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1. Khon Kaen. Rapid Rural Appraisal, Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference, Rural Systems Research and Farming Systems Research Projects. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1987.

2. McKracken J. Pretty J. Conway G. An introduction to rapid rural appraisal for agricultural development. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 1989.

3. Chambers R. Rural development: putting the last first. Harlow, UK: Longman, 1983.

4. Jamieson N. The paradigmatic significance of RRA. In: Rapid Rural Appraisal, Proceedings of the 1985 International Conference, Rural Systems Research and Farming Systems Research Projects. Khon Kaen, Thailand: Khon Kaen University, 1987; 89-102.

5. Kashyap P. Young R. Rapid assessment of community nutrition problems: a case study of Parbhani, India. Ottawa, Canada: International Development Research Centre, 1989.

6. McCracken J. Participatory rapid rural appraisal in Gujarat: a trial model for the Aga Khan rural support programme (India). London: IIED, November 1988.

7. Mascarenhas J. Participatory rural appraisal and participatory learning methods: recent experiences from MYRADA and South India. In: Scrimshaw NS, Gleason GR, eds. Rapid assessment procedures: Qualitative methodologies for planning and evaluation of health related programmes. Boston, MA: International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries, 1992: 307-322.

8. Rhoades R. The coming revolution in methods for rural development research. User's Perspective Network (UPWARD). Manila, Philippines: International Potato Center (CIP), 1990.

9. Gould P. White R. Mental Maps. London, Boston: Pelican, 1985.

10. Mascarenhas J. Participatory mapping. PRA/PALM Series IVb. Bangalore: MYRADA, 1990.

11. Grandin B. Wealth ranking in smallholder communities, a field manual. London, UK: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1988.

12. Antia NH. Medical education: in need of cure. Econ Pol Weekly (Bombay) 1990; July 21: 1571-73.

13. RRA Notes, numbers 1 to 9. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 1988.

25. Participatory rural appraisal and participatory learning methods: Recent experiences from MYRADA and South India

Rapid vs participatory
The PALM experience
Annex I: Time line
Annex II: Social mapping
Annex III: Sweeping transect
Annex IV: Historical transect
Annex IV: Historical transects
Annex V: Seasonality diagramming
Annex VI: Ranking
Annex VII: Livelihood ranking
Annex VIII: Diagrams

By James Mascarenhas

James Mascarenhas is affiliated with MYRADA.1

This paper summarizes one of the most thought provoking seminars at the conference. Mascarenhas demonstrated the strong orientation toward community participation inherent in Rapid Rural Appraisal and went on to suggest that this orientation needed to become a defining tenet of what was being developed as "Participatory Learning Methods." The use of data gathering as a means of highly participative data gathering for better orienting planners and officials toward the realities of community life and the dynamism and complexity of rural villagers' concept of their life becomes a goal of the various exercises. The variety of techniques for assisting villagers to express the state of their social and physical surroundings, status, history, and plans are shown as a rapidly new set of tools for development planning. The tools and ideas outlined in this presentation continue to evolve and spread beyond rural India through the efforts of MYRADA and others. - Eds.

MYRADA IS A non-governmental organization (NGO) which has been involved in rural development since 1968. It works in approximately 2,000 villages in South India, in the States of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. MYRADA initially started as an organization which resettled refugees from Tibet. Since then its role has expanded and today it has six major programme thrusts.

1. Participative resource development and management projects, (particularly semi-arid areas). These include wastelands and watershed development programmes.

2. Resettlement and rehabilitation of released bonded labour and landless families.

3. Development of women and children in rural areas.

4. Development of rural credit systems.

5. Development of appropriate institutions and management systems in the rural areas.

6. Training - evolving training methods which are appropriate to the Indian context, particularly in rural areas.

Rapid vs participatory

In India, particularly in South India, 1990 was significant in the development of participatory methods to understand and assess rural situations - and plan for their development. In the course of applying Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) methods in its work, MYRADA came to the conclusion that "Rapid" cannot be "Participatory."

Prominent features of MYRADA's style of functioning are:

1. Its emphasis on the participation of village people in their own development; and

2. Its active and ongoing presence in a defined rural area not as "patron" and "benefactor" but as "catalyst" and "partner" in development.

