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Some of the most widely used RRA tools are reviewed below. This is not a “manual” on RRA but is intended to give those unfamiliar with RRA and PRA an idea of the range of techniques used in the approaches and to help them understand the discussion in Chapter 5 of the use of RRA tools in aquaculture.

“A thorough and systematic review of all possible existing sources of information about the topic or topics which are the focus of the RRA”.
General sources
Government statistics, departmental reports
projects reports, environmental impact studies for engineering projects
reports of other agencies or NGOs working in the area or on similar topics in other areas
University libraries - research theses, survey reports, anthropological publications, journals
local libraries and museums
mission records
historical accounts of the area
maps from government surveys, mining companies, local military or other sources
aerial photographs, satellite imagery
Aquaculture-related sources:
soil surveys
land-use surveys or maps
hydrological studies
reports from fisheries and aquatic biology institutions
fish marketing studies
local commercial bulletins, chamber of commerce records
bulletins of local associations of fish farmers, fish traders, fishermen
to collect all available information
to provide historical perspective
to provide basic data on population, environment, agriculture
to confirm the need for an RRA

“A meeting where a series of set tasks are performed and an output produced”
In RRA, workshops usually involve the RRA team, but also, if appropriate, local people, officials, technical specialists not taking part in the RRA full-time.
Key features:
everyone involved needs to be encouraged to contribute
someone needs to moderate to keep the workshop moving and ensure that the tasks set are performed
the output of the workshop needs to be recorded
some form of media for presenting ideas, findings and reports
Preparatory workshop
assembling team, introductions, briefing
training in RRA techniques (if required)
discussion and setting of RRA objectives
discussion topics for investigation
preparation of initial checklist of research topics
review of appropriate tools / approaches
planning of RRA
Periodic recurring workshops
periodic review of findings of field work
monitoring of progress of RRA
checking of coverage
review of techniques used / discussion of alternatives
triangulation - (each topic of research investigated by different team members using different techniques and different sources)
review of checklist of research topics
report updating
Final workshop
review of overall findings
report preparation
discussion of follow-up
participation of key non-participants (local officials, community leaders)

“Interviews which are planned ahead of time and have a specific focus but with a flexible format”.
Key features:
no set questions or questionnaires but instead topics for discussion from checklist
flexible in terms of where and how carried out - at home, in public places, at work sites, at the pond-side
ideally carried out by at least two team members - one to ask questions, another to record responses and discussion
key topics agreed upon ahead of time by team members involved and used as a guide for discussion to keep interview “on track”
accommodate local traditions regarding conversation, interaction with strangers, greetings, etc.
Main types:
Key informant interviews
Involving individuals who are thought to have special knowledge about a particular topic of set of topics (old people, community leaders, doctors, teachers, people involved in particular activities)
In aquaculture: fisheries/agriculture extension workers, fish farmers, fish traders, fish fry collectors or traders, sellers of aquaculture inputs.
Focus group discussions
Involving groups of people with an interest in a particular topic or issue. These might be groups of resource users, members of a particular social or occupational group or members of institutions.
In aquaculture : groups of fish farmers, fish traders, capture fishermen, fish fry sellers / collectors, input salesmen.
Individual or household interviews
Interviews with individuals or household groups either met by chance, or selected according to an approximative sampling of different social or economic groups within the community. These can be particularly important for understanding household survival strategies and intra-household dynamics.
In aquaculture : as for key informant interviews.
obtain information on specific issues
give local people opportunity to ask questions and discuss their own priorities
create forum for more general discussion from which new issues and topics for research can arise
create forum for use of RRA communication tools

“Tools for encouraging the people being interviewed to divide sets of items or activities into categories and rank them according to different criteria”.
Key features:
can be used as formal exercise or as aid to interviewing
provides focus for discussion
can be carried out with individuals or with groups
provides a clear, graphic form of presentation of local people's ideas
adaptable to local circumstances and can use materials readily understood and manipulated by local people
Main types:
Local classifications and taxonomies
Local people can be asked to list local names for items such as animal, plants, landtypes and then group different items, resources or activities together into categories and then explain the features between different categories
In aquaculture : taxonomies and classifications of fish species, land and soil types, land / pond tenure arrangements,
Matrix ranking
Using local classifications, the features or characteristics of groups of items or resources can be ranked according to different criteria such as reliability, seasonal stability, price, income generated, preferences.
In aquaculture : ranking of fish species according consumption, taste, price, profitability, ease of production, ranking of farming / livestock activities, priorities for water use, labour, fish use, land use.
Pair-wise ranking
A more detailed ranking can be obtained using pair-wise ranking which compares pairs of items in a group until all are placed in an order of priority according to certain criteria.
In aquaculture : as for matrix ranking
Indicative ranking
A notional ranking can be used in many circumstances to provide indications of relative size or importance of particular features, numbers of people involved in activities. Local materials such as stones or beans can be used to quickly indicate proportions or numbers in a more concrete fashion.
In aquaculture: on sketch maps, indicate distribution of ponds, fishing grounds, land tenure arrangements using proportional indicators such as stones, beans, etc.
to understand local people's priorities
to understand why certain choices are made
to understand the local environment and people's knowledge of it
to understand local terminology and classifications


