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PRCA Methodology


To explain the methodology of PRCA.

At the end of this chapter you will be able to:

1. Know why the PRCA was developed as a methodology.
2. Describe certain principles that guide a good PRCA.
3. Recognise the common biases of PRCA.
4. Understand the role of PRCA in various cycles of a project.
5. Recall what a PRCA should accomplish.

3.1 Why PRCA?

PRCA was developed as an alternative to traditional communication research approaches. It is a participatory communication research methodology used for the involvement of rural people in the identification of the essential ingredients for the design of effective communication strategies for development. PRCA is used for creating dialogue with groups in rural communities in order to identify and analyse their problems and needs; their existing knowledge and practices; their feelings and attitudes; as well as their perceptions of the development issues under investigation. PRCA is also used to ascertain the characteristics of the different groups in a community and assists to map their existing patterns and networks of communication.

3.1.1 Perceptions and communication

Perceptions play a key role in communication, hence the need for a communication research approach that ensures that the project and the community do not have different perceptions of the issues or problems to be resolved. PRCA has therefore been developed to ensure that communication programmes for rural development are firmly rooted in the realities of the rural community. However, the problem with unearthing rural people's perceptions and local knowledge lies in the fact that most of these communities have developed ways of hiding their true feelings and information from outsiders, especially, when such outsiders cannot interact with the people within the people's frame of reference. Ascroft (1978) calls this ability of rural people to treat outsiders nicely without revealing themselves 'The Conspiracy of Courtesy'. To overcome this, PRCA uses visual methods and community facilitation techniques for generating, analysing and presenting data thus breaking through the conspiracy and removing the need for literacy on the part of the people. It is only through this way that research will be able to reveal the community and ensure that development efforts are firmly rooted in the realities of the grassroots in order to respond to their perceived needs, abilities and local knowledge.

3.1.2 Differences between PRCA and traditional communication research

PRCA is different from the traditional communication research because it is participatory and allows people to participate in development decisions and actions that directly affect their lives.

Rural people who are involved in PRCA share knowledge and experiences with the researchers from the start to the end of the process. They participate in everything from information collection and analysis, problem identification and prioritisation to decision-making about how best to tackle issues revealed by PRCA.

Unlike traditional communication research, PRCA does not only reveal the best ways of designing messages for the grassroots. It also helps to identify strategies and materials to enable rural people articulate their own perceptions of community needs, local knowledge, opportunities, problems and solutions for integration in development efforts to improve their livelihood. In this way, PRCA puts the people back in the centre of their own development as owners of the development process rather than mere beneficiaries who are meant to receive only education and training about solutions to their problems brought in from outside.

As a different approach from traditional communication research, PRCA is more than a methodology for investigation. In addition to its research characteristics, PRCA is also a training and empowerment process for the community. As PRCA is carried out, the people also learn new ways of thinking and interacting with the complex and changing circumstances in which they live. After participating in a PRCA, people become trained and empowered to identify and analyse their problems, needs and capabilities. On their own, they seek additional skills, knowledge and outside assistance when they encounter problems beyond their existing capabilities and resources. At this stage, people also become more aware of the various external political and socio-economic factors that obstruct the achievement of their goals and often use their newly acquired skills of self-mobilisation to tackle these obstacles.

3.1.3 Differences between PRCA and other participatory methods

PRCA belongs to the same family as RRA, PRA, PLA and the other participatory methods. However, it is unique because it focuses specifically on the study of both traditional and modern communication systems in a community and assists in the development of communication strategies and materials to improve information and knowledge sharing among the various stake holders in a development effort (see Table 2 next page).

Table 2: How PRCA is unique and different.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)

Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal (PRCA)

Traditioal Communication Research

Not holistic - researches only community needs, opportunities, problems and solutions without attending to communication issues.

Holistic - researches community needs opportunities, problems, solutions and communication issues, networks and systems.

Not holistic - researches only communication issues.

Participatory: The researcher is a facilitator who enables the people undertake and share their own investigation and analysis leading to sustainable local action.

Participatory: The researcher is a facilitator who enables the people undertake and share their own investigation and analysis leading to sustainable local action and improved communication.

Not Participatory: The researcher is an investigator who is interested in learning as much information as possible for her own use.

Empowers and builds capacity of communities.

Empowers and builds capacity of communities and improves communication between them and outsiders.

Extractive and does not empower or build capacity of communities.

Leads to joint planning of development action with community.

Leads to joint planning of both development action and supporting communication programme with community.

Professionals plan communication intervention without the community.

