Paper 4A

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


James Mascarenhas, MYRADA
Undated, 1991

The main purposes of this note are:

a) To share information (including our most recent experiences) in PRA, with practitioners and those wishing to learn, use and teach PRA methodology.

b) To serve as a basic note from which you can proceed by adapting existing methods and inventing new ones, thereby adding to the PRA approach.

c) To let you know where you can find out more if you wish.


It is generally becoming accepted that the traditional approach to assessing rural situations have been lacking in several respects.

Rural development tourism, anti-poverty biases (spatial, time and seasonal, people, project and professional) survey slavery, insulation of senior people and alienation of junior ones have all contributed to mis-judgement, mis-interpretation and mis-representations of village situations. PRA helps us to better perceive poverty and survival strategies. It also brings to the surface traditional management systems and the values underlying them. It thus gives us outsiders a better understanding and appreciation of the rural situation.

Thus it allows for infusions of local knowledge into assessments and plans – hopefully leading to better sustainability.

PRA has a range of applications and can be used over a variety of situations. Some of these are:

1. Participatory Planning of Rural Development Programmes, whether of the Integrated Rural Development (IRDP) type or sectoral type. (eg. agriculture, forestry, sericulture, animal husbandry, non-farm activities etc.)

2. Participatory planning or resources development and management programmes. These include wastelands and watershed development, afforestation programmes, etc.

3. Selection of beneficiaries for poverty alleviation programmes. (IRDP, DWCRA, sponsorship etc.)

4. Study of seasonality (agriculture, employment, incomes, debts, diseases, fodder availability, milk, etc.)

5. Study of coping mechanisms/strategies of the rural poor. (Significant in this is the study of the aspect of rural management.)

6. Monitoring and evaluation of development programmes, eg. impact of a road, a watershed development programme, an agricultural research station, an IRDP programme, a family planning programme, etc.



The duration will vary depending on the purposes/objectives of the programme, the topics or the information that is sought. The range may be from a few hours spent investigating a specific topic such as `Marketing of Groundnut’ to a few days (usually 4-5) exploring various aspects of village life Training can be combined with the other purposes mentioned.

(In this note we are making the assumption that we are talking about the longer (4-5 day) duration programme.)

Participant Mix and Numbers:

Preferably a blend of youth and experience – meaning young persons who are sharp and can pick up skills from the experienced ones (skills in protocol, observation, interviewing, etc.). This essentially means that the participants both new and experienced should be keen and willing to learn new things. In the past we have had negative experiences with `experienced’ outsiders who knew everything and ended up lecturing instead of learning. Bored outsiders, who joined the programme late and left early were others who did not contribute much. They are a distraction and an unnecessary load on the programme. Apart from this it is desirable but not essential that the participant mix consists of a mix of disciplines (Multi-disciplinary) anthropologists, community specialists, agriculturists, economists, doctors, veterinarians, etc. There may be a predominance of a particular specialisation/discipline where the focus is on a particular area or sector. Eg. if the focus is on health, then the team would be better off with more doctors than veterinarians, and vice-versa if the focus is on animal husbandry.

Ideally the participant mix could also be made up (wherever possible) of staff from Government, Teaching and Research Institutions and NGOs. However, while professionalism is a necessary and welcome quality, professional biases and baggages are not, if they inhibit the way information is received, processed, interpreted, and used.

Numbers would vary depending on the situation and purpose. For a general exposure to PRA methods the group size may go up to 35 to 40 persons. For an intensive planning exercise a team of 10-15 persons is desirable. For the shorter topical investigations (for a single topic) between 2 and 5 persons is sufficient.

Location and Logistics:

This varies depending upon the circumstances. The village selected may be within the given project area or command area of an NGO programme, a Research Station etc., where there is already an established presence and an ongoing programme activity. Sometimes the selected villages may be totally new. The location will depend on the purposes and objectives of the exercise.

Location: The following criteria are helpful in deciding the location of the PRA exercises.

1) Purpose of the Exercise: training or planning? In the case of the former, an older village where the chances are that the villagers would understand, accept and tolerate the presence of large number of outsiders is desirable. In the case of the latter, either an old or a new village may be selected assuming that the exercise is for real.

