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Chapter 6 - Using rapid or participatory rural appraisal

Jules N. Pretty and Simplice D. Vodouhê

Jules N. Pretty is the Director of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development, London. Simplice D. Vodouhê is a Lecturer in Extension Science, Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Benin, Cotonou, Benin.

Conventional methodologies for learning
Alternative systems of learning and action
The different interpretations of participation
Participatory methods
The trustworthiness of findings
Towards a new professionalism in extension

Conventional methodologies for learning

Agricultural institutions of all types have long relied on questionnaire surveys and quick rural visits to gather information on rural people and resources. Samples of people selected from a larger population are asked the same set of questions, and so it is assumed that the interviewers do not influence the process. Many informants are selected to account for all variation, and the resulting data are statistically analysed. Such surveys are used at practically all levels, from the large-scale census to small-scale, village-level research; by governments and NGOs; and for planning, research, and extension.

But there are problems with questionnaire surveys. The questionnaire designer has to determine the questions well in advance. Yet those who design these instruments cannot know which issues are important for local people. So they tend to increase the number of questions to ensure that all relevant issues are covered. This leads, in some cases, to forms of absurd length, with several hundred questions taking hours to administer. Rarely is attention paid to the nature of the interviewing process. In the structured survey, many of the contextual grounds for understanding are systematically removed or ignored, and all too often, the ill-trained enumerator further influences the process by prompting with answers. Despite many criticisms of this methodology (Chambers, 1983, 1992c; Fowler & Mangione, 1990; Rhoades, 1990; Gill, 1993), official surveys, such as sample censuses of agriculture or household expenditure surveys, remain remarkably popular.

At the other end of the spectrum are the brief field visits made by development professionals. But such "rural development tourism" is full of biases that misguide professionals into believing they have seen an accurate picture of rural life. Chambers (1983) characterized these biases into four main types: spatial biases, in which the better-off people living near roads and services are visited, with those who are remote and thus poorer being missed; time biases, in which visits are made during the seasons when roads are open and at times of day when people are busy in the fields; people biases, in which professionals speak only to rural leaders and articulate people who represent only the elite, dominant, and wealthy groups; and project biases, in which a showcase village or technology is repeatedly shown to outsiders, who get the impression that this is typical of all efforts.

What all this implies is that institutions come to believe that this selective information represents a comprehensive picture. Professionals are left with falsely favourable impressions of the impact of their work, and so they themselves have few reasons for initiating or encouraging change. Because of these flaws in conventional methods, development practitioners began in recent years to seek alternatives that avoided some of these problems.

Alternative systems of learning and action

Partly because of these flaws in conventional approaches, there has been a recent rapid expansion in participatory methods and approaches. These began with the development of data-gathering methods which came to be known as rapid rural appraisal. During the late 1980s, this growing experience was supplemented by drawing upon long-established traditions that had put participation, action research, and adult education at the forefront of attempts to emancipate people. To the wider body of development programmes, these approaches represent a significant departure from standard practice. Some of the changes under way are remarkable. In a growing number of government and nongovernment institutions, extractive research is being superseded by investigation and analysis by local people themselves. Methods are being used not just for local people to inform outsiders, but also for people's own analysis of their own conditions (Chambers, 1992b, 1992c; Pretty & Chambers, 1993; Pretty, 1995).

The interactive involvement of many people in differing institutional contexts has promoted innovation and ownership, with many variations in the way that systems of learning have been put together. There are many different terms (Box 1), but they have the following important common principles (Pretty, 1994):

· A defined methodology and systemic learning process. The focus is on cumulative learning by all the participants and, given the nature of these approaches as systems of learning and interaction, their use has to be participative.

· Multiple perspectives. A central objective is to seek diversity, rather than to characterize complexity in terms of average values. The assumption is that different individuals and groups make different evaluations of situations, which lead to different actions. All views of activity or purpose are heavy with interpretation, bias, and prejudice, and this implies that there are multiple possible descriptions of any real-world activity.