What was required therefore was a method which did not stop just at "Appraisal" but which went beyond it into a shared analysis and understanding of rural situations. This, in turn, should lead to developmental activities that are creative, productive and sustainable over a period of time.

Thus, it was that PALM evolved - Participatory Learning Methods, and indeed there was plenty to learn about - from, with and about rural people and their situations. The PALM method complemented and integrated well with MYRADA's approach, and the results of this have been quite substantial.

The PALM experience

PALM took off much faster than we expected. Since we adopted it a year ago, a little over 40 PALM exercises have been conducted. These have been a variety of topics and situations. The PALM programme thrust has been on rapid training and exposure, building up of training teams, developing new methods and applications, constantly reviewing and refining the methodology, analyzing and documenting experiences, and initiating participative developmental programmes based on the outcomes/outputs of PALM exercises.


Tentatively at first, and more confidently as we began to understand the methodology better, we worked out ways in which PALM could be applied to a variety of situations. Some of these are:

1. Participatory planning of natural resource development and management projects. These include programmes for the development of wastelands and watersheds, tank and lift irrigation and afforestation programmes.

2. Participatory planning of integrated rural development programmes, in which the different sectors such as agriculture, sericulture, animal husbandry, education, health, etc., are integrated into a single programme.

3. Tracking and identification of beneficiaries for appropriate programmes. These include child sponsorship programmes and programmes for health care, poverty alleviation, etc.

4. Studying the coping strategies/mechanisms of the rural poor - crisis management, credit needs and sources, and credit management.

5. Studying other aspects of rural life - customs and traditions, trends, conflicts and their resolution, health and nutrition, education, etc.

6. Participatory impact monitoring and assessment of developmental programmes, e.g., impact of a road, an agricultural research station, a health programme, etc.

What is a PALM training exercise like?

A typical PALM exercise has about 25 to 30 persons participating. The participants are drawn from various organizations - NGOs, Research and Training Institutions, the Government, etc.

A village is selected as a location for the exercise. This village is usually one where there is already an established ongoing presence by an outside agency and where developmental programmes are taking place or are being proposed. This stipulation is made out of respect for the villagers whose curiosities and expectations are raised by such exercises, and to leave the village without a concrete response to expressed needs would not be appropriate.

The participants stay in the village. This helps in several ways. Apart from simplifying logistics, it gives the "Outsiders" a feel for what the village is really like. There is also a greater opportunity for Villagers and Outsiders to access each other and interact - especially in the evenings after the day's work is done. A strong rapport is developed and the degree of sharing extends over many more aspects of village life which are more intimate to the Villagers than only their work. Village camping thus has a definite impact on participation.

Participation is also enhanced by introducing the Outsiders to a "code of conduct." There are several Dos and Don'ts but the most important ones are:

1. Choosing a time suitable to the Villagers.

2. Following necessary cultural protocol as required by the situation.

3. Taking care not to raise the Villagers' expectations - particularly if those expectations cannot be responded to.

4. Initiating a few "equalizing" exercises - simple everyday tasks, (basket weaving, transplanting rice, house construction etc.) with the Villagers as the teachers. The Outsiders who are usually "qualified" and "experts" find that these "simple" village tasks are not so simple after all. The Villagers on their part begin to feel less inferior and begin to see that their skills have a value and status in the eyes of the "educated" Outsiders. This gives them greater confidence and increases their willingness to participate in the exercises and tell us more about themselves and their situation.

5. Exercising discipline in the mode of interaction is another item aimed at stimulating participation. To be avoided are the superior modes - lecturing instead of listening and learning and so on.

Layout of a typical PALM


• History of the Village
• Village layout
• Village infrastructure
• Preferences, etc.


• Study of resources
• Livelihoods
• Trends, etc.


• Seasonality
• Identifying resources
• Wealth ranking
• Class and cast stratification, conflict, etc.


• Identifying opportunities
• Listing priorities and best bets
• Identifying roles and responsibilities (defining participants of the various partners including the people.)
• Causes & effects, etc.


• Operational plan
• Documentation, etc.