2. Number of Households: Ideally between 40 and 100 depending on the number of outsiders. But this number is not rigid.

3. Programme Terrain: The topics being investigated and the nature of investigation would determine the terrain. Eg. forestry issues, irrigation issues, etc. would require the relevant villages to be selected. For training purposes, the selection of villages offering a diverse mix of activities would be interesting.

4. Others: Such as the capacity of the village to host such a large gathering for 4-5 days – food, water, accommodation, etc.

Whatever be the case, it is a good idea on the part of those organising the programme, to visit the location and familiarise themselves with the layout and terrain.

Logistics: Are what they normally are when planning an exercise of this nature. Arrangements of food (including morning tea) transport (if necessary) sleeping arrangements, space for working on presentations and notes, space for evening meetings and group presentations, etc. should be some considerations to be taken into account.

Materials and Kit:

These have been detailed out in the note on PRA kits. A few important items are listed here again.

a) Rangoli powder (atleast 1 kg. each of 6 different colours, Green, Red and Blue are essential.)
b) Brown paper sheets (for charts and presentations),
c) Coloured felt pens (the thick ones are better),
d) Gum, cellotape, scissors, coloured paper, pins, note books, pens, etc., things of general stationery in nature.
e) Seeds and counters.
f) Boards – for presentations.
g) Lighting – Petromax, torches, (gensets) etc.


The following programme outline is usually followed (in the 4-5 days’ duration exercise). This is not rigid but can be adapted depending on situations and needs. The exercises are aimed at generating information on specific topics (eg. agriculture), issues (eg. access of landless to common property resources) and aspects. To obtain this information various methods need to be used. New exercises and methods could also be evolved or tried out and used as seen fit.

(This is an important part of PRA)
(Usually from the late afternoon onwards).
* Introduction of participants.
* Introduction to PRA
* Warm up exercises.

Time Line – to get a snapshot of the historical background of the

Participatory Mapping – to obtain information regarding resources, layouts and infrastructure, etc.

DAY – II (Whole Day)

* Sharing, reflections and write ups
* Exploratory exercises

* Transects, Historical

} To understand about


} resources and their

* Participatory Mapping
and Modelling

} management.

*Qualification, and

} To understand about –

* Ranking Exercises

} a) SEASONALITY (Rainfall, agriculture, labour migration, income expenditure, debt, credit, fodder, milk production, etc.) b) LIVELIHOOD ANALYSIS (Agriculture, animal husbandry, sericulture, non-farm livelihoods, etc.)
c) PREFERENCES (for trees and their uses, fodder, grasses, crops and varieties, etc.)

* Others – Linkage Charts
– Venn diagrams Relationship
– Flow diagrams
– Pie diagrams
– Bar diagrams
– Graphs
– Wealth Ranking

}To show linkages and

} To represent information
} gathered in a concise form.
} To show economic status.

(A long list indeed to which many more topics can be added! But it is not necessary to do all of them. This is just a menu. Choose what is relevant and appropriate. You may need to split this over 2 days.

DAY – III (Whole Day)

* Sharing reflections and write ups.
* Taking stock of what is done.
* Identifying gaps.
* Briefing of what’s ahead.
* Convergence exercises
– Problems, solutions, opportunities
– Resource Development
Management Plan

DAY – IV (Whole Day)

* Sharing reflections and write ups.
* Briefing on how to conclude
* Concluding exercises
– Technical Plan
– Budget Plan
– Time Plan
– Resource
Mobilisation Plan
– Operational Plan
– Management Plan
– Roles and Responsibilities.


* Sharing, reflection and write ups
* Review and discussion of Programmes
* Analysis
* Documentation
* Consolidation and Report Writing.

It is preferable for a PRA exercise to start somewhere in the late afternoon, of day one, say around 4:00 p.m. On subsequent days an early start is recommended. Time wise the following schedule is suggested.

Pre-breakfast session (1 hour)

For sharing of experiences, Reflective writing of process and content of the previous day’s experiences and what did I learn that was new?

Pre-Lunch Session (3-4 hours)


Post-breakfast session (1 hour)

– Briefing for day’s exercises
– Buzz sessions
– Team formation

Post Lunch session (2-3 hours)

Preparation of Presentations

Post Tea Sessions (1 hour)


Pre Dinner session

Group presentations

Post Dinner session

Review of day’s work by core group and

planning for next day.

