Rural apprasial: rapid, relaxed and participatory
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The term Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) describes a growing family of approaches and methods to enable local people to share, enhance and analyse their knowledge of life and conditions, to plan and to act. PRA flows from and owes much to activist participatory research, agroecosystems, applied anthropology, field research on farming systems, and rapid rural appraisal (RRA). In RRA information is more elicited and extracted by outsiders; in PRA it is more shared and owned by local people. The behaviour and attitudes of outsider facilitators are crucial, including relaxing not rushing, showing respect, 'handing over the stick' and being self-critically aware. Modes of investigation, sharing and analysis are open-ended, and often visual, by groups and through comparisons. Among many applications, PRA has been used in natural resources management (soil and water conservation, forestry, fisheries, wildlife, village planning etc) agriculture, programmes for the poor, health and food security. Evidence to date shows high validity and reliability in information shared by rural people through PRA. Dangers include faddism, rushing, formalism, ruts and rejection. Challenges in spread include quality assurance and institutional change. Potentials include farmers' own farming systems research, substituting for surveys, spread by villagers, and support for the paradigm shift towards decentralisation, local diversity and empowerment of the poorer.