Participatory Rural Appraisal and Action Research

Whatever the problems involved in its deployment, there is a clear relationship between PRA, PE more generally, and AR. Local knowledge is valued and is taken as the basis for development program design and implementation. PRA does result in some warrants for action. These approaches also contain a strong critique of urban professionalism as a key element and treat the insider- outsider relationship as a key dimension in the dynamics of the processes.

At the same time, there are dissonances in PRA when it does not match well other forms of AR practice and feminist critiques. PRA is avowedly short term, whereas AR is generally conceptualized as a longer-term relationship between insiders and outsiders. Despite Chambers’s own realism about these matters, much writing and practice in PRA are insensitive to power relations, a key element in any AR approach. Though PRA has identified the problem of gender differences as they affect its method, it is clear that PRA has not been sufficiently sensitive to gender relations, and we doubt that such a short-term and rather formalistic approach can overcome these problems.

Paralleling our critique of participatory evaluation, after the initial PRA, the action plans and methodologies to be deployed are much less clearly artic­ulated. PRA, as a short-term intervention, does not contain a clear strategy for sustaining long-term change. Although it does develop local knowledge and teams, it does not appear to be as thoughtful as many AR projects have been about working toward sustainable relationships that will keep innovations from deteriorating back to the original situation.

PRA lacks a theoretical position with regard to dealing with the intragroup conflicts that it identifies. Local people, when understood properly, have many and often divergent or incompatible interests. PRA is silent on processes that bring these differences together for the purpose of developing an acceptable and fair approach.

We see PRA as an interesting approach and a participatory one. But for now, the agenda for PRA work is still heavily in the hands of the external fun­ders and NGOs. This opens up the possibility of changing some elements in externally imposed projects, but it does not do so in a very robust way. And by being short term, PRA is not likely to alter existing power relations to a very sig­nificant degree. Al that said, PRA is a far better option than previous practices for agencies that are the plainly coercive political arms of foreign governments.

Source: Greenwood Davydd J., Levin Morten (2006), Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, SAGE Publications, Inc; 2nd edition.

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