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Section three: The tools

Chapter eight: The tools and how to use them

The tools of PAME are the instruments that are used to gather, synthesize, and analyse information in a way that is appropriate and participatory.

The tools should be approached with an open mind; they may have to be adapted and rethought for each situation. Think of them as "ideas" to be developed to respond to the field reality. Experiment with them to determine what will work, what will be more participatory. Combine the tools in different ways. For example, use some of the Ranking, Rating, and Sorting "games" to make Surveys more interesting. Combine a Case Study with Popular Theatre or a Puppet Show.

Many of the tools work individually to gather and analyse information, while helping develop communication skills. Drawing and Discussion is one example of such a tool. Other tools are more specific, such as Survival Surveys.

All of the tools, because they are developed with and for the community, serve also as extension and learning tools. Be flexible! If one tool is not working well, re-think it or suggest another one.

Choosing the best tool for a situation is a unique and creative process. To assist in narrowing the choices of appropriate tools from the wide range of possibilities offered, some tips on determining which tool the community might find most useful are discussed in Chapter Eight, along with a list of the main characteristics of tools and some sampling methods.

Chapter Eight presents the tools in a way which seeks to encourage creativity and flexibility. The following descriptions are brief, as most are adaptations of tools with which most field staff are familiar. There are methodological texts for many of these tools and the following is not a substitute for more detailed instruction on sample selection, sample size, or research design. This description is focused on how the tools may be or may have been adapted to strengthen local participation.

Enjoy the tools! PAME should be an exciting, dynamic learning experience for everybody.

Chapter eight: The tools and how to use them

1. Some guidelines for choosing the most appropriate tool for a community.
2. An overview of the tools.
3. Sampling methods.
4. Sample size
Tool 1: Group meetings
Tool 2: Drawing and discussion
Tool 3: Murals and posters
Tool 4: Flannel boards
Tool 5: Open-ended stories
Tool 6: Unserialized posters
Tool 7: Community case studies
Tool 8: Historical mapping
Tool 9: Semi-structured interviews
Tool 10: Ranking, rating and sorting
Tool 11: Community environmental assessment
Tool 12: Survival surveys
Tool 13: Participatory action research
Tool 14: Maps and mapping
Tool 15: Farmer's own records
Tool 16: Nursery record book
Tool 17: Community financial accounts
Tool 18: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and limitations (S.W.O.L.) analysis
Tool 19: Popular theatre
Tool 20: Puppet theatre
Tool 21: Community directed visual images
Tool 22: Community directed tape recordings
Tool 23: Community directed videos

1. Some guidelines for choosing the most appropriate tool for a community.

Watch and listen

Become aware of how community members think and communicate information. This will give clues as to what tools might work best. For example, ask a number of people directions to the next village, and observe the ways they relay this information. People from some cultures may draw a map on the ground. This could mean that visual tools would work best for them. People from other cultures may give instructions such as "go 17 kilometers down the road then turn left". These people may be comfortable with the written tools.

A third culture might respond: "Go to the village market, and when you see the coal merchant's store, go down the road beside it until you come to a leaning tree with a large branch hanging down. There are two roads there. Take the one which has two tracks." People from this community might find the story-telling and drama tools the most appropriate.


Do they have books and magazines in their homes? Do they have pictures decorating their homes? Do they use symbols to decorate their implements? These kinds of observations will give clues as to which communication type (written, oral or visual) is basic to the community.


Ask how information is relayed around the community. Is it exclusively by word-of-mouth ? Are there newspapers? Posters?


Think about which extension efforts have worked well (or not so well) in the community in the past.

Knowing which methods of communication are most commonly used in a community will help the field worker to "short list" tools that are likely to work in a particular setting. From this "short list" the community can choose.


The following list shows the main characteristics of tools (visual, oral or written). Each (•) is the value of the tool within each characteristic. For example, meetings have value to all characteristics, but mainly in the oral category.

