The essential differences between conventional and participatory action research is that in the latter research the poor are actively involved in all stages: both researcher and respondent are active including in the design of research instruments, interviewing, data analysis as well as in the reporting, evaluation and discussion of the results.
The research results are to be shared with all project participants. Participatory research is to be included in any participatory project as it is indispensable firstly for the collection and analysis of the necessary information on the action areas and the disadvantaged people and secondly for project expansion and replication (see Section 14). It is to be carried out during the entire project period by the participation agents and other project staff together with the local people, in particular the actual and potential group members. Guidance in the design, methods of collection, tabulation, analysis, interpretation and reporting is to be provided by rural poor-oriented economic and social research institutions. The latter obtain in this way also opportunities to learn the participatory development and research concepts and methods. In cases where the services of a research institution prove too costly, it is preferable to obtain the help of well-motivated experts on an individual basis who in many countries appeared to be available.
The main research objectives are:
1) to select the project area(s) and within these the village-clusters where the group formation actions will start; (see Sections 5.1; 6.3 and 16.3);
2) to identify and classify the rural poor and non-poor in the action areas and to obtain pragmatic information on their living conditions, needs and aspirations by means of area, village and household surveys (see Sections 5.2, 5.3 and 16.3);
3) to determine whether, how and to what extent the locals are so far involved in development efforts, in particular through rural people's and other local organizations. Where needed, it should also be clarified on one side why most low income people do not actively participate in these efforts, and, on the other side, why most of the local people's organizations, if any, in their present form do not attract them (see Sections 6.1 and 16.3);
4) the potentials, efforts and problems of the formation of rural poor groups from scratch and/or within or from existing groups and organizations (see Sections 6.3, 6.4 and 16.3);
5) to plan and implement together with the beneficiaries, group promoters, project and line department staff as well as, where opportune, with ad-hoc experts - viable income-generating and other group activities. In various instances small feasibility studies may be needed before engaging in such activities (see Sections 7 and 16.3);
6) to plan and conduct appropriate training programmes for the beneficiaries as well as the concerned line department and other staff (see Section 11). Furthermore, to provide grassroot data to the field workshops of the project;
7) to develop and sustain a workable participatory monitoring and evaluation system (see Section 13);
8) the research may also include case studies of successful and deficient rural poor groups;
9) identification and/or development of appropriate technologies for the small farmers or fishermen with the support of the concerned line departments and other technical bodies
To attain the above objectives, simplified action area, village and household surveys are needed periodically. This research may be based on the interesting methods and procedures developed in various countries. The surveys will help to establish economic and social benchmarks, which highlight the status of the beneficiaries in the initial phase of the project so that any progress can be evaluated successively by the project participants.
A baseline survey, to be conducted before the field action starts, is useful but only if the grassroot people are really involved. This type of survey may be part of project preparation and serve among other, for target group identification. Sampling of households is to be avoided as this may lead to resentment of those not included in the sample. Only those data are to be collected which are really relevant for project operations. The outcome should be used for discussion by the group promoters and the groups.
Some constraints to conduct a baseline survey early in the project cycle are: a) scarcity of suitable research staff in the initial phase; b) the information obtained on the intended beneficiaries may be insufficiently reliable as their confidence has to be gained first through the project's field actions (see Section 5.3.3); and c) lack of funds for this project preparation action. In fact the survey is to be kept low-cost including by being quite selective in data collecting. Moreover in areas where projects with grassroot people were or are being implemented, many useful data may already be available.
For the conducting of action area, village and other surveys, reference is made to the Small Farmer Development Manual, Chapter 4, Sections 20-26 (see Appendix 3, Selected References).