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How to Plan and Conduct PRCA and Baseline Study


To present a step by step guide to planning and implementing a PRCA and a baseline study in the field.

At the end of this chapter you will be able to:

1. Prepare for a field PRCA and baseline study.
2. Discover essential information with a community using PRCA and baseline study.
3. Analyse, synthesise and present PRCA and baseline study findings.
4. Prepare for the next steps.

6.1 Identify and define the crucial issues

"This first step provides the framework for setting the focus of the appraisal because PRCA is never conducted in a vacuum. PRCA is always implemented as a basis for the design of a communication strategy to address crucial issues that need attention.

Crucial issues are often related to undesired situations that need to be improved, problems that require solutions, people's needs that should be met and ideals that the people desire to attain in order to improve their livelihood. These in turn are frequently connected to communities' problems and needs related to agriculture, food supply and nutrition; health; education; drinking water supply and sanitation; poverty and improved sources of income and good governance.

To better understand the crucial issues, you may need to do the following:

Compile all the relevant information you collected from the sources above as a background document for your proposal and eventually for the appraisal report.

6.2 Prepare and plan for the field

6.2.1 Define a preliminary situation analysis framework (SAF) for the appraisal.

The following SAF components are the minimum that must be determined at this stage:

(Refer to Chapter 2 for descriptions of the components).

- Development problem
- Project goal
- Main problems
- Project objectives
- Project stakeholders
- Project perceptions of the problem (Problem tree)

Worksheet 1 - Preliminary assessment of the situation (before the PRCA)

Development Problem

Project Goal

Main Problem/s

Project Objectives

Project Stakeholders

Project Perceptions (Problem Tree)

6.2.2 Define a preliminary research purpose

You get your PRCA purpose from the results of the preliminary assessment of the situation, especially the initial analysis of the problem as described by the organisation requesting the appraisal. It is advisable to consider this as a preliminary statement of purpose because later on a refinement might become necessary once you get to know the specific communities that will participate in the PRCA.

Your PRCA purpose must reflect how the results of the study will be used and the types of information that are of particular importance.

Examples of PRCA purposes:

(i) The four-week PRCA in three districts of Malawi aims to identify the appropriate communication systems and approaches to enhance the capacity of all stakeholders to articulate and share their views, needs, problems and capabilities in order to decide on actions for more sustainable community livelihood and food security programmes.

(ii) The two-week PRCA in Nzongomane District, Swaziland, aims to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and information between the project and the community on the food availability patterns of the area and related communication issues in order to plan a communication programme.

6.2.3 Select communities to participate in the study


Select communities where there is a likelihood of a concrete response to the needs the people will express during the PRCA.


Select communities that are socially, culturally and economically typical of most of the communities in the district or province.


Select communities in which the problems are severe. (For on-going projects, the problem tree will help you determine the main problems and select the areas where they are severe).


Select communities without too many development projects.


Select communities without such resources as network of tarred roads, health facilities, clean water and sanitation, etc.

Try to avoid the biases discussed in Chapter 3 during this exercise.

6.2.4 Assess community situation (including secondary data review)

Before you enter the community to carry out a PRCA you ought to have a good picture of what the people of that community are like. To build this picture do the following:

Be ready to get a different picture from the people during the actual PRCA with the community!

6.2.5 Prepare a methodological guide for the PRCA (including initial tools for the appraisal)

6.2.6 Design a preliminary baseline study plan

(Refer to Chapter 3: the section on 'What a PRCA should accomplish')

Box 8: A guide for developing PRCA Checklist.

The following categories of questions will guide you in defining this checklist:

- What is the profile of the community as described by the people themselves?

- What are the information and communication resources, systems and networks of the community?

- What are the people's perception of their needs, opportunities, solutions and problems (NOPS) in relation to the critical issues or project under discussion?

- What are the main problems inherent in the NOPS?

- What are the focal problems related to the main problems?

- Who in the community and outside is associated most closely with the focal problems (priority interaction groups)?

- What are the characteristics of the interaction groups and their perceptions of the focal problems?

- What are the interaction groups' communication networks and preferred information sources?

