FROM R.R.A TO…
MYRADA had its first exposure to PRA when Prof.Robert Chambers conducted a 5-day PRA camp at Kalamandargi village in the PIDOW Project area in Gulbarga, Karnataka State. A second workshop was held at Talavadi in Tamilnadu at another of MYRADA’s Project locations. This was for a group of 35 senior MYRADA staff from the middle management level. Since then there has been an explosion of activity in relation to PRA both as a training method as well as for situation appraisal initiating a process leading towards planning of programmes, action, reflection and onward action.
MYRADA’s experiences indicate that Rapid should give way to Participatory, that the location need not necessarily be rural and that few understand the meaning of Appraisal. Further it is also becoming evident that for the exercise to end in an ‘Appraisal’ can be self-defeating. To be authentic it should rather initiate a process towards ‘appraisal’, which has to be followed through while living the values and adapting the methods underlying the PRA exercise. It could also therefore be a “learning” experience, which is better described as PALM (Participatory Learning Methods).
Eleven PRA programmes have been conducted so far as shown here :
Some of the major highlights of what has been given in the previous page are :-
The MYRADA approach has been one of trying to understand traditional practices and systems in the rural areas and the logic and values that underlie these. PRA methodology complements and integrates well with this approach and has helped sharpen and enhance the skills of our staff in collecting and analysing and understanding information about situations and communities. Conversely, most of the MYRADA staff to whom a PRA training has been given so far have shown an aptitude to make use of the PRA method and extend it by adding to the methodology and transferring it to other NGOs in the form of training programmes. Currently a core group of about 20 MYRADA staff have been identified as potential PRA trainers. They are being given additional exposure to PRA and some have already started conducting PRA exercises on their own. We hope to have atleast 100 PRA trainers over the next one year, both within and outside MYRADA.
As the coverage in terms of numbers or organisations and persons has been extensive, so have been the experiences – vast and varied. With each PRA we have tried to advance the methodology and systematise it. What follows is a write up on some of the major experiences that have emerged over the last 3 months. These fall into 4 categories, which are the current areas of thrust in MYRADA as far as PRA is concerned.
1. ENHANCING PARTICIPATION FROM VILLAGERS :
In this area there are certain essential steps we find absolutely critical to achieving a good PRA, as they serve to create an atmosphere of confidence, mutual trust, interest and enquiry within the group especially on the part of the villagers. We list these as :
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 wherewe 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 and 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 evil 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 exercise 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 they expressed to us (particularly 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.
2. PARTICIPATORY PLANNING :
Essential features of this area are :
a. PRA – The Purpose :
The purpose of PRA may vary from enquiry about a specific aspect, to investigate into one or more sectors or even to arrive at a comprehensive understanding about the socio-economic and resource utilisation and management aspects of a village. In MYRADA’s experience to date all 3 have taken place simultaneously. In most PRAs conducted, PRA was meant to formulate plans for participative integrated development of degraded resources. In some cases, training in PRA methods was the real objective. In either case it is necessary to explain to both the villagers and the outside participants the purpose of the exercise.
b. PRA is for REAL :
We feel that such an event as a PRA exercise in a village cannot help but raise curiosity and expectations of the villagers. It is extremely important that we are clear about what commitments can and should be made before we go into the exercise. In (more than) one instance the participants were hasty about extracting commitments from the people rather than going with a clear decision on how to respond to them as various needs were identified and expressed. This built up tension among the villagers who felt that we had raised their hopes and wasted their time over the past 4 days. In another case there was substantial confusion in the host organisation as to what a PRA on tank rehabilitation really meant. The outcome of the PRA in this case was a shift in focus from the tank desilting exercise which the particular NGO was contemplating to treatment of a very degraded and large upper catchment. The people wanted this. They were clear about it. The NGO was not and hence, could not respond to the demands that were expressed either through an outright commitment or through a negotiated agreement. In both cases we felt that we had played with the people’s emotions.
