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PRA uses similar guidelines and tools to RRA but focuses on the stimulation of participation by local people. Specific techniques are used to encourage greater involvement among people and to enable them to take the leading role in appraising conditions and identifying solutions. The role of the PRA team is to make itself unnecessary as quickly as possible. Various tentative categories of PRA are explained and some of the possible uses outlined.

6.1 PRA or “Participatory” RRA ?

Among the categories of RRA described in Chapter 4, a fourth category of “Participatory RRAs” was mentioned. In recent years, this form of Participatory RRA has developed as an approach in itself and come to be known as Participatory Rural Appraisal or PRA.

In much of the documentation on RRA and PRA, the difference between the two is not immediately obvious and RRA and PRA are talked about as if they were more or less the same thing. To some extent this is true - the tools and approaches are broadly similar. Participation is an important aspect of RRA as well as of PRA and some RRAs can clearly be more “participatory” than others.

For example, if an RRA is planned to develop a programme that is fully understood by local people, it needs to emphasise those aspects of RRA that encourage the involvement of local people. So there would be more group interviews where a range of opinions were collected, more analysis and discussion carried out in community meetings, perhaps more emphasis on reaching a consensus of opinion in the community than among the RRA team. By contrast, in a highly focused, topical appraisal designed by specialists to test out one of their working hypotheses, the scope for “participation” in the activity by local people will probably be considerably more limited.

In the end, whether a particular activity is classified as “RRA” or “PRA” may seem academic. In this document PRA is treated as a separate type of activity but this does not mean that PRA is necessarily “completely different from RRA” or that there is one authoritative “definition” of PRA any more than there is of RRA.

The important point is that some interpretations of PRA have radical implications for the practice of development in general and these implications need to be fully understood and taken account of. As a result, people using or talking about PRA need to be very careful about what they really mean by the term otherwise the intentions of agencies using this approach could easily be misinterpreted.

For many agencies and organisations, Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is not just a tool which enables development planners to learn about rural conditions and consult with local people so that they (development planners) can come up with more appropriate and better development plans (this might be thought of as a “Participatory RRA”). Instead, PRA is sometimes regarded as an exercise which transfers the role of planning and decision-making, traditionally taken by government institutions and development agencies, to the target group or community itself.

In this interpretation of PRA, outside experts and development workers are no longer the people who have the principal responsibility for analysing and interpreting information and coming up with proposals or ideas for development. Instead, their role in PRA is to encourage local people to carry out their own analysis, come to their own conclusions and design their own development programmes. These would then be facilitated and supported by the relevant agencies as required. This role is generally referred to as “catalytic”.

Box 12 highlights the differences between RRA and PRA according to this interpretation of the two terms.

BOX 12
Responding to needs of development workers and agenciesResponding to needs of communities and target groups
More emphasis on efficient use of time & achievement of objectivesMore emphasis on flexibility to adapt to time frame of community
Communication and learning tools used to help outsiders analyse conditions and understand local peopleCommunication and learning tools used to help local people analyse their own conditions and communicate with outsiders
Focus of RRA decided by outsidersFocus of PRA decided by communities
End product mainly used by development agencies and outsidersEnd product mainly used by community
Enables development agencies and institutions to be more “participatory”Enables (empowers) communities to make demands on development agencies and institutions
Can be used purely for “research” purposes without necessarily linking to subsequent action or interventionClosely linked to action or intervention and requiring immediate availability of support for decisions and conclusion s reached by communities as a result of the PRA

Once again, it must be remembered that this represents only one interpretation. In practice, they are widely used almost interchangeably and some people and agencies make little distinction between them. The table is intended as a clarification of potential differences between the two approaches which development workers need to be aware of.

In this document, the PRA is taken to refer to the type of appraisal where these differences with RRA are clear.

6.2 PRA - tools and process

Even where it has quite different objectives from a RRA, many of the activities in a PRA are likely to be very similar. During the initial stages of a PRA, the techniques used by a PRA team to make contact with communities and learn about them are essentially the same as in RRA. A variety of tools can be selected and used in a structured way to learn about the key issues in the community and elicit local opinion and priorities. But the way in which these tools are used in a PRA should then shift - rather than the outside team using the tools so that they can get a better understanding of local conditions, the focus of the activity becomes the encouragement of local people to use these tools to carry out their own analysis of their livelihoods, conditions and environment.

Generally, PRA carried out in this way is thought of as an initial step in a process of planning in which the community will take a progressively more important role. The process is represented in an idealised form in Figure 12.

Note that the process outlined in Figure 12 is described as “idealised”. The processes which PRA sets in motion are complex and can have very far reaching implications which are not necessarily seen in RRA In RRA the objectives and focus of the exercise, and therefore the outputs, can be controlled to some extent by those who are carrying it out and kept in line with their interests and concerns.