(Refer to Chapter 5: Baseline Study in PRCA)

6.2.7 Prepare a research proposal

The following table will guide you in developing a field research proposal:

Worksheet 2 - Organisation and management worksheet for field research

Research Objective



Inputs (incl. est. budget)



Box 9: Purposes of a communication research proposal.

A communication research proposal serves several purposes:

- It describes the purpose of the research;

- It outlines the questions to be answered with the research;

- It describes the logistics and management plan for the research;;

- It outlines resources needed for the implementation of the research;

- It can be used to solicit funding for the research;

- It serves as a guide to field activities: what needs to be done, who has been selected as the focal point for each activity, timeframe for the activity to take place, etc;

- It provides a guide for analysing the results of the research and drafting a report.

6.2.8 Prepare the field

Box 10: Community problems often have many causes.

From field experience, it has been observed that problems of the community have causes that often cut across different development sectors. This means that if you go into the community with just your sector focus, causes of the problem related to your sector might end up coming from other sectors. For instance a PRCA which went in to address increasing soil infertility in a community found out that one of the causes of land exhaustion was over-cultivation. This in turn, according to the villagers, was partly caused by the increasing population of the community. Already you can notice that the study that started with land use problems as the focus has gradually shifted into family planning.

All arrangements with the communities ideally should be completed at least two weeks before the team enters the community.

6.3 PRCA data collection in the field

6.3.1 Live with the community

6.3.2 Build trust and rapport

When you move into a community to conduct PRCA, it is normal for the people to wonder who you are and what you are doing in their community. The people will listen to you and watch your behaviour, and no matter what you say, will try to ascribe a description to you from their own frame of reference. It is not unusual for your presence to create confusion and to initially generate caution and suspicion among the community members. This is because the people are still not very certain of why you are in their community. A hint of distrust might still linger in the people's minds despite your initial meetings with them.

Often the people will judge you on how you conduct yourself on a daily basis rather than on any explanations you might offer them about your presence in the community. As time goes on you will be accepted, at least by some of the people in the community as they decide that you are harmless to them and that you are genuinely interested in learning and sharing knowledge with them. It is always a good idea to find out later how people in the community initially interpreted your presence amongst them.

To build trust and establish rapport with the community:

Box 11: Vilagers might still distrust you despite your initial efforts to build trust and rapport: A Zambian example.

Despite pre-research information sent to the community through various channels, there was still a high degree of initial suspicion of the PRCA team by the community as they moved into the village. The fact that the team lived in the village with the people for the entire research period did not mitigate this initial caution and anxiety on the part of the villagers. As far as the community was concerned, the humility, attention and readiness to dialogue exhibited by the team was unprecedented and therefore meant that there was an ulterior motive on the part of the team. The community was of the opinion that the team was a survey party sent in by some agency interested in acquiring their land and relocating the community.

Reasons for this apprehension were not difficult to find. First, most of the discussions between the team and the community revolved around the people's crop fields, their uses and problems encountered. Second, the people were used to teams coming to teach them without listening to their problems or to shove pre-formulated projects at them without consulting the community. The community therefore saw the team's humility and readiness to dialogue as something suspicious.

However, the team persisted in their efforts to win the confidence of the community through consultation with the influential persons in the community and social interactions with the people after hours.

6.3.3 Hold fruitful PRCA sessions with the community


(See the toolbox for suggested exercises for starting your PRCA)


Box 12: Segmentation

In a PRCA exercise in Namibia, separating the community by gender was discovered to be advantageous to the women:

...During the PRCA women demanded to hold their discussions separate from men. In their own group, we discovered that female farmers can air opinions on issues we did not even know about or we thought were too sensitive for the extension workers to bring up during meetings. For instance, female farmers, prompted by revelations of their Daily Activity Calendar, raised and discussed issues concerning the imbalance in the gender division of labour in the community. The women also discussed other sensitive issues such as the question of male drunkenness during the farming season.





Box 13: Characteristics of a good PRCA facilitator.


A good facilitator tries to understand the community's point of view and perceptions no matter how different they may be from hers. The facilitator does not push the community into discussing her own agenda but is alert to spot any potential entry point that might lead to the purpose of the PRCA.