· Group learning processes. All involve the recognition that the complexity of the world will only be revealed through group inquiry and interaction. This implies three possible mixes of investigators, namely, those from different disciplines, from different sectors, and from outsiders (professionals) and insiders (local people).

· Context specific. The approaches are flexible enough to be adapted to suit each new set of conditions and actors, and so there are multiple variants.

· Facilitating experts and stakeholders. The methodology is concerned with the transformation of existing activities to try to bring about changes which people in the situation regard as improvements. The role of the "expert" is best thought of as helping people in their situation carry out their own study and so achieve something. These facilitating experts may be stakeholders themselves.

· Leading to sustained action. The learning process leads to debate about change, and debate changes the perceptions of the actors and their readiness to contemplate action. Action is agreed upon, and implementable changes will therefore represent an accommodation among the different conflicting views. The debate or analysis both defines changes which would bring about improvement and seeks to motivate people to take action to implement the defined changes. This action includes local institution building or strengthening, thus increasing the capacity of people to initiate action on their own.

These alternative systems of learning and action imply a process of learning leading to action. A more sustainable agriculture, with all its uncertainties and complexities, cannot be envisaged without all actors being involved in continuing processes of learning.

The different interpretations of participation

In recent years, an increasing number of analyses of projects have shown that participation by local people is one of the critical components of success in irrigation, livestock, water, and agriculture sectors (USAID, 1987; Reij, 1988; Finsterbusch & van Wicklen, 1989; Bagadion & Korten, 1991; Cernea, 1991; Guijt, 1991; Pretty & Sandbrook, 1991; Uphoff, 1992; Narayan, 1993; World Bank, 1994; Pretty, 1995).The terms "people's participation" and "popular participation" have now become part of the normal language of many development agencies (Adnan, Nurul Alam, & Brustinow, 1992; Bhatnagar & Williams, 1992). This has brought new dangers. The term "participation" has been used to justify the extension of state control and to build local capacity and self-reliance; it has been used for data collection and for interactive analysis. Participation has often centred on encouraging local people to sell their labour in return for food, cash, or materials. Yet these material incentives distort perceptions, create dependencies, and give the misleading impression that local people are supportive of externally driven initiatives (Reij, 1988; Bunch, 1991; Kerr, 1994). This means that "more often than not, people are asked or dragged into participating in operations of no interest to them, in the very name of participation" (Rahnema, 1992).

Box 1. A selection of terms and names for alternative systems of participatory learning and action.


Agroecosystems Analysis


Beneficiary Assessment


Development Education Leadership Team


Diagnóstico Rurale Participative


Farmer Participatory Research


Groupe de Recherche et d'Appui pour l'Auto-Promotion Paysanne


Methode Accélérée de Recherche Participative


Participatory Analysis and Learning Methods


Participatory Action Research


Participatory Research Methodology


Participatory Rural Appraisal and Planning


Participatory Technology Development


Participatory Urban Appraisal


Planning for Real


Process Documentation


Rapid Appraisal


Rapid Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Systems


Rapid Assessment Procedures


Rapid Assessment Techniques


Rapid Catchment Analysis


Rapid Ethnographic Assessment


Rapid Food Security Assessment


Rapid Multi-perspective Appraisal


Rapid Organizational Assessment


Rapid Rural Appraisal


Samuhik Brahman (Joint trek)


Soft Systems Methodology


Theatre for Development


Training for Transformation


Visualization in Participatory Programmes

These many interpretations of the term participation can be arranged into seven clear types (Box 2). These range from passive participation, where people are involved merely by being told what is to happen, to self-mobilization, where people take initiatives independent of external institutions. It is clear from this typology that the term participation should not be accepted without the term participation should not be accepted without appropriate qualification. If the objective of development is to achieve sustainable development, then nothing less than functional participation should suffice.

