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2. Analysis of Sessions

2.1 Session 1: Introduction to PRA and Rangeland development
2.2 Session 2: Communications, Attitudes and Semi-Structured Interviewing
2.3 Session 3: Informal mapping
2.4 Session 4: Matrix ranking and scoring
2.5 Session 5: Practical field work
2.6 Session 6: Analysis of field and classroom findings
2.7 Session 7: Wrap-up and participatory evaluation of the workshop

2.1 Session 1: Introduction to PRA and Rangeland development

The initial session was an introduction to participatory research and the historical context of PRA in the development paradigm since the early 1950s. First the participants were asked to give their ideas of what constitutes participation. These ideas were recorded on a flip chart and included:

· bottom’s up approach
· sharing in decision making
· settling people (topic caused very heated discussion)
· cross disciplinary collaboration
· persuasiveness
· getting to know the opinion of people
· discarding of coercion in human relations
· sharing management with beneficiaries
On the whole these responses suggested an awareness of the broad definition of participation. However, the specialist meaning of participatory approaches to research or PRA was generally novel to the workshop participants. A series of simple, but carefully worked out Arabic overhead transparencies were then presented discussing the requirements of participatory research, the kinds of information gathered, who takes part in this kind of research, a typology of different kinds of participation, and finally important considerations about participatory approaches. An attempt was made to close the session with a brief consideration of the ‘nine myths’ about PRA. (However this proved to be premature and was dropped with the idea of reintroducing it at the end of the workshop if time allowed).

2.2 Session 2: Communications, Attitudes and Semi-Structured Interviewing

The following session which was to focus on communication skills, attitudes and behaviour, and semi-formal interviewing began with a game of ‘Chinese Whispers’. The following set of sentences was whispered to the first participant and from him around the room until everyone had taken part. The original text was:

· “We have heard that the camels grazing near Resafe have become ill because of some poisonous plants. We have heard also that the government is going to prevent any herders, even sheep herders, from entering the region because there is no antidote for the poison”.
The whisper to emerge at the end of the circle was:
· “There are some camels near Palmyra”.
Our interest in this game was to reveal the difficulties of communications and to show the way in which rumours often get started. We realized that for the participants, in addition, there was the concern to discover ‘where; the story got distorted’. Who, so to speak, was to blame for the distortion. Beside the lessons to be learned about communicating from this exercise, it also served as an ‘ice breaker’ and served to bring even the more reticent member of the group into fuller participation.

Next we conducted an exercise on attitudes to rangeland management. Four statements regarding what group(s) should be responsible for managing the rangeland in the Syrian badia were put up in different corners of the room. Participants were asked to stand under the statement they agreed with most. Each group was then asked to justify the statement they had chosen, thus allowing the trainers to assess the attitudes of the participants. No statement was intended to be the ‘right one’; each had its own validity. Our instructions did cause some concern initially, as the participants perceived that there could only be one correct statement.

1. Range management is the responsibility of the Government
2. Range management is the responsibility of the Cooperatives
3. Range management is the responsibility of the Cooperatives and the Bedouin
4. Range management is the responsibility of the Bedouin
After some discussion about the value of individual opinion, the participants split into three groups covering all but the last choice (the Bedouin alone). The largest group (12) supported statement 3, that the Cooperatives and the Bedouin should manage the Range lands. The position put forward was that the Bedouin needed the Cooperative as an intermediary to help them use the rangeland proper and to prevent them from over-grazing and to plan for the long-term and not just the short-term. The next largest group (3) supported the statement that the Cooperatives should manage the range land. The argument put forward here was that the Cooperatives represented the Government, the Bedouin and the Cooperatives themselves. The users were thus represented and supervised by the government. Only two participants supported the statement that the Government is responsible for range management and none felt that the Bedouin should be responsible for the rangeland. It was striking to have in these responses the reaffirmation of a common stereotypic image of the Bedouin as opportunistic, range abusers with limited sense of responsibility, and even less knowledge of indigenous plants and shrubs. Clearly contact with the Bedouin has been of a limited nature in the past and may need to be consistently encouraged in the course of this project.

