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RRA is relatively new to West Africans. In 1988 the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Regional office in Dakar gave a training workshop on RRA with a field study built into it  to some selected West African researchers working on post-harvest projects. Researchers obtained a basic understanding of RRA methods and techniques. The general opinion after this workshop was that this methodology held promise for development research and participants departed with plans to employ RRA in part or whole to study new and on-going projects. In addition to IDRC, other international agencies such as the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) have trained individuals and groups in the use of RRA .
Since 1988, RRA has been applied significantly by a number of researchers in Nigeria, and a few in other parts of the sub-region, have applied RRA to both agricultural and non-agricultural issues. Shortly after the 1988 Dakar workshop, a seminar on RRA was organized at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria.
Participants were researchers from five agricultural research institutions involved in a project to study state of the art of soybean threshing in Nigeria. The seminar introduced RRA methods and techniques to the research team as a tool to help assure that project planning, problem identification and followup activities relating to the study would be relevant and well received by the beneficiaries.
The general methodological approach for this RRA survey has been used somewhat consistently. The major steps follow:
The studies commenced with a one day seminar to acquaint the multidisciplinary team of researchers involved in field work with RRA principles. A general. checklist to be used as a guide in field work was prepared based on the objectives of the project and with inputs from the team of researchers.
The field work team consisted of a socio-economist/policy analyst, an agronomist (these two researchers participated in all the field work), and agricultural economists and agricultural engineers from participating institutions. Agricultural extension officers and home economists were co-opted from different study areas as needed. This latter group usually acted as interpreters and also helped to identify key informants.
Selection of study areas
Study areas were based on a review of secondary data to identify the major and minor soybean growing areas in the different states. The largest soybean producing areas were selected as primary areas of investigation while the smaller producing areas served as spot checks.
Data collection used several RRA techniques:
Use of secondary data
Identification of key informants
Direct observation (seeing, drawing, filming and writing)
Participant observation (harvesting, threshing, drawing, games)
Semi-structured interviews (where only a few questions are predetermined, leaving room for new questions)
Use of diagrams (maps, transects, seasonal calendars, etc.)
Scientists approached the study areas, not as opinionated intellectuals, but as research students ready to learn from the wisdom of the rural people as they in turn learned from the scientists. Flexibility and adaptability were maintained through semi-structured interviews. Accuracy was achieved through "triangulation," which involved use of diverse methods, perspectives, and information sources rather than a qualitative question. Unnecessary detail was avoided.
Each day, the team met to compare and discuss notes and draw a more focused checklist in view of experiences. Researchers dressed casually (like the farmers) and presented themselves as research students eager to learn from the rich wisdom and experiences of the farmers and the village people. Thus good rapport was created and a great deal of knowledge was gathered and shared.
A feature of this RRA which improved the study significantly were village sessions where conclusions reached by the team were taken back for validation. Spot checks of sampled villages were also undertaken. These measures significantly increased confidence in the data collected and facilitated report writing.
Analysis and report writing
The multi-disciplinarity of the team was an asset in data analysis and report writing. Members compared notes taken from different perspectives. These were analyzed critically until consensus was reached. It was only then that the final reports were written.
While there were minor environmental differences, the consensus was that RRA methodology could be successfully applied in almost all the states and that it would be a very useful means to collect a mass of information (P.O. Oyekan, personal communication, 1984). The engineers in the team were particularly enthusiastic about the prospects for developing an appropriate threshing device for the farmers. Specifically the study found out that:
The farmers overwhelmingly identified soybean threshing as a major post-harvest problem, acknowledging the existence of poor conditions of farm labour.
Unlike crops like cowpeas that only need to be extracted from the pod, for soybeans the whole stalk has to pass through the machine. Therefore, straw and debris have to be separated and discharged from the thresher.
It was estimated that farmers could thresh about 300kg of crop manually per day. They expressed the wish to own machines that would process about one-half to one ton daily, basing the lower limit on profitability and the upper limit on perceived need for portability. They were also emphatic about the need for a motorized device, rejecting a less expensive manually or pedal-operated machine. They were willing to pay between N7,000 to N10,000, which they could afford on a cooperative basis. Engineers on the team agreed that, for whole crop threshing, mechanization was required and that such a machine's capacity could be up to one and one-half tons per day.