Sharing is one of the most important pillars of PRCA. A good facilitator encourages exchange of experiences, information and knowledge among the people themselves, between the team and the people, and between the people and outside institutions and organisations.

The facilitator can accomplish this by helping to make invisible people and concealed knowledge become visible. She ensures that the stick is passed on from hand to hand.


In PRCA, the people are the teachers and the team members are the learners. A good facilitator ensures that these roles are maintained throughout the appraisal. It is difficult to maintain this reversal of roles. But with humility on the part of PRCA team members, it is possible. As a learner the facilitator should not think that her own knowledge is better than the people's local knowledge. Do not underestimate local knowledge. Seek them out because solutions to a problem you are trying to solve may already be available in the community.


A good facilitator is flexible and open-minded but takes advantage of new information and interpretations to keep PRCA focused on the objectives.


A good facilitator does not talk too much but listens attentively and asks questions in order to capture the meaning and implications of what the people are saying. Remember the mouth is not a listening organ and if you are talking, you can't listen. Talk less and listen more. Use your eyes to carry out direct observation because they can pick up different signals from the ears. A good facilitator keeps a record of people's comments about their experiences and makes notes of the vocabulary the people use for such explanations.


A good facilitator is not satisfied with the first level of information or answers she gets from the people. She crosschecks such information through triangulation by repeating the same questions to different people at different times and in different forms. She uses one tool to collect the information and uses other tools to verify them. A good facilitator makes linkages among the different kinds of information received from different sources. A good facilitator does not rely only on what is said or what happened. She is aware that what didn't happen is often just as important as what did happen and what people don't say is often just as important as what they actually do say.


A good facilitator does not go into the field with assumptions and judgement about the people. She is ready to encounter new realities and seeks to understand them from the people's perspective.


Use your best judgement because common sense can be a great guide to a facilitator.

6.3.4 Discover essential information and knowledge with the community



Table 13: Information for drawing community profile.

General socio-economic and environmental situation


Suggested tools and techniques

The geography of the community (Spatial data)
Environment, settlement patterns and households (characteristics and size), boundaries, infrastructure, resources, land use patterns, etc.

Sketch maps:
Land use maps,
Farm sketches,
Social maps,
Village resource maps,
Transect walk

History of the community
Significant occurrences and changes in the people's lives and their environment, migration patterns etc. How people have coped with changes and circumstances in their lives over time.

Time lines
Trend lines
Historical transects
Historical maps/models

Seasonal trends e.g.
Water availability
Disease patterns
Food availability
Farming activities etc.

Seasonal calendar
Seasonal Activity Calendar (by gender)
Livelihood diagram
Trend lines

Social composition of the community
Significant individuals, groups and institutions in the community and their relationships. The relevance of their roles and status to the development theme under discussion.

Chapati or Venn diagramming
Linkage diagramming/scoring
Focus Group Discussion
In-depth Interviews
Wealth ranking

Community leadership and power structure:
Who has the authority in the community to make or influence what decisions? Who is respected in the community? Who are the formal leaders and the informal leaders of the community?

Economy of Community
Sources of Income

Livelihood mapping
Wealth Ranking

Group relationship patterns in the community
The different roles of various groups in the community.
How various groups view each other and their roles.

Seasonal Activity Calendar
Daily Activity Calendar
Focus Group Discussion
Role playing

Culture of the community
Religion, beliefs, customs, values, labels, vocabulary and categories used by potential interaction groups for discussing various issues; meanings the people have about their lives; ways in which people express their emotions and needs such as songs, dances, drama, art works and colours; cultural sites; mode of dressing; postures, and other non-verbal expressions; knowledge that people use to interpret their experience and social behaviour

Participant Observation
Audio-visual recording
Village map
Transect walk
Story telling

Patterns of community access and control of resources
Determine the different levels of access and control various groups have to the resources in the community necessary to sustain their livelihood. Access and control profile

Access and control profile
Focus Group Discussion

Past experiences of community with development projects and programmes
How did the community relate to such development efforts? What the people liked and disliked about such projects and programmes

Focus Group Discussion
In depth Interviews
Time line

Current people-initiated development efforts and outside development agencies/projects in the community

Focus Group Discussion

Discover the community's perceptions of their needs, opportunities, problems and solutions

(Refer to Chapter 2 for instructions on how to identify the focal problems using the problem tree)

Identify priority interaction groups

Table 14: Guideline for discovering community information sources.

