PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) and SALT: A perspective into participation

PRA or the participatory rural appraisal is a technique deployed by people especially those working with development agencies, Non-Government organizations or education practitioners to incorporate viewpoints of the rural communities that they choose to work with. It is often seen that we have inherent biases when we incorporate pointers regarding issues of their concern besides lack of knowledge on the particular arena and no one better than the recipient themselves to talk of the same. The knowledge gained through is used for planning, management and implementation of the projects undertaken in the development sphere. When those concerned themselves are involved it gives an in depth understanding into the situation and helps bring out latent issues pertinent to them and find a more comprehensive solution.

My first PRA exercise was done post joining IRMA and was done in time bound manner. The objective of the exercise was to just have an understanding of the dynamics of the village where we were stationed. This was done to acquaint us with the rural way of life as most of us came from different backgrounds and wanted to understand rural dynamics. This is when we were introduced to PRA and its tools, we undertook transect walks, did focus group discussions, took feedbacks, did interviews in a semi structured manner and undertook social mapping.

When we first did it, we were under the impression that we were spectators and it was the villagers who had the upper hand in taking and deciding the problem for themselves and finding apt solution. But working with Faith foundation and Rituu has altered our thought process. During PRA we asked questions we wanted to, we made sketches and did social mapping as per our needs and requirements, the transect walk was done as per our convenience and keeping our time constraints in mind. The whole thing was done to suit our convenience and needs and was laden with our inherent biases which we believed would be overcome with this particular exercise.

That is when we were introduced to methods such as SALT wherein the beneficiaries had for real, more of an upper hand and actually held the steering wheel much in contrast to the earlier exercise undertaken. Here the community member understood their own problem, set own goals, work towards achieving the same and monitored their progress status. The two external parties they needed are funders who would infuse funds to keep continuing to perform all of these activities and second was a third-party evaluator who would make assessment on the progress and help them steer the wheel in the right direction while ensuring that the wheel continues to be in the hands of the community.

This method helps overcome the inherent biases that was prevalent in PRA. While PRA is a good attempt to start off, development agencies have largely shifted to other practices that imbibe the community taking full control for problems and actions. But PRA does act as a good ice breaker, introduce us to the community, understand in detail the things we have read about and also give us a visual cue into the area. The practice in itself cannot be eliminated or replaced however it has to be supplemented with other practices that gives community the ownership.

Our biggest learning has been our narrow perspective into matters have been and how crucial it is for us to question existing practices, un learn what we have learnt and learn more about other variants that are more suited to changing times and promotes mutual learning. The learnings I have had and the push to write this blog has been courtesy the very kind Ms. Rituu and the amazing bunch of people at Faith foundation, GFC and IRMA, whom I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart and express my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to do so. 

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Comment by Phil on March 16, 2021 at 3:06pm

Hi Chaithanya,

I have found that it is extremely difficult to put aside the perspectives that I have developed over many years. At the very least, SALT challenges me to put aside these perspectives and to place the perspectives of others at the centre of myattention for a time. I have found that if I challenge myself to learn from those other perspectives, it forces me to look carefully, to ask questions and to reflect on those answers then I can make some progress.

Thank you for sharing how your own perspective developed during your work.

Phil

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