The farmers were generally involved and showed keen interest in the study. A strong rapport was developed, and the farmers regarded themselves as helping in the development of the thresher. The teams encountered no serious problem in the application of RRA methodology.
This was the initial attempt to involve a considerable number of researchers in the use of RRA in Nigeria. Parallel to this soybean threshing study, the IDRC, and PPS project on soybean utilization in Nigeria also incorporated RRA into its study methodology. The objective of their study was to investigate the possibility of using soybeans to combat protein deficiency in the country through the preparation and introduction of several soybean recipes. RRA was useful in establishing preference rankings for these recipes and their receptivity.
In order to assess the extent and effectiveness of the use of RRA methodology in the region, an international workshop was organized in May 1990 under the auspices of the IDRC, PPS Unit, which has facilitated popularization of the RRA methodology in West Africa. This workshop was hosted by the Technology Planning and Development Unit (TPDU) of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-lfe, Nigeria. This workshop was aimed to attract researchers throughout Africa, but particularly those from West Africa, who had experience in the use of RRA. Case studies were presented and the state of the art of this emerging methodology was to be explored. This workshop attracted thirty participants, a few presenting case studies in the use of RRA, and the majority contributing to the discussions on the fine-tuning of the methodology.
It became apparent that RRA had been applied to a number of projects in the sub-region with varying degrees of success. In one study, Olukosi and Arinze  used RRA techniques in identifying crop-drying problems facing farmers in northern Nigeria. The methodology enabled them to determine the willingness and capabilities of farmers to invest in improved crop dryers.
Olaniyan  used several basic principles of RRA in farming systems research in the Middle Belt agro-ecological zone of Nigeria and found it useful. Osho  attempted to use RRA to study an urban small scale company in Southern Nigeria. Though it was discovered that RRA was not used well, the study raised several important methodological issues with regard to the leadership of an RRA team and the restricted applicability of some of the RRA techniques.
Niameogo  reporting on efforts made in the Republic of Benin to use RRA, discussed the preparations associated with using RRA to investigate the status and problems of household food security.
More recently Adjebeng-Asem  gave a seminar to senior staff members of the Oyo State Agricultural Development Programme (OSADEP) on the use of RRA for diagnostic surveys.
A research team which was composed of those attending this seminar went to the field immediately afterwards to experiment with the new technique, which a number of them had initially received with skepticism.
After the field work, however, feedback indicated that the RRA techniques really do work. What was commended most was the mass of information collected in a few days and the rapidity with which the field report could be written.
Assessment of RRA methodology
From the available literature, discussions with researchers, and personal experiences with RRA as a methodological tool, the following emerged as its strengths and limitations:
RRA'S NOTABLE STRENGTHS There is a consensus of opinion that RRA is a very useful methodological tool, whether used independently or in conjunction with other conventional methods, for development-oriented research. Among the strengths identified are:
1. RRA is multi-disciplinary
There is a general belief that the adoption of a multi-disciplined approach is one of the strongest advantages of RRA. Multidisciplinarity brings different perspectives into problem identification, planning, evaluation and monitoring and enriches the final outcome. Multi-disciplinarity acknowledges the complexities of social phenomena and underscores the need to look at the systemic nature of social problems and to pool disciplinary expertise.
It is argued that, since RRA aims at capturing the breadth, diversity and complexity of a given situation, it pursues the use of different sources and methods for getting information. Each aspect of an issue is investigated in a variety of ways using multiple sources, multiple techniques and multiple approaches . Triangulation is technique employed in selecting methods, sites, teams, and respondents such that usually a minimum of three methods are used. The aim is to obtain a holistic knowledge of a given situation through the rapid build-up of diverse information.