Information and communication resource

Suggested Tools and Techniques

Internal distribution of modern and traditional communication resources in community e.g. radios, literacy patterns, meeting grounds, training centres, dance groups, associations, initiation groups, extension staff and other influential people and institutions in the community. Identify their attributes (e.g. reliability, accessibility etc.), and level of importance to community.

Communication resource map
Access and control of information resources
Linkage diagram
Pair wise preference ranking
Direct matrix ranking

Information sources from outside the community
External sources (e.g. seed company, market, auction floor, etc.) and their attributes (e.g. reliability, accessibility etc.), and level of importance to community. District, provincial national level sources.

Linkage diagram
Pair wise preference ranking
Direct matrix ranking
Chapati or Venn diagram
Access and control of information resources

Box 14a: What is segmentation.

Segmentation is the art of grouping together people and institutions within and outside the community on the basis of their relationship to the identified community NOPS: Who has the problem or need? Who knows about the problem or need? Who is interested in the problem and need? Who is causing the problem? Who knows about solutions and opportunities? Who has skills and resources to solve the problems or provide for the need? Through segmentation, internal and external interaction groups are identified.

During PRCA, the divisions within the community in relation to the NOPS become more obvious. This helps to divide the people into more meaningful groups, define their characteristics and design communication strategies that are relevant to them. Information collected about the NOPS and the Socio-economic and Environmental situation of the community provide the basis for identifying the groups who are most seriously affected by the current status of the community or variability in the people's circumstances.

Box 14b: Segmentation according to criteria dictated by community structure: A Tanzanian example.

It has been traditionally believed that Masai men are the ones who take care of cattle and other livestock. Masai women have been seen as playing a very peripheral role in livestock care and usage. The PRCA among the Masai of Longido District of United Republic of Tanzania revealed the contrary. Through development of 'Activity Profiles' by gender, it was discovered that in actual fact, women spend more time with livestock than men.

The Masai themselves guided the PRCA meetings. Instead of asking them to come to specific venues, as often happens when outsiders come into this society, the PRCA team followed the people to their work places. These were later discovered to be their conventional meeting venues. This led to a segmentation of the group initially by gender and later, within the gender groups by age. The PRCA team observed that when livestock is taken out of the Boma (kraal), where women really dominate in its care, it is taken care of by different age groups depending on the age of the animals. Participation in discussion of the animals was dependent on this aspect. In other words, any discussion of calves and their problems was left to young children, whereas discussion of older animals was being done by the Morans (the youth). Elders participated more actively in discussions pertaining to ownership and movement of the animals.

It was observed that these groups actually moved in and out of the meeting dependent on what age or type of animal being discussed. For instance, if the discussion was on calves, it was observed that the Morans left the meeting to do other chores in the vicinity while the young children remained to talk about the calves. Once discussion reverted to the older animals, the Morans returned and dominated the discussion. Although the elders were not moving in and out of the meetings, it was observed that they did not participate when the young children or the Morans were at the centre of the discussion. During these discussions, most elders seem to doze off as if they were not interested in what was being discussed. However, whenever the discussion concerned them, they got up and rejoined the meeting.

While it was easier to notice the way age played a critical role in participation of men in discussions, it was not so clearly defined amongst the females. Since most girls are married early in life, it seems most discussions amongst Masai women were being dominated by younger women than the elderly ones even as the latter were always present during meetings (Kamlongera, 1997).

Segment the interaction groups and define their characteristics and their perceptions of the problems and issues under discussion.

For each of these questions find out why.