A very simple ranking matrix was shown in the case study in Chapter 2. The two ranking exercises shown below are more complex. The first matrix shows how a ranking exercise could be used to distinguish the relative involvement of different social and occupational groups in exploiting different fisheries resources; including fish ponds, in a floodplain area. Here some easily available materials, such as stones or beans, are being used to express the proportions of a particular resource used by different social groups - men and women, adults, children and old people, and different occupational groups based on those identified by local people as being involved in fishing.

In ranking exercises of this kind care has to be taken that it is clear what is being ranked - in this case relative proportion of overall resources use. RRA teams also have to make sure that they have thought through the numbers of “counters” used in each category. In this case, 10 stones have been given for each comparative group - i.e. men and women using pond fisheries - so that the result can readily be expressed as a simple proportion. But clearly this does not tell us which of the various resource categories is most important for each user group. Ranking could also be attempted vertically to clarify the relative importance of the resources. This would help in trying to assess the current importance of pond use for fisheries relative to other sources of fish.

In the second matrix, the focus is on changes over time. In this case, the team doing an RRA about current aquaculture development in a particular area might want to see how sources of fish in a local market have changed so that the relative importance of aquaculture can be assessed. A fish dealer, or group of fish dealers, might be asked to show, again using stones or some other kind of counters, the relative amounts of fish bought from different sources now and in the past. This could be combined with a discussion of changes in the species composition of fish sold. The time periods used could be chosen by the team or, better still, be based on prior discussion with local people which had identified events or periods which people readily recognised based on political, economic or resource changes.

and SPECIES SOLD : pre-1980 to present

“Combinations of writing and graphics which describe certain features or issues more clearly than a simple written or oral description”
Key features:
properly used, they can help communication by overcoming language barriers
provide a structure to information which can help both the people providing that information (local people) and those using it or passing it on to others
may be very location and culture specific
provide a focus for discussions and questioning
Main types:
Venn diagrammes
Particularly useful for illustrating the relationships between different groups and institutions within communities, with points of contact, overlaps and relative sizes.
In aquaculture: social, economic and institutional characteristics of fish farmers, land owning groups, institutional structured affecting land and water use or distribution.
Graphs and bar charts
Simple graphs or bar charts can be used to present quantitative data, even if the quantities are approximative.
In aquaculture: relative production levels from ponds, quantities of inputs used, levels of fish consumption, earnings, expenditure.
Flow charts / decision trees
Flow charts can be used to illustrate practically any process : the use of certain resources for different activities, the movement of resources within the farming system, patterns of decision-making or genealogies.
In aquaculture: production processes, input flows (fertilisers, fish fry, water, labour), resource flows in pond/farming systems, decision processes over input use / land use / investment decisions / marketing options
Pie charts
Pie charts can be used to represent proportions and to look at time-use. Daily activity patterns can be presented in this form.
In aquaculture : relative income from fish farming and other sources, relative use of inputs / outputs.
to provide approximate quantification and relative proportions of any activity, phenomenon, group, etc.
to illustrate processes
to provide graphic representations understandable to local people and outsiders


In Chapter 2, some examples are presented of Venn diagrammes used to analyse institutions and their responsibilities and pie charts to look at time use by different gender groups in rural communities.

Here some other examples of graphic representation are given. The first diagram shows the flows of fish and fingerlings among different ponds and ditches in a village. In this particular case, a single respondent, “S.”, has been interviewed about the various ponds and ditches which he uses for his various aquaculture-based activities. This is based from an actual case-study from Bangladesh where a similar exercise revealed an extremely developed and intricate system of use of every available body of water in a particular village for the various stages of the aquaculture process. The first step was to draw up a diagram like this with a key informant and use it as a basis for subsequent conversation (based on Shah et al., 1994). This type of diagram can be produced on the ground and used as a focus for any discussion of how the available water resources in a community are used, tenurial arrangements of different types of water body, and the level of technical competence in aquaculture of community members.