NOTE : (This schedule is not a rigid one. It is only a suggestion). It can be altered to suit various situations/needs. Late evening presentations enable a larger village audience to participate. This is good for checking the information collected during the day for accuracy. The discussions are also good.

Planning each day’s programme with the participants (from the village/farmers) is also recommended.


Are usually done soon after breakfast. A short briefing followed by formation of sub-groups for each exercise/topic is ideal. The briefing can be accompanied by supplementary handouts – (notes and illustrations of concepts, methods, outputs of previous PRA exercises). Overhead projector and slide presentations greatly enhance the quality of briefing.

Short `Buzz’ sessions of 10-15 minutes are recommended. Topics could vary. Some suggested subjects are “what I do hope to get out of this programme”, “How should we plan to go about this exercise”, “Do’s and don’ts in interviewing”, “What went wrong yesterday”, etc.

“Why do we need to do this exercise (eg.seasonality)?”

“What method should we use for which topic?”

While sub-groups are being formed, it is useful to compose them in such a way that they have the skill/technical competence to deal with the subject of the exercise. For eg., if the topic is agricultural practices – the sub-group should preferably contain one or two persons with an understanding of the subject. (These persons need not necessarily be graduates of agricultural science). This enhances the quality of the interaction and the output.


`Interviewing’ is the subject of another note (Ref. PALM Series 4-B). It is an important aspect of the programme. The exercises are of 2 types. The first is of a mobile nature and consists of visits to the field, walking about in the village, transecting and traversing, climbing a hill, walking down a nulla, etc. all done in the company of the villagers. Resource mapping, agricultural practices, are some of the subjects which are studied in this way. The second is more stationery in nature and involves interviewing in a selected spot. Time line, mapping and modelling, seasonality, are some of the subjects. The selected spots may be of the busy type such as the bus stand, tea shop or market place or they may be secluded in someone’s house, the temple, under a tree, etc.

A short conference before setting out helps clarify things in the team’s mind. Three useful questions to ask are :

Why are we doing this exercise? (Purpose)
What do we want to get out of it? (Content)
How do we go about it? (Strategy)

Additionally it is a good idea for the sub-group to define the roles of its members – interviewer, observer and recorder. Refer note on Interviewing PALM Series 4-B.)


Evening hours (after 6 p.m.) are the times usually set aside for presentations of the day’s findings. These are the times when most of the villagers are comparatively free after the day’s work is done. (The time selected should also be of convenience to women, who may have finished their wage work but then have to get involved in house work). Each sub-group in turn presents the information it has gathered. Presenting this information in a large evening forum has the advantage that the information is up for everyone’s scrutiny and is subject to correction. Thus there is a reasonable chance that at the end of the day, we have an end product that is accurate and reliable, having been refined several times over from the sub-group discussion stage to the final presentation. Such gatherings are lively, with the village folk correcting one another and arriving at a consensus on issues/events/practices and other information.


a) Photographs, slides and films : serve as an important form of documentation of the PRA exercise. They also make valuable training material. Slides are probably the most effective though slightly costlier than photographs.

b) Charts : The outputs of the exercises copied onto charts are another excellent form of documentation. Translated from English to various languages and vice-versa and transcribed onto A4 size paper, they serve as a record of the programme. In this way, they can be replicated and widely used as training material and for information dissemination.

c) Individual and Group write-ups : These constitute reflective write ups on the PROCESS or How of events, the CONTENT or the What of the subject matter and NEW THINGS LEARNT. These are found to enhance individual and group learning.

They also act as a record or document of the entire proceedings.


In all probability you will find that no two PRAs will be alike. There is always something new that crops up and something new to learn. The final outputs fall into several categories. Before these are listed out an exhortation is being made to all practitioners.


