A guide for field projects on adaptive strategies Layer 3 Layer 4 Layer 2
Underlying principles
Ecosystem-based approach
Participatory research methodologies
Participant Observer
Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA)
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)-You Are Here-
Participatory Action Research (PAR)
Project Stages
[Off-Site Link] IDS: PRA resources
[Off-Site Link] IDS: The power of participation

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)

More an eclectic situational style (the humble, learning outsider) than a method, the Participatory Rural Appraisal is distinguished at its best by the use of local graphic representations created by the community that legitimize local knowledge and promote empowerment.

Emerging in the 1980s, PRA "proper" builds on RRA but goes much further. To RRA it adds some more radical activist perspectives, deriving principally from South Asia. Its five central additional concepts are:

  • Empowerment. Knowledge is power. Knowledge arises from the process and results of the research that, through participation, come to be shared with and owned by local people. Thus the professional monopoly of information, used for planning and management decisions, is broken. New local confidence is generated, or reinforced, regarding the validity of their knowledge. "External" knowledge can be locally assimilated.
  • Respect. The PRA process transforms the researchers into learners and listeners, respecting local intellectual and analytical capabilities. Researchers have to learn a new "style". Researchers must avoid at all costs an attitude of patronizing surprise that local people are so clever they can make their own bar charts etc. The "ooh-aah" school of PRA works against its own principles of empowerment and indicates shallow naivete on the part of the researcher. A good rule of thumb is that when you can really understand the local jokes, poetry and songs, then you may feel you are starting to understand the people's culture.
  • Localization. The extensive and creative use of local materials and representations encourages visual sharing and avoids imposing external representational conventions.
  • Enjoyment. PRA, well done, is, and should be, fun. The emphasis is no longer on "rapid" but on the process.
  • Inclusiveness. Enhanced sensitivity, through attention to process; include marginal and vulnerable groups, women, children, aged, and destitute.

Dangers and drawbacks

Because of the diversity of research questions which can possibly be posed in this project, there are few prescriptions other than that PRA, well done, is a promising way in. The term PRA itself can cause difficulties: PRA need not be rural, and sometimes is not even participatory, and is frequently used as a trendy label for standard RRA techniques. Despite its limitations, the concentrated power of formalization of community knowledge through participatory techniques can generate an impressive amount of information in a relatively short space of time, leaving time for more selective structured formal surveys where they are necessary and of value. If PRA becomes part of the global development agenda, there are risks of:

  • "Hijacking". When this occurs, the PRA agenda is externally driven, and used to create legitimacy for projects, agencies and NGOs.
  • Formalism. The "PRA hit team" arrives in a local community to "do a PRA". This abrupt and exploitative approach is all too common in project-based PRAs where there is a deadline to meet, or in scheduled training courses.
  • Disappointment. Local expectations can easily be raised. If nothing tangible emerges, local communities may come to see the process as a transient external development phenomenon. Threats. The empowerment implications of PRA, and the power of its social analysis, can create threats to local vested interests, although less so than with PAR.

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