(Note: These are only a few of the possible items; nor is this a fixed format. Variations are not only possible, but they are recommended. Refer to RRA Notes for descriptions and illustrations of methods and outputs.)


Apart from the actual topical exercises, early morning review sessions followed by briefing sessions for the day's work are held. Evenings are reserved for group presentations. These are the times when most of the Villagers are free after the day's work is done. Presenting this information in the large evening forum has the advantage that it is up for everyone's scrutiny and is subject to correction. Thus there is a reasonable chance that at the end of the day we have an end product that is accurate and reliable, having been refined several times over from the initial discussions in the sub-groups, to the final presentation. Such gatherings are usually lively with the village folk correcting one another and arriving at consensus on various issues, events, practices and other information. Thus an important principle of PRA/PALM is met - that of "triangulation" of information.

There are many other aspects and elements that go into the making of a PALM programme. For obvious reasons all these cannot be described here - many have to be experienced. There are also standard group processes and techniques, which have not been described in detail but are very much part of the methodology which MYRADA follows in its PALM programmes. Some of these are ice breakers, Outsider and Villager ratios, group sharing, evolution of topical agenda, interviewing techniques, role plays, "buzz" sessions, "dummy" exercises and so on.

Some methods and their applications


• Time and events, history, evolution of a village, agricultural practices, health care practices, etc. (Done by constructing a chronology of events that have taken place in consultation with the people.)


Social mapping

• Village layout, infrastructure, population, chronic health cases, handicapped, malnourished children, family planning cases, vaccinations, widows, destitutes, etc.

Primary Resource (Mapping & Modelling)

• Land, water and tree resources, land use, land and soil types, cropping patterns, land and water management, productivity, watersheds, degraded land, treatment plans, etc. (Done by the villagers themselves with paper and pens when it is to be mapping on paper or coloured chalk or coloured powders [Rangoli] when it has to be mapping on the ground.)


Straight Line; Nullah; Sweeping (Annex III)

• Perambulatory/observatory walks to study natural resources, topography, soils and vegetation, farming practices, problems and opportunities which are cross tallied with the resource mapping and modelling. (Done by walking through the area, with a group of villagers - either following a particular course, cross country or covering the area in a combing or sweeping motion.)

Historical (Annex IV)

• Pictorial/graphic representations of the area at different points in time, to give evolutionary trends in land use, vegetation, erosion, population, etc. (Done by interviewing older people and asking them to recap the landscape of a given area at different points in time.)



• For obtaining seasonal patterns of rainfall, employment, income and expenditure, debt, credit, food and nutrition, diseases, fodder, milk production, marketing, etc. (Done with the use of stones, sticks and different coloured seeds to represent months" quantities of rainfall, number of days of employment, income, etc.)


Pair wise; Matrix; Preference; Scoring

• For ranking items such as: crops, varieties, types and breeds of livestock, trees, fodders, supplementary income generating activities, etc. (Done by asking farmers to list different items ea. species of trees or vegetables and different criteria for evaluating them. Each class or category is then given a rank or score by the villagers. This is done by means of quantification with pebbles or seeds.)


• Establishing economic order of members of a community. (Done by interviewing a suitable villager(s), who then classifies different members into separate groups identified as distinct economic classes in the village.)


Venn (Chappatis)

• Used as a means of identifying and establishing relationships between a village and its environment in order of their relative importance.

Linkage/Relationship Charts

• Also for mapping processes, causes, effects, linkages.


• Pie diagrams, flow diagrams, trend diagrams, graphs, etc., for depiction data about various topics.

Extensions and hybrids

Constant and extensive use of PALM in our work in a variety of situations has helped bring about progress in PALM methodology.

New applications: Like applying the time line exercise to areas other than just the history of the village. For example, it is used to record the evolution of health and agricultural practices, education, etc. One interesting recent application was its rise in the profiling of a poor family. Another prominent application has been the use of participatory village mapping to see patterns of caste, asset ownership, family size and to identify households with handicapped persons, persons having chronic ailments, family planning cases, etc.

In one recent exercise while the village was being mapped by women, a discussion on malnutrition was initiated, and the symptoms described. After this the women began to point out and mark on the map, the houses which had children suffering from malnutrition.

