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27. Rapid rural appraisal and rapid assessment procedures: A comparison

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA)
Rapid assessment procedures (RAP)
Similarities and differences

By Yongyout Kachondham

Dr. Kachondham is affiliated with the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University, Thailand.

This brief paper is devoted mainly to pointing out common characteristics, potentials and constraints of RRA and RAP. Although their parallel but distinct development is not stressed, the paper does suggest distinctions which until recently have certainly been the case. As other papers suggest, the techniques of RRA are diversifying rapidly and there is a growing push to an even more participatory stance, whereas RAP diversification is mainly in the area of subject and use. - Eds.

AMONG THE MOST difficult problems confronting the world community since the history of mankind has been the problem of food shortage and diet deficits. However, there seems to be little dispute that remarkable increases in food production have been achieved in providing for the nutritional needs of all human beings over the past decades by many developing countries and developed countries alike. Yet the number of hungry people has increased because of rapid population growth and more importantly, the lack of effective food distribution and political will to solve the problem. Experience has shown that ample food production in itself is not enough to cope with the mounting challenge of feeding people. Other elements, both economic and social, can also indirectly influence nutritional status. Agriculture production, food prices, purchasing power, marketing systems and food habits are examples of important socio-economic factors [1].

Moreover, food chains and food webs for any creatures, which are the process of transferring energy from sunlight to life on earth, are more and more vulnerable to disruption when human beings try to manipulate the ecosystem of this biosphere as never before. For human beings, utilization of food to sustain life is the end point of the complex and interlocking processes of transferring energy from the sun, through production of foods, distribution, household food entitlement, and individual consumption, to cells in the body. There are threats along the pathway, i.e., ecological degradation (greenhouse effect, acid rain, drought etc); inefficient distribution or unequal access to foods due to adverse economic and political situations; ignorance, lack of education, or food taboos or habits contrary to good nutrition; and diseases and illnesses that have harmful effects on ingestion, absorption and utilization of foods inside the human body. In terms of future trends, the food security challenge in the next decade and century will obviously be ecological and economic access to food, arising from unequal purchasing power and rapid environmental deterioration. In response to the threats, human beings have attempted to improve the production process by means of science and technology, the distribution process by social and economic systems, consumption by modifying culture and food habits, and medical and health care to cope with diseases.

However, there was no single body of knowledge or field of discipline which is sufficient to provide the direction and means to win over hunger or lack of food security and malnutrition, and is sufficient to fulfill the conviction and provide the direction to overcome the food security challenge. No firm formulas can also satisfy the ecological, cultural, economic and social diversities that characterize each region of a country. A growing body of knowledge of nutrient requirements and a healthy diet may exist, but interventions to ensure adequate food entitlement and consumption both at community and household level are far from clear, are usually confined within disciplinary boundaries, and are not always concerted to the betterment of the community being targeted. To meet the food security and dietary needs of people depends on improvement in every link along the food chain - research, training and technology development in food production, food storage and distribution, nutrition and public health, income distribution, education, and food and nutrition policy. It is also quite clear that cataloging each element of the food chain is not sufficient; analysis of each element and their interactions needs to be done in order to understand the whole spectrum of the food and nutrition security issue.

To cope with the challenge, we have to carefully assess and address the numerous complex linkages among factors involved in the path from production either by natural or human intervention to good nutrition of all. To formulate strategies and to design the effective interventions require comprehensive assessment and cooperation of a variety of disciplines. However, food and nutrition research is quite often fragmented and overwhelmingly deductive, that is, based on disciplinary theories that do not necessarily address the current issues facing mankind. The challenge is to create methodologies and institutions that are more relevant, multidisciplinary, and comprehensive rather than develop a collection of disciplinary sub-units with a reward structure that favours disciplinary performance and even penalizes interdisciplinary collaboration. Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and Rapid Assessment Procedures (RAP) are examples of new approaches that are responsive to this challenge. The purpose of this paper is to give the overview of these two methods, their approaches, similarities, differences and their application for food and nutrition problems.

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA)

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) has its origin and application in rural development-related research. A workshop and a conference on RRA, held at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex in 1978 and 1979, were important gatherings that fostered an emerging new methodology to improve the cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and quality of rural development-related research. RRA is described by Grandstaff and Grandstaff as a process of learning about rural conditions in an intensive, iterative, and expeditious manner [2] or any systematic activity designed to draw inferences, conclusions, hypotheses, or assessments, including the acquisition of new information, during a limited period of time [3]. It characteristically relies on small multidisciplinary teams that employ a range of methodological tools and techniques specifically selected to enhance understanding of rural conditions in their natural context, with particular emphasis on tapping the knowledge of local inhabitants and combining the knowledge with modern scientific expertise but minimizing prior assumptions.