3. The adoption of the "emic perspective"
That is, looking at problems from the point of view of the user/ informant/beneficiary. This is one strength of RRA that has won the admiration of many of its users. In underscoring the power of the emic perspective, it has been argued that most development strategies have failed to significantly improve the lives of the target population because these strategies have often approached the issues from an outsider's point of view. Chambers  has pointed out that successful rural development projects have been those responsive to beneficiary needs and those that focus on rural people rather than on the planners. It is further stressed by the practitioners of RRA that strategies that allow more direct dialogue between researchers and rural inhabitants yield more fruitful results than do conventional socio-economic surveys. The emphasis of this emerging development paradigm is on the participation between rural people and development professionals. While it is acknowledged that this approach is beneficial, especially in the diffusion and receptivity of research results by end-users, it is noted that it does not advocate the total rejection of the "ethic" perspective, that is, expert inputs or Western science and innovation. Rather, it seeks for an appropriate blend of local and outside help.
RRA is also acclaimed for its ability to extract information that is otherwise difficult to attain. Through the use of such techniques as wealth ranking or drama, researchers are able to gather sensitive and otherwise difficult-to-gather data quickly and easily.
Another frequently mentioned advantage of RRA is rapidity in the writing of RRA reports. While conventional research reports take anywhere from three months to forever to write, RRA reports are either finished in the field or very shortly thereafter. This rapidity allows for timely intervention.
More can be said about the usefulness of RRA, but as with many new paradigms, there are real and potential limitations that must be recognized and alleviated in order to push the frontiers of this methodology.
LIMITATIONS OF RRA The limitations of RRA could be considered from two points of view: those inherent in the methodology itself, and those that result from its application.
1. Inherent limitations and suggestions
It is argued that the word "rural" in the title of the methodology is misleading since it can be applied to urban settings as well. A change or modification in the title may be desirable.
It has been pointed out that sometimes adherents of RRA portray it as a panacea for all research problems. However, in spite of the numerous advantages in this methodology, it must be seen as only a means to an end and not an end in itself. It should complement or be supplemented by other conventional methods as and when appropriate.
One methodological impediment to the success of RRA field work can be the problem of language. In many situations in Africa, researchers may not be well versed in the local dialect of the target group because many dialects exist in the region. In such situations, researchers cannot adequately translate some technical terms into local languages; for example, engineering terms. This, certainly, will affect the research results negatively.
To deal with the first issue, it is suggested that, insofar as possible, a research team be composed so that some core members are versed in the local language. It is further suggested that an extension worker with adequate working knowledge of the target group be on the team.
On the question of technical issues, vis-a-vis local language/ dialect, it is suggested that where there is a problem of adequate interpretation, the use of visual aids such as photographs, films, or drawings that graphically represent those ideas or prototypes be considered. Such aides have been successfully used by Cromwell  in Zimbabwe.
2 . Limitations resulting from application
There are three critical limitations of RRA that may be reflected by the composition of an RRA team.
Leadership: An important prerequisite for the success of RRA field work is competent, experienced leadership. A competent leader will be able to determine the optimum size of a group for an effective RRA. It is generally held that a minimum of three researchers and a maximum of seven is desirable to allow for effective triangulation and for optimum derivation of benefits from the multi-disciplinarity of the experts.
Team selection: Selecting a poor team can introduce bias into RRA field work and nullify its result. The criteria for selection should be strictly dictated by the topic or issue under study and the experience of prospective members. The members of the team should be selected according to the relevance of their disciplines to the issue under study. It is also suggested that on any gender-sensitive issue, there is the need to have both male and female members on the team.
Administration of semi-structural questionnaire: In situations where a team of researchers is not well versed or trained sufficiently in the administration of a semi-structured questionnaire, wrong results will be collected and wrong conclusions reached. This methodological weakness can render an entire RRA project useless. Because the semi-structured questionnaire is at the heart of RRA, it is suggested that researchers develop the skill of administering such instruments. The team leader should ensure this and also insist that the questions asked are probing in nature. The six important questions are: What? When? Where? Who? Why? How? The leader must ensure that team members avoid questions that are leading and be sure questions are asked in a logical manner.
