Paper 4C

No.2, Service Road
Domlur Layout
BANGALORE 560 071.


Undated, 1991
James Mascarenhas


The purposes of this note are:

1. To share what our experiences are in this area with other PRA practitioners/beginners.

2. To encourage you to try them out yourself, adopt and develop them further, and add to the menu.


Of late there is a growing agreement that Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) should give way to PARTICIPATORY RURAL APPRAISAL (PRA). This underlies the importance of participation. Presuming that all development programmes are meant to improve the conditions of the rural poor, it is important that we hear what they have to say about their situation and how they feel it could be changed for the better. Planning and implementing rural development programmes with people’s participation is considered one of the keys to sustainable rural development. Apart from the participation of the weaker and/or marginalized sections (tribals, landless, scheduled castes, women, etc.), it is also necessary to involve other significant constituents of the village – local leaders, youth, school teachers, etc., and enlist their support in the programme. PRA is a good way to begin this process of involvement (but remember: PRA alone is not enough to guarantee sustainable development; it is a good way to start but has to be followed up with other efforts aimed at local level institution building.)


Most of the ideas listed below may be known and practiced already. They are also not a complete list. You may already be knowing and practicing several others. Perhaps you will discover and develop several more. However, what we have done up to now are the following:

a. Protocol:

From our experience we find that the success of a PRA exercise in a village is enhanced if the `required’ protocol is followed. Try as we might, we cannot wish away vested interests, power and the establishment. It helps therefore to have a preliminary meeting with the village elders, opinion leaders, chairman and youth leaders a few days before the exercise. This step is important as it gives the exercise a sanction of legitimacy. Legitimacy – for village persons of all categories to participate either directly by attending sessions or indirectly through interviews. Legitimacy also for the `outsiders’ to move freely about in the village (of course respectfully and sensitively) and investigate/ interview/ observe. We have had several and varied experiences in relation to the following of protocol (or lack of it). In most villages where the exercise was properly explained the degree of participation was much higher – either in the freedom with which we were able to approach villagers, or the freedom with which they approached and spoke to us. In one case, where we did not follow protocol, there was absolute confusion, where people did not volunteer to come for the sessions and interviews and when (outsider) participants `rounded up’ interviewees, more often than not, they were not from the interest group for whom the proposed development programmes were being planned. In yet another case where we failed to follow protocol, the big boss in the village hired out a loud speaker and music set for Rs.125/- per day for 4 days and played blaring music every evening from 6.30 p.m. onwards – a time when the evening presentations and dialogues took place. To cap it all, on the final day, he even hired a dance troupe to draw crowds. `Utilising’ a proper entry extremely carefully to build further on the relationships, interactions and exchanges is also very important (as outlined in the following paragraphs).

b. Village Camping:

This is an item which we have included as a MUST in all our PRA programmes. Apart from saving time in transit and easing logistics considerably, village camping helps to soften and break down barriers between outsiders and the villagers. A great degree of access to the villagers and vice versa is achieved. From our experiences even staying within the campus of the host NGO, in the village where the PRA exercise is held is not sufficient to remove barriers between the villagers and visitors. We have also found that the act of sharing food (either ours or theirs) definitely enhances the participation level.

In every case where we are with the villagers there is a general feeling of warmth and well being, comradeship and congeniality and most important, equality as human beings. In one case where we cajoled an old woman into cooking for us, the villagers were quite sceptical that we would eat their diet and when we did, they became much closer to us and even told us that this was the first time they had seen `officers’ eat their food and eat with them.

c. Ice Breakers:

Initially we organised a few `social’ games at some point during the introductory sessions of the first day. Gradually these became an integral part of the exercise and the frequency increased to atleast once daily, in the evenings. Again a higher level of enthusiasm accompanied by a greater degree of camaraderie was the result. Barriers broke down. At one PRA exercise we took along a few indoor games and a volley ball set and the villagers (youth) insisted that we play for a while before resuming discussions. Needless to say that they came back refreshed and energetic and continued their participation whole heartedly, the whole atmosphere acquiring the character of a discussion between friends. At the most recently concluded PRA in Andhra, we (and the villagers) made it a point to break atleast 3-4 times a day either into a group song, a dance or a game. This made a positive difference in the participation, the quality of the discussions and the outputs.