So, for example, an aquaculture agency can carry out an RRA which focuses on aquaculture issues and keep the activity concentrated on those issues, even if related issues may also be addressed. In RRA the boundaries of the activity can be clearly set.

In PRA, these “boundaries” are inevitably less clear because, by definition, they have to be determined not by those who initiate the PRA as an activity, but by the communities, target groups or beneficiaries who are the subject of the PRA. It is therefore much more difficult for workers in a development agency to use PRA to achieve objectives which they have set, unless those objectives are extremely general, such as “enabling local people to design their own development”.

The same goes for the tools which are used in a PRA. In an RRA, the RRA team can clearly decide what the principal issues are, how to investigate them and the tools to use. Interviews about water tenure can be kept focused on that subject.

This can also be done in the context of a PRA during the initial phase when the PRA team is learning about the community. But once the activity progresses into the identification and analysis of issues by the community itself, it becomes far more difficult for outsiders to direct the activity towards particular goals - that would be a contradiction of the term “participatory”.

The PRA Process


6.3 Advantages and disadvantages of PRA

The advantages of adopting a more participatory approach to development planning have been well-documented although there has been less discussion of the disadvantages. The ways in which these advantages and disadvantages might effect aquaculture planning are more difficult to establish as documentation of cases of PRA use specifically for aquaculture are few and far between. One reason for this is that PRAs are generally not specific to any particular discipline but are, almost by definition, part of an integrated approach which might or might not include aquaculture.

However, here the principal positive and negative features of PRA are listed and how these features might manifest themselves for aquaculture workers is mentioned.

Identification of genuine priorities for target group
PRA allows local people to present their own priorities for development and get them incorporated into development plans. Where aquaculture is identified as a priority during the course of a PRA, planners can be more secure that this responds to a real need among local people, whether that be for increased income, better fish supply or more intensive water use and management. The risks of outside planners “imposing” aquaculture as a solution and then discovering that local people are not really interested or committed to its development can be significantly reduced.

Devolution of management responsibilities
An important goal of PRA is to encourage self-reliant development with as much of the responsibility for the management and implementation of development activities devolved to local people themselves. This can greatly improve the efficiency of development work and eliminate many of the problems regarding proprietorship of development activities at the community level. Particularly for an activity like aquaculture, trials carried out in communities by projects run by outsiders are frequently plagued by problems of mismanagement and theft. This is usually linked to the fact that the community does not actually feel any responsibility for the activity and regards it as a temporary benefit to be exploited for as much as possible while it is there. An activity generated by a PRA will usually be managed by the community and the benefits will be clear to them.

Motivation and mobilisation of local development workers
Participation in PRA by local development workers, whether from NGOs, government or other agencies can greatly increase the motivation and level of mobilisation in support of the project or programme of which it is part. Where changes in development approaches are being introduced, such as a shift to a more integrated development planning mechanism, a PRA-type activity which illustrates how these new mechanisms will work on the ground can help to ensure better understanding and commitment by local workers. This is one reason why involvement of people from different administrative and organisational levels can be vital so that commitment is built up right through the chain. Aquaculture workers may not be used to working together with other disciplines. Involvement in a PRA can help them understand the priorities of workers from other disciplines as well as those of members of the community.

Forming better linkages between communities and development institutions
PRA can assist in forming better links between communities and the agencies and institutions concerned with rural development. This can benefit aquaculture workers by helping them with the monitoring of aquaculture development and environmental issues related to aquaculture. An example might be in a mangrove area subject to environmental regulation but where monitoring is difficult. A PRA which encourages a better understanding of the environmental issues at stake in local communities and develops activities which enable them to benefit from better management could also lead to better monitoring of mangrove exploitation by the communities themselves. PRAs involve intensive interaction between communities and outsiders which can have lasting effects in breaking down the barriers of reticence and suspicion which often characterise these relationships.

Use of local resources
Where local people have had more say in the design of projects they are also more likely to design activities which make full use of existing resources. In the case of aquaculture this might mean the use of local instead of exotic fish species, the improvement of existing water bodies rather than the creation of new ones or the design of activities which fit into current livelihood strategies rather than creating new strategies.

Mobilisation of community resources
Greater commitment from the community can also mean greater mobilisation of community resources for development and less reliance on outside inputs. This can take the form of labour inputs, savings or time devoted to management functions.

More sustainable development activities
This combination of effects will generally lead to more sustainable development activities which are less reliant on support from outside agencies and is technically, environmentally and socially appropriate to local conditions.