Box 2. A typology of participation: how people participate in development programmes and projects.


Characteristics of Each Type

1. Passive Participation

People participate by being told what is going to happen or has already happened. It is a unilateral announcement by an administration or project management without any listening to people's responses. The information being shared belongs only to external professionals.

2. Participation in Information Giving

People participate by answering questions posed by extractive researches using questionnaire surveys or similar approaches. People do not have the opportunity to influence proceedings, as the findings of the research are neither shared nor checked for accuracy.

3. Participation by Consultation

People participate by being consulted, and external agents listen to views. These external agents define both problems and solutions and may modify these in the light of people's responses. Such a consultative process does not concede any share in decision making, and professionals are under no obligation to take on board people's views.

4. Participation for Material Incentive

People participate by providing resources, for example labour, in return for food, cash, or other material incentives. Much on-farm research falls in this category, as faermers provide the fields but are not involved in the experimentation or the process of learning. It is very common to see this called participation, yet people have no stake in prolonging activities when the incentives end.

5. Funcional Participation

People participate by forming groups to meet predetermined objectives related to the project, which can involve the development or promotion of externally initiated social organization. Such involvement does not tend to be at early stages of project cycles or planning, but rather after major decisions have been made. These instructions tend to be dependent on external initiators and facilitators, but may become self-dependent.

6. Interactive Participation

People participate in joint analysis, which leads to action plans and the formation of new local institutions or the strengthening of existing ones. It tends to involve interdisciplinary methodologies that seek multiple perspectives and make use of systemic and structured learning processes. These groups take control over local decisions, and so people have a stake in maintaining structures or practices.

7. Self-Mobilization

People participate by taking initiative independent of external institution to change systems. They develop contacts with external institutions for resources and technical advice they need, but retain control over how resources are used. Such self-initiated mobilization and collective action may or may not challenge existing inequitable distribution of wealth and power.

Source: Pretty (1994), adapted from Adnan et al. (1992).

But the dominant applications of participation are rarely better than instrumental. A recent study of 230 rural development institutions employing some 30,000 staff in 41 countries of Africa found that people participated in very different ways (Guijt, 1991). Participation was most likely to mean simply providing information to external agencies. Another study of 121 rural water supply projects in 49 countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America found that participation was the significant factor contributing to project effectiveness, maintenance of water systems, and economic benefits (Narayan, 1993). Even though most of the projects referred to community participation or made it a specific project component, only 21 per cent scored high on interactive participation. Yet when people were involved in decision making during all stages of the project, from design to maintenance, the best results occurred. When they were just involved in information sharing and consultations, then results were much poorer.

Great care must therefore be taken over using and interpreting the term participation. It should always be qualified by reference to the type of participation. What is important is to ensure that those using the term define ways of shifting from the more common passive and incentive-driven participation towards the interactive end of the spectrum. A critical way to do this is to ensure the appropriate use of interactive and participatory methods.

Participatory methods

The creative ingenuity of practitioners worldwide has greatly increased the range of participatory methods in use (see RRA Notes, 1988-1994; IDS/IIED, 1994; Pretty et al., 1995; Chambers, 1992a, 19920; Mascarenhas et al., 1991; KKU, 1987; Conway, 1987). Many have been drawn from a wide range of nonagricultural contexts and were adapted to new needs. The methods can be put into four classes: for group and team dynamics, for sampling, for interviewing and dialogue, and for visualization and diagramming. These methods collected into unique approaches, or assemblages of methods, constitute systems of learning and action. In this section, some key methods are briefly described.

