Participatory appraisal is a technique that can be used in development projects to capture the
true voice of a community and to help realise the most appropriate solutions.
Participatory appraisal (PA), often termed PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) and linked with
RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) describes a family of approaches and methods to enable local
people to share, enhance and analyse their knowledge of life and conditions, to plan and to act
(Chambers 1994). Participatory appraisal empowers local people to conduct their own modes of
investigation to develop more community based solutions. PA is effective in many applications
including poverty alleviation programmes, natural resources management, agriculture, health and
food security in both rural and urban settings. Such appraisal techniques can be successfully
used to empower poorer communities, develop solutions, to communicate and share knowledge.
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) has come out of past approaches to appraisal, including
activist participatory research, applied anthropology, agro-ecosystem analysis, field research on
farming systems and Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). RRA seeks to extract information by
outsiders, whereas in PRA, the information is more shared and owned by the local people
themselves (Chambers 1992) therefore creating a more accurate and truer picture of the
In research, it is important that the investigator remains objective, reflexive and that the data is
gathered (i.e. not affected by the collection process) rather than constructed (i.e. data created
and shaped by the way it is collected) which could lead to data being a misrepresentation that
should be treated with scepticism. Researchers must be aware of the distortions produced by
their methods and their intervention in the lives of people under study (Cronin 2011). They
should be reflexive and aware of their own position and perspective, their effect on social actors,
be aware of the construction of their account (extent to which bringing in their own
interpretation), which may be explicit or implicit in accounts of research (Jones 2008).
Therefore, in PA, the investigator works as a facilitator to enable local people to share and
present their experiences themselves, thereby eliminating the risk of misinterpretation by the
researcher. It is crucial that outside facilitators seeking to gather information via PA from
communities must be critically self-aware and conscious of their behaviour and attitude. This
includes showing respect, relaxing, not rushing and ‘handing over the stick’ (Chamber 1992) or
control of the situation to the community. The gathering of information via PA is often sought
from groups via visual data and comparisons, sharing and analysis are open-ended (Chambers
• Facilitation – an outsider facilitates the investigation. Analysis, presentation and learning
is conducted by local people themselves so they present and own the outcomes and
learn from the process. The outsider can start the process then sit back while the
community runs it themselves.
• Self-critical awareness and responsibility – the facilitators must be reflexive and
continually examining their behaviour and judgements so as to not impact on the
community and learning.
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