For wider dissemination to institutions, students and other practitioners. Send them to the following address :

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

a. New Methods

Ones that you did not know of before and which emerged accidentally or were `discovered’ or they may be methods developed concisely by you and your team. For example, one group recently `hybridised’ the social mapping exercise with the wealth ranking exercise and evolved a method which is now spreading in use. The houses are marked on the map and given different colours according to economic status. In this way it is easy to spot who the poor families are and where they are located.

b. New Information

About traditional customs, practices, management systems etc. It may be new information about a crop variety for instance – characteristics which the farmer sees but which the outsider is blind to or does not know about. (For eg. till recently we did not notice that farmers were practicing their own clever methods of soil and water conservation and management. Soil harvesting, diversion drains, nulla training and several other measures are widely in practice. This became evident only after we participated in one PRA where we consciously looked for traditional technology. Now we are able to spot these technologies quite easily in every village we go to. Another good example is when we discuss seed selection from the point of view of grain output and discover that straw output is also a major consideration in the farmers’ choice of seeds, since animals have to be fed and fodder is rarely bought; it has to be generated).

c. New Insights

For example women know a lot about agriculture and soils. In one PRA an old women told us about 7 different types of soils. And yet they tend to get left out of discussions. A conscious effort must be made to involve them. The same is also true of children, who file away vast quantities of information in their heads and interpret them most interstingly (for eg. in one village it was the children who provided the most accurate information on the number of people with physical diasbilities in the village. In another village the children made a map while the adults were making theirs, and the children included an aeroplane. When they were interviewed it turned out that a ‘plane flew over their village every afternoon and for the children it was an important event!)

d. New ways of representing information

Charts, diagrams, etc., which bring out new ideas and ways of thinking about and interpreting things.

e. New or additional data

Which emerges inspite of questionnaire surveys having been carried out previously or our presence in the village having been established for several years. For eg., in one PRA, one team was carrying out a study of school going children and drop out rates. They found that the drop out rate was related to the number of IRDP loans given in the village. With every dairy loan, one child dropped out of school to look after the new buffalo. The project team was not aware of this – even though the project had been in existence for the past 10 years. As they explained to us -they always felt that the IRDP programmes that they helped implement was a great success.

f. The Master Plan

This is the major output if the exercise is for planning a programme. It will arise out of the information generated during the exercise and will be pieced together during the convergence exercise. Various elements of this plan are, a chart for problems, treatment opportunities, a time plan, a budget plan, a responsibility chart, a resource mobilisation chart and an operational plan (if such is the case, it is desirable that action/implementation should follow through as per the plan. This helps reinforce credibility, confidence, motivation and good will of the villagers.) [Refer PALM Series 4-F for more details on implementation.]

g. Co-ordination

This is an important function, it is better achieved with a core team of up to six persons. The functions of this team are usually to plan the programme and to carry out the various functions which are listed above. For the latter it is desirable that each core team member selects one area to be her/his responsibility i.e., food arrangements, accommodation, transport, forming sub-groups, allotting the day’s exercises, chairing/moderating sessions, documentations, etc. Another important function of the core group could possibly be to keep pulling the group together at all times. This helps to prevent the participants from getting dispersed, disorganised/alienated during the exercises and the programmes from getting diluted. If done well and involving the community it creates a positive atmosphere of learning, cohesion, motivation and enjoyment. Participation levels are high. Appropriate breaks with songs and other cultural items play an important role here.

Finally, it is also helpful if the core group meets at the end of each day to review the day’s programme (both the positive and negative points) and plan for the following day.




1. Enjoy the programme and every one else (Villagers included enjoy it too)

1. Don’t rush into things.

2. Spend adequate time planning your PRA. Talk to those who have done it before and ask for advice.

2. Don’t try to do it all by yourself or keep all the credit for yourself.

3. Involve your core team and other members in designing and developing the programme.

3. Don’t be over-elaborate or extravagant. Don’t make the PRA a `Mela’.

4. Prepare the ground for your PRA i.e. select the village carefully. Visit it before hand, meet key villagers, explain the purpose of the exercise, request their help and support, select participants carefully and so on.

4. Don’t over do the planning part. You may end up doing only planning for 5 days.

5. Be clear about the purpose of the exercise.

5. Don’t promise people things you cannot give them. Don’t raise expectations.

6. Keep time for the following:

– morning reflection/ write ups/sharing/ briefing/ sessions.
– recreation breaks. – night review of day’s work and plans for following day (along with the core group)

6. Don’t overload sessions with participants and farmers. Late night sessions are okay once in a way – but don’t overdo them.

7. Keep moving around to see what is happening in the groups. Is everyone being involved? the silent ones? the farmers? the Women? How’s it going? Are you getting the information you want? Keep the momentum up. If some trouble, help out.