Participation calls for collective analysis and good rapport. Even a sole researcher must work closely with local people. Ideally, though, teams of investigators work together in interdisciplinary and intersectoral teams. By working as a group, the investigators can approach a situation from different perspectives, carefully monitor one another's work, and carry out a variety of tasks simultaneously. Groups can be powerful when they function well, because performance and output are likely to be greater than the sum of the individual members. But shared perceptions, essential for group or community action, have to be carefully negotiated. Yet the complexity of multidisciplinary team work is generally poorly understood. Various workshop and field methods are used to facilitate this process of group formation:

1. Team contracts. Team contracts developed by all the team members help to ensure good group dynamics and may include agreements to hold evening discussions and morning brainstorming sessions. One person may be elected to monitor team interactions to provide feedback. The monitor can make a note of each member's location and record interactions by drawing a circle around individuals' names when they speak or an arrow from talker to person being talked to, with duration of speech recorded in seconds. The results are used simply for showing team members how the discussion developed. It then becomes clear who has dominated and who was quiet.

2. The night halt. Rapport between outsiders and villagers is facilitated by staying in the village. Many have made this an essential part of participatory analysis and planning. It provokes change in outsiders' attitudes: they sleep and eat as villagers do; it allows for early morning and evening discussions when people are less busy; and it is an explicit commitment by outsiders to village life.

3. Work sharing. When outsiders are taught some-thing by villagers, roles are reversed. Professionals soon learn how much skill is required, say, to plough a furrow, transplant rice, weed, lop tree fodder, cut firewood, dig compost, and wash clothes. Such activities prompt changes in attitude and help to build rapport.

4. Rapid report writing, with self-correcting notes. It is essential to record, as a team, the key findings before members disperse to their own organizations. Report writing is made easier by writing a brief summary of how diagrams were constructed and of the key findings. Individuals can be encouraged to keep a private diary or series of notes to focus on things they would like to improve the next time.

5. Shared presentations. The key findings should always be presented to villagers and outsiders. This is an important opportunity for cross-checking and feedback. Professionals present and invite comment and criticism. This is a fundamental reversal of roles and is crucial to establishing the trustworthiness of the findings.

To ensure that multiple perspectives are represented, practitioners must be clear about who is participating. Communities are rarely homogeneous, so there is always the danger of assuming that those participating are representative. Those missing, though, are usually the poorest and most disadvantaged. Sampling is an essential part of these participatory approaches, and several methods are available:

6. Transect walks and direct observation. These are systematic walks with key informants through the area of interest, observing, asking, listening, looking, and seeking problems and solutions. The findings can be mapped on a transect diagram. Most transect walks result in the outsiders discovering surprising local practices such as indigenous conservation practices, multiple uses of plants, and a great variety of crops. It has been instructive for many professionals to realize how much they do not see or do not think to ask about.

7. Wealth rankings and social maps. Wealth ranking is used to classify households according to relative wealth or well-being. Informants sort cards, each with one household name on it, into piles. The wealthiest are put at one end, the poorest at the other, and as many piles as desired are made. The process is repeated with at least three informants. Another method is to conduct the ranking directly on a social map. Villagers are then asked to indicate on the houses the relative wealth classes. Individual assets such as land ownership, animals, and tools can be marked for each household. Wealth rankings are useful for leading into other discussions on livelihoods and vulnerability; producing a baseline against which future intervention impact can be measured; providing a sample frame to cross-check the relative wealth of informants who have been or will be interviewed; and producing local indicators of welfare.

Sensitive interviewing and dialogue are a third element of these systems of participatory learning. For the reconstructions of reality to be revealed, the conventional dichotomy between the interviewer and respondent should not be permitted to develop. Interviewing is therefore structured around a series of techniques that promote a sensitive and mutually beneficial dialogue. This should appear more like a structured conversation than an interview:

8. Semi-structured interviews (SSI). This is guided interviewing and listening in which only some of the questions and topics are predetermined; other questions arise during the interview. The interviews appear informal and conversational, but are actually carefully controlled and structured. Using a guide or checklist, the multidisciplinary team poses open-ended questions and probes topics as they arise. New avenues of questioning are pursued as the interview develops. SSIs are a central part of all participatory methods.