Accumulation of relevant and accurate information can be obtained at low cost in terms of time and money by rapid cycles of interaction among team members and refinement of data collection tools and techniques employed, e.g., direct observation, short questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and in depth interviews. RRA also emphasizes flexibility and judicious judgement that allows for creativity and modification along the process where appropriate.

In summary, RRA activities include three broad categories.

1. Preparatory work that includes selection of a multidisciplinary team, background information retrieval by maximal utilization of pre-existing data, team discussion for developing preliminary hypotheses, and selection of research tools and techniques.

2. Relatively short field visits that may be single or multiple visits to the study areas.

3. Team members discuss and analyze, aiming at reaching a consensus on what has been learned and what is still unclear. The writing should also take place immediately following fieldwork as any delay may result in loss of valuable information and insight.

In the area of food and nutrition, RRA has been utilized mainly to investigate, identify, and diagnose rural problems; and to evaluate nutrition programmes and projects. RRA was applied to study the natural food sources in the daily diet of rural Northeast Thailand families in the rainy season by Somnasaeng et al. [4]. Improper targeting of nutrition programmes that allowed privileged minorities to capture the most and thus a disproportionate benefit was evaluated by Tripp [5]. Heywood et al. [6] applied RRA to investigate the cause of malnutrition in rural areas with particular emphasis on the role of agriculture and health in Papua New Guinea. RRA in nutrition studies has given emphasis to problems of seasonality, intra-family food sufficiency, women's roles and the importance of so-called "minor crops." All of these issues had not been well identified before by conventional survey research [7].

Rapid assessment procedures (RAP)

Rapid Assessment Procedures are the outcome of collaboration among many individuals, mostly anthropologists and social scientists, who envisage that practical anthropological methods and theoretical perspectives can be applied to evaluate and improve primary health care programmes. Led by Scrimshaw and Hurtado in early 1980, the procedures were revised at a workshop in Geneva in 1983 and published as a monograph in 1987 [8]. Unlike traditional anthropology that needs long periods in the field and a tremendous amount of academic material compelled by ethnography, RAP is a more problem oriented and purposive approach that can be quickly employed at low cost. RAP methods were developed originally for the United Nations University Research Programme in order to improve understanding of the successes and problems related to Primary Health Care (PHC) services.

The procedures are primarily direct observation, informal conversation, key-informant interviews and participant observation concerned with indigenous beliefs and perceptions regarding patterns of distress, perceived causes, health seeking behaviours, knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP), crucial entry points for intervention and local responses to health and nutrition programmes. Conceptual issues include the structure of incentives, the complex relationship between cognition and behaviour, and how people interact with the traditional and biomedical health resources.

Exploring the structure of incentives gives the researcher clues as to why people behave the way they do, for example, whether people seek well-being (pleasure) or avoid pain. Behaviours are not always consonant with cognition. On the contrary, people often act in a manner not consistent with their knowledge and beliefs (cognitive dissonance).

Symbolic interactions observed between members of a household, between client or patient and provider or practitioner, and among providers themselves in the broad context of health related behaviour may have a greater impact on the outcome of a health programme than the efficacy of the intervention utilized. Information obtained in this manner from the sociocultural context can give better indications as to why programmes fail or succeed. For example, a current study in Thailand, by the author, using this method is shedding some light on why compliance of iron supplementation among pregnant women is so low.

Health personnel are mostly indifferent to, or unaware of, the hidden worry of the pregnant women regarding big babies that eventually will end up with more painful or complicated labour. Due to poor communication between providers and their clients, pregnant women perceived that the iron tablets provided were nurturing big fetuses or that the substances were vitamins rather than a medicine that would prevent or treat anaemia in pregnancy. Such information is extremely difficult to obtain, and seldom is, by conventional research using survey or questionnaire techniques.

Similarities and differences

RRA in rural development-related research and RAP for primary health care and nutrition research are newly emerging methodologies for a process of learning and acquiring relevant information in a limited period of time. Both share the new paradigm that rests on the view of the world as composed of a highly interactive and rapidly changing system, and the balance and interaction between the emic, local or indigenous perspectives, and the etic, outside or expert perspectives from the anthropological points of view. More attention is paid to the cultural, traditional, and social factors involved in the target problems as well as indigenous knowledge of the beneficiary groups. The approach of both methods is more inductive than deductive. That is, they start out from "facts" and look for generalizations to build a theory on. Both RRA and RAP also represent a response to a long yearning for improving the cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and quality of field research; to resource limitations, i.e., scarcities of skilled manpower, budgets and time; to the lack of holism and limitations of conventional surveys.