While this final result is relatively complicated, the version initially produced together with the local respondent was limited to the drawings on the ground of various ponds and ditches and arrows indicating movements of fish and fingerlings between one and the other. Additional information about each pond was then added based on more detailed questioning.

Similar diagrammes can be used to analyse the flow of resources within any rural system, whether on a community or household basis.

The second diagram shows is an impact diagram for the conversion of an existing domestic pond in a rural community for fish production. Respondents could be encouraged to create such a diagram while talking about possible effects of aquaculture development. It might also usefully be used by an RRA team once they have already developed their own ideas about possible impacts and want to cross-check them with local people.


-perennial pond or ditch
-seasonal pond or ditch
-fish or fingerlings in / out of ponds or ditches
-description of ponds or ditches


“Drawings or models, using whatever media is appropriate, which represent the local environment and key features of that environment.”
Key features:
a means of representing the area being studied and its characteristics which can involve local people
a good introductory activity to get range of local people active in the appraisal
can make use of any appropriate local media
provides concrete focus for subsequent discussions
an output easily understood by local people
Main types :
Sketch mapping and modelling
These can use either maps prepared in the field with the participation of local people or base maps prepared prior to the RRA. Mapping with local people can become an important forum for discussion of local problems and needs and involve a large number of people in the RRA. Use of base maps is more for team members.
In aquaculture : general understanding of area and local priorities
Thematic mapping
Using general sketch maps as a basis, specific themes or topics can be mapped, such as land ownership, poverty distribution, water run-off.
In aquaculture : mapping of terrain, contours and water run-off, land use, land tenure, land ownership, local water bodies, irrigation systems, fish markets
Resource mapping
The distribution, ownership and the use of different resources can be shown using a base map. This can then be developed into a zoning of the resource features of the area.
In aquaculture : as for thematic mapping
Historical mapping
Maps prepared by local people to illustrate the way a community or area has changed. Old maps can be used as a source as well.
In aquaculture : changes in land tenure, land ownership, land use, catchment areas, water run-off, water bodies, wetlands.
to understand the spatial distribution of aquaculture-related factors
to familiarise outside teams with the area
to understand local people priorities and understanding of their environment


Some examples of sketch maps were shown in the case study in Chapter 2. But maps can be used for a wide range of purposes. As a starting point, local people should usually be allowed to make their own maps and decide what they think should be shown on their map. Subsequently, RRA team members can focus people's attention on particular issues or themes and ask them to be entered on maps as well. One typically useful way of using mapping is to encourage men and women to illustrate their respective priorities and world-view. This could of considerable importance in determining what roles men and women respectively could play in aquaculture development. The example below is not specifically related to aquaculture but illustrates the point well. Depending on the prevalent gender roles in a particular society, men's maps and women's maps are likely to differ considerably. In this case, from Sierra Leone, men's perception of the world is considerably more wide-ranging than women's and the locations and landmarks they indicate are very different from those of women.

with hoped for changes

(based on Welbourn, 1991)

1. Hospital
2. School
3. Well
4. Well
5. Well
6. Administration hall

with hoped for changes

(based on Welbourn, 1991)

1. Hospital (note size)
2. School
3. Football field
4. Well near football field
5. Well between school & hospital
6. Well in middle of town
7. Latrines near school field for children
“Tools to assist in ensuring that observations by RRA teams are thorough, careful and well-recorded”.
Key features :
includes more formal exercises involving groups of people and prior planning as well as quick techniques for use during interviews
can be used to involve range of people in appraisal (transect walks)
focuses attention on details of environment
makes use of local people's observations
Main types :
Transect walks
Walks taken in company with local people along transects through the area under study. The transects take in as wide a range of environments and conditions as possible and provide an opportunity to observe activities, agro-ecological conditions and talk to people about them. Observations can be recorded as drawings or notes. These can be developed into detailed transects through the community or area showing agroecological zones, problems and potential, crops, etc.
In aquaculture: transects of catchment areas, understanding land use patterns, zoning of land areas, problems and potential
Key indicators
Particular features which can be taken as indicators of more general conditions can be identified either prior to or during the appraisal so that they can be measured or looked for during field work. Indicators can be identified for relative wealth or poverty, social and economic status or ecological and environmental conditions.
In aquaculture: key indicators relating to ponds, their use and potential - water quality, fish species and size; key indicators of land suitability - soil quality, current use; fish demand and consumption indicators - fish in markets, prices, children's fishing; social and economic indicators-relative wealth status, housing conditions, use of fish in ceremonies.
to ensure that all observations during appraisals are used and recorded
to structure observations so that they produce usable outputs
to focus attention of appraisal teams on local features that may otherwise go unobserved


The diagram below illustrates the way in which transects can focus attention on key issues affecting different areas in and around a community. In this case, this includes problems relating to existing aquaculture activities, but it also highlights other, perhaps more important, problems in surrounding areas.

