I am a huge fan of participatory rapid assessment (sometimes called participatory rapid appraisal)!  I mean a huge fan!

As any of my clients or colleagues will tell you, I use PRA approaches in every project that I do.  Mostly I use one method above all others: the 20-bean method.  But increasingly I’ve been using other methods that have been developed for working with children and young people.  Partly because I’ve just completed a large assignment for a consortium of youth-focused charities, but also because they are straightforward approaches that can work just as well with adults as with young people.

I can hear the purists and the researchers groaning already!  PRA is not universally loved by everyone in our field.  I got turned onto the approach through using SROI.  I didn’t know it at the time but when training in SROI methodology there is a couple of steps in the process that rely on a participatory approach.  It was working with a group of HIV positive adults in Zambia in 2010 that first made me realise that asking beneficiaries what they thought about an agency’s interventions in a way that went beyond the classic focus group would give me analysable qualitative data that could be used to compare and triangulate against survey data, financial data, etc.

You see, in SROI you have to spend a lot of time working with beneficiaries (users, customers) determining outcomes, impacts and financial proxies, listening to what is important to them and building their priorities into the SROI design.  I quickly discovered that a lot of NGOs and development agencies design their programmes and interventions based on what they think is right for the beneficiaries (with the very best of intentions). Of course consultation does happen often.  But mostly after the design has been outlined or set up or signed off; and even then, it is very often a small consultation with a focus group.

By including PRA in your monitoring plan you can quickly determine which interventions are having the biggest affect on your beneficiaries and why; and make changes on the fly.  In an evaluation setting you can understand which activities are showing the best likelihood of creating longer term positive and negative impacts and how your work is contributing to broader social or cultural changes and eventually helping to create social capital.

Have you ever used PRA?  Do you want to know more about it?  Do you think PRA would or would not work in your organisation?


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