c. Interest Groups :
We have found that if the PRA exercise is for the purpose of planning programmes, such as development of a watershed or rehabilitation of a tank, then the various interest groups must be represented. Upto now this has been mostly achieved by inviting a cross section of the village people to attend – old, middle aged, young, big farmers, small farmers, marginal farmers, landless, women, harijans and tribals and so on. This is difficult to achieve unless some solid preparatory ground work is done. In several PRAs in new areas where there was little or no contact between the NGOs involved and the villagers, participation from the weaker sections, whether women, landless or harijans was extremely low, if not totally absent. In another case a whole community was left out from the exercise by the host NGO, even though they had land and interests connected with the area being discussed. There are other interest groups who should be included, brick makers for instance who use the silt from tanks or landless who also use the resources of the watershed.
d. Roles :
Arriving at a diagnosis of the specific watershed/ tank and also at a treatment plan for the same has served to bring clarity about what it is indeed that we are talking about. From our experience in MYRADA, we have found that this is the time to discuss operationalisation of the plan and fix roles and responsibilities of the various actors : people (and the various interest groups), the NGO, the Government and so on. We have also found that people see the necessity of working through appropriate membership institutions that can sustain their operational involvement over the entire life of the programme, eg. a self help group. This is usually discussed in detail during the PRA (though it requires to be followed up in subsequent interactins).
e. Costs, Resources and Time Frame :
We found that it was as easy to draw up a master plan through a PRA as it was by having a planning session with our staff in the quiet of our project offices. Not only was it easy, it was more relevant and comprehensive, we experienced lively debates, suggestions and negotiations, and a spirit of partnership. Apart from pinpointing roles as mentioned previously this part of the exercise allows for an accurate assessment of what resources are needed, of what the community can contribute, of what resources need to be mobilised from other sources, what these sources are and a time frame for implementation which fits in with their own agendas. In 6 of the PRAs conducted so far (5 for watersheds and 1 for tank rehabilitation) work has already commenced and there is a general feeling among the community that it is their programme and that their recommendations have been taken seriously. Less headaches for all!
3. PRA METHODOLOGY :
From the time of our initial exposure to the PRA method, MYRADA staff have been adding to the methodology in bits and pieces (one major contribution being the three dimensional (3D) models of tanks and watershed areas). In general there have been two efforts :
a) Preparatory :
Apart from PROTOCOL, other preparatory steps include obtaining items such as village maps, topo-sheets, tracings of nulla systems, primary data such as number of houses, population and livestock, etc. Lists of families is another item. This is usually done with the help of an advance party consisting of a team of 2 or 3 young persons who will also reconnoitre the area and familiarise themselves with the general layout, and fix a convenient camping site for the participants.
b) PRA Instructions/Briefing :
Starting from the afternoon of the 1st day we have found the following sequence effective :
Throughout it is necessary to reinforce and monitor the mode as a Non-lecture mode.
4. CONTENT OF THE PROGRAMME :
We have found that the main aspects of the study have to be borne in mind. Though it leads into very interesting areas that emerge always, these should be screened and prioritised, and not allowed to detract from the major purpose of the exercise – if PRA is for the purpose of participative planning of a programme. This need not be the case when the PRA is a training programme to teach methodologies.
Throughout the exercise, problems and opportunities in each area/sector/topic are identified and this should desirably lead to an action plan that is relevant.
In general the following format has been followed :
5. GROUP PROCESSES :
Apart from the ‘Ice Breakers’ mentioned earlier, we have found that gathering atleast twice a day to review what’s going on, share experiences or plan further steps in the programme fosters positive group processes. It enhances participation and ownership of the programme, and also serves to compare notes, solve problems, share experiences and contribute ideas and suggestions. Such gatherings remove feelings of alienation and enhance team work and sharing. We find that it is especially necessary for the facilitator to meet with the participants frequently to retain and boost the level of interest/participation and the sense of purpose. One of the recent introductions made by MYRADA to the methodology was the early morning review sessions and the individual write ups.While the former allowed for sharing of experiences/new things learnt, the latter allowed for a reflective write up (not more than 1 page) of the previous day’s experiences.