d. The 1:1 Ratio:

One of the early lessons we learnt in PRA was that, descending on the village in large numbers is counter productive. We therefore, during the PROTOCOL & PREPARATORY STAGES made requests to the village leaders and to the NGOs/MYRADA Project who were hosting the exercise that they should try and ensure that the representation from the village consisted of atleast as many persons as there were `outsiders’. For psychological reasons a 1:1 ratio (outsider to villager) works better than a 2:1 ratio. Even better is a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio. This gives the villagers confidence of numbers apart from enabling them to participate actively, volunteer information, take pains to make us understand and cross verify information among themselves.

e. The Mode: Friendly Enquiry vs. Lecture:

Without a doubt the lecture mode we are used to is disastrous in PRA. This will be discussed in detail later on in this paper. But for now it should suffice to say that if accurate and relevant information gathering is the objective of PRA then the enquiry mode is certainly more effective. At one of the recent PRAs we had an ex-Government bureaucrat with us, who during the preliminary introductions saw a farmer cutting down a tree (on his own land). The bureaucrat first started shouting at everyone about the evils of cutting down trees. We reprimanded him saying that his contribution was a negative one. He then adopted a more `mellow’ lecture mode giving us his views on why trees should not be cut. Meanwhile, participation had received a setback, that took quite some time and effort to restore to a desired level. Lecturing is a one side conversation to be avoided at all costs. As bad (if not worse) is interrupting. Several times a rich harvest of information has been lost due to frequent interruptions and interventions on the part of outsiders.

f. Starting on the Right Note:

In every PRA exercise that we have conducted, we have found that the PARTICIPATORY MAPPING and TIME LINE exercises have generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm among the participants from both sides. Not only do these exercises draw out participation from the villagers, they have also, as expressed to us (particularly by the younger generation), found them very interesting and informative. This is a good platform from which to launch subsequent enquiries into topics and the more sensitive social issues.

For more tips on interviewing please see MYRADA PRA-PALM Papers No. 4A and 4B.


Most of this has been mentioned already but ….. some :

1. Do enlist the support of insiders; school teachers, village elders, etc. – till confident that you can manage without them. Use the youth to ‘Tom-Tom’ and gather people together for meetings.

You guessed right! DON’T LECTURE! – FOR GOD’S SAKE!! and DON’T INTERRUPT.

2. Fix appointments with the participants/ key informants on the eve of any interview sessions/ exercises.

Don’t put your agenda before theirs.

3. Recognise and respect the villagers and their knowledge. Make them feel that what they know is important; old people are the most experienced and knowledgeable. Try sincerely to be a learner for a few days.

 Don’t move around the village as if you owned it.

4. Be alert and sensitive to the mood of the village and the villagers. If they are pre-occupied and busy with market day or sowing or getting in their harvest before it rains, the last thing they would want to do is to sit and spend 3 or 4 hours of precious time talking to outsiders.

Don’t be put off by any non-participation beyond your control. Try to think what’s going wrong. Talk to other villagers and ask their advice on what to do and how to go about it. Don’t hesitate to ask villagers for advice.

5. Join in the village tasks. This helps to bring a sense of equality. Think of other ways of bringing this about.

Don’t allow a “We-They” situation to evolve. Consciously, keep mixing with the villagers, especially during the evening group presentations, look around and see where your colleagues are positioned, are they interspersed with villagers or are they in a group by themselves.

6. Do make the sessions enjoyable for the villagers, for you and other participants. If they are boring, well then….

Don’t stick with only one section of the population either and exclude others – unless for a specific purpose.


Don’t exclude the women and children.