9. Types, sequencing, and chains of interviews. Many types of interviews may be combined in sequences and chains. These include key informant interviews, by asking who the experts are and then putting together a series of interviews (e.g., men on ploughing, women on transplanting and weeding, shopkeepers for credit and inputs); and group interviews, which may be groups convened to discuss a particular topic (focused or specialist groups), groups comprising a mix of people whose different perceptions illuminate an issue (structured groups), casual groups, and community groups.

The fourth element is the emphasis on diagramming and visual construction. In formal surveys, information is taken by interviewers, who transform what people say into their own language. By contrast, diagramming by local people gives them a share in the creation and analysis of knowledge, providing a focus for dialogue which can be sequentially modified and extended. Local categories, criteria, and symbols are used during diagramming. Rather than answering questions which are directed by the values of the outside professional, local people can explore creatively their own versions of their worlds. Visualizations therefore help to balance dialogue and increase the depth and intensity of discussion:

10. Participatory mapping and modelling. This involves constructing, on the ground or on paper, maps or models, using materials such as sticks, stones, grasses, wood, cigarette packets, tree leaves, coloured sands and soils, rangoli powders, coloured chalk, pens, and paper. Great play is made of the issue of who holds the stick or pen. The person who holds the stick talks about what is most important to him or her. As maps take shape, more people become involved, and so want to contribute and make sequential changes. There are many types of maps: resource maps of catchments, villages, forests, fields, farms, home gardens; social maps of residential areas of a village; wealth rankings and household assets surveys on social maps; health maps, where the health status of each family member is shown on each house, using coloured stickers or other markers (categories might include cases of malnutrition, ear infection, jaundice, and the like); topical maps such as aquifer maps drawn by the water diviner or soils maps by soils experts; impact monitoring maps, where villagers record or map pest incidence, input usage, weed distribution, soil quality, and so forth. Some of the most illuminating maps combine historical views with those of the present.

11. Seasonal calendars and activity profiles. Seasonal constraints and opportunities can be diagrammed month by month throughout the year. Ceremonies can be used as a cross-check so that names of months are agreed upon. People use pieces of stick, draw histograms in the dust or with chalk, or make piles of stones, seeds, or powders to represent relative quantities and patterns of rainfall, soil moisture, crops, labour, food consumption, illnesses, prices, animal fodder, fuel, migration, pests, income, expenditure, debt, children's games, and so on. Seasonal calendars can be drawn in linear fashion with twelve months to show a typical year or eighteen months to illustrate changes between years, or they can be drawn in a circle. Daily pat terns of activity can be similarly explored by charting typical activities for each hour of the day, amount of effort, time taken, and location of work. These can be compared for men, women, the old, the young, and others.

12. Time lines and local histories. Historical analyses have been found to be a good icebreaker for field exercises and include detailed accounts of the past, of how things have changed, particularly focussing on relationships and trends. These include technology histories and review, crop histories and biographies, livestock breed histories, labour availability, trees and forest histories, education change, and population change. Folklore and songs are valuable resources for exploring history.

13. Venn and network diagrams. Venn diagrams involve the use of circles of paper or card to represent people, groups, and institutions. These are arranged to represent real linkages and distance between individuals and institutions. Overlap indicates flows of information, and distance on the diagram represents lack of contact.

15. Matrix scoring and pairwise ranking. These methods are for learning about local people's categories, criteria, choices, and priorities. For pairwise ranking, items of interest are compared pair by pair; informants are asked which of the two they prefer, and why. Matrix scoring takes criteria for the rows in a matrix and items for columns, and people complete the boxes row by row. The items may be ordered for each of the criteria (e.g., for six trees, indicate from best to worst for fuelwood, fodder, erosion control, and fruit supply); or participants may put stones, seeds, or berries into piles for relative scoring.

Box 3. A framework for judging trustworthiness.

