Work Plan
The Environmental Colours of Microfinance
Participatory Rural Appraisal

Over the last ten years, the practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) has spread rapidly throughout the developing world. PRA is a general term describing a collection of techniques which enable local people to "share, enhance and analyze their knowledge of life and conditions, to plan and to act" (Chambers 92). PRA exemplifies the interactive approach to EA advanced by this manual and offers a set of tools for creatively involving both urban and rural communities in EA.

PRA is an open and flexible approach to community participation which has succeeded in providing realistic appraisals of the interworkings of communities. PRA has been found to be at least as reliable as traditional forms of information gathering and participatory development, if not more so. The strength of PRA is that it gives communities the opportunity to control and analyze information for their own benefit. It is also relatively quick and cost effective. PRA techniques can be used to answer any of the following questions in an EA:

  • What resources are valued and why?
  • What are the competing interests for resources?
  • How has the resource base changed over time?
  • What do people feel about the project?
  • What is the relationship between people and their local environment?
  • What are the project alternatives?
  • What key community members are affected by and interested in the project?
  • How can community members be prepared for future project activity?
  • How can trade-offs be negotiated between stakeholders?

PRA can also help build consensus between experts and communities. The perceptions of experts and local people often differ sharply because each group tends to view issues and problems from vastly different perspectives. This is especially true on environmental issues matters. PRA redefines the roles of project proponents and community participants, in requiring that greater control over the processes of investigation, analysis and planning be shifted to local people. PRA can serve to balance out power differentials and ensure that scientific knowledge does not overshadow local knowledge. Roles are equalised as project proponents and technical experts work side by side with community members as facilitators and observers.

The following PRA techniques can be used in EA. To be effective, PRA methods and tools must be applied in a gender-sensitive fashion. Typically, each of the following PRA techniques takes one to two days to complete:

  • Participatory mapping and modelling -- Here people use the ground, floor or paper to map social, demographic and health issues. This technique is also used to map natural resources (soil, trees, forests, water resources etc.) and farms in order to construct three-dimensional models of land.
  • Transect walks -- These involve systematic walks with informants through specific areas, observing; asking questions; listening; discussing; identifying different zones, local technologies and introduced technologies; seeking solutions to problems; and mapping and diagramming resources and findings.
  • Resource mapping -- This is a tool which can be used to make graphic depictions of land use patterns, natural resources, including gender-based access to, control over, and labour spent in resource-related activities. This tool can be used to discover the dynamics of access and control over resources from the perspective of both the communities and the individual households. It takes into account that women and men make very different use of resources (e.g. a single species of tree) and hence helps to understand them as distinct resource user groups. Resource mapping is a refinement over transect walks (Care-USA 1995: 69).
  • Landscape analysis -- This involves direct observation of the landscape in order to characterise the ecosystem and to analyze the use of space. It is carried out by the EA team, accompanied by members of the community. A high point in the community is chosen, from which observations are made using guidelines drawn up by the team beforehand (Bojanic et al. 1995: 97).
  • Environmental impact matrix -- This refers to a semi-structured group interview aimed at revealing the positive or negative impacts of specific actions or demands on the environment. For each demand (or alternative solution), the group examines the positive, negative and neutral effects on the community's natural resources.
  • Time line -- This is a chronology of events, listing the major events in a community with approximate dates.
  • Trend analysis -- Here people share accounts of the past, ecological histories, changes in land use and cropping patterns, changes in customs and practice, changes and trends in population migration, fuel used, education, health, credit, and the causes of changes and trends.
  • Ethno-biographies -- Local histories of, for example, a crop, animal, tree, pest, weed.
  • Livelihood analysis -- Stability, crises and coping, relative income, expenditure credit and debt, multiple activities.
  • Scoring and ranking -- Especially using matrices and seeds to compare through scoring for example different trees, or soils or methods of soil and water conservation, or varieties of a crop.
  • Estimates and quantification -- This often employs local measures, judgements and materials such as seeds, pellets, fruit or stones as counters, sometimes in combination with participatory maps and models.
  • Participatory planning, budgeting and monitoring -- Villagers prepare their own plans, budgets and schedules and monitor progress

(Source: Chambers 1992: 16-20 except where indicated).
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Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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