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1. Introduction

1.1 Workshop Objectives
1.2 Workshop Method and Agenda

The report details in brief the results of a 3 day workshop on PRA and rangeland development in the badia of Syria held between April 13-15 in Palmyra. The workshop was part of a ten day mission for the FAO SDAR which also explored the general local population’s awareness of and willingness to be involved in the rangeland development project and wildlife reserve. This PRA training session was cautious in design and perhaps less experimental than originally intended due to an initially high degree of reserve among the participants as the result of an earlier unpopular/unsuccessful effort at PRA training in June 1996. The training team consisted of the author and an FAO Headquarters Officer, Stephan Baas. The workshop was conducted in Arabic and English and focused on issues of rangeland development, introducing several PRA techniques as a means of opening a dialogue between project personnel and the local inhabitants and as a means of identifying and understanding local ecological, economic and social problems. Eighteen participants attended with representatives from the Project’s Extension Unit, Wildlife Unit, and Rangeland Unit, the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agronomy Unit, Extension Services, and Steppeland Directorate as well as the Cooperatives Organization of the Peasant Union. A list of participants is included in appendix 4.2. The workshop was truly participatory with open and animated discussion. Occasionally heated exchange of ideas had to be cut short due to time constraints. Participants enthusiastically took part in all exercises and games and appeared to enjoy the experience of learning PRA. The feedback and evaluations from the participants was very positive and the overall feeling of the trainers and the CTA was that the workshop was a great success. However, the short time available and the intensity of the work programme led most of the participants and the CTA to request a continuation workshop in the near future.

1.1 Workshop Objectives

The objectives of the workshop were as follows:

· to introduce PRA techniques

· to gather information on local understanding of rangeland development

· to provide a forum for the open exchange of ideas and the sharing of knowledge between Project personnel, Cooperative leadership, Ministry of Agriculture employees, the sheep and camel herding pastoralists (hereafter referred to as Bedouin) and outsiders.

1.2 Workshop Method and Agenda

The training approach was one of increasing informality and relaxation. The opening session was somewhat formal with chairs arranged in two semi-circles facing the top of the room where the trainers sat or stood (no tables were used, though it was anticipated that some of the participants might not want to work on the floor and two tables were kept available outside of the room). This arrangement was soon changed into a more informal and wider seating circle around the room where each person had a direct view of the trainers. As the workshop progressed, a singularly informal and unheirarchical atmosphere prevailed. Although the female participants kept a small, symbolic physical distance from their male counterparts and did not, for instance, share in the group lunches, they were fully engaged, participating with enthusiasm in all activities and exercises as well as voicing their opinions frankly in discussion. This informal, engaged and intense interaction was maintained for the three days of the workshop suggesting that the training approach was highly appropriate and effective and recommended for future workshops.

The overall logic of the workshop was to begin with a broad comparative and historical introduction to participatory research. This was followed by a focus on communications skills and the importance of sensitive interviewing (semi-structured interviewing), particularly settled farmer- bedouin relations which, in this part of the world, have been historically riddled with negative attitudinal problems. Tools for general analysis (mapping) were then introduced and these were followed by tools for more focused methods of analysis (matrix scoring and ranking), looking at particular subjects related to rangeland development. The workshop closed with a very brief presentation on ways in which these tools and others not covered in the exercises could be further developed for more sophisticated analysis.

The draft agenda (appendix 4.1) was followed quite closely. Only the liveliness of the discussions from the very first day did not allow for the full development of some tool (seasonal calendars) or all the group exercises which had been planned. The initial session was a brief introduction to PRA and its historical context in the development paradigm. This was followed by a number of exercises in role play to highlight the communications and attitudinal difficulties which have marked relations in the region. The remainder of the workshop focused on introducing PRA techniques through small group exercises interspersed with a number of games and activities.

The PRA techniques were carefully selected considering the wide range of roles and responsibilities of the participants, as well as their total lack of familiarity with the concept of participation at the community or regional level. It had been intended to introduce the following techniques: semi-structured interviewing, mapping, matrix scoring and ranking as well as seasonal diagramming. However, due to the active discussions and general high level involvement, there was not enough time to do exercises on seasonal diagramming, nor to do any small group exercises on ranking. In a workshop of longer duration (either extended hours or a fourth day) these techniques would have been covered more fully. The final session was a wrap-up session which invited feedback from the participants on the different techniques learnt, a written evaluation in the form of a scoring matrix closed the workshop (see 2.7).

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