Deals with community groups differentiated on the basis of sharing the identified problems. People are active participants in the process of generating and analysing information.

Deals with interaction groups identified on the basis of sharing a common problem and segmented according to criteria normally used by the people themselves. People are active participants in the entire research process.

Deals with audiences segmented according to criteria determined by investigator. People are seen as only passive recipients of messages and not as active sources.

Results of appraisal are presented by community.

Results of appraisal are presented by community.

Results of research are not shared with community. Investigator analyses and presents results to outsiders.

Community owns and keeps the results.

Emphasis on the use of visual methods, interviews and group work for generating, analysing and presenting data.

Community owns and keeps the results.

Emphasis on the use of visual methods, interviews and group work for generating, analysing and presenting data.

Results are owned and kept by researchers.

Emphasis on verbal mode of questioning and gathering data, normally through questionnaire interviews or focus group discussions.

Emphasis on change of attitude and behaviour among facilitators.

Emphasis on change of attitude and behaviour among facilitators.

Emphasis on finding out ways of changing of attitude and behaviour of audience.

Emphasis on local people's knowledge, skills and capabilities for problem solving.

Seeks means of creating mutual understanding between local people and development workers in order to marry local capabilities with outsiders' knowledge and skills for more effective problem-solving.

Emphasis on how best to effect transfer of outside expertise to local people.

3.2 Principles of PRCA

PRCA is built on a number of principles similar to other rural appraisal methods, which endeavour to be participatory. These principles have been tested in the field and found to be effective. They therefore constitute the criteria for measuring the effectiveness of any PRCA with the people.

3.2.1 Principles that guide a good PRCA are:

A good PRCA must involve all segments of the community in the appraisal as the owners of the process and its outcomes. In this respect, the most important role for a facilitator is to ensure that community groups take a leading role in the appraisal and that they express their ideas and priorities without fear. In this way, the appraisal lays the foundation for the participation of the people not just in the research but also in all following activities. To achieve this, participation should not stop at the data collection level, but it should be present throughout the whole process: from investigation, data collection and analysis, presentation and learning to planning and implementation of action.

PRCA empowers villagers by encouraging them to take the lead in investigations and analysis. For this to happen, ensure that the people are comfortable with the tools and techniques of the appraisal. When local materials are used, like the ground for mapping and diagramming, or seeds for quantifying, estimating and scoring, participation is often uninhibited and relaxed, with the people showing a willingness to express, share, cross-check, and analyse knowledge. The appraisal is accessible to all members of the community as they can see, point to, discuss, debate or alter the realities represented by such objects. In other words, everyone can see what is being 'said' because it is being 'done'. PRCA tools and techniques therefore provide the community with tangible materials for group reflection and participatory planning for action.

The key to facilitating people's participation in PRCA is to establish good rapport and trust with the community from the beginning of the appraisal. For this to happen, the behaviour and attitudes of the facilitators must be acceptable to the people. Facilitators must demonstrate that they are patient and trustworthy and that they are taking a keen interest in all the activities of the appraisal as well as the people's views and opinions.

The rural people often have considerable knowledge about their problems and the possible solutions although they may not appreciate the enormous power that this knowledge can yield for them. This means that with proper facilitation, rural people have knowledge to disclose if they are allowed to. This requires a change in the attitudes and behaviour of PRCA facilitators towards the rural poor. In PRCA, community groups should therefore be given the opportunity to explain in their own terms, their own view of themselves. PRCA facilitators should also ensure that their preconceptions about the people acquired through training and analysis of secondary data does not stifle their ability to listen and learn from the people.

Good PRCA does not end with the facilitators learning from the community. It also involves the sharing with the community of any knowledge the facilitators might possess to help the people solve their problems. The facilitators' knowledge should not be imposed on the people but should be presented as a topic for critical evaluation with them. Rural people might have great knowledge about many things and have tremendous practical experience but the facilitators, also have their own knowledge, which might be new to the people. Johari's Window below explains this.

Table 3: Johari's Window.

Open knowledge

Their hidden knowledge

What we know and

What they know and

what they know

what we do not know

Our hidden knowledge


What we know and

What we do not know

they do not know

they do not know

PRCA facilitators must bear in mind that even within the same community, various groups might have different experiences and perceptions of the situation of the community. Moreover, in some communities, some groups, such as women, are traditionally not allowed to voice their opinions in the presence of other groups, such as men. It is therefore essential that during PRCA, different groups in the community are interacted with in order to discover their own perceptions of the conditions in the community. To achieve this, the community should be segmented into various groups using different criteria such as gender, age marital status etc. In many cultures, it might be mandatory for the women in the community to have their activities and discussions with female facilitators while male facilitators work with the men. During the PRCA sessions, a deliberate effort must be made to draw contributions from every member of the group. Separating the community by gender has been discovered to be advantageous to the women because the men will not be there to dominate the discussions and activities. Moreover, people tend to discuss freely without fear of intimidation when they feel they are in a homogenous group.