This exercise was followed by a short presentation on the importance of people’s attitudes and behaviour. The participants were divided into groups of four and each group was asked to role play a particular type of interview behaviour (aggressive, insecure, authoritarian, and courteous). These demonstrations were entered into in earnest and were, at times, exceedingly amusing as they imitated the extremes of behaviour obviously carefully observed at one time or another. It was interesting to note here that the participants chose ‘authoritarian’ behaviour as most correct followed by the ‘courteous’ behaviour.

We then moved on to a brief demonstration of the importance of good interviewing behaviour which encourages the free exchange of information. The basic principles of semi-structured interviewing were introduced and six volunteers were then asked to role play an interview situation whereby two of the group interview a Bedouin household to seek an understanding of the families immediate needs and requirement. The participants were then asked to critique the performance. The main points identified by the participants were:

Good points:
· opened well, not too pushy
· showed consideration for the people being interviewed
· were well received
Bad points
· didn’t talk to the women
· did not give a good introduction of selves
· asked leading questions
· cut respondents off before completing answers
· took notes in a distracting way
This session was tremendously amusing and enjoyed by all participants. They were clearly able to distinguish minute details of behaviour and assign meanings to small symbolic acts. Their sensitivity to the attitudes and behaviour of others was clearly finely tuned. Its impact on the outcome of an interview, and the kind of information and discussion that would result, seems not to have been considered earlier.

The ten most important points in sensitive interviewing were reviewed which completed the first day of training.

2.3 Session 3: Informal mapping

Prior to commencing the assigned topic for the second day, the participants were asked to give their opinion as to why participation was so important. The main points they gave were as follows:

· beneficiaries share in project work
· there is collective decision-making
· gender roles become important
· planning and analysis is shared
· the ‘real’ picture emerges
· there is equality for all parties
· responsibility is shared and results are positive
As a bridge to the session of the day, the ‘knotty’ problem game was played. All the participants took part and the value of group problem-solving was clearly revealed. The person asked to untie the knot by only giving verbal instructions stopped trying after several minutes. The group then untied itself instantly, clearly demonstrating the practical way that working together with local communities facilitates efficient problem-solving.

A second game was conducted, the ‘fact, opinion, or rumour’ test. This exercise worked with a difficulty that had been recognized the day before - the problem of determining whether a statement is a fact, or a rumour/opinion. A heated discussion ensued over whether certain statements were opinion or rumours. This had to be cut short to continue the day’s programme.

The first session of the second day was on mapping techniques and their use in acquiring indigenous knowledge of the range and its plants and shrubs. The participants were divided into four groups. Each group was asked to draw a map indicating different things. The topics were:

· a service map of Palmyra
· a natural resource map of the badia
· a migration map of the Bedouin
· an institutions/service map from the Bedouin point of view
Two of the maps were drawn in the room on the floor using paper and coloured markers, while two of the maps were drawn outside the room on tables using paper and markers. The map of the services in Palmyra was drawn in great detail and showed an intimate knowledge of the government and private services available in rapidly growing town of 45,000 people. The map of the natural resources in the badia showed a fairly rich variety of the plants and shrubs, and a few of the water and other resources. The migration map of the badia gave a fairly general, broad picture of the major tribal movements during the eastern (winter) and western (summer) migrations. The group working on the map of the institutions/services of a Bedouin family had some initial difficulties and required additional help and support in conceptualizing the mapping exercise.

2.4 Session 4: Matrix ranking and scoring

This session commenced with a simple ranking exercise. Eight volunteers were called for. One participant was asked to go out of the room while another volunteer ranked the six remaining participants (arranged according to a criterion decided upon by him/her). The volunteer outside in the hall was then asked to come in and try to identify the criterion for ranking. This simple exercise paved the way for a brief explanation of matrix ranking and scoring. A group exercise on food preference was then conducted as a concrete example of how to do a scoring exercise. Time was very short and this exercise did not get the attention it needed. Nevertheless, the groups seemed to understand the principles involved, although they requested more exercises to consolidate their new knowledge. They were then divided into four groups to attempt a ranking exercise of the relative value of shrubs and plants in the badia. Their findings were reviewed briefly by the whole of the workshop group.

