5.2 Site selection: the first step
5.3 Types of information to be yielded
5.4 Recruitment and organization of the research team
5.5 Methods for data collection
5.6 Reporting the results and how these should be reflected in management schemes
5.7 Limitations of rapid assessments
5.8 Recommended readings on methods for conducting rapid assessments
For research involving small-scale fishing communities, "rapid assessment," which is also referred to as "rapid rural appraisal," or "RRA," is a multidisciplinary, semi-structured, and comprehensive research method that is designed to quickly document and evaluate important components of local culture, management needs, and community-based fisheries-management systems. As an expeditious general method, it can be an especially fruitful approach for fisheries managers who are working within tight budgetary and time constraints. It frequently borrows from methods associated with "participatory rural appraisal," such as those mentioned in Section 4.17, and can also be utilized to survey large geographic regions with the aim of quickly learning important management needs, as well as to prepare fishing communities for impending changes in management policies and practices. In what follows, rapid assessment methods for studying small-scale fishing communities are described.4
Local-level fishing practices and community-based management may be fruitfully explored by means of rapid assessment. In many small-scale fishing communities there is often a dual system of fisheries management, consisting of an informal system which is devised and implemented by the community itself, and which coexists alongside a more formal, government-instituted management system. Outsiders are often unaware of the informal system as it is not always easily observed or understood, and problems can arise when new formal management systems are imposed on top of a community's informal management system. "Top-down" formal systems therefore often fail because local fishers are often unwilling to give up their own systems of management. A more successful approach to management will therefore usually complement or build upon the local system. But to do this the local system must first be understood.
Rapid assessment offers possibilities for doing this by quickly getting a rough understanding of a fishing community's informal system of management. At the same time, it can quickly illuminate a fishing community's main cultural components, pressing problems, and management needs. Thus, while it is not a substitute for detailed studies, rapid assessment is a method that can provide important information on a short-term basis while also providing direction for more detailed studies.
The first step in the rapid assessment of small-scale fishing communities is site selection. In this regard several considerations must be met:
(1) There must be a group of local researchers--from the government, academia, private groups, and/or the fishing communities--who are willing to collaborate with one another. Without using local people on the research team it may be difficult for outside researchers to enter the community.
(2) The local fishing communities and government authorities must be willing to work together cooperatively.
(3) Fishing must be an important economic activity in the communities to be studied.
(4) The study area must be of such a size that field work, on both land and sea, can be accomplished by a research team in approximately one week. Hence, it will usually be better for a research team to focus on a single community, rather than on several communities situated in a large area. Where large geographic regions and a number of communities must be surveyed, an appropriate number of similarly organized teams should be deployed.
(5) The fishing communities must be accessible.
In addition to social and cultural information about fishing people, rapid-assessment studies of small-scale fishing communities usually seek other kinds of information as well. These often include the biological and physical attributes of the geographic area, the kinds of technology used to harvest fish, processing- and distribution-system attributes, the social and cultural attributes of non-fishing persons in the community, and other more general information about the community. The rapid assessment must also include information about the informal and formal internal organization of the fishing community, as well as external organizations, institutions, and persons that can influence it, and especially which can influence the fisheries. The effects of natural hazards should also be explored.
Appendix 7.2 near the end of this report provides examples of various data sets that can be collected by rapid assessments.
Since rapid assessment of small-scale fishing communities requires that diverse types of information be gathered quickly, it is necessary to have multiple researchers on a rapid assessment team. Typically, these may include a marine or a fisheries biologist, a coastal-habitat expert, an economist, a sociologist or an anthropologist, and a political scientist. Also, as mentioned previously, the research team should include local researchers who are familiar with the region to be surveyed.
Most often, fisheries officials will recruit the various members of the team, while taking into consideration suggestions from the fishing communities concerning the team's overall composition. Members of the fishing communities may therefore suggest prospective team members from the fishing communities themselves, or other trusted persons whom they feel are particularly familiar with the region.
Regarding a team's overall organization, ideally it should have between five and eight members. Any fewer and certain important expertise may not be represented; any more and the team may not be able to work together in an efficient and decisive manner. A team leader should also be designated before the team leaves for the field. This person will usually have primary responsibilities for coordinating and supervising the team's efforts, as well as for reporting its results. Of course, a team's actual organization needs to be flexible, adapted to the particular needs of the study, and sensitive to the concerns of the fishing communities that are to be studied.