New Extensions: Such as the evolution of participatory mapping on the ground to participatory modelling on the ground. From this point the method was extended further by making models of what a particular area such as a watershed looked like 50 years ago, what it would look like 20 years hence, and so on. Treatment plans for land development have also been shown on the maps or models.

New Methods: For instance in the use of transects for planning development of village lands, a new method used was the "Sweeping transect." Here groups of farmers and Outsiders comb different blocks of the area to bring out information about indigenous technology, problems and opportunities. Using this method, site specific plans can be made even on a plot by plot basis.

Hybrids: It has been possible to evolve new methods by combining two or more methods. For instance, participatory village mapping has led to participatory wealth ranking. This was further developed to include participatory resource mapping, with land ownership, land use, soil types and productivity of each plot of land indicated. Later attempts were made to correlate wealth to productivity.

The innovations and learning continue. Lately we have been experimenting with different ways in which the PALM exercise can be conducted. For example, in several cases we have had the farmers themselves draw the village and resource map and indicate possible interventions. This was done without any Outsiders being present, while the exercise was going on. The results have been extremely encouraging. Similarly, we now have farmers conducting their own exercises, interviewing one another and so on.

We continue to learn. We are learning to "embrace" error and to listen instead of lecturing - not very easy tasks. We are learning how to handle "dominant" participants - including some from the village who have vested interests. Sequencing our questions during interactions, sequencing of topics during a PALM exercise and sequencing of follow up activities - whether to do with the village programme or to do with the development and institutionalization of PALM - all these and many more are areas where we are engaged in a continuous process of learning.


There have been several lessons. Enough has been said elsewhere about the qualitative differences between the information generated in the PRA/ PALM method and the conventional survey method. The latter is unfamiliar to the people and therefore non participative. What do we do with Villagers who have ideas and perceptions far different from our own, which are also expressed differently and do not fall into any of our existing formats?

We have found, as others have, that Villagers are capable of collecting far more accurate information than Outsiders. They can also correct it, order and analyze it and start a process of development if given the opportunity to do so. Alongside this realization, there is also the growing realization that people in the rural areas are extremely skillful managers forced to live as they are under extremely marginal and vulnerable conditions. Their decision making has got to be precise; hence, their perceptions about their situations are absolutely critical inputs in any planning.

There is a need to understand and appreciate traditional management systems, livelihood systems, indigenous technologies, and the ways and reasons for how people feel, see, think and act in rural areas. PALM offers a way in which both Outsiders and Villagers try to discover the situation through a process of joint observation and interaction and shared analysis. The focus is on relationships rather than on any single event, aspect or activity. We have found that PALM is a method much enjoyed by both Villagers and Outsiders alike. It not only enhances participation, it also enhances the generation of both information and ideas. And we find that the village has begun to grow on us.

Villagers are increasingly emerging as resource persons in our PALM exercises. This includes small and marginal farmers, landless, tribals, women and even children. The latter have often participated actively and have demonstrated their expertise in terms of identifying different types of grasses and trees (particularly fruit trees). They also help identify school dropouts, handicapped children, etc.

The PRA/PALM field is a new unexplored and seemingly open ended frontier. Several possibilities exist - in methodology development, applications and generation of information - particularly local knowledge. But there is a danger - that of a lack of quality control and the consequent propagation of wrong methods. There is an urgent need to rapidly increase the use of good PRA methods and introduce this approach in mainstream organizations and institutions.

And finally, there is a need to train more and more people in PRA/PALM. But where are the trainers and how do we go about achieving this?


1 Correspondence can be sent to MYRADA at No. 2, Service Road, Domlur Layout, in Bangalore 560 071, Karnataka State, SOUTH INDIA.


To Al Fernandez Vidya Ramachandran, Eva Robinson and Robert Chambers for their help, guidance and encouragement. To others in MYRADA, too many to name for their contributions in the field, without which PRA/PALM would not exist.