The issues of "rapidity" and cost: RRA techniques may be rapid, but the process of development is not. Therefore, practitioners must take into consideration the long preparation period needed for effective mastery of these techniques. Recognizing associated cost, it is argued that RRA may not be as cheap as proponents care to believe. An example is a situation where costing does not include the time and inputs necessary to take high level professionals into the field for several days .
suggested that all elements need to be specified to enable
practitioners to have a complete picture of cost and avoid any
unrealistic illusion of cheapness.
RRA is gaining increasing acceptance in Africa. This is evident from the diversity of its application and its geographical spread. Because this new paradigm emphasizes the need to look at reality from different perspectives and diverse expertise, and focuses on the study group rather than on researchers and/or planners, it has yielded quick, solid insights into rural problems and has enabled most research results to be socially relevant and well-received. However, caution must be exercised not to make RRA a "super" methodology, a panacea for all methodological problems. It can be used independently only in a few small-scale research projects with homogeneous populations. In most research situations, it can best be used as a method complementary to other conventional research approaches.
still emerging; it is therefore important that in the African
region, researchers apply it to many more diverse situations.
Continued dialogue on the strengths and limitations of this
method will enable Africa to contribute to the continued building
of this methodology and to extend the frontiers of knowledge in
1. Khon Kaen University. Proceedings of the 1985 international conference on rapid rural appraisal. Rural Systems Research Projects. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University 1985; 324: 5-9.
2. Chambers R. Pacey A, Thrupp LA. Farmer first: farmer innovation and agricultural research. London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1989.
3. Sandford D. A note on the use of aerial photographs for land use planning on a settlement site in Ethiopia. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 6: 18-19.
4. Hubbard M, Neurs R. Nickson A. Using RRA for project identification. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 6: 20-24.
5. Scoones I. Focussed groups in Ethiopia. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 7: 20-24.
6. Pretty J. Wealth ranking in Sudan. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 7: 24-25.
7. Adjebeng-Asem S. Overview of RRA techniques. Proceedings of the first international workshop on the use of RRA methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile Ife, Nigeria: Technology Planning and Development Unit, 1990: 21-35.
8. Rocheleau D, Wachira K, Malaret L, et al. Local knowledge for agroforestry and native plants. In: Chambers R. Pacey A, Thrupp LA, eds. Farmer first: farmer innovation and agricultural research. London: Intermediate Technology Publications 1989, 14-24.
9. Cromwell G. Rapid assessment of artisanal systems: a case study of rural carpentry enterprises in Zimbabwe. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 37: 4-12.
10. Dewees P. Aerial photography and household studies in Kenya. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 7: 19-22.
11. Thompson J, Veit P. From the group up and participatory RRA in Kenya. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 7: 39-42.
12. Rifkin S. Annett H. Rapid rural appraisal trial Mbeya, Tanzania. London: RRA Notes IIED 1989; 7: 33-36.
13. Freudenberger SK, ed. Rapid rural appraisal and post-production systems research: a training experience. Dakar, Ottawa: IDRC, 1990.
14. Adjebeng-Asem S. Report of the first RRA seminar. Ile-lfe, Nigeria: Technology Planning and Development Unit (TPDU), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), 1988.
15. Olukosi JO, Arinze EA. Application of rapid rural appraisal methodology to solar drying equipment project in Nigeria. Proceedings of the first international workshop on the use of rapid rural appraisal methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile-lfe, Nigeria: Technology Planning and Development Unit, OAU, 1990: 46-52.
16. Olaniyan GO. The application of rapid rural appraisal in farming systems research: an example from the middle belt agro-ecological zone of Nigeria. Proceedings of the first international workshop on the use of RRA methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile-lfe: TPDU, OAU, 1990; 146: 53-75.
17. Osho S. Advantages and constraints in the use of RRA methodology in evaluating a small scale soybean processing industry. Proceedings of the first international workshop on the use of RRA methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile-lfe: TPDU, OAU, 1990: 78-82.
18. Niameogo C. A rapid rural appraisal of household food security in the district of Ovidah, Republic of Benin. Proceedings of the first international workshop on RRA methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile-lfe: TPDU, OAU, 1990; 110-112.