These benefits from participation can only be realised where the full implications of participation for the development agencies which are encouraging it have been taken into account and accommodated and the institutions involved are willing to support the sort of long-term changes in social, political and institutional frameworks which proper participation, and PRA, can set in motion. Where this is not the case, many of the following disadvantages can come into play.

Raising expectations which cannot be realised
One of the most immediate and frequently encountered risks in PRA is that it raises a complex set of expectations in communities which frequently cannot be realised given the institutional or political context of the area. This can be due to the political situation, the local power and social structure or simply to bureaucratic inertia in institutions which are supposed to be supporting development. In some cases the intended aim of the PRA may be to deliberately raise expectations “at the grassroots” so as to put pressure on the institutional and political structures above to change. However, not all development agencies are in a position to support such activities and there is a risk that agencies which are not properly equipped to respond to PRA-type planning may use the approach inappropriately. Aquaculture agencies might well be encouraged to use “PRA”, by donors for example, only to find that they are encouraging local people to participate in planning and decision-making in a society or political framework which positively discourages grassroots participation.

Proposal of development plans which participating agencies cannot respond to
Linked to this first point is the risk that the development priorities which communities identify during the course of a PRA may be ones which participating agencies simply cannot respond to adequately in the technical sense, thus again raising expectations only to disappoint them. This again comes back to the problem that the “playing field” in PRA has practically no boundaries and this can make the approach inappropriate for sectorally oriented agencies. This would include many aquaculture departments organised along traditional lines.

Risk of “capture” of activities by local interests
By devolving decision-making responsibility to communities and leaving the identification and planning of activities to them, there is also a real risk that particular elements in communities - the more educated, the wealthiest, those with authority - may find it easier to “capture” the activity and monopolise its benefits. The relative lack of outside involvement in a participatory planning process can make this much easier. Poor people in the community might support “community” decisions which will not benefit them at all because they are supported by their wealthier and more influential patrons. Aquaculture can be particularly prone to this as it is often proposed as a means of making better use of “common” land or water areas. The act of “developing” those areas may bring them into the sphere of influence of local authorities and deprive poorer people of access.

Failure to take account of stratification in communities
The fact that PRA is often carried out with the community as a whole can mean that stratification within the community, whether by wealth, social status, gender or ethnic group, can often be obscured and ignored. This may happen even though preliminary research in the community has clearly identified that there are strata and different sets of interests in the community. In PRA, decisions about how to accommodate the conflicting interests of different groups have to be left up to the community itself and, while one of the roles of outsiders involved in PRA is to encourage negotiation and arbitration between different interest groups, if the “community” decides that they want to resolve problems by ignoring the interests of the poor and weak, it may be difficult for “outsiders” to do much about it, especially if they are committed to devolving responsibility to the community.

The case study in Box 13 is not specifically related to PRA and aquaculture but helps to highlight some of these potential problems in the use of PRA. In this particular example, many of the problems encountered were related to the specific techniques used in PRA, such as public meetings and group activities. While these are intended to help in building consensus in the community and encourage “participation” by as broad a group as possible, this example shows how different communities can react very differently to this type of approach depending on their cultural background and their past experience of outside intervention.

Situations regarded by PRA teams as “informal” may be considered, by contrast, extremely formal by villagers. What can and cannot be said in such a formal setting is generally strongly conditioned by cultural and social factors. Women in many cultures may have great difficulty in speaking or even just in being present in such formal situations. The form of such social and cultural conditioning is unpredictable unless good ground work has been done on the communities involved.

For workers in aquaculture, these types of problem can be very real. Outsiders coming to the community to talk about aquaculture may be seen to represent “development” and this could induce people to support the idea of aquaculture development in public when in fact, in private, they would regard it as a very low priority.

BOX 13
On an agricultural project in a tribal area of Western India, PRA was used extensively as a means of initiating a process of participatory planning. This process was supposed to involve villagers from tribal communities in creating their own plans for natural resource development.
During the identification of the communities in which activities were to commence, efforts were made to choose villages which were small, socially homogeneous and without marked factionalism and with “supportive” leaders.
In some locations, the use of PRA was effective in encouraging communities to undertake their own analysis of local resource-related problems and potential solutions. Considerable consensus was achieved within the communities and a basis laid for continuing support for the project and its activities.
In other communities, problems in the use of PRA soon became apparent. In one village, a PRA team had to leave the community after only one day having been unable to do any of its intended field work. Local people were openly hostile and extremely suspicious in spite of the team's efforts to put them at ease.
Some of the issues raised by these difficulties were seen to be common to the approach as a whole. The process of “building a rapport” between the project and its intended beneficiaries was seen to be more complex than originally thought. Tribal people were strongly conditioned by previous experience of “outsiders” to be very suspicious of their motives. These suspicions were seen not to be necessarily relieved by the attempts during PRA exercises to establish an “informal” and open relationship. On occasions the PRA teams' efforts to be relaxed and “participatory” only increased local suspicion regarding their motives and real interests.
This led to the conclusion that in many communities an extensive period of low-profile rapport building consolidated by concrete manifestations of a project's commitment to a community would be required before a PRA could be effective.
Problems were also encountered in the use of typical “participatory” -type exercises such as group and community mapping, group context of such “group” activities as “community” opinion transect walks and community meetings. It became clear that the views represented in the frequently ignored the interests and opinions of important groups within the community and represented those of “dominant” groups or “officialised” views.
Although the PRA approach used placed considerable emphasis on creating an “informal” context for discussions, what was “informal” for the PRA team was still regarded as very “formal” and artificial by local people.
Women as a group in all the communities were particularly excluded as a result of this. Strong social constraints normally prevented tribal women from gathering together publicly as they were asked to do during PRAs. Participation by women was also strongly affected by their workload and factors such as age and marital status. Even when women did participate in activities their range of concerns and mode of communication was often so far from what field workers were used to or concerned with themselves that effective participation was limited.