Define the information and communication resources, systems and network of the priority interaction groups

6.4 Analyse and synthesise PRCA findings

PRCA results should give you a comprehensive picture of the various groups in the community affected by the identified focal problems. The results must contain the perceptions of the groups about who they are, how they view their needs and problems as well as reveal their strengths, knowledge, opportunities, beliefs and practices in relation to the critical issues under discussion. In addition, the results must provide answers to such questions as:

- Whose problems or needs are being revealed?
- What are the causes of the problem?
- Who is causing the problem?
- Why is that happening?
- Which of the identified factors can be turned into an opportunity?
- Which causes are most significant?
- Which causes can be the most effective communication entry point?

The results must identify the communication issues related to the problems and needs of the priority interaction groups and show how the people communicate within their community and their main sources of information from outside.

In your PRCA report, all these elements should be carefully highlighted since they will form the basis upon which to refine the baseline questionnaire and subsequently, plan the communication strategy. The diagram in p. 50 gives you an idea of the uses of PRCA results.

6.4.1 Analysis and reflection with the community

6.4.2 Daily reflections by PRCA team

Remember that each individual tool can provide lots of data but you should concentrate on data that are relevant to the research proposal. At the same time you should be careful not to disregard or reject data that may become relevant at a later stage. During the research process you should cast your net as wide as possible in order to ensure that as many relevant causes of the problems are gathered.

6.4.3 Summative analysis and synthesis

This is an important exercise that takes place at the end of the appraisal period.

6.4.4 Report back to the community

This is also known as the summative community analysis process.

Be ready to be corrected by the community.

6.5 Prepare and conduct the baseline study

(Refer to Chapter 5: Baseline Study in PRCA)

6.5.1 Select respondents

6.5.2 Refine baseline study purpose, justification and objectives

6.5.3 Prepare and translate a refined questionnaire for the study

6.5.4 Pretest questionnaire

6.5.5 Administer questionnaire

6.5.6 Analyse the findings

6.6 Synthesise and present the PRCA and baseline study results

Report writing

1. Table of contents
2. Acknowledgements

- Who paid for the study?
- Who participated in the arrangements for the study?
- Who provided information during the study?
- Who conducted the study?

3. The Executive Summary

(Not more than one and a half pages)

- Summary of study background and purpose
- Summary of the major findings and their significance
- Summary of the recommendations
- Structure of the report

4. The Introduction

- Background to the study: purpose and justification
- Background information: secondary data (e.g. history of village, characteristics of population, other researches and development efforts related to study purpose. Include maps and pictures if possible

5. Methodology

- Study design, sampling procedures, research methods, tools and techniques used and how the data was analysed

- Practical problems or limitations encountered

- Reliability of results

- Where and when the study was conducted

6. Presentation of findings

- Findings of PRCA and baseline study presented as answers to research questions in the proposal

- Tables, graphs, Pie charts, Bars, Histograms, Scatter diagrams, photographs etc. with explanations to visualise findings

- Implications of findings to the purpose of the study

- The communication implications of the findings

7. Conclusions and recommendations

- Summary of major findings and their significance
- Lessons learnt


- Next line of action for the project or development programme
- Suggestions for communication action
- Suggestions on how to improve the research methodology

8. Bibliography

- Books and publications you consulted

9. List of abbreviations and their explanations

Present your PRCA and Baseline study findings

6.7 Ready for next steps

Your PRCA and baseline study findings are the bases for the design of appropriate communication strategies, activities, materials and media to address specific development challenges identified by the community. In the next phases, you and community will use the study results for designing communication plan of action that will assist in achieving the development objectives selected during the PRCA.

The plan of action known as a communication strategy contains the focal problems to be solved by the communication programme and the priority interaction groups in the community most affected by the problems. It also outlines ways and means for solving the problem including the objectives to be achieved with specific communication modes and approaches such as information, dialogue, motivation, promotion, group mobilisation, training and education. The strategy also outlines financial, material and human resources required for solving the problem. It also contains a management plan that specifies activities and the people responsible for performing them in order to obtain outputs that will contribute to the solution of the problems. To ensure that the programme does not go off track, the study results, especially, the baseline findings, provide measurable indicators for monitoring the implementation of the strategy and serves as benchmark for impact evaluation.

The study findings also define the basic messages, discussion themes and appeals to be packaged for a variety of channels and media during the message design and materials development phases of the communication design process.

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