19. Adjebeng-Asem S. Rapid rural appraisal for diagnostic surveys. Seminar paper. Ile-lfe: TPDU, OAU, 1990.
20. Atte DO. The need for rapid rural appraisal methodology for action oriented research. Proceedings of the first international workshop on the use of RRA methodology for development action in west African sub-region. Ile-lfe: TPDU, OAU, 1990: 8-20.
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Data collection and analysis
The final workshop: Planning processes and plan of action
Application of the methodology in other national experiences
Strengths and weaknesses of the methodology
By Susan Rifkin, Hugh Annett and Iraj Tabibzadeh
Susan Rifkin is a professor at the Institute of Tropical Hygiene, University of Heidelberg. Dr. Hugh Annett is with the Department of International Community Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Dr. I. Tabibzadeh is with the National Health Systems and Policies Division of the World Health Organization in Geneva.
This paper considers some rapid appraisal techniques from an organizational perspective and how they are used to develop a more rapid form of data gathering for use in urban areas. The paper lays out a series of specific steps which were tried in several circumstances with assistance from WHO. Of interesting note is the report that these guidelines were found useful in Bangladesh, Tanzania and also in an urban area near Liverpool in the U.K.
The success of this approach will be further judged by its use, particularly if other researchers continue to be self-critical and document issues related to their work. - Eds.
ONE OF THE major problems for planners is collecting data on which to base programme design. In the health field, national and local plans have often been tenuous, as data are either non-existent or too unreliable. This is particularly true in developing countries because of the scarcity of data collection infrastructures and the lack of professionals to collate and analyze the data. It is even more difficult to overcome this problem of scarce data in urban squatter and slum areas where migration leads to unstable populations and lack of legal land ownership, making people very reluctant to "stand up and be counted."
Data collection is also complicated by the fact that it is often an expensive and timeconsuming exercise; baseline surveys usually take several months to complete and twice as long to analyze. As a result, planners cannot wait for the information and it is left on the shelves to collect dust.
Many planners have sought ways to overcome these problems. One such method for collecting information about agricultural practices in rural areas in developing countries was developed in the 1970s. Known as rapid appraisal (RA), its purpose was to collect data quickly in order to deploy resources to those in greatest need. The original RA methodology focused on rural areas. However, the Urban Health Programme of the World Health Organization developed a draft RA methodology for data collection in urban poor areas. This draft was tested in an eight-day workshop at the Municipal Council, Mbeya, Tanzania, to plan interventions for improving the health situation. The results of this field testing, as well as other national experiences applicable to this methodology, were incorporated and printed by WHO in a document entitled, "Improving Urban Health: Guidelines for Rapid Appraisal to Assess Community Health Needs: A focus on health improvements for low-income urban areas."
of this paper is to introduce this methodology by briefly
describing the eight-day workshop, the application of the
methodology in other national experiences and to identify its
strengths and weaknesses.
As indicated above, this RA method was developed during a workshop and tested in Mbeya, Tanzania. The introduction to the concept was the first step in undertaking rapid appraisal. It was explained that:
1. RA is a method to obtain important information rapidly: Only relevant and necessary information should be collected. It is not intended as a household or other type of extensive survey giving details of specific problems.
2. RA is based on three sources of information: documents, key informants, and observations.
3. RA is undertaken by professionals in multi-disciplinary teams so that various aspects of information about one subject can be explored and a range of experiences can be applied to judge the importance and validity of the information received.
4. RA is not merely a method for collecting data about the health problems of the urban poor, but more importantly, a process on which to formulate a plan of action to improve the living conditions of the people, based on their participation in defining their own problems.
The second step was to present a framework for data collection and analysis. The idea of using an "information pyramid" for obtaining information was introduced. Participants were informed that the blocks of information to build the pyramid were collected from the three sources identified above.
To reinforce the value of separate information sources, it was suggested that participants write information gathered from documents on yellow cards, from key informants on pink cards, and from observations on green cards. These cards would then be placed in the relevant category in the pyramid. This enabled participants not only to see where the information was gathered, but also the areas where there was too much information and where there was too little.