The similarities of RRA and RAP include systematic methods of obtaining new information in a relatively short period of time using semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion and direct observation. The interviewees are not necessarily chosen randomly but are rather the key informants within the community such as monks and village elders. These people are capable of supplying direct information in less time than collecting the same information from the population using questionnaires. Priority is given to indigenous knowledge and opinions of the local people. This knowledge and opinion will also be substantially used in deriving the solution to the target problem in a way that ensures better acceptability of the designated intervention among the local people. Both RRA and RAP use a problem-focused approach as a tool for diagnosis and evaluation. They compliment both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that may show cultural and contextual biases and also give the holistic picture to the often fragmented findings so that better or plausible explanations can be obtained not just statistical relationships.

However, there are limitations of the application of either RRA or RAP. Both are inappropriate where an important issue is statistical representativeness which requires data based on random sampling. Bias may arise due to three different kinds of sampling errors - distortions in the situations sampled for observation, the time periods during which observations took place and selectivity of the people sampled (P.F. Heywood, personal communication, 1990). Both techniques also do not have a standard methodology especially the RRA. Thus, both are more demanding of expertise and heavily dependent on full-fledged researchers of the highest professional calibre. It is also important to emphasize that the information obtained by any RRA or RAP is at best indicative of the situation in the area and as such can be very helpful in formulating working hypotheses. If generalization is an issue, both RRA and RAP are not adequate substitutes for careful and detailed investigations.

Although RRA and RAP tend to share a number of common characteristics, they are two entirely independent processes with important differences. Of the two procedures, RRA is more interdisciplinary adopted from a variety of fields of study, such as sociology, anthropology, geography and journalism, whereas RAP is more anthropological and is employed as a rapid assessment of human behaviour. RRA is more rigorous by using the triangulation technique which has been described as employing a number of different approaches that seek different perspectives from the team members from various disciplines to improve the understanding of existing variations to any particular phenomenon [9] and complementing or comparing information from several sources [10]. The technique is also considered as a counter to the criticism "that a study's findings are simply an artifact of a single method, a single data source, or a single investigator's bias" [11]. This characteristic may also overcome criticism of the inductive approach that "facts" usually are observed with disciplinary biases and there are no "pure" observers. The balance or reconcilable perspectives among team members who often bring their disciplinary perspective will allow the team to observe with less disciplinary biases. RRA is also highly iterative so that the method allows the abandonment of any hypotheses which have become inappropriate along the course of research as well as reformulation of more appropriate hypotheses based on the newly acquired information.

RAP is more focused on a specific issue or problem for assessment but in a holistic manner that balances out indigenous and expert views, and/or scientific and cultural aspects of the issue at hand. Moreover, RAP may be action-oriented hoping to lead to an improvement of people in the community. Finally, RAP has a shorter history than RRA which was developed during the 1970s and RAP aims mainly to improve understanding of the successes and failures related to the implementation of primary health care, nutritional intervention programmes and related research.


RRA and RAP have become very useful as tools for collecting desirable information in a relatively short period of time. Their advantages over conventional survey procedures include the tendency to approach the problem area in an organized and holistic manner which takes into account the knowledge, perceptions and beliefs of the local population. The process also allows a great deal of flexibility and an opportunity for multidisciplinary cooperation, especially the RRA. To maintain their benefits and uniqueness, RRA and RAP should withstand pressures to be standardized and remain a developmental process of information acquisition which enables diversity to grow, thus knowledge to be discovered and refined. Concurrently, both should also avoid the pitfalls of becoming an object of unrealistic expectations and development research panacea.


1. Rabidhadana A. The Role of Social Science in Nutrition Research. A paper presented at the Workshop on Integration of Food Crops, Fisheries, and Nutrition Research in Northeast Thailand. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1988.

2. Grandstaff SW, Grandstaff TB, Lovelace GW. Summary Report. Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference on Rapid Rural Appraisal. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1987: 3-30.

3. Grandstaff TB and Grandstaff SW. Report on Rapid Rural Appraisal Activities. KKU Ford Rural Systems Research Project. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1985.

4. Somnasaeng P. Rathakette P. and Ratanapanya S. A Study of Natural Food Resources in Northeast Thailand Villages in the Rainy Season. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1984.

5. Tripp R. On-farm Research and Applied Nutrition: Some Suggestions for Collaboration between Institutes of Nutrition and Agricultural Research. Food Nutr Bull 1984; 6(3): 49-57.

6. Heywood PF, Allen B. Fandim T. et al. A Rapid Appraisal of Agriculture, Nutrition and Health in Wosera Sub-District, East Sepik Province. Papua New Guinea: Institute of Medical Research, 1986.

7. Gibbs CJN. Rapid Rural Appraisal: An Overview of Concepts and Application. Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference on Rapid Rural Appraisal. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1987: 193-206.

8. Scrimshaw SCM, Hurtado E. Rapid Assessment Procedures for Nutrition and Primary Health Care. Anthropological Approaches to Improving Programme Effectiveness. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1987.

