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People involved in planning development work, including aquaculture, require a wide range of information. RRA and PRA were developed, at least initially, as tools to help development workers collect certain types of information more effectively. They should be regarded as one of a range of possible approaches to information collection and planning.

People working in development, whatever their field, need information in order to plan what they do. Besides the information which people can get from their technical background and training, and their experience, they also should have information about the areas where they are working, local conditions, the culture, social and economic circumstances of the people who are being affected by what they do.

Aquaculture workers are no exception. People planning aquaculture development have always required certain basic information about the environment in which they are working and the various physical factors which are likely to affect aquaculture activities. More and more aquaculture workers are now realising the importance of understanding the social, economic and cultural context of whatever projects or interventions they are involved in.

Obviously the type of information needed depends on the activities which aquaculture planners have in mind. For example, if you are planning a small-scale pilot project to demonstrate a particular aquaculture technique the sort of information you need is going to be very different from what you would require if you were organising a large-scale programme to introduce commercial fish farming on a regional level.

But the basic questions which aquaculture workers (like all development workers) have traditionally asked themselves when they are deciding on their information needs have tended to be the same in most situations:

Different organisations have, in the past, tended to respond to these questions in different ways. All too often, factors such as the number of people available for work, limits on the time available for collecting information and planning and a shortage of basic inputs like money and transport, dictate the way in which people answer these questions. Collecting information in the field can be costly and time-consuming

But even where resources and time have been available, the range of possibilities and tools which planners have had at their disposal to collect the information they need has been limited.

The case-study in Chapter 2 shows how one group of people working in aquaculture dealt with this problem using Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA), a relatively new approach which provides planners in all fields of development, including aquaculture, with an alternative tool for collecting the information they need to plan their activities.

Rapid Rural Appraisal or RRA (and Participatory Rural Appraisal or PRA develops certain aspects of RRA but is quite different in emphasis) can also be much more than just “a tool for collecting information”. These “extra” dimensions to RRA and PRA are to do with the extent to which local people play the leading role in collecting and analysing information and how these more participatory approaches to learning in the field lead on to a process of participatory, “bottom-up” planning.

Many people working with RRA, and particularly PRA, would regard these “extra” dimensions as being by far the most important elements in RRA and PRA approaches. Certainly, using participatory tools for information collection and planning can have very wide-ranging implications for the whole development process and these implications will be discussed at greater length in the following chapters. But for many people involved in development work, their first encounter with RRA and PRA is a means of collecting information more quickly and more effectively and using it for planning development. So this aspect of the approach has been taken as the starting point.

It also needs to be understood that RRA is just “a tool”. It is not a solution to all the problems and issues encountered in development. It is not even a solution to all the problems of information collection for development. It is simply an alternative approach which, in some circumstances, can usefully be applied.

In the following chapters, the relevance of RRA and PRA for workers in a specific technical field, aquaculture, will be described. This will include a review of what RRA and PRA are, how they could be used by professionals working in aquaculture and the circumstances in which they are applicable. But first of all, those who are not familiar with RRA may find it easier to get a general picture of what it is by looking at the case study in Chapter 2.

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