Such diagrammes can be drawn directly with local people referring to local landmarks and features, with discussion then systematically focusing on uses and problems.


Activities/ Land-useRotan collection Firewood collection Hunting Collection of wild leaves, rootsShort-term crops
  • green vegetables
  • legumes
  • root crops
Livestock raising
  • pigs
Wood storage
Long-term crops
  • cocoa
  • fruit trees
  • coconuts
Trials of catfish cultureHousing Long-term crops Brick-makingTransport of produce
  • livestock disease
  • land-use patterns decided by original landowners (suku Wate)
  • theft
  • lack of advice from fisheries extension service
  • no additional feed
  • limited extension support
  • transport expensive

“Tools for representing and analysing dynamic features of a community or environment”.
Key features:
makes use of graphics to clarify processes
establishes connections between different sets of factors and conditions
takes account of past changes, current conditions and predicts future trends
Main types:
These can be used to represent periods of time up to the present and significant events which have occurred in the past. These can provide the basis for discussions of changes and trends.
In aquaculture: timelines of changes in water use, aquaculture development, fish availability and demand, land use, floods, catchment area changes.
Seasonal calendars
Understanding in detail seasonal patterns of crop production, labour demand, consumption, income and expenditure is fundamental to the understanding of rural communities. All activities can be placed in a seasonal context using simple charts.
In aquaculture: calendars of labour and time-use, agricultural activity, rainfall, water availability, fish consumption, ceremonial calendar.
Process diagrammes
Particularly important events in the past can be analysed using process diagrammes showing causes and effects in time.
In aquaculture: decision-making processes over resource-use, water distribution in irrigation schemes, livelihood activities, consumption and expenditure patterns.
Historical maps and transects
Maps and transects can be prepared to illustrate historical changes based on the accounts of local people.
In aquaculture: historical changes in water bodies, catchment, land use and tenure, water use and tenure.
Oral histories
Stories told by individuals or life histories can be used to cross-check accounts of the history of the community as a whole.
In aquaculture: stories of involvement in aquaculture and fisheries, accounts of changes in fish availability, water supply, occupation.
to understand conditions outside the period covered by the RRA
to understand processes leading up to current conditions and trends for the future


Two examples of diagrammes illustrating processes are shown below.

The first diagram shows a seasonal calendar which relates the aquaculture activity of a household to all the other elements in that household's seasonal survival strategy. The creation of such seasonal calendars is of key importance in understanding how people combine activities through the year and where there are peaks and troughs of income, food supply and employment. The seasonal dimensions of all of these can have important implications for existing or proposed aquaculture activities.

Seasonal calendars like this can either be drawn using bars to indicate period, or counters, like the stones here, can be used to give a better idea of relative proportions.

The second diagram illustrates long-term changes in patterns of fisheries exploitation for fishing communities in an area where some fishers have moved into fish culture as their options for exploiting capture fisheries have been reduced.

The basis for this map came from drawings on the ground showing the various water bodies in the area which fishers used to exploit and comparing it with those exploited at present. A similar diagram could be used to see how patterns of fish sale have changed and so give important indications regarding the local market for fish.



“Meetings involving the community or target group as a whole as opposed to focus groups”.
Key features:
consensus building
conflict resolution
group discussion of issues, problems and appraisal findings
Main types:
Introductory meetings
Communities can be called together at the beginning of an appraisal in order to explain the purpose of the RRA and elicit support and co-operation. Such meetings can be developed into exercises such as community mapping and group transect walks involving a cross-section of community members. In some cases such introductory meetings may be fundamental in order to put people at ease regarding the presence of strangers in the community.
Community workshops:
Workshops held during the course of the RRA to analyse findings and review progress can, if appropriate, be expanded to involve members of the community or even the community as a whole. Care has to be taken regarding the expectations which such meetings can raise.
Presentation of RRA findings
At the end of an RRA, a community meeting can be called to present the RRA findings back to the community. This provides an opportunity for local people to cross-check the findings of the team and provide their own comments. Where follow-up action is envisaged, such meetings can be important in ensuring general consensus regarding problems and issues identified and action to be taken in the future.
to elicit greater involvement of local people in appraisal
to clarify purpose and objectives of appraisal
to present findings of appraisal and elicit comments and corrections

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