Before closing the three tools - semi-structured interviewing, informal mapping and matrix scoring - were discussed again in preparation for the next session, a practical field session where these tools were to be put to the test.

2.5 Session 5: Practical field work

Prior to the commencement of the workshop, the author visited the leading members of the three Cooperatives that are part of the project area, as well as local farming and Bedouin households. These field trips were, in part, to select a sample of households to which the participants could visit during the workshop to try out participatory research tools. A representative sample of Bedouin households was selected. These consisted of:

· a well-off camel herding extended family on the outskirts of Talila, the wildlife reserve
· a moderately well-off sheep herding extended family in the Munbateh Cooperative
· a sheep-herding extended family engaging in some agriculture in the Abbassiya Cooperative
· a poor, female-headed sheep herding family in the Abbassiya Cooperative
The workshop participants were divided into four groups with each of the extension officers in a separate group and the rest of the participants divided up amongst them. The groups were instructed to use this time to informally interview the Bedouin families about their needs and their local knowledge of the environment, to conduct an informal mapping exercise of natural resources in the area, migratory range of the household, services available to the family and, institutions that are important to the unit. If time allowed the group was to attempt a matrix scoring of the most important shrubs and plants for the family’s livestock.

Because of the heavy work demands on the Bedouin families at this time of the year, it was arranged that the groups would arrive after the afternoon milking of sheep (around 3 o’clock) and remain for the following two to three hours. Only the groups visiting the camel herding family and the female-headed family were observed by the trainers. It was not possible to arrange transport so as to move between the other two groups as well. However discussion in the evening upon their return to Palmyra clearly showed that all the groups had been enthusiastically received, had learned much by the experience, and viewed the session in the most positive light. One of the groups remained in the workshop room until nearly 10 p.m. redrawing their maps and matrices for the next day’s presentations.

2.6 Session 6: Analysis of field and classroom findings

The first session of the third day consisted of an analysis of the informal mapping and matrix exercises from field and their comparison with the classroom work of the previous day.

Venn Diagramming

Three groups had attempted to have their Bedouin hosts diagram their perceptions of their institutional requirements. This exercise clearly revealed a wide gap in the understanding of the participants of the needs of the Bedouin. In class room exercises, the participants had placed the government Cooperatives that provide subsidized feed at the centre of the diagrams. In the field exercises, the Cooperatives appeared, but only as small distant circles far from the centre of the institutional needs of the families. In one case, the poor family that could not afford to pay for subsidized feed on a monthly basis, it appeared as a small circle attached to their need for drinking water. In another moderately well off Bedouin household, the Cooperative appeared as a second level of need, following a primary level which consisted of the market, petrol, bakery, and veterinary clinic. This disparity of perceptions stimulated a lively discussion.

Informal Mapping

Three groups presented maps which their hosts had attempted. These exercises seemed to show that the Bedouin had a good general knowledge of the natural resources in the regions as well as the government and private services available locally. The mapping of migration routes for summer and winter movement of sheep and camels was more detailed than any of the class room exercises - but that was to be expected.

Matrix scoring of relative value of shrubs and plants

Three of the groups presented a matrix on relative value of shrubs and plants. Their findings had a basic similarity, in that one plant (local name: sheeh) scored highly in all three matrices even though the criteria for each chart was not always comparable. The findings taken from the chart drawn up by the one female-headed household head was particularly interesting to some of the group. The responses were very similar to those of the male respondents preferring Sheeh, Yantoon, Qaysoon and then Harmel. The common understanding among the Ministry of Agriculture and the Cooperatives is that Bedouin women do not know about the natural resources, or at least are never asked. In general the plant preferences which emerged from the field study had a number of similarities with the classroom exercise, but the order of preferences were different. It is the understanding of the trainers that these preliminary field findings validate the project’s CTA efforts to change the type of plants and shrubs being used for the reseeding and replanting programme.

