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Participatory Rural Appraisal for Research

Participatory Rural Appraisal

Participatory Rural Appraisal

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is now very popular for qualitative multidisciplinary approaches to learn about local people’s perspectives and local-level conditions. Now a day’s NGOs, agricultural research organizations and World Bank as well as other donors prefer PRA-type methods in their work.

What is Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)

Participatory Rural Appraisal, an approach towards empowering the poor and marginalized communities, offers a basket of techniques. It helps to learn from as well as with the community or villagers. A set of principles, a process of communicating and interacting with the participants (villagers/ community people) using a set of menu of methods for seeking their participation. In PRA, the use of local graphic representations created by the community that legitimize local knowledge and promote participants’ empowerment.

“An approach (and family of methodologies) for shared learning between local people and outsiders to enable development practitioners, government officials, and local people to plan together appropriate interventions (1998).”  

Stages of participation

Generally the following five stages are followed for PRA in qualitative method:

1st stage: outside experts tells and manipulation the villagers
2nd stage:  the outside experts inform participants
3rd stage: the outside experts and participants consult each other to make decision together
4th stage: they act together
5th stage: the outside experts delegate authority and support to the participants

Main features of Participatory Rural Appraisal

Flexibility and informality

In PRA, collection of data and interpretation or generate data is more flexible and it mainly depend on the purpose of the study and need of the researchers. The study design also allows flexibility and adoptability.

Appropriate estimation

PRA helps to identify and avoid unnecessary detail. It is not needed to be impressionistic or simply a collection of unsubstantiated rumors. The team members should be alert to what is not said and what is said: what is not seen as well as what is seen.

On-spot analysis

Gathering, learning, reviewing and analyzing data should be on spot while staying with the community in PRA; otherwise there could be recall bias.

Tools and techniques for Participatory Rural Appraisal

Generally various types of visual tools and techniques are used in Participatory Rural Appraisal. Such as:

Key techniques for Participatory Rural Appraisal

Interviews/ discussions: Individuals, households, focus groups, community meetings
Mapping: community maps, personal maps, institutional maps
Ranking: problem ranking, preference ranking, wealth ranking
Trend Analysis: historical diagramming, seasonal calendars, daily activity charts

1.    Participatory mapping

Participatory mapping (social mapping, historical mapping, natural mapping, resource mapping etc.) is used to learn about physical and socio-economic conditions of study place by the villagers/ community. A suitable place is selected for this and stick, stones, seeds, pens etc are provided to them. The researchers usually sit back and watch mapmaking without any interruption after giving the initial instructions. 

2.    Body mapping

Body mapping represents part or all of the body, drawn by women/men on paper or on the ground from the villagers/ community people. Body mapping are usually used to examine their knowledge about reproduction or their interpretations of non-indigenous contraception and many more things related to body organism by using people’s own representations of their bodies as a starting point from which to explore particular medical issues. It can facilitate a less directive interviewing style than would otherwise be possible. People’s own classifications and visual descriptions can be used as a basis for probing. Ideas and issues can be explored by body mapping which may be more difficult to access through verbal discussion alone.

3.    Wealth ranking

Wealth ranking is used to learn about wealth or well being ranking of the villagers. The facilitators describe wealth ranking tools and techniques in local terms to them. Stratification may used as a basis for sampling households or targeting poor households.

4.    Preference ranking

The preference ranking is used to learn participants’ assessment on different items. It is an introductory exercise in a group discussion for revealing differences among group members.

 MaizeCoffeeRiceSweet PotatoBeansGroundnuts
Good for family500288
Short growing season500888
Good market price884333
Money from sale goes to women000666
Resistant to drought870000
No much labor needed592553
No much money for seed592778

5.    Free listing and pile sorting

Free listing is used to obtain a clear understanding of the definition and boundaries of what is being studied. May be the researcher is interested in what the respondents think about “something” (a semantic/ cultural domain), e.g., colour terms; kinship terms; education, illnesses; diseases; plant terms, etc. Without free listing the items may reflect the ideas of the researchers rather than the informants.

In pile sorting informants are asked to sort cards (each containing the name of an item, e.g., illness) into piles.

6.    Venn diagram

Sometimes to learn about relative importance of groups or individuals and degree of interactions between individuals and groups Venn diagram is used in PRA.

7.    Seasonal calendar

Seasonal calendar is making out the year using participants’ local calendar. Available materials are used [stones, seeds, beans, even goat droppings, coloured chalk] to show seasonal variation. The purposes of this technique are to learn seasonal trends as well as to get an overview of the situation throughout the year.

8.    Problem ranking

Purpose of problem ranking is to learn about local people’s perceptions of the most important problems and to get their ranking of identified problem. Six/seven most important/complicated problems are listed and then ranking technique is applied by the participants [ask participants to identify bigger problem and reason for choice].

Triangulation for Participatory Rural Appraisal

According to O’Donoghue and Punch (2003), triangulation is a “method of cross-checking data from multiple sources to search for regularities in the research data.” Triangulation is very important for PRA to check the validity and reliability of data collected from more than two sources especially in qualitative method. A diverse team uses a basket of tools and techniques to generated information from several sources for cross checking of qualitative information and ensure reliability. So the team should be multi-disciplinary combining in-side and outsides, men and women as well as children if necessary. Researcher can cross check with the data collected by interviews and discussion with observation, diagram or checklists.

Limitations of PRA

Like all other methods, PRA also have some limitations. Raising expectations, planned intervention may not meet priority felt needs. It also could not able to meet the desire for quantitative, statistically verifiable data. It cannot satisfy the desire for package or blueprint approach. There is indiscriminate use of techniques as well as rushing and overlooking the poor and disadvantaged. The credibility of these results is sometimes questionable.

However, PRA can help in the identification and strengthening of local organizations, which can take over a good deal of the responsibility for implementation and monitoring of community-level activities in qualitative approach.


Hasanur Rahman, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Dhaka.
Qualitative Research Methodology, James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University.


Rietbergen-McCracken, J., & Narayan, D. (1998a). Participatory rural appraisal: Module III.     Participatiom and Social Assessment Tools and Techniques (pp. 123-160). Washington,     World Bank.
O’Donoghue, T., Punch K. (2003). Qualitative Educational Research in Action: Doing and Reflecting.     Routledge. p.78.
Triangulation. Retrieved July 23, 2011 from

i Source: Zambia Poverty Assessment, op., cit.
ii Source: D. Narayan and D. Nyamwaya, 1996, “Learning from the poor: A participatory poverty assessment in Kenya”, World Bank, Washington D.C.

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