9. Grandstaff TB, Grandstaff SW. A conceptual basis for methodological development in rapid rural appraisal. In: Anon, ed. Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference on Rapid Rural Appraisal. Rural Systems Research Project and Farming Systems Research Project. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1987: 69-88.

10. Carruthers I, Chambers R. Rapid Appraisal for Rural Development. Agri Admin 1981; 8: 407-422.

11. Patton MQ. Qualitative Evaluation Methods. London: Sage Publications, 1980.

28. Rapid rural appraisal applications in Africa: Achievements and problems

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA) in East and Southern Africa
RRA in West Africa

By Selina Adjebeng-Asem

Selina Adjebeng-Asem is affiliated with the Technology Planning and Development Unit at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

Rapid Rural Appraisal, as documented in this paper, has moved into the "tool kit" of data gathering in Africa. Its use is seen as diverse in terms of countries, but basically limited in number of studies and its focus on the agricultural sector. The Nigerian setting and specifically the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) appear to be the focal points for methodological development and diffusion in Africa. Based on this review, use of RRA in Africa has been dominated by international researchers. However, this situation appears to be rapidly changing with the support of donors such as the IDRC and the work of the author and her colleagues. If the well developed critical analysis of methodological strengths and constraints continues along the lines outlined in this paper, RRA in Africa will provide a complement to other forms of research. - Eds.

OWING TO THE growing concern over the cost, duration, accuracy and relevance of conventional research methodologies in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, and the growing concern over the slow adoption, utilization and/or commercialization of research results, considerable interest has been generated in an emerging methodology known as Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) for rural development-related research. This methodology, which was introduced in 1978 and streamlined after worldwide applications of its techniques and tools [1] has been applied extensively in most parts of the developing world, especially in South East Asia.

This methodology has several advantages, among which are: a community focus that can involve local communities in problem identification and action planning; an interactive and iterative approach in which scientists and community members learn from each other; and a potential to generate accurate useful information on rural conditions in a timely and cost effective manner. In the various parts of Africa where it has been used, RRA has been recognized as being capable of serving a powerful tool to advance the development objectives.

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA) in East and Southern Africa

Since the Khon Kaen University Conference in 1985, several attempts have been made to popularize RRA in Africa. It has been used extensively to study subjects such as post harvest problems, technology development and adoption, nutrition, sanitation, impact assessment, natural resources assessment and management, agro-forestry and rural development in general [1-7].

Until recently, the practice of RRA in Africa had been limited mainly to Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Rochleau et al. [8] adopted RRA and ecological methods for community-based agro-forestry (AF) research in the Machakos District of Kenya. The study relied heavily on informal surveys of groups, households and individuals in the community and acknowledged local expertise. Researchers developed and used a "chain of interviews" approach to successfully identify factors influencing the selection of indigenous wild plants for gardens. The studies had agro-forestry implications. Regarding the methodology, the authors noted that RRA needed careful planning. They prescribed follow-up but cautioned that the success of such activities would require continued local participation and a strong partnership between the community and the research team.

Cromwell called for RRA research to be used more to study nonagricultural income sources, micro-economic systems and service infrastructures. A narrow focus on agricultural study using RRA introduces methodological weaknesses that predispose such studies to the "...very tendencies of ill-informed prescriptiveness that RRA seeks to overcome [9]."

Cromwell applied RRA to the non-agricultural sector, studying carpentry enterprises in Zimbabwe. Using the techniques of guided interviews, technical appraisal, tool demonstration, tool and skill scoring, occupational calendars and ranking of major constraints, he was able to unravel the socioeconomic problems of rural carpenters and relate them to the carpenters' social status within the rural community, their training needs, and the viability of international intervention to assist them to self-capitalize through production of wooden tools. One notable strength of this work was the presentation to the carpenters of a prototype of the technology being appraised for transfer. This enabled the carpenters to provide immediate feedback on the technology and helped the research team to respond to the carpenters' requirements and make the necessary modifications.

In another study on the application of RRA in Ethiopia, Sandford [3] demonstrated the use of photography in rural interventions. He used aerial photography to discuss land use planning with a village settlement. He found that farmers were able, through this medium, to discuss and agree on a proforma land use allocation. Also agricultural extentionists and other technical staff were able to identify a new, unknown area, characteristics of lands and visualize development options.

Scoones [5] used an RRA participatory technique to focus on management of the hillside closure areas in Wollo - an Ethiopian village. He enumerated several problems and biases that needed improvement. Important among these constraints were biases in the selection of contacts for discussion groups, group representativeness, gender issues that restricted focused topics, and the problems of ensuring continuing participation by the different groups in both the planning and implementation stages of a given project.

Other studies in Eastern and Southern Africa employing the RRA techniques include Dewees [10], Thompson and Veit [11], and Rifkin and Annett [12].

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