This means that facilitators in a PRCA should not attempt to learn everything about the community but just what is necessary for them and the people to decide on specific future action. This calls for the setting up of an agenda and focus for the appraisal with the community before it begins. At the same time the agenda must be flexible enough to leave room for unexpected topics connected to the issues under discussion to emerge. The trick is to know what is not worth knowing and to always ask the question: what is this piece of information going to contribute to the understanding of the issues under discussion? In PRCA, relevance of information is therefore more important than the quantity.

Compared with other research methods, PRCA can claim to be fast in establishing rapport and trust with the community in order to discover needed information and produce results for action planning. PRCA is relatively quick because it does not attempt to collect information from a statistically valid sample. Instead it uses many different techniques to obtain a complex profile of the situation in the community and makes the information available in a rapid and useable form. However, the fast pace can only be achieved if the right techniques and tools to quickly build trust and engender people's participation are utilised. Although PRCA appears rapid, it is never rushed. It must be relaxed enough to enable the rural people think through their problems and come up with their own solutions which they will want to implement. This is achieved by careful planning and the use of the right tools to explore and probe issues rapidly but thoroughly.

PRCA can be used in many different forms, conditions and contexts. It can be used for various development sectors and at any time during the preparation, implementation or conclusion of the development effort. This in effect means that PRCA cannot be carried out with a blueprint. PRCA facilitators should therefore be ready to adapt to the field situation, to fit into the people's agenda and schedule instead of trying to bend the situation to suit their own preconceived framework. Although a lot of effort is made to anticipate the field situation through careful preparations and planning, PRCA must still be flexible enough to allow facilitators to quickly adjust their plans in order to take advantage of sudden opportunities and take care of unforeseen challenges. Facilitators must learn to think on their feet as they say.

PRCA forces the project team into the field to talk with the people in their own settings. It provides an opportunity for the team to observe and learn from the people. This is essential because projects should not base their decisions about people solely on what is heard or read about them. Development efforts founded on such second-hand information often fail or even worsen the situation in the community.

The biggest advantage of PRCA is that it is conducted in the open where all present can look at the results and agree or disagree on their correctness. The use of groups during PRCA enables the people to verify information as it is collected. In this manner PRCA gets closer to the truth as quickly as possible. PRCA tools are used in such a way that each tool builds on and verifies information collected with the preceding tools. In addition, PRCA uses many different tools and team members from different disciplines to look at the same situation from different angles. It also crosschecks information with as many segments of the community as possible. As a result, learning is done from many points of view with PRCA and facilitators are in a better position to easily identify and resolve contradictions.

3.3 Common biases to be avoided in PRCA

Over the years practitioners of participatory appraisals have discovered some common biases that can distort the study findings and render the process useless. Just because these reported biases are the most frequent and most obvious does not mean that they are the only ones. As more and more PRCA are carried out, other forms of biases that have not been described below might be discovered. Please share these with the SADC Centre for inclusion in their publications. In this part of the handbook an attempt is made to present some biases commonly encountered in PRCA if the practitioner is not alert. One way of avoiding some of the biases described below is to always let the objectives of the PRCA guide the preparation and implementation of the appraisal.

3.3.1 The common types of biases

This is a bias commonly observed in many rural research activities. Urban-based researchers prefer to conduct their studies in those villages near urban areas or those well serviced by a network of good roads. In many cases, urban-based professionals get around in rural areas in vehicles and so they try to avoid the hazards of dirt roads. According to Robert Chambers, the higher the officials the more likely they want to use the tarmac for comfort. Thus, visitors' comfort becomes the primary concern of most field research visits. Those seen and talked to are near the road. Information is therefore collected only from groups that live near the roads. This practice distorts the research findings because the views of those groups, who can only be reached on foot, since they are remote from the tarred roads, are neglected. To avoid this bias, information must be collected from all groups no matter their distance from the road as long as issues under discussion concern them equally.

