Origins of Participatory Resource Appraisal

Looking for PRA definition?


Well, PRA stands for Participatory Rural Appraisal?


PRA is not a new concept actually, and it has been around since 1990s which is very similar to qualitative methodology called RRA or Rapid Rural Appraisal.

According to Freudenberger, PRA is a tool to describe:

 “what” is going on in a population by looking at the frequency of certain events or characteristics, qualitative methods enable us to describe the reasons “why” this is so.”

Meanwhile, Robert Chambers defines PRA as

“an approach and methods for learning about rural life and conditions from, with and by rural people.”

By this, the community itself will identify their needs and thus outsiders are only facilitators.

This approach will help rural people have a sense of ownerships of the programs and projects and to make it more sustainable.

Projects which are doled out by the government and international donors are just a waste because most of it is actually from a top-bottom approach and it does not build a sense of ownership.

As the old adage “give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, teach a man a fish and you will feed him a lifetime.”

And this is the real essence of participatory.

PRA is a bottom-up approach of policy making, community development unlike with the top-down approach where specialist and researchers are the ones who makes the decisions.

However, most of projects and programs if it were not successfully implemented, some organizations use the word “participatory” to make it more appealing to the funding organizations while missing the real process of PRA.

To give you a brief information on the origin of PRA.

I tried to look and surf the vast knowledge on the internet. Fortunately, I found a journal article by Robert Chambers that outlines the “Origins of PRA.”

Based on his article, there were five streams of related activities that were helpful in forming the process of PRA.

Here is a list of those processes and you can read the full article on the Origins of PRA here. 

1. Activist Participatory Research

This method owes much to the works of Paulo Friere in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,1968” which encourages people to analyse their own situation and become empower.


  1. -that poor people are creative and capable, and
    can and should do much of their own investigation,
    analysis and planning;
  2. that outsiders have roles as conveners, catalysts
    and facilitators;


2. Agroecosystem analysis

This analysis is developed in Thailand and spread through Southeast Asia.


  • transects (systematic walks and observation);
  • informal mapping (sketch maps drawn on site);
  • diagramming (seasonal calendars, flow and
  • causal diagrams, bar charts, Venn diagrams);
  • innovation assessment (scoring and ranking different actions).

3. Applied anthropology

PRA represents an extension and application of social anthropological insights, approaches and methods, crossfertilized with others.


  • the idea of field learning as flexible art rather than rigid science;
  • the value of field residence, unhurried participant- observation, and conversations;
  • the importance of attitudes, behavior and rapport;
  • the emit-etic distinction;
  • the validity of indigenous technical knowledge.

4. Field research on farming systems

This field research on farming systems contributed a lot on the understanding on the following:

  • the complexity, diversity and risk-proneness of many farming systems;
  • the knowledge, professionalism and rationality of small and poor farmers;
  • their experimental mindset and behavior;
  • their ability to conduct their own analyses.

5. Rapid Rural Appraisal.

Around mid-1980s, the words “participation”and “participatory”entered the realms of RRA vocabulary.

According to Chambers, ” RRA methods are more verbal, with outsiders more active, while PRA methods are more visual, with local people more active, but the methods are now largely shared. The major distinction is between an RRA (extractive-elicitive) approach where the main objective is data collection by outsiders, and a PRA (sharing-empowering) approach where the main objectives are variously investigation, analysis, learning, planning, action, monitoring and evaluation by

Major differences of RRA and PRA

Based on FAO, the major distinctions of the two fields of qualitative research tools are as follows.

Rapid Rural Appraisals

  • Responding to needs of development workers and agencies
  • More emphasis on efficient use of time achievement of objectives
  • Communication and learning tools used to help outsiders analyse conditions and understand local people
  • Focus of RRA decided by outsiders
  • End product mainly used by development agencies and outsiders
  • Enables development agencies and institutions to be more “participatory”
  • Can be used purely for “research” purposes without necessarily linking to subsequent action or intervention

Participatory Rural Appraisal

  • Responding to needs of communities and target groups
  • More emphasis on flexibility to adapt to time frame of community
  • Communication and learning tools used to help local people analyse their own conditions and communicate with outsiders
  • Focus of PRA decided by communities
  • End product mainly used by community
  • Enables (empowers) communities to make demands on development agencies and institutions
  • Closely linked to action or intervention and requiring immediate availability of support for decisions and conclusions reached by communities as a result of the PRA

As you can see, PRA is not merely extracting data from the rural villages for the consumption of researchers and funding agencies. It is more on helping and empowering them to make their own programs and projects. Its the community who will decide for the projects and not the outsiders.

You can read more about Participatory Rural Appraisal here. 

PRA has been used widely by many non-government organization and researchers to help community, build and make their own projects while the experts are just merely facilitators.

While PRA proves its efficient application in the field of social science and rural development, it is only the means to an end, not the end itself.


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