1. Prolonged and/or Intense Engagement Between the Various Actors. For building trust and rapport, learning the particulars of the context, and to keep the investigator(s) open to multiple influence.

2. Persistent and Paralled Observation. For understanding both a phenomenon and its context.

3. Trangulation by Multiple Sources, Methods, and Investigators: la triangulation triangulée. For cross-checking information and increasing the range of different people's realities encountered, including multiple copies of sources of information, comparing the results from a range of methods, and having teams with a diversity of personal, professional, and disciplinary backgrounds.

4. Analysis and Expression of Difference. For ensuring that a wide range of different actors are involved in the analysis and that their perspectives and realities are accurately represented.

5. Peer or Colleague Checking. Periodic review meetings with peers not directly involved in the original information was constructed and analyzed. Without participant checks, investigators can make no claims that they are representing participants' views.

8. Reports with Working Hypotheses, Contextual Descriptions, and Visualizations. These are "thick" descriptions of complex reality, with working hypotheses, visualization, and quotations capturing people's personal perspectives and experiences.

9. Parallel Investigations and Team Communications. If subgroups of the same team proceed with investigations in parallel using the same system of inquiry and come up with the same or similar findings, then we can depend on these findings.

10. Reflexive Journals. These are diaries individuals keep on a daily basis to record a variety of information about themselves.

11. Inquiry Audit. The inquiry team should be able to provide sufficient information for a disinterested person to examine the processes product in such a way as to confirm that the findings are not a figment of their imaginations.

12. Impact on Stakeholders' Capacity to Know and Act. For demonstrating that the investigation or study has had an impact, including participants having a heightened sense of their own realities, as well as an increased awareness and appreciation of those of other people; the report itself could also prompt action on the part of readers who have been directly involved.

Source: Pretty (1994).

Matrices are also useful for ordering and structuring other types of information and include attributes matrices for technologies, problem-opportunity matrices, and manual discriminant technique matrices for contrast comparisons.

The trustworthiness of findings

Users who have presented findings arising from participatory learning are often asked a question along the lines of "But how does it compare with the real data?" (see Gill, 1991). It is commonly asserted that participatory methods involve only subjective observations and so respond just to selected members of communities. Terms like "informal" and "qualitative" are used to imply poorer quality or second-rate work. Rigour and accuracy are assumed, therefore, to be in contradiction with participatory methods.

This means that, unlike conventional investigators, the investigators relying on participatory methods are called upon to prove the utility of their approach. Conventional researchers use four criteria in order to persuade their audiences that the findings of an inquiry can be trusted (see Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Guba & Lincoln, 1989). How can we be confident about the "truth" of the findings (internal validity)? Can we apply these findings to other contexts or with other groups of people (external validity)? Would the findings be repeated if the inquiry were replicated with the same or similar subjects in the same or similar context (reliability)? How can we be certain that the findings have been determined by the subjects and context of the inquiry, rather than by the biases, motivations, and perspectives of the investigators (objectivity)? These four criteria, though, are dependent for their meaning on the core assumptions of the conventional research paradigm (Pretty, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Kirk & Miller, 1986; Cook & Campbell, 1979).

Trustworthiness criteria were first developed by Guba (1981) to judge whether or not any given inquiry was methodologically sound. But these criteria "had their foundation in concerns indigenous to the conventional, or positivist, paradigm" (Lincoln, 1990). To distinguish between elements of inquiry that were not derived from the conventional paradigm, further "authenticity" criteria have been suggested to help in judging the impact of the process of inquiry on the people involved (Lincoln, 1990). Have people been changed by the process? Have they a heightened sense of their own constructed realities? Do they have an increased awareness and appreciation of the constructions of other stakeholders? To what extent did the investigation prompt action?