Source: adapted from Mosse, 1995

On the other hand, the fact that the project described in Box 13 was able to identify these problems (which would probably have affected the validity of any development planning approach which could have been used) was in itself partly due to the use of “participatory” methods. The flexibility of these methods allowed the project to adapt its approach to accommodate these issues.

6.4 Is there such a thing as an “aquaculture” PRA?

Given the shortcomings and difficulties involved in the use of PRA, the question for aquaculture workers is whether or not it is actually of any use for them. It could easily be asked, in fact, whether a PRA specifically oriented towards aquaculture is possible. It would probably be difficult to limit the focus of a PRA purely aquaculture issues. But PRA could be used to look at the context in which aquaculture is taking place, provided there is willingness on the part of the participating agencies to broaden the potential scope of development activities beyond aquaculture and into other spheres. For many agencies involved specifically in aquaculture development this might be very difficult.

PRA has been used more widely, and often more effectively, by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs, particularly those based locally, are more likely to have the kind of long-term commitment to working in a particular area or community which can support the kinds of development generated by PRA. Especially where significant changes in the local political and social framework, or where new social, economic or ethnic groups are given a voice and encouraged to participate in decisions about development, the process can be long and extremely difficult. In such circumstances a development agency cannot responsibly start off the process and then leave it to run its course completely without further support. Members of rural communities who have been given new powers, new access to resources and new decision-making responsibilities as a result of PRA-led activities usually need long-term support to ensure that their gains are sustainable

The next chapter looks at how other types of agencies might be able to use PRA, and RRA in certain circumstances, particularly depending on the sort of planning framework in which they are operating.

6.5 PRA Teams

PRA “teams” are likely to be more mixed than RRA teams. While, in RRA, the team is still largely envisaged as a group of outsiders trying to learn about a community or area, in PRA the “team” should involve local people as quickly as possible and encourage them to carry out the appraisal themselves. The team should be there to guide and support them and provide them with technical expertise as and when required.

Local people on PRA teams
The local people who take part in the PRA exercise clearly have to be selected by the community, but care has to be taken that the activity is not “hijacked” by the most literate, powerful and confident members to the exclusion of poorer, less educated groups. As far as possible, representatives from all the key social and economic groups within the community should be sought out to participate in some way in the PRA. It is very easy for outside teams to encourage participation by those community members who are “most like themselves” (educated, articulate and “progressive”). But this can lead to an extremely biased view of the community. Village elites can often contribute better to PRA as “key informants” than as team members.

Where direct, “full-time” involvement by some groups of local people creates problems, as might be the case with local women in some areas, specific activities have to be designed to ensure that the these groups are able to contribute properly to the process.

Outsiders in PRA teams
The role of the PRA team is primarily to stimulate local people's own capacity for analysis and action. Technical expertise in key fields which are liable to be important is necessary so that ideas and proposals from the community can be assessed on the spot and refined in the light of the broader experience which external experts may have. In some cases, outsiders may be able to suggest solutions unfamiliar to local people but nevertheless appropriate and worth testing.

However, the key skill required in PRA teams is effective communication. In the context of the participatory techniques used in PRA, the ability to stimulate and allow communication by others (i.e. local people) is often more important than being able to communicate team members' own ideas or opinions. The team involved in a PRA has to be able to create a situation where local people are willing to be open, do not feel threatened and are convinced of the interest and commitment of the team of outsiders.

All the features of RRA teams outlined in the previously chapter apply to PRA teams as well, but basic features, such as the gender composition of the team and appropriate language ability are fundamental in a PRA team. This can mean that more participants from the area itself need to sought out, such as extension workers or local officials who already have a good relationship with the communities.

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