2. An overview of the tools.

Tool Visual Oral Written
1. Group Meetings ••••
2. Drawing/Discussion ••• ••
3. Murals/Posters •••••  
4. Flannel Boards ••••
5. Open-ended Stories   •••••
6. Unserialized Posters •••• ••  
7. Community Case Study   •••• ••
8. Historical Mapping ••• ••
9. Semi-structured Interviews   •••• ••
10. Ranking, Rating, Sorting •••• ••  
11. Community Environmental Assessment •• •• ••
12. Survival Surveys •••   •••
13. Participatory Action Research •• •• ••
14. Maps and Mapping ••••
15. Farmer's Own Records •••   •••
16. Nursery Record Books •••   •••
17. Community Financial. Accounts •••   •••
18. S.W.O.L. Analysis ••••
19. Popular Theatre ••• •••  
20. Puppet Theatre ••• •••  
21. Community Directed Visual Images •••• ••  
22. Community Directed Tape Recordings   ••••••  
23. Community Directed Video ••• •••  

3. Sampling methods.

When collecting some kinds of information it is important to choose the sample (usually the people from whom you are going to obtain information) that will provide the most accurate information. If statistically valid information is required, rather than "a pretty good idea", it is best to get assistance with sampling methods.

Systematic sampling

Every person/house/seedling, etc. is given a number. Then every fifth, tenth, etc. person/house/seedling is chosen for the sample, until the required sample size is obtained.

Simple random sampling

Where records or lists of people/households/seedlings exist, a certain number of them can be chosen using a random sampling method. Assign each sample a number. Put all the assigned numbers of the people/households/seedlings in a basket and pick (without looking!) one by one, from the basket until the desired sample size is obtained. Random sampling methods are used to reduce bias.

Stratified random sampling

Groups or strata of the population of people/households/seedlings are separated (for example people with land and landless people/large households and small households/fruit tree species of seedlings and fuelwood species). Then each group/strata is treated as a separate case, and a sample established for each group/strata.

Cluster sampling

People/households/seedlings are chosen in groups or clusters and not on an individual basis. For example, a particularly dry area with poor growing conditions might provide one "cluster", while an area with rich soil and higher rainfall might provide another "cluster". Within each "cluster" a random sampling method is used.

Multi-stage random sampling

Samples are selected using simple random sampling, but at different times or stages. For example, one stage may be 100 farms. A random sample would be chosen from these 100 (it would be 15). The next stage would be seedlings planted. On these 15 farms there are 15,000 seedlings planted. A sample of seedlings would be 750 (5%), or 50 seedlings from each of the 15 households. Another sampling method (every 10th seedling in the field) can be used for each farm surveyed, so that there will be as little bias as possible in choosing which seedling to "survey".

Quota sampling

A certain number of samples (people/households/seedlings) or quota are required. The person taking the information goes out looking for information, arid stops when the quota is reached. For example, going to the market and questioning people who are willing to talk until the necessary quota has been completed. This method relies on personal judgement, such as who is willing to talk and who is at the market. The information can thus be biased.

4. Sample size

The following tables can help you to decide the sample size that is needed.

Total Sample Suggested Sample Percentage
100 15 15%
200 20 10%
500 50 10%
1000 50 5%

Tool 1: Group meetings

Group meetings

Tool description

A meeting is a coming together of people for a specific purpose. The meeting can involve a large number of people, or a smaller (under 10) number of people who focus on a specific problem or purpose. Meetings generally have a facilitator who encourages two-way communication. Smaller focus group meetings can be made up of people with common concerns (women, herders, people who are poor) and can speak comfortably together, share common problems and a common purpose. The outputs from focus group meetings can be presented to larger group meetings, giving a "voice" to those in the community who are unable to speak up in a larger meeting.

Purpose of she tool

• Give and receive information
• Discuss issues of relevance to the community
• Receive community agreement on an issue
• Help identify problems and solutions
• Plan activities and negotiate conflicts
• Validate evaluation results and formulate recommendations

Major benefits

A large number of people can be reached in a relatively short period of time.

Meetings are usually the first and most consistent exposure of the project staff to the community as a whole. It may very well be here that the cohesion and trust of the community is gained.

Community meetings with open invitations can mean that all those who wish to participate may do so.

Focus groups meetings can bring together those who have a particular problem; those who cannot speak up at large meetings (such as women or minority groups) or those who are peripherally involved, such as nomadic herders.

Regular small group meetings can foster group discipline, encourage a cooperative approach to identifying and solving problems, provide a forum for decision making by consensus, provide a practical means of developing shared leadership, promote activities, and make it possible to share experiences.

Using the tool

A lot of careful planning goes into a successful meeting. Two-way communication must be fostered, interest must be maintained and "work" must get done. These steps can help to plan a good meeting:

1. Have a clear purpose. Know what the meeting is to accomplish, from both outsiders' and insiders' perspectives. Obtain the approval and involvement of the local leaders. Be aware of the customs and protocol of the village.

2. Prepare a calendar of dates to help check day-to-day preparations.

3. Arrange a convenient time and place for the meeting. Consider the size and composition of the group. Remember that people have different time constraints, women may not be available to attend at the same time as men.

4. After establishing a time when most can attend, let people know about it well in advance.

5. If outsiders are involved, they may require accommodations and food.

6. Inform the community or the group of the purpose of the meeting using posters, home visits, public announcements, radio, telephone and/or word of mouth.

7. If entertainment is planned, ensure that it does not distract from the purpose of the meeting, but lends itself to the topic.

8. Plan/prepare handouts/materials to be distributed. Plan a method of distribution.

9. Plan focus groups and feedback mechanisms if necessary.

10. Plan a strategy to encourage discussions. For example: prepare leading questions; stop the slide show or film in the middle and open discussions; or have insiders create their own "endings". Think always of TWO-WAY communication, and how to adapt extension aids from one-way to two-way communication.

A community person such as a schoolteacher or local leader, with experience in meetings, can help facilitate the meeting. Consider that there may be factions of a community (women for example) who are unable or unwilling to speak up. Separate meetings with these people can be held, and their perspectives as a whole brought back to the larger meetings.

11. Expect that there will be high turnout at the beginning with decreases over time as only those especially interested or involved will attend. A focus group meeting can usually handle activities, with large meetings periodically to inform the whole community. If the turnout at meetings changes abruptly, look for the cause.

When facilitating meetings it is important to:

• prepare and check visual aids, audio aids, and electrical outlets or generator power well before meeting;

• ensure that there is a comfortable, pleasant atmosphere. Arrange snacks/drinks when appropriate;

• make the introduction brief, and tailor it specifically for those attending;

• make the purpose of the meeting clear in the introduction and place that purpose in the context of past, present and future events;

• begin and end at more-or-less the stated time;

• start with items/topics/issues on which it is easy to get agreement or acceptance of differences of opinion;

• allow conflicting opinions to emerge and try either to have these difference resolved or accepted by the group;

• summarize the proceedings, outline the decisions that have been made and identify "next steps". Confirm time and place of next meeting;

• try to end on a high "positive" note.

Precautions in using the tool

Beware of hidden agendas, groups who might use the meeting to bring up their own concerns. The facilitator might side-step this by saying, " That's hat's not the purpose of this meeting, you might want to hold another meeting to discuss that issue".

The facilitator of the meeting must have enough authority to keep the meeting on track, but enough sensitivity to include as many people in the discussions as possible.

The community or group may put the facilitator in a position of "expert" and expect them to carry the whole meeting. Develop methods that foster participation.

Tool 2: Drawing and discussion

Drawing and discussion

Tool description

The Drawing and Discussion tool is most useful in a culture with a strong visual tradition. Drawings are produced jointly by the community, or by individuals, and discussions focus around them. When one drawing is produced by a number of people, discussions can center on the relative importance of each new item introduced to the drawing. When individuals drawings are done these can be compared and/or discussed in a group.

Purpose of the tool

• Identify an issue or a problem
• Gauge community perception of a current situation, providing a record for comparison at a later date (for evaluation)
• Develop a group analysis
• Strengthen the connection between "thinking" and "doing"
• Promote discussion at points where bridging, reforming or focusing are needed
• Provide a visual objective statement

Major benefits

People who live in communities where there are class/language barriers or who are not well developed speakers can often express opinions and feelings more easily through drawing.

Using self-created visuals, individuals are able to see and jointly develop an analysis. It deepens group identity.

The expenses are relatively minimal, and if good materials are used, the "outputs" can be used at a later date for comparisons.

This tool can be used for planning on a macro (community) level or on a micro (farm) level. It can be used for comparative analysis with drawings from participatory baselines compared to drawings from Evaluations.

Using the tool

1. Gather materials: paper, cloth, wood; and drawing implements.

2. Introduce the idea to the group, making the purpose or focus of the drawing exercise clear to all.

3. Explain that the main purpose is not to produce a work of art, but to bring out discussion on a specific subject.

4. Let the group dynamics evolve. Often it is a simple matter of giving everyone a drawing implement and the opportunity to use it.

5. Group discussions which focus on the placement and the size of objects often indicate the relative importance of issues.

6. It can be useful to conduct this exercise with separate groups such as men and women; land owners and landless; rich and poor, and then compare drawings in the larger group meetings.

7. Having each member of the group draw their own picture and then using these to contribute to the larger, group produced picture may be useful to initiate the exercise.

8. When the drawing is completed (hopefully after much discussion), the group can analyze it. What does it tell them about the issue under discussion? Have they discovered things they did not know before? Have they seen things differently? The interpretations of the group should be recorded for future reference.

Precautions in using the tool

It may be difficult for outsiders to interpret drawings. Recording the group's interpretation will help overcome this.

People may at first be uncomfortable drawing, feeling that they cannot produce a "work of art". Ensure the group that the purpose of the exercise is to better understand an issue, rather than produce a masterpiece.

Tool 3: Murals and posters

Murals and posters

Tool description

Murals and posters are large, semi-permanent drawings designed by the community and
drawn by an artist. They are generally located where they can be frequently seen by
members of the community.

Purpose of the tool

• Develop visual objective statements
• Develop community extension messages
• Present past, present and future images for inspiration

Major benefits

The community becomes committed as they direct the artist.

Murals and/or posters are constant reminders to inspire activities and/or change attitudes.

Well located murals and posters can provide constant monitoring and evaluation.

Having an artist in the village can spur community interest and commitment

Using the tool

1. This tool has many of the characteristics of the: Drawing and Discussion tool, especially in the way the community goes through the collective discussion and analysis stages in order to direct the artist.

2. The community must choose and agree on content, presentation and location of the murals, especially if they are publically displayed.

3. An artist needs to be hired and understand the objectives of the exercise and the community directed process. The artist is guided and directed by the community at all stages of production of the mural or poster.

4. In order to give good direction to the artist, a first drawing can be done with the community (see Drawing and Discussion Tool). This can be given to the artist as a first step.

Precautions in using the tool

This tool will not be appropriate for non-visual cultures. The community must agree to the placement and content of the mural. Materials (paints and surface on which to paint) should be of high durability.

Tool 4: Flannel boards

Flannel boards

Tool description

Flannel boards are picture "paste-ups" which can be sequenced or prioritized in any order on a surface on which they stick (hence the name "flannel board"). The paste-ups are pictures of common problems (fire, poverty, soil erosion, drought, increasing population, etc.) and some common solutions to these problems. The subject of the paste-ups and the position or priority (if any) they will have on the flannel board are both discussed.

Purpose of the tool

• Raise, discuss, and rank issues according to priorities
• Identify and discuss appropriate community solutions to problems

Major benefits

In communities where issues may be too sensitive to discuss or openly identify, this tool is especially useful as it has "pre-identified" the issues.

This tool is especially useful in cultures with a visual orientation.

The pre-identified issues can trigger discussion by the group.

If this tool is used often it can monitor community needs, checking to see if the same problems are continually identified and ranked in the same way.

Using the tool

1. The facilitator should prepare for this exercise by having paste-ups that portray current and potentially sensitive issues. Extra materials should be available to allow for preparation of paste-ups of issues or solutions that may be raised by the group.

A good range of possible solutions should be available in paste-ups. A couple of inappropriate solutions can be useful to encourage the group to disagree with "set" solutions if they are not appropriate.

2. The facilitator should be aware that flannel boards can limit spontaneity and two-way communication unless they are done in a way which gives the group choices.

3. Introduce the exercise and the objectives of the exercise to a small group (6 - 10 people).

4. People should be physically involved putting the paste-ups on the flannel board, and moving them when placing in priority. This encourages participation.

5. Discussion should identify and rank the problems/ issues, and then identify possible solutions.

6. The results of the final composition of the flannel board should be recorded for future reference. This could be by a photograph or drawing of the completed board.

Precautions in using the tool

Flannel Boards can limit spontaneity and two-way communication unless they are done in a way which allows the group to make the choices.

Tool 5: Open-ended stories

Open-ended stories

Tool description

Open-ended Stories have either the beginning, middle or ending of a relevant story, purposely left out. The audience discuss what might happen in the part of the story that has been purposely deleted.

Usually, the beginning will tell a story about a problem, the middle will tell a story about a solution, and the end will tell a story of an outcome.

Purpose of the tool

• Facilitate discussion within a group
• Identify problems and/or solutions

Major benefits

This tool can be especially useful with non-literate or low-literate groups who have a rich oral or "folkstory" background.

This tool can be combined with a drama or puppet show.

This is a dynamic tool which elicits good group participation.

Purpose of the tool

1. The whole story needs to be designed before hand, so that the part which is left out "fits" the complete story. A story teller with good two-way communication skills is necessary. Depending on the amount of group discussion, telling the story and filling in the missing part may take up to 2 hours.