Drawing on these and other suggestions for "goodness" criteria (Marshall, 1990; Smith, 1990), a set of twelve criteria for establishing trustworthiness have been identified (Pretty, 1994) (Box 3). These criteria can be used to judge information, just as statistical analyses provide the grounds for judgement in positivist or conventional science. The use of a system of learning without, for example, triangulation of sources, methods, and investigators and without participant checking of the constructed outputs should be judged as untrustworthy (Olukossi, 1993).

Box 4. The institutional changes promoted by a course in "Formation pour l'Appui à l'autopromotion Rurale" (FAR) in Benin.

A one-month course was conducted for participants from eight countries of sub-Saharan Africa on the approaches and principles of PRA. Farmers and participants analysed the local resources and capacities; they investigated the past roles of actors in development; and they worked together on joint inventories for developing self-promoting capacities in villages. The process of learning involved regular rotation between workshop and the field so as to increase the opportunities for reflection and iteration.

During the fieldwork, many participatory methods were used, including visualizations, wealth rankings, mappings, transect walks, seasonal calendars, and so on. These enabled participants to learn from villagers. It also meant villagers and trainees got to know each other better, and so mutual confidence grew. After all the data gathering and joint discussions, it was the presentations that had the greatest impact on attitudes and linkages. The process involved presenting the findings back to various groups in the community, discussing the range of conclusions, and seeking accommodation between differing and conflicting interests. This is very important for the participants and villagers: for the participants, it may be the first time they have asked farmers and rural people to comment on their findings; for the villagers, it may be the first time they have seriously been asked for their views. It is also an important opportunity for the various actors to learn from one another. In this case, it was the wealthy and more important people in the village who recognized their limited view on a range of issues, particularly problems raised by groups of women. A second set of restitutions occurred between villagers and staff of local government agencies and NGOs working locally. Each group of trainees presented findings to the group, which then led to detailed negotiations between the farmers and various external professionals. They were able to reach agreement on a plan for the village, including the priorities for action. The most significant impact was that the external agencies working in the area had not had any prior formal contact with each other. This was the first time they had shared perspectives. The production of the joint plan of action had the effect of strengthening the linkages among the various agencies, as well as involving farmers at the centre of the process. As a result, trust and understanding among the various actors has increased.

Note, however, that it will never be possible to be certain about the trustworthiness criteria. We cannot say that x has a trustworthiness score of y points, but we can say that x is trustworthy because certain things happened during and after the process of joint investigation and analysis. The trustworthiness criteria should be used to identify what has been part of the process of gathering information and whether key elements have been omitted. Knowing this should make it possible for any observers, be they readers of a report or policy makers using the information to make a decision, also to make a judgement on whether they trust the findings.

Towards a new professionalism in extension

Extension has come to mean extending knowledge from a centre of learning to those presumed to be in need of that knowledge. But this model does not lead to enhanced capacity amongst extensionists and farmers. These participatory methods and approaches represent an opportunity to build better linkages between the various actors and to increase the learning from each other. When PRA and other participatory approaches are used, extensionists and researchers have the opportunity to work together on the same team. They exchange knowledge and experiences and reach some consensus with farmers on what is most needed. As a result, all parties come closer together. Farmers become more confident that professionals can help them, without imposing solutions on them. An example of how this can strengthen linkages is illustrated in Box 4.

Widespread and persistent change is more likely where all elements combine, namely, new systems of participatory learning, new learning environments for professionals and local people, and new institutional settings, including improved connections both within and between institutions (Roche, 1992; Pretty & Chambers, 1993; Pretty, 1995).

The wider challenge is for agricultural organizations to become learning organizations. To do this, they will have to promote experimentation, promote connectivity and group work based on roles rather than disciplines, and develop monitoring and self-evaluation systems to improve learning and awareness. The central concept of sustainable agriculture is that it must enshrine new ways of learning about the world. This has profound implications for agricultural development institutions. The focus is less on what we learn, and more on how we learn and with whom. This implies new roles for development professionals, leading to a whole new professionalism with new values, methods, and behaviour.


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