Once the team is assembled, the collection and analysis of secondary data must first occur. This includes any and all previously gathered information, published or unpublished, pertaining to the study area. Such data may include maps, aerial photographs, records and statistics, and other descriptions and data regarding the area.5 The team members should analyze this data in order to familiarize themselves with the fishing community they intend to study. This step will also help them to formulate appropriate questions for the collection of primary data in the field.
Once in the field, the team collects the primary data. There are a number of techniques that can be used, the most powerful of which is the semi-structured interview (see 4.12, above, for a description of this method). This method is very useful for gathering historical information, discussing specific issues and topics, and building case studies. A variation of semi-structured interviewing is the group interview. This method can be used as both a method of data collection and a means of community validation. It is also particularly useful for identifying social norms and accepted views, collective views and feelings, and identifying special interest groups. Group interviews can also be used to generate more information regarding specific topics.
Data collection can also include participatory exercises such as diagramming, ranking, story telling, and portraits. Diagrams are models that convey information in easily understood visual forms and are good for stimulating discussion with local people as well as communicating ideas and findings. They may be expressed in terms of space, time, flow, and decision. Ranking is an analytical game use to find out preferences or priorities of an individual or group. It can take various forms. A simple ranking may only ask a series of simple questions, while a more complex one may use a series of two-way comparisons. Stories and portraits are short descriptions of situations that are recounted by people in the field as they present information that is not easily converted or transformed into diagrams. The members of small-scale fishing communities often relate best to stories and portraits as a way of describing their way of life.
Spot mapping or sketch mapping is a simple procedure for laying down on paper the important features of an area in spatial or geographical terms. Important features may include settlements, infrastructure, bodies of water, and sometimes also underwater features that fishers know about. This kind of map can be useful for locating households or clusters of households within a community, determining the location of ethnic groups, clans, or families, and noting regions of particular wealth. It can also be useful for locating marine resources, fishing areas, fishing gear, transportation routes, and landing facilities. These maps do not have to be exact, but they must be clearly done and care must be taken not to fit too much information on just one map. If possible, these maps should be prepared by using information provided by the local people, or by asking them to draw up such maps themselves.
Additionally, the members of rapid-assessment teams can gather important data by utilizing some of the following other methods:
(1) Timelines, which are used to determine events in the past that are considered important and the sequence in which they occurred.
(2) Calendars, such as those noting fishing patterns, seasonal occupations, recurring events in the ritual cycle, and food availability throughout the year.
(3) Historical transects, illustrating how a particular area has changed over time, and which can reveal such things as changes in land use or modification in fishing practices.
(4) Process charts, which are helpful in breaking down and analyzing important activities. These charts specify the people involved in activities and alternative ways of doing those activities, and get respondents to focus on and explain the features of activities they might otherwise take for granted and not mention to researchers coming from outside the community.
(5) Decision trees, which are valuable for grasping community-based resource-management strategies, as well as discovering why users take up or give up particular technologies. These may also help in analyzing the factors that influence the local people's important decisions, while clarifying their priorities.
(6) Venn diagrams, which can be used to show the relationships between different groups and organizations within a community, thereby identifying potential conflicts between these groups and clarifying the roles of individuals and institutions.
Generally speaking, the members of a rapid assessment team will analyze the data that they gathered, summarize their findings in a brief report, and circulate these to the other team members, inviting their commentary. The team members may also meet to make suggestions concerning the organization and content of the team's final report. After that, the team leader will usually be responsible for drafting the team's final report and submitting it to fisheries officials. In turn, where fisheries officials seek to implement new management policies and practices, these should be explicitly related to key findings in the rapid assessment team's final report.
Although rapid assessment of small-scale fishing communities can be used to evaluate practically any fisheries-based setting, it still has several practical limitations. First, the variables studied and the data gathered are of necessity concentrated on the fisheries, and may only briefly examine other aspects of coastal economics, such as agriculture, shipping, tourism, and other industries. Second, the method is best suited to village or community-level studies, and is less useful for studying larger geographic or political areas. Third, the results it produces are preliminary, and gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding will still require more detailed research.
Fox, P. 1984. A manual of rapid appraisal techniques for Philippine coastal fisheries. Manila: Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Research Division.
Pido, M. D., R. S. Pomeroy, M. B. Carlos, and L. R. Garces. 1996. A handbook for rapid appraisal of fisheries management systems. Makati City: International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management.
Pollnac, Richard B. 1998. Rapid assessment of management parameters for coral reefs. Narragansett, Rhode Island: University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center.
Townsley, P. 1993. Rapid appraisal methods for coastal communities: a manual. Madras: Bay of Bengal Program.