The next step was to explore the information pyramid in detail. Participants were divided into three teams composed of members from different sectors. Each team brainstormed on questions necessary to build the blocks of the pyramid. Using white cards, they wrote down each question, which was then read out, placed on the appropriate block of the pyramid (which had been drawn on large sheets of white paper and attached to a blank wall) and then grouped together around specific issues. These groupings provided the basis for categorization of data and they could also discern when there was either too much or too little information. After these issues had been identified, participants discussed from which sources information might best be obtained.
and kinds of observations were discussed and checklists were
developed for information from interviews and documents based on
the categories of the information previously described.
Participants were then requested to examine key documents to
glean data from this source. They were asked to give general
information about Mbeya based on these documents. Key informants
were identified, including government officials, party officials,
social and health service personnel, teachers, community leaders
(heads of community organizations, religious leaders, women's
groups, informal leaders) and members of nongovernmental
organizations working in the area.
The first field visit was conducted in three wards selected by the Municipal Medical Officer, with each team going to a different ward to meet with ward officials and present the reasons for the interviews.
Much time was given to key informant interviews. After the first round of interviews, participants returned to follow up some questions and to see other people who had not been identified during the first round. After these two visits, the entire group met and reported their answers, based on the interviews, to the following questions:
1. What were the major problems?
2. Who told you about these problems?
3. Did your observations confirm these problems?
4. Do the documents suggest that these are problems?
the answers to these questions revealed a major problem:
Participants had no way of assigning any priority to the
problems. As a result, arrangements were made for a return visit
to the key informants to ask them to rank in order of priority
the problems they had identified. To do this, each key informant
was given cards with identified problems and asked to put them in
order of importance. Blank cards were provided in case a problem
was identified that had not been recorded earlier.
Once the data had been analyzed and priorities for each ward identified, participants considered how to develop a plan of action to respond to the problems. Participants made a list of possible solutions to priority problems. A matrix was then introduced to rank the feasibility of each recommendation. Each group was asked to choose solutions for a problem in the ward it had surveyed and to judge its practicality by using the following criteria:
1. Health benefit (what is the potential overall health impact?)
2. Community capacity (how committed was the community to solving the problem and what could they contribute (money, manpower, materials) to its solution?)
3. Sustainability (could the intervention be maintained, and at what cost?)
4. Equitability (which income groups were to benefit most?)
5. Cost (what were the initial capital and manpower costs?)
6. Time frame (how long would it take before changes were noticeable?)
recommendation in these categories was given a score of
"+" for low benefit, "++" for medium benefit,
and "+++" for high benefit. The highest score was given
the highest priority. Upon this basis, a plan of action was drawn
up and the responsible people identified.
This methodology has been used in other national situations for the same purpose of planning with the urban poor. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, a rapid appraisal was undertaken by a Government Urban Health Care Committee, sponsored by the Government of Bangladesh Directorate of Primary Health Care and the World Health Organization, to obtain information and community involvement for a pilot project for slum improvements. Using the WHO Guidelines developed from the Mbeya experience, an RA was done by a multi-disciplinary team, including members of the Government Health Services, which gave a profile of the problems. These results were presented in a two-day workshop attended by government, municipal and community representatives, as well as the investigating team. A number of problems requiring immediate action were identified. Support from both the community and the authorities was promised and persons were identified to take responsibility.
One apparent spin-off of this exercise was the recognition by the Regional Committee of WHO's South-East Asia Region of the importance of such an approach and a recommendation was made to undertake RAs for problem identification and solution.
This methodology has also been useful in the United Kingdom where a reorganization of the Regional Health Authorities is taking place. The South Sefton Health Authority, near Liverpool, gave priority to health improvements for one of the poorest areas in its domain and wanted to identify the more urgent problems. Although the Authority had much recorded data, it had no way of knowing how they reflected the needs and priorities of that specific community. The authority undertook an RA using the WHO Guidelines.
of this approach has been shared with other Regional Authorities
in the United Kingdom and has generated a great deal of interest.
The South Sefton people felt that a major strength was its
flexibility in terms of time and approach.
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