This write up has 3 parts (a) PROCESS, (b) CONTENT, (c) NEW THINGS. We find that 1 hour spent on the review and write up has greatly enhanced the learning and the quality of the exercises.
6. DOCUMENTATION :
One part of this is the individual write ups, which are collected and consolidated and help in the final documentation. The second part is the output charts. On the day after the PRA exercise is complete, the participants are given the task of reviewing the entire set of charts in sequence or thematically and discuss them. The charts are then translated, (into English, Kannada, Tamil or Telugu as the case may be) and transcripted onto a photo-copiable sized page. Names of the participants both villagers and ‘outsiders’ are listed on the output along with the date, the topic and the location of the PRA exercise. This helps in the consolidation of the PRA report. It also serves as training material. In addition, any new ideas or outputs emerging from this exercise can also be shared among practitioners of PRA.
7. PRA TRAINING :
This is an important area of thrust in MYRADA. Combined with the need to train people in PRA methodology is the need to simultaneously develop and advance the PRA methodology. Both these objectives have been met with the initiation of MYRADA’s programme of ‘PARTICIPATORY LEARNING METHODS’ (PALM). In this programme the focus is on training a core group of 40 selected staff from the middle management level in PRA methods. They would act as trainers. Secondly, through PALM, we hope to identify additional new methods by which we can learn together with the villagers – thus adding to the experience gained. In its overall thrust in the area of PRA training, MYRADA also feels that it is necessary to target the following constituencies.
A start has been made in categories 3 & 4. Training teams of MYRADA staff have been conducting PRA exercises for groups of non-MYRADA NGOs either on a regional basis (eg. Northern Karnataka) or programme basis (watershed groups, tank rehabilitation groups, forestry groups). Identification of potential trainers from among these NGOs is taking place simultaneously.
However, we feel that staff of Government departments teaching and research institutions should be made the prime targets for PRA training.
PROBLEMS AND CONSTRAINTS :
2. Rapid Vs. Participatory
We find that Rapid cannot be Participatory and vice versa. How do we arrive at the best balance and at the same time, impart adequate training is a question which we are struggling with.
3. Participants (Trainees)
In this area there are several problems :
One threat we feel exists is that the PRA method may lose its meaning and be reduced to mere gimmicks. Another more serious threat we feel is the use of the PRA method as a more effective means of ‘Idea Robbery’.
You can imagine who will make use of it and for what purpose.
In atleast 50% of our exercises we have been unable to get sufficient representation and participation from women, landless, harijans and in some cases minority communities. We need to focus more on ways and means of solving this problem.
In the case of many participant groups there lies a gap in the understanding of the true meaning and purpose of the PRA. Attitudes have varied. Some have acted in a manner similar to one of conducting a wedding reception and others have expected miracles to take place with no effort at organising things at their end. Some believe PRA is an end in itself. Many expect PRA to solve the ‘problem of participation’ on a permanent basis.
This is a problem we face increasingly, a lack of ability to present information more illustratively and conceptually. Several good outputs lost their value because they were narratively and textually presented.
We have made some attempts to document our experiences but these are as yet inadequate. Given the pace at which PRA is currently spreading and the documentation needs that will arise, we need to organise a regular system of documenting PRA experiences, innovations and the like.
As mentioned, the PRA method has blended well with the existing MYRADA approach. MYRADA’s village level contact is very intensive. Target Groups (Sanghas) in our project areas meet frequently and these have been extremely good fora to discuss issues with the people. What was lacking was a methodology for people to graphically and comprehensively represent their situation and ideas. PRA will help enormously to enhance not only the quality of our meetings and interactions but also the joint analysis of village situations. We feel a whole range of exciting possibilities exist. But to build PRA up into an ongoing programme takes effort, time, money and people. We have made a start with PALM. We hope it will serve the purpose of being a forerunner of things to come.