Annex I: Time line

Pidow-Myrada Gulbarga

Annex II: Social mapping

Ramenamally village

Annex III: Sweeping transect

Sweeping transect

Annex IV: Historical transect

Historical transect

Annex IV: Historical transects

Historical transects

Historical transects

Annex V: Seasonality diagramming

Seasonality diagramming

Seasonality of rainfall

Annex VI: Ranking

An exercise in ranking

Annex VII: Livelihood ranking

Livelihood ranking for Harizanamada Guddavela Gupra

Annex VIII: Diagrams

Trends in mother and childcare and childbirth

26. Rapid rural appraisal (RRA) methodology and its use in nutrition surveys

What is rapid rural appraisal?
The fundamental principles of RRA
Techniques for data collection
Specific research issues
Future needs
Summary and conclusions

By Purnima Kashyap

Purnima Kashyap, a nutrition consultant, is affiliated with the International Development Research Centre, New Delhi, India.

This paper may confuse readers who are searching for clear distinctions between Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and Rapid Assessment Procedures (RAP), as many of the techniques and uses described could easily be drawn from several of the papers presented under the RAP nomenclature. This demonstrates the strong overlap in the two methodologies depending on the perspective of the researcher. In addition to concise definitions of several characteristics shared by both RRA and RAP, this paper makes an interesting argument for the use of two person RRA/RAP teams as opposed to the larger multi-disciplinary groups often called for. The paper also stresses the ''iterative" nature of RRA, but on this point there is little follow up in the examples and discussion. - Eds.

THE EXPERIENCE OF the last three decades in solving problems of malnutrition has been diverse. Various strategies were planned by researchers and policy makers on the basis of a single cause of malnutrition with minimal success. The implications are that if progress is to be made in improving the health/nutritional status of the underprivileged, professionals must go beyond the obvious solutions and seek ways to identify and modify the underlying risk factors. This generated the need to promote methodologies for analysis of food and nutrition problems and determination of the underlying causes of malnutrition at the community level, with emphasis on neglected psycho-social, economic, environmental and agricultural factors affecting human well-being. The actual situation needed to be defined in a short period of time in order for programme planners and policy makers to take rapid action.

Various development programmes have been planned and implemented by local/state/national governments, non-government organizations, and the international aid agencies for many years. Nonetheless, the cost-benefit ratio of these programmes has been rather low. This has created a challenge that has begun to focus increased attention on qualitative-iterative research techniques that are cost effective and of short duration.

The need for community participation in resolving malnutrition problems is now considered fundamental. By involving local communities in the identification and analysis of the causes of their malnutrition problems rather than the effects, more efficacious programmes can be implemented. While addressing the issue of causes, it is acknowledged that, unless a systems approach is undertaken, malnutrition problems will not be solved. It is also recognized that there is need to evolve rapid, dependable methodologies that will enable a better understanding of the problems of the malnourished and serve as a useful tool in nutrition programme planning, policy making and implementation. In this context, by applying techniques borrowed from the field of anthropology and utilizing qualitative survey methods, in addition to quantitative data, the Rapid Rural Appraisal methodology seems to hold promise for application in community programme design.

What is rapid rural appraisal?

Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) is a process of learning about rural conditions in an iterative and expeditious manner. More often than not, it is multi-disciplinary in nature and has an in-built flexibility in the process of collecting information. It has been defined as "any systematic activity designed to draw inferences, conclusions, hypotheses or assessments, including acquisition of new information in a limited period of time" [1]. The methodology is gaining recognition and is being used in the identification of community problems, and for monitoring and evaluation of ongoing activities. In the field of nutrition, the RRA approach can be useful to gather information on a broad range of community activities; to develop a better understanding of systems' dynamics; and to appreciate the interlinked factors influencing nutritional status.

Publications are now becoming available on the rapid appraisal methodology. However, experience indicates resistance to the use of this methodology, particularly by academic institutions. Conventional survey techniques still seem popular with most researchers, because qualitativeiterative - community-based methodology is seen as "non-academic."

This paper, therefore, is an attempt to highlight some of the basic principles and techniques used in RRA for nutrition problem definition and programme planning. It is based on experience gained during a case study in India [2] using RRA techniques to identify community nutrition problems. The latter part of this paper raises certain research issues for which information can be elicited. Some commonly raised questions that need to be addressed to increase the use of this methodology in a manner best suited for a specific region or purpose also are discussed.

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