Often, rural researchers tend to interview only those who are present and visible in the community during a study. Discussions are held with people the researchers see or with those who attend meetings. There is always a tendency for the less privileged groups to be hidden from the urban visitor. The poor, the disabled, the sick, the old, the outcasts: the so-called 'invisible groups' in the community, are never identified and talked with. The opinions and priorities of these marginalised groups are therefore often not sought and therefore never reflected in reports and plans even when they are the potential target beneficiaries of subsequent development efforts. In meetings also, researchers often pay more attention to the utterances of the vocal and articulate, without prompting the silent to voice their views.

Wealth bias is not simply a matter of only talking to the people with money. Wealth mapping activities in various cultures have shown that the conception of who is rich and who is poor differs from country to country, district to district and place to place. Wealth bias is closely related to the visibility bias because the rich and powerful in a community are also the most visible with their large number of wives, bigger herds of cattle, bigger houses and the other easily recognisable trappings of affluence. Many researchers feel more comfortable discussing issues with these wealthy villagers than with the poor people. In many communities, the rich are also the people who live nearest to the roads and often have the first opportunity to talk with and the means to entertain researchers before they even go into the village. Views expressed by this group of affluent villagers might influence the researchers' interpretation of the situation in the community.

Closely related to the wealth bias, is the pro-literacy bias, which occurs when researchers tend to speak to people who can speak the urban language, usually, English. By speaking to these literate people the need for an interpreter is not necessary. By focusing attention on this group in the community, the views of the illiterate are neglected.

This is the tendency for rural researchers to concentrate the study on the gender they themselves belong to with little attention to the views of the other group. In many cases, men in the community dominate research activities with the result that women's concerns are neglected. This has often led to the design of development activities with men in mind whereas in reality women are the ones who are primarily concerned with these activities. To avoid this bias, make sure that both the women's and the men's views are heard. Often their perceptions, roles and capabilities are different.

This is the tendency for rural researchers to visit and talk with villagers who have already adopted and are using the new ideas or practices promoted by a development agency. In many communities these groups often ensure that the researchers easily notice them through such distinguishing things as club T-shirts, badges or caps. Those who have not adopted the offered solutions are not interviewed to find out why they have not done so. Instead the researchers see them as laggards who do not deserve to participate in the study.

Living conditions in the rural areas vary with the seasons. By visiting the community during only one season, researchers go away with only a tiny part of the picture. For instance, in most rural areas, hunger and diseases are most prevalent during the rains but researchers often prefer to visit such areas during the dry season when the dirt roads are usable and when they do not have to get wet while carrying out their research activities. This means that rural people are not seen during those periods when it is wet, when disease incidence is high and some are malnourished. So, the wet season, in addition to being the hunger and sickness season also becomes the unseen season.

Rural researchers often prefer to carry out their studies where there is an on-going project or where the likelihood of one is high. In the same vein, some researchers visit only communities where projects are well staffed and villagers well briefed. These projects serve as public relations show cases for visitors. The project bias shifts attention and development action away from the poorest of the poor, who do not have any projects to boast about. In other words "unto those who have more will be added..."

Researchers feel more comfortable discussing those issues they are well versed in. They tend to talk about what they know the most. They feel comfortable in their own discipline. In a related way, researchers also tend to limit themselves to the mandate of the development agency they are working for to the exclusion of other concerns of the community that are outside such mandate. This often results in development agencies offering projects that are not relevant to the needs of the community. Such projects are doomed to fail because in the first place villagers accept them not because they need them but just to please the development agency. To the villagers, it is wise to accept anything now because one never knows what will come next. Maybe next time they'll really get us something we need. In other words the villagers assume the stance that the mouth of a gift horse should not be examined.

Many rural researchers arrive in the community armed with new ideas and practices for solving people's problems and providing for their needs. In such cases, the researchers are in the community not to assist the people determine their problems, but to find out ways of making the villagers adopt the innovations whether they need them or not. Researchers, who have this bias, often believe implicitly in the innovations they bear and would seek ways of making the people abandon their traditional practices for the new ones without an opportunity for the people to examine the innovations critically.

Researchers who are prone to this bias are mostly found in the field of communication. They go into the village to find out how best to use the people's culture etc., for designing messages to make external manipulation of the people more effective. They are not in the community to study ways of making development agencies more responsive to people's perceived needs and problems but to improve the persuasive effectiveness of messages and promotional materials from the agencies to the people.

3.4 Types of PRCA

PRCA is most effective if it is carried out at the same time the development project is being defined with the community. However, PRCA can also be carried out at any point of the project cycle to formulate a communication programme to initiate or improve dialogue between development workers and the people to ensure that project aims and activities are relevant to the people's needs, problems and capabilities.

Box 5: PRCA in the project cycle.

Figure 5.

3.4.1 Exploratory PRCA

PRCA is most effective when done as part of a larger multi-disciplinary study with the community at the initial stages of development project formulation. This type of PRCA is said to be exploratory because it is carried out to facilitate people's participation in the joint identification and analysis of their needs, problems and appropriate solutions before the design of a project. PRCA at this stage aims to empower the people to articulate their ideas or concerns and voice their opinions about their situation. PRCA also assists to establish cordial relations and lines of communication among all stakeholders: development agencies and their workers, government ministries and departments, district and provincial officers, extension staff and the community for the smooth planning and implementation of the project. Although PRCA is holistic in its own right, it is used at this initial phase of the project cycle to reveal the communication issues associated with the project under formulation.

3.4.2 Topical PRCA

This type of PRCA is generally used for projects that are already on-going. It is also known as diagnostic PRCA. The appraisal at this stage in the project cycle serves as a monitoring and evaluation tool. Topical PRCA, as the name implies, is used to investigate specific topics, issues, questions or challenges arising during the implementation of a project. Results of this type of PRCA are used to design communication programmes to solve problems or to improve dialogue among all stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of the project are achieved. Results might even call for the adjustment or repackaging of project objectives and activities to ensure that they are relevant to the people's needs, problems and capabilities.

3.5 What a PRCA should accomplish

Once upon a time there was an adventurous little mouse that lived in a large forest. The little mouse had never wandered far from home, but on one sunny day the urges for fame and fortune were too great to resist. Besides he thought, 'I need to see the world.' In spite of warnings from mama and papa, the little mouse took all the coins from his saving box and put them in his pocket, and set off to seek fame and fortune. After a short while the little mouse met an eagle.

'Where are you going?' asked the eagle.

'I am off to seek fame and fortune,' said the little mouse.

'Well,' said the eagle, 'for two coins I'll sell you this feather that will speed you through the forest.'

'Great, ' said the little mouse as he gave the coins to the eagle.

Soon after, the little mouse came across a squirrel.

'Where are you going?' asked the squirrel.

'I am off to seek fame and fortune,' said the little mouse.

'Well, in that case you will want to get there as quickly as possible. I have these special nuts that will give you extra energy and help you to get there faster. Do you have any coins?' asked the squirrel.

'Sure,' replied the little mouse, and he gave two coins to the squirrel in exchange for the nuts and hurried on his way, until he was stopped by a big hyena.

'You seem to be in a big hurry,' said the hyena, 'Where are you rushing to?'

'I am off to seek my fortune and I am going as fast as I can,' replied the little mouse.

'There is a shortcut that will get you there immediately,' said the hyena with a toothy giggle. Just go right through that cave over there,'

And the little mouse dashed into the hyena's den, never to be seen again.

Adapted from Krueger, Richard. Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research. 2nd ed. London. Sage Publications. 1994.

PRCA is such a flexible and adaptable methodology and if the facilitators do not know where they are headed, like the adventurous mouse, they are likely to end up somewhere else - and it could cost them more than a few coins. It is, therefore, important to have a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished during a PRCA before venturing out into the field. The categories of information to be gathered with the people in order to plan an effective communication strategy and design appropriate materials should be determined in advance before the field PRCA. The communication strategy should start to emerge during field PRCA.

3.5.1 Essential information needed for the design of a communication strategy

The key elements a PRCA should reveal in order to assist in the design of an effective communication strategy are listed below and described in fuller details in the following sections.

Profile of the community

  • How people perceive and define their world

Information and communication resources and networks of the community

Community perceptions of their Needs, Opportunities, Problems and

Solutions (NOPS)

  • NOPS listing and assessment

  • Problem tree analysis of main problems

  • Windows of Perceptions (WOPS)

Priority interaction groups

  • Portraits or characteristics of the interaction groups

  • Communication issues related to focal problems

  • Communication systems and networks of the interaction groups

  • Sources of information used and preferred by the interaction group


  • Quantitative indicators

  • Qualitative indicators

These essential details include the main needs, interests, problems and aspirations of the community as well as the people's culture, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Others information about the people's social system in order to distinguish among community groups and their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and practices in relation to selected needs and problems. During PRCA the influential sources of information and advice as well as the existing traditional and modern communication networks within the community are also identified. Apart from revealing needs and problems, PRCA also assists in the discovery of obstacles and issues amenable to resolution through the application of communication.

The list on the next page shows the categories of information and issues to be discussed with the community during PRCA. These categories of information provide both the content and context for the design of a communication strategy. The list is only a guideline and should be expanded or shortened depending on the team's experiences with PRCA and the objectives of the appraisal.

3.5.2 Profile of the community

In addition to any data obtained from secondary sources, work with the people during the field PRCA to develop a profile of the community as seen by the different groups in the community. This enables everybody to reach mutual understanding on how the people perceive and define their world and reality. This is necessary because quite often, the way outsiders see the community or the descriptions given about them in books - their norms, values, actions and aspirations - might not correspond to the way the people see themselves and vice versa. Knowledge of the people's perceptions of their situation provides the background and context for the understanding of the other categories of information that will be revealed by the PRCA, including those issues concerning communication.

Figure 6: The two-headed woman.

Take a look this picture. What is the age of the woman in the picture? If you see just one woman please show the woman to as many people as possible until somebody points out the second lady to you. Now to create mutual understanding ask the person who saw the second lady to show her to you and you in turn should show the woman you saw to the person. It is only when two of you can see the real contents of the picture can you claim that mutual understanding has been created between both of you.

To collect the information required for drawing up a community profile, discuss the following topics with the people:

Geography of the community: This category should contain information about the various natural and physical features of the people's environment. It must include information about the settlement patterns in the community showing household characteristics and sizes, such as female-headed households and resource-poor people; community boundaries, resources and infrastructure as well as land use patterns of the people.

History of the community: This covers information about the significant occurrences in the people's lives such as the major positive and negative changes, including crises in the environment, population shifts, good and bad agricultural periods etc. the people have experienced through the years. Information about how the people have coped with the changes in their lives and circumstances over time should also be documented.

Seasonal trends in the community: Under this category, identify and document the various seasons normally experienced in the area. Any abnormalities and changes experienced by the people should also be revealed. Information on seasonal water and food availability as well as disease patterns should be documented. One of the most controversial information revealed under this category is the differences in the amount of activities carried out in a particular season by men and women. Try to also find out this information.

Social composition of the community: In this category identify the various groups in the community by gender, age etc and map the power relations within and among them. The institutions in the community; their roles, status and relevance to the issues under discussion should also be documented in order to determine who in the community has the authority to influence or make decisions. This assists in the identification of the formal and informal leaders of the people. The poor and the powerless in the community must also be identified.

Economy of the community: Discuss and document the people's sources of income, their labour and occupational patterns (including who does what and when explained in terms of gender). To get a complete picture of the people's economy, also discuss and document the internal and external factors that affect their sources of livelihood.

Group relationship patterns in the community: In general, this pertains to information about the different roles of various groups in the community and how each group perceives the other in relation to their capabilities, potentials and limitations.

Box 7: Zambian example

During a PRCA in a Zambian village, the team of extension workers and communication specialists continually referred to the people as farmers. Towards the end of the appraisal, when the people were now feeling comfortable with the team, the people revealed that they did not percive themselves as farmers. The people at this juncture gave the team their own definition of a farmer: a person with a title deed to his land. Since the people tilled their land under the traditional land tenure system, in which all ownership is invested in the chirf, they did not see themselves as farmers. The implication was that most recommendations that had been presented to these people as if they were farmers were not implemented in the village because they were meant for farmers and the people did not see themselves as farmers

Culture of the community: Information about a people's culture explains a lot of their actions and attitudes. In view of this, ensure that information about the people's religion, customs and values are revealed by the PRCA. Under this category labels, vocabulary and idioms used by groups in the community for discussing various issues should be discovered. By understanding the people's culture, it becomes easier to appreciate why they make certain decisions, the meanings they attach to events in their lives and ways in which they express their emotions in songs, dances, drama etc. It is also essential to discover and discuss the socialization procedures of the community as well as relevant rituals and initiation ceremonies as these might come in handy during the design of the communication strategy.

Patterns of access and control of resources in the community: PRCA should help to determine the different levels of access and control various groups have to the resources in the community necessary to sustain their livelihood.

Past experiences of community with development projects and programmes: This information is important because it reveals how the people related to development efforts in the past. It reveals what the people liked and disliked about previous efforts to solve some of their problems with or without outside assistance.

3.5.3 Information and communication resources and networks of the community

PRCA helps to discover ways of communicating with the community in mass, group or interpersonal modes. During PRCA the community can define their traditional and modern information and communication resources and networks. PRCA also assists to identify the communication linkages between the community and other communities, external organisations and institutions. The nature of the information transmitted through each network and potential uses can also be identified with PRCA. The attributes of the specific networks and systems preferred by the community can be determined using PRCA tools. It is necessary to also identify the influential individuals and groups in the community who provide information and advice about the selected development problems and issues.

PRCA reveals the levels of literacy in the community. It shows which people in the community can read and write in what language as well as how the people deal with numbers and arithmetic. This information reveals whether the community can communicate effectively through the written word and in what language. It also identifies the people in the community who can be reached with written materials for further dissemination such as teachers and school children.

During PRCA discover the availability, distribution and accessibility to such resources as radios, meeting grounds, training centres, songs, dance groups, associations, rituals, events, initiation groups, etc. within the community.

PRCA helps to identify the external sources of information to the community (for example, seed company, market and auction floors) and their attributes (for example, reliability and accessibility). These could be used as opportunities and venues for interacting with the community.

Figure 7: Possible channels of communication.

As RCA progresses with each priority interaction group, define patterns of communication within the group. At this juncture it is also essential that with the groups, those in the community and outside who have a particularly strong influence on the behaviour, or the awareness, knowledge, attitude and practices of members of the priority interaction groups be identified. These are the truly influential, as opposed to the apparently influential sources of information and advice. They could be either traditional or modern. In some cases it has been discovered that the most influential sources in a community are the traditional healers/diviners and the church at the same time.

Figure 8: Traditional and popular media are quite effective.

It is also essential to identify the role models, both internal and external for members of the interaction group. What are their attributes? These attributes can be used in the selection of the sources of information/advice for the priority interaction group if any messages are to be sent to them as part of the communication strategy.

In addition to the elements mentioned above, it is essential to also ensure that the following communication related information about the interaction groups are collected:

3.5.4 Community perceptions of their needs, opportunities, problems and solutions (NOPS)

Beyond discussing general economic, social and environmental issues with the community, the PRCA team should assist the people to identify, define and prioritise their needs, opportunities, problems and likely solutions (NOPS). The identification and selection of the people's priority NOPS, especially the needs and problems, is the first step towards designing a communication strategy. With community priority NOPS selected, identify groups or segments of the community who are most affected or who can do something about the NOPS.

Needs describe the lack of material or psychological inputs that the community perceives as important in order to improve its welfare. Opportunities are occasions that may be present in certain situations; if properly exploited these occasions may become valuable assets in efforts to improve the living conditions of the community. Problems are the negative undesired situations that constrain or stop communities from achieving their basic needs. Solutions are ways of dealing with the negative or difficult situations or problems

As previously discussed in Chapter 2, many problems will be identified during the PRCA. Apply the problem tree analysis to the main problems in order to define their causes and effects as well as to determine the priority focal problems, which the communication strategy will help solve. Analysis of the problems also helps to identify whom in the community they affect. These people are the interaction groups to be addressed by the communication strategy.

Figure 9: Windows of perceptions

Two perception of an irrigation scheme for food security

The problem tree analysis provides the community perceptions of the problems the project seeks to solve. Windows of perceptions (WOPS) are normally obtained when the preliminary project problem tree drawn by project staff before the PRCA is compared with the tree produced by the community in order to identify areas of agreement and disagreement. This leads to a new view of the problem agreed upon by the people and the project team. This becomes the foundation of the communication strategy.

Perceptions play a major role on how problems are defined. Take a look at the figure of the two-headed woman once more. Imagine what will happen if the picture is a problem in a community and the project is trying to define it one way and the community sees it in another way. With the possibility of this in mind, always strive to arrive at a common understanding with the community of what the NOPS are. What are the problems as they see them, and the solutions? What are the ingredients needed for worthwhile change? Figure 9 shows different perceptions of the same issue as defined by the project and as understood by the community while Figure 10 describes what often happens when the community NOPS are misunderstood.

Figure 10: Consequence of lack of mutual understanding

Many development projects have failed because the community problems were misunderstood. The cartoon above depicts what often happens when the community and the project do not have a mutual understanding about the problem or solutions needed by the people.

3.5.5 Potential interaction groups in the community and their portraits

Normally in other types of communication programme planning, these groups are known as 'Audiences' and in public relations as 'Publics'. However, since the approach advocated here is participatory, the term 'Interaction group' is used to replace the old definition of people as merely receivers of information. The term presupposes that the people involved in a PRCA and the entire communication programme are not passive receivers but people whose knowledge and opinions are valued and whose perceptions are seriously sought after. Interaction Groups are seen as sources of information and initiators of action as well as decision-makers. Interaction groups can be individuals, associations, agencies, institutions or cooperatives in and outside the community whose activities, needs, problems affect the people in a positive or negative manner.

All communities are made up of different groups: men, women, the literate, the illiterate etc. Some groups in the community such as the very poor, the invalid, outcasts or the sick might be invisible. If the issues under discussion concern such 'missing' groups, seek them out for dialogue.

Once the interaction groups are identified, PRCA should provide a more in-depth understanding of their perceptions of the NOPS related to them and their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices in relation to those NOPS. It should also reveal the groups' communication systems and the idioms they use for discussing the issue under investigation (see section 3.5.3, page 66). These are the essential ingredients for the formulation of a communication strategy.

PRCA does not only discover the community NOPS but also defines the communication issues related to the NOPS. It is therefore necessary that as the NOPS are defined and the interaction groups selected an effort is made to identify those NOPS that communication can help solve. Such communication-related obstacles include the lack of or low participation of the interaction group in the research, planning or implementation of efforts to solve the problem or provide for the need. Other obstacles might also include lack of or low awareness of the problem or lack of commitment to tackle the problem, insufficient knowledge to deal with the problem etc. In on-going projects where solutions have been identified and offered to the people, communication problems often relate to the non-acceptance of the solutions. Causes of such non-acceptance or adoption can either be associated with the interaction groups or with the project as Table 4 suggests.

Table 4: Causes of non-adoption of solutions

Stages of innovation acceptance process

Project causes of incomplete process

Beneficiary causes of incomplete process


Innovation attributes incorrectly communicated

Innovation fails to meet expectations


Failure to develop relevant products or improve old ones

Innovation not relevant or another product more attractive/relevant


Behavioural responses not specified in communications.
Poor distribution system

Alternative perceived as equally good. Innovation not available


Poor source effect of communications

Peer-group or opinion leadership pressure against adoption.
Laws/traditional sanctions against use of innovation


Communication not persuasive

Complacency/suspended judgement


Communication difficult to understand

Selective retention


Poorly used or too little communication

Selective exposure
Selective perception

Problem perception

Lack of people participation in problem identification
Poor research
Misperception of problem

Lack of problem

To discover more in-depth information about the interaction group and their relationship to the NOPS use the table above to identify and analyse their knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices in relation to the NOPS.

Try to learn about the indigenous and adopted knowledge of the interaction group related to the issues under discussion. Indigenous technical knowledge of the group are those localised techniques and practices which have been developed and handed down from father to children. These are usually built up on centuries of experience and adaptation and are in harmony with environmental conditions and constraints in the community. They are expressed in local languages. Although essentially local, such knowledge may have been influenced by innovations emerging from within the communities themselves or from other systems. Such knowledge might provide an insight into how the group normally solved its problems and provided for its needs.

On the other hand adopted knowledge are those techniques, processes and practices that were originally introduced into the community from outside. How much of this knowledge the group actually has can be assessed. Increasing such knowledge might become an objective of the communication strategy if the level is found to be low.

PRCA explores those acquired mental positions - negative or positive - that a group holds in regard to some idea or object. Often attitudes dictate how people behave towards the idea or object. Some people might have knowledge of some techniques but because they do not have a positive attitude towards that technique refuse to use it even when it is going to assist them in solving a problem. It is therefore important to find out people's attitude towards issues under discussion. With such information a communication strategy can be designed to change a negative attitude in order to solve a problem.

PRCA explores the interaction groups' beliefs in relation to the issues under discussion. Although some of these beliefs might sound like superstition, making positive references to them in messages or discussions may determine the success or failure of the communication programme. Beliefs affect attitude and ultimately practices.

Discuss and observe the practices of the interaction group in relation to the particular issue. Practices, like knowledge, are either indigenous or adopted. Answer the question: Why do people make decisions to act in certain ways and on what basis?

3.5.6 Indicators

Finally, PRCA should assist to identify both the quantitative and qualitative indicators for monitoring and the evaluation of the communication programme.

PRCA should provide the basis for the design of the baseline study and thus indirectly help to identify the quantitative indicators for monitoring and evaluating the communication programme. The baseline study sharpens the objectives of the communication programme and makes them measurable during the evaluation that comes at the end of the communication programme.

PRCA should assist the community to set their own qualitative indicators for participatory monitoring and evaluation of the programme. This set of indicators is defined by the community and often reflects measures of their satisfaction or disappointment with the programme. The evalution is generally done with a post-implementation PRCA to assess the qualitative impact of the programme on the people in the community.

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