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An insight into principles of participatory rural appraisal

Jun 17, 2010

C.K.Ramachandran reviews book Participatory Rural Appraisal: Principles, Methods and Application which is a thorough dissertation of Participatory Rural Appraisal and traces the evolution of PRA in detail. The book elaborates upon the concept, techniques and principles of PRA.

Participatory Rural Appraisal: Principles, Methods and Application

Cover page of the book.jpg

Reviewer - C.K.Ramachandran
Consultant - governance, institutional reform and rural livelihoods
- N.Narayanasamy
Publisher - SAGE, New Delhi, India
Pages - 363
Year - 2009
Price Rs. 550

This is an exhaustive treatise on Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which evolved during the 80s and 90s as a reaction to the top-down approach to development. The book traces the evolution of PRA in considerable detail and attempts to distinguish it from several other related streams of participatory approaches some of which have vanished without a trace.

PRA, according to the author, has survived as it is grounded on the logic that 'the success of any development intervention depends on the confidence built and the power given to people to decide and to take community initiatives.'

The book then proceeds to explain in detail the concept and principles of PRA. After describing the basic principles of PRA, it discusses in a lucid style techniques such as Participatory Mapping, Modelling, Transects (observatory walks), Mobility Map, Chappati Diagram, Problem Tree, Timeline, Wealth and Well-being Ranking, Force Field Analysis, SWOT Analysis, Focus Group Discussion etc. These Chapters are copiously illustrated, although examples are drawn mostly from the author's experience in Tamil Nadu.

In the final chapters, the author discusses the roles and responsibilities of PRA team members as facilitators, interviewers, content writers, process observers and as gatekeepers, and concludes by providing a few illustrations of the application of PRA methodology.

The book provides a good introduction to students, teachers and researchers on the principles and techniques of PRA. It will also be useful to NGOs and development professionals, particularly those working on external aided projects where application of PRA techniques is almost de rigueur. Civil servants and other development administrators can also get a comprehensive introduction to PRA from this book.

However, the book could have included more practical applications in PRA in the Indian context. The last chapter , 'Applications of PRA methodology : A few illustrations' presents only some frameworks used by the World Bank in Participatory Poverty Assessment, by the Department of International Development (DfID) for Sustainable Livelihood Analysis and some of the PRA techniques used by the Gandhigram Rural Institute.

One of the chief merits of PRA is that it provides a repertoire of participatory techniques and what particular group of techniques to be used in each context is also an important skill which can be best learnt by analysing practical applications. For instance, the combination of techniques used in a Natural Resource Management context may not be applicable in a health and nutrition project.

The book does not dwell on the limitations of PRA as a method, although it discusses the limitations of individual techniques. This uncritical approach has led to a denial of the scope for improvement of the method. For instance, while discussing participatory mapping and modelling, the scope for using secondary data is not considered as a possibility.

Good quality aerial photography and GIS mapping are available for many areas and the conjunctive use of such secondary data will help in removing some of the spatial bias which creeps in during a purely participatory exercise. There is, however, no denying that this book provides a clear introduction to PRA for students and practitioners.

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