way to start the community appraisal process is to arrange a map making session.
Set a day or afternoon for preparing the map. Ask that as many community members attend as possible. With everybody in attendance, walk through the village or neighbourhood. Do not simply walk around the perimeters of the area, but traverse it, with enough lines of traverse that everyone can see everything between them. As you walk, you observe things, discuss them, and mark them on the map.
As the mobilizer, you need to keep the discussion going whenever it does not continue spontaneously. The making of the map, as a group process, including the discussion and the choices of what to mark down, is as important, if not more important, than the map itself.
On the map you include the major buildings, roads and installations (latrines, water points, playgrounds, shrines, garbage dumps). You also include observations about installations that are in a state of disrepair, have fallen down, or are not working. Ensure that you discuss each of these as you mark them on the map. This will help to limit opposition and contradictions later in the appraisal; it contributes to "transparency" in the process.
At the end of the walk through the neighbourhood or village, everyone should meet (perhaps at a convenient school building) to discuss the walk, and to finalize the map. This debriefing is important, because it supports the transparency you wish to promote, and which was started by discussing every problem as it was marked down on the map.
The map can then be used in the next phase of the appraisal, making a village or neighbourhood inventory.
On the day of making the map, or as soon as possible after that, it is time to make a community inventory. It is important that the inventory be done in a participatory manner; the community members participate in constructing the inventory. Do not, as a mobilizer, make the inventory for the community; that defeats its purpose. It would be useful here, in your role of mobilizing and training, to renew the principles and techniques used in the brainstorm.
Discourage cross talk and feedback; mark down all contributions on the board; shuffle and sort the contributions later as a group exercise. Ensure that individual contributions are given at arms length (do not focus in on individual contributors), allow apparently contradictory contributions (write every suggestion on the board), and reassert at the end that this is a group product, not the product of any one or more factions or individuals.
Be aware that different groups or factions in the whole community will have different concerns. The local headmaster might see the need for a new school as most important. Men might see a need for access to fertilizers while women might see a need for available potable water as the highest priority. The local imam might see the need for a new mosque as highest priority, while other individuals and factions will see other needs as highest priority. That is why it would be misleading to consult only with a few community leaders in determining communal priorities. A group process, involving as many members of the community as possible, is more transparent, and will result in a more accurate assessment of whole community needs.
To encourage objectivity, suggest that the community inventory include both assets and problems. If a clean and well used latrine is a positive asset, include it, not only the latrines that are broken. Refer to the map. Post it on the wall. Ask what assets and liabilities were observed in the map making process.
What's in a Name?
You may see the acronym PRA, or sometimes PAR, used in reference to this participatory method of making an assessment of community resources and problems. There are several interpretations and definitions of these.
Once upon a time, there was a method called RRA, Rapid Rural Assessment. In essence this was used when an aid agency called in a high priced foreign specialist, who parachuted in and stayed a few days in the closest five star hotel for the duration, and wrote up a needs assessment that the agency could use to justify its project. At most, the specialist might consult with a few of the community leaders before writing his final report.
In opposition to this "top down" approach, it became apparent (especially to community workers) that such an appraisal would be more accurate if it were more participatory and less rapid.
Furthermore, sociologists noted that if the community members were involved in decision-making from the start, they would more likely take responsibility for the project, and therefore contribute to its maintenance and sustaining its installation. When the whole community were involved, the project would be more valid than if only a few representatives or leaders of the community were consulted.
A new acronym was coined, PRA. This acronym was more consistent than what the letters represented: Participatory Rural Appraisal, Participatory Research and Assessment. What was common among these was that the process should be participatory. Some people tried to bypass the plethora of interpretations of PRA, and coined the new acronym, PAR.
This too, however, has sprouted several interpretations, including Participatory Action Research, but the consistent feature is still that they both (PRA, PAR) emphasize participation. What is essential here is that the assessment process should be participatory, and that participation should involve the whole community, not merely a few factions, that the assessment of needs and potentials reflect the community as a whole.
Information for Whom?
You might hear, especially from non community-oriented project managers (eg engineers, central planners) that community appraisal is unnecessary. "We already have a social sector base study, why should we duplicate it with a village inventory?" is a typical lament. You may be called upon to defend this part of your work, especially if you are part of a sector specific project (eg water supply). Managers are in a hurry to get physical results (building the water point) and this participatory assessment takes up time.
The information collected by the map making and inventory by the community may or may not duplicate information resulting from other sources. It is an incorrect assumption that the information is primarily for the project or agency to make plans. The purpose of the assessment process is to involve the whole community in decision making, and to encourage community members to take responsibility for any facility or service that may be installed in the future.
That said, the information produced is very useful in adding to other sources of information (base line survey, census data, other reports) in getting an accurate picture of the current situation. As a mobilizer, you will contribute to the process of poverty reduction and community empowerment if you make the information available to your agency or project, to local authorities, district and central government officials, especially those in planning, community development and management.
Training the Community Members:
Where communities are characterized by having much poverty and have many marginalised persons, it is more likely that many members will be unfamiliar with participating in making community decisions. Furthermore, many will be unfamiliar with map-making and making an inventory, and many will not be able to read and write. These are skills they need in order to have them participate in decision making that leads to community empowerment. Formal training is not the answer here.
You as a mobilizer will familiarize community members in all these simply by your carrying them out. Even more important, your encouraging them to participate supports their self confidence and motivates them in contributing to their community development.
In the process of carrying them out, remember that community members are learning new skills, and ensure that you are transparent in your work. The skills needed by community members to carry out an appraisal are not sophisticated and difficult. Community members are normally and usually willing to engage in the process and will easily learn the skills in the process. Your job is to facilitate that learning.
The participation of community members in making a community appraisal, goes farther beyond laying the groundwork for community action. The result of their assessments can be used as a base line or data for measuring progress, and therefore as an element of community based monitoring and evaluation.
Where From Here?
This document shows you how to encourage participation in the assessment, appraisal or evaluation of a community by community members. Throughout your work, participation of community members, all members rather than only some factions or individuals, should be stimulated and encouraged.
In all training activities, while a participatory approach is generally best, where the trainer is a facilitator rather than a lecturer, the PAR/PRA methodology, however, should not be blindly applied in all areas.
Where specific skills, for example are needed, especially if they have already been identified by the participants, it may be appropriate to employ other methods, such as demonstration, presentation, and dialogue. Given this, allowing trainees to learn by doing should be emphasized.
For more discussion on this approach, see the Robert Chambers files.
Making a Community Map:
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle