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Four broad categories of RRA are outlined and some general examples of their different uses given.

The guidelines for RRA given above obviously leave plenty of room for people to combine different tools and features of the approach according to their own requirements. Not surprisingly, given this flexibility, RRA has been used in an increasingly wide range of circumstances for many different purposes - this is exactly why there is often confusion over “what RRA is”.

However, from the early days of development of RRA four broad categories of RRA “types” have generally been identified and, provided the limits of any categorisation are remembered, they are still valid. These “types” were first suggested by McCracken, Pretty and Conway at IIED in their work on RRA in the late 1980s (1987).

These categories are:

Boxes 7, 8 and 9 give a few examples of potential uses of these different types of RRA while the final section of the chapter explains why “Participatory” RRAs are dealt with separately

Planning for integrated development -
In integrated or area development programmes, an RRA or series of RRAs is often conducted early in the planning phase of the programme to identify priority problems and issues in the communities covered.
Research on rural systems -
RRA can be used to understand the principal features of rural systems in an area in order to identify priority fields for intervention.
Assessment of resource use -
Agencies concerned with a particular resource or set of resources, such as forests or water, can use RRA to understand how these resources are being used and what their conditions are.
Identifying locations for development activities - Technical agencies looking for suitable locations for development projects or pilot activities use RRAs to quickly assess the suitability of a wide number of sites.

4.1 Exploratory RRAs

These are RRAs that aim to help development workers and planners learn about rural conditions in particular areas with a view to designing appropriate development activities. Those carrying out the appraisal may not know very much about the area they are looking at and want to find out as much as possible that is relevant to their work.

Exploratory RRAs look at a wider range of topics and issues and try to understand the connections between them. They can use a variety of parameters as a starting point : a region, an area, a water catchment, a group of communities, a social or occupational group or a particular resource.

Exploratory RRAs need to be genuinely multi-disciplinary so that they cover as many aspects of the particular area of focus as possible and identify unexpected connections within and around the system being investigated. They are thus more likely to involve larger teams and a greater range of institutions and disciplines. Clearly, the more different points of view which can be represented on the team for an exploratory RRA, the more complete the coverage of different aspects of local conditions is likely to be. On the other hand, a team which is too large can become unwieldy and difficult to manage, as well as being intrusive for local communities.

Researching specific features -
To rapidly assess a specific feature of local conditions, for example the nutritional importance of fish, researchers can use a focused RRA to obtain a qualitative picture of fish consumption in a particular area or among a particular group of people
Identifying participants in trials -
To organise on-farm trials of new crops or cropping practices a project might carry out a topical RRA to identify farmers and plots where such trials could be carried out.
Understanding resource-use -
Projects concerned with natural resource planning use RRAs to understand the use-patterns of particular sets of resources.
Testing hypotheses -
Researchers or development workers use RRAs to test a particular hypothesis or idea which may have been suggested by their work.

4.2 Topical RRAs

Topical RRAs focus on a more specific range of issues with a view to understanding them more completely and in greater depth. Those carrying out the appraisal already know something about the area they are working in, and perhaps about the topic of the appraisal, but they want to find out more.

A topical RRA could focus on a particular issue uncovered during the course of a more general, “exploratory” RRA. It could aim to clarify contradictions in data from a larger, formal survey. It could directly address problems in the particular field of concern of a development agency (such as aquaculture).

The teams carrying out topical RRAs can be smaller than those involved in exploratory RRAs. But even if the focus is more limited, the need for a variety of different points of view is just as important if a systematic understanding of problems is to be achieved. Particularly where the people involved are already familiar with the area and have well-developed ideas and opinions about local conditions, specific efforts should be made to involve new people who may be able to provide an important alternative viewpoint.

4.3 Monitoring and Evaluation RRAs

RRAs can also be used for the monitoring and evaluation of on-going activities. Such RRAs could be very similar to topical RRAs, taking a selected range of issues and assessing the impact of development activities on them. They could also be more exploratory, looking at conditions in general and trying to understand how they have been affected by a project or programme.

Many agencies require evaluations which measure the performance of activities in quantitative terms. But RRAs can be used to check on whether the parameters measured by an evaluation might exclude some important qualitative factors. They can provide corroboration of other methods of evaluation.

Performance review -
RRAs can be used to rapidly assess the progress and performance of a development activity, even on a routine basis or combined with quantitative monitoring.
Qualitative monitoring of impacts -
RRAs can be used on a regular basis to monitor qualitatively the impacts of an activity or project on beneficiaries or on other people not targeted by the activity.
Trouble-shooting -
RRAs are well-suited to checking on possible problems in a development activity and investigating difficulties in implementation.
Qualitative evaluation -
An RRA could be used as part of the evaluation of a project, testing the opinions of a large range of interested groups regarding the effects of development interventions, rather than trying to measure a few parameters.

4.4 Participatory RRAs

The “definition” of Participatory RRAs has become progressively less clear as Participatory Rural Appraisal (or PRA) has developed as a distinct methodology. The absence of the term “rapid” is significant as PRAs are often very time-consuming. For the purposes of this document, the discussion of Participatory RRAs is included in the discussion of PRA below.

However, attention needs to be paid to the terms used by some practitioners. Some writers and field workers would make a clear distinction between a Participatory RRA (which is fairly rapid) which emphasises the elements which encourage participation by local people, and a PRA which is completely oriented towards initiating a process of participatory planning where local people are the main actors involved. The difference can be very important. If the two categories are placed together in this paper it is principally with a view to simplifying the presentation for people who are working in the field.

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