2. The storyteller must be able to tell the story, listen, and respond to the community analysis. Using two facilitators can help: one to tell the story and one to facilitate the community in filling in the "gap".

3. The story and the response need to be recorded. Tape recordings can be helpful in this instance, although it is commonly believed that people with an oral culture have excellent memories.

Precautions in using the tool

A good storyteller with good two-way communication skills may be difficult to find, and using two people (one to tell the story and one to encourage discussion) may be necessary.

Tool 6: Unserialized posters

Unserialized posters

Tool description

This tool consists of a set of pre-designed posters which depict local happenings, usually over a long period of time. The posters are then chronologically sequenced by the group to tell the story as it happened. The posters can cover the community's history, problems, beliefs, practices, and values.

Purpose of the tool

• Facilitate discussion
• Assist in making a chronological pictorial record of village history

Major benefits

Group discussion is encouraged as posters are sequenced.

This tool can be tried with different groups within the community, and the difference in sequencing can then be compared.

This tool is especially useful in communities with a visual oriented culture.

Using the tool

1. Explain the purpose of the exercise to the group.

2. Display all the pictures to the group, and open discussion regarding each picture to determine its relevance to the community.

3. If sequencing is done in a small group, posters can be moved into sequence by group members. If a large group is present, group consensus can determine the position of posters, which are displayed for all to see.

4. Temporary removal and reintroduction of one or more of the posters can help determine its importance, and encourage the same kinds of responses as Tool 5, Open-ended Stories.

Precautions in using the tool

The pre-designed posters may not depict an important event. Blank posters can be drawn on to portray the missing event.

Tool 7: Community case studies

Community case studies

Tool description

A case study is a description and analysis of a specific situation or issue that is done by insiders and outsiders together to represent the insiders perspective. Information gathering and analysis can consider the cultural context, gender relationships economic relationships, social and/or environmental aspects of a situation or issue.

Presentation can be in the form of drawings, popular theatre, songs, stories, photographs, slide-tape or video presentations. The community should present the case study in the form which is most comfortable to them.

Purpose of the tool

• Increase knowledge and understanding of any given community situation
• Provide information for Participatory Assessment, Baselines and Evaluations

Major benefits

Case studies (often called monographs) written in the local language, can be made into a reading book for local schools, increasing pride in local accomplishments and commitment to activities.

The production of a case study helps encourage focused discussion, and is a powerful tool to build self-sufficiency. In the process of developing a case study, insiders must analyse the reasons for change, as well as the possible effects of change.

Case studies encourage integrated thinking and awareness of the complexities of real situations.

Information that is useful to both insiders and outsiders is provided.

Using the tool

1. There should be one main issue or theme of the case study. These issues or themes must be placed in context and clearly understood to ensure that they remain the central focus. It is easy to get sidetracked as other important issues arise.

2. While field staff should guide and encourage the process of developing the case study, responsibility should be assigned to one or several delegated community members who can gather information and then obtain "validation" of the case study from the rest of the community.

3. Outsiders can provide valuable information from government records or urban markets, which insiders may not be able to readily access. Outsiders can "translate" information so that it is useful to insiders.

4. The method of presentation for the case study should be chosen early in the information gathering and analysis stage.

5. Other information gathering tools can be used to develop the case study.

Precautions in using the tool

The case study may take a long time and the initial enthusiasm may be lost. If one person provides consistent encouragement and support, this potential problem can be averted.

Tool 8: Historical mapping

Historical mapping

Tool description

This tool assists with the documenting of the history of the community or beneficiary group. It can do this either in pictures, writing or symbols. A timetable (either every five or ten years) is established, going back as far as people can remember. The timetable is focused on a specific subject such as natural or communal resource management, or village growth and its effect on the surrounding environment.

Purpose of the tool

• Stimulate discussion of why and how a problem arose.
• Provide community insight into the "root" of the problem.

Major benefits

Understanding the origin of a problem can provide both insiders and outsiders with a clean slate on which to start building activities.

Create a timeline to follow, (every five or ten years) with events to be filled in through group discussion.

Allow ample time for discussion around each time period. and make sure that all relevant issues are recorded.

Precautions in using the tool

Sensitive issues from the past may be raised. If this happens, the facilitator can move to the next time period and return to the sensitive issue later on. The group should not get stuck in deep discussion over sensitive issues.

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