7. Don’t overdo the moving around bit. Don’t hop from group to group, interrupting discussions in a bid to help out and/or distracting them with your camera while you are trying to get the best angles for your slides/photographs.

8. Conclude each session, the day’s programme and the entire programme at the end. Be concrete about it. This gives the participants a sense of where they are and where they are going. Keep the focus.

8. Don’t end up in the trap of endless, irrelevant debates. Be open but not open ended.

9. Relax and enjoy the exercise. If things go wrong then as Robert Chambers says `embrace error’. Create an energy around you so thateveryone – the outside participants, the villagers, the women, the children are enjoying themselves and your presence.

9. Don’t be negative – negative feelings transmit themselves to the other participants and can be terrible burden to carry. If some things don’t go well or if you are feeling down, dwell on it for sometime but snap out of it quickly and carry on from where you left off. Don’t get bored or bore others. Don’t pressurise people or boss around.

10. Be alert for new things. Either ideas and concepts, or methods, or information. Be creative and inventive, and encourage others to do so.

10. Don’t delay the documentation bit. If it is not done within three days of the exercise – don’t bother to do it – you’ll never get it done.

11. Document the proceedings, they are valuable training materials. Apart from the written transcripts etc., photo-documentation and slides (if you can afford it) are a good idea.

11. Don’t get carried away by artistry at the expense of content (in one case of village mapping a whole street had been left out by mistake but was not added on later because it would “spoil the map”.

12. Follow other do’s and don’ts from the note on interviewing (PRA-PALM Series 4-B).


There is a separate note on this (PRA-PALM Series 4-C). In a nutshell, the following items are important and found to be of help in conducting a PRA exercise.

a) Protocol – i.e. introducing ourselves and explaining the purpose of the exercise to the important segments of the village population. This helps to obtain legitimacy for our presence and participation from the villagers. This could be done over a period of time starting with the preliminary village visits.

b) Village Camping – to enhance rapport building and our own understanding of the village situation. Usually a vacant house, a school room or temple is a good spot to camp. And if it is not raining why not under the stars or under a large tree or on top of a hill? Shamianas (marquees) serve a useful purpose – though they tend to look like wedding pandals.

c) Eating – with the villagers is another important key to the making of a good PRA. It definitely enhances participation. Simple village food – bread from millets, lentils, greens and fruit – what more does one need? (A few sweets or puffed rice which can be distributed to the village kids now and then, is a useful item to carry along or obtain locally.)

c) Insider:Outsider Ratios – Preferably of atleast 1:1 if not 2:1 or 3:1. This greatly enhances the quality of participation as the villagers would have confidence of numbers and talk more freely. Experience shows that a one time telling is not enough to obtain a gathering/participation of villagers in large numbers. It has to be a constant and continuous exercise with one or more persons in charge of contacting villagers and inviting them to participate. Someone from within the community, eg. school teachers, are extremely helpful in this regard. But remember that people also have their own agendas and priorities. Select a time when they are relatively free.

d. Ice-Breakers – games, cultural items and fun things. We usually start with a prayer and move on to folk songs and other popular songs. Street theatre, mimicry, mono-acting, are also good ice-breakers. Games – local village games like kabbadi and kho-kho and other games which you may want to try out to raise a laugh help everyone to relax. Football and volley ball are also popular (and cheap). Try not to leave the girls out; plan something separately for them if necessary.

e. The mode of enquiry – (For more details on interviewing techniques see PALM 4-B.)

The mode of interviewing should be friendly and interested rather than lecturing or being aggressive.

This is extremely important : Throughout the PRA exercises it is essential to keep a watch on what is happening in the interviews and pull people up for not following the `rules’. One way of doing this is to keep observers in each group who `Umpire’ and who would later objectively report on the interview.

f. Starting on the Right Note : Exercises such as time line and participatory mapping are good starting points. They are easy and generate a lot of interest and discussion. Both sides seem to enjoy them. It is preferable to start your PRA exercise then. The stage is then set for proceeding into the more subject-oriented and complex exercises such as seasonality, livelihood analysis, modelling, resource management, wealth ranking, etc.

And finally, are you a beginner? Does all this stuff seem very complex and difficult? Don’t worry. Get started. It becomes easier and clearer once you begin to practice it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – provided you learn from them.