The participants were then asked to list the positive and negative points concerning their field experience. The positive points they named included:

· it was possible to get women’s views
· a responsive discussion and exchange of ideas was possible
· it was possible to understand people’s true needs
· getting information from different approaches (methods) is good
The negative points, as a critique of the organization of field work and their own actions, were more numerous and included:
· the field work was too short
· there was too little time and too much to do
· people’s expectations were raised and they expected a good outcome
· visits need to be more frequent and of longer duration
· a random sample should have been used
· drawing out criteria for the matrix exercises is very difficult
Each participant was asked to name the most important lesson learned in the field work activity. In no special order the points included:
· practical application of skills learned in the workshop
· participation of the Bedouin in the exercise
· learning to be patient and cooperating in team work
· cooperating in decision making
· exchange of views and knowledge
· building trust and confidence between project staff and Bedouin
· identifying the central concerns of the Bedouin
· learning to understand and tolerate a different way of life
· improving communication
· introducing visual techniques for obtaining information.
This list does not do justice to the sense of wonder, astonishment and enthusiasm which permeated the workshop room during the discussion. Several of the points, mainly dealing with improving communication, exchanging views and knowledge, and participating with the Bedouin were raised several times and have thus been highlighted above.

Although palpable the previous evening, the discussion in this session of the value of the field work was most extraordinarily positive. One had the sense that some of the workshop participants had not been into Bedouin tents previously, their exchanges basically being conducted in government offices. One participant acknowledged that just prior to entering the tent he told the rest of his group that they could expect very little cooperation from the Bedouin. He knew these people. He worked with them for a long time and he knew that they would not tell the truth, would be obstinate and would reveal very little. On leaving the tent at the end of the exercise he was said to have exclaimed that he was absolutely wrong and had taken thirty pages of notes on the natural resources of the area and other subjects.

2.7 Session 7: Wrap-up and participatory evaluation of the workshop

The final session of the work shop opened with a brief review of the main principles and techniques of participation and continue with an overview of the information that had been collected in the field. From this point it was possible to review the inconsistencies in the data (relative values of plants and shrubs; relative importance of the government Cooperatives) to show where there may have been some methodological weaknesses and how they could be overcome with further development and more sophisticated use of some of the tools learned (such as with matrix scoring and ranking). In the case of the inconsistencies in the Venn diagrams concerning the importance of the Cooperatives, Stephan Baas briefly discussed how a special tool for institutional profiling, SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) might be used in future analysis. A brief introduction to the use of seasonal calendars as an important planning tool was given along with some examples taken from an earlier PRA exercise in the Syrian badia.

The question was raised “How do we proceed”? The participants and the CTA expressed the strong desire to continue with PRA training in the near future, feeling that a momentum had been set into motion which needed to be continued. Some discussion was held on feasible times and the consensus appeared to be that it would be best not to wait an entire year before holding another workshop.

At the close of the session the participants were asked to evaluate each of the previous session. A criteria was set up by the participants with some input from the trainers. As the results in the table below show, the informal mapping was the most highly scored, followed by semi-structured interviewing and matrix ranking and scoring. As could be expected, the introductory and closing session scored lowest. Particularly interesting to the trainers was the very high score for the field practice - the highest in the matrix. This suggests that the experience was not only positive and encouraging, but also novel. For many, field work of this nature has been a new experience, but one that has revealed a new dimension to their work and which needs to be encouraged by ongoing participatory work with the local inhabitants in the project area.




Intro to PRA

Communications + S.S. Interviews

Informal Mapping

Matrix ranking & scoring

Field practice

Summing up

Learned the most







Most valuable for future







Most enjoyable







Newest ideas














Would most like to learn more














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