chapter  5
20 Pages

PRA: Pathways, Practice and Principles

RRA, agroecosystem analysis and other approaches and methods converged in the late 1980s. Ahha! experiences, like discovering that local people could map and diagram, and do these better than outsiders, led to the explosion of innovation known as PRA (participatory rural appraisal) which spread into many countries and organizations, with many applications. PRA and the more inclusive PLA (participatory learning and action) are families of participatory methodologies. During the 1990s and 2000s PRA/PLA has spread and been applied in most countries in the world. Among the multifarious domains of application, some of the more common have been natural resource management and agriculture, programmes for equity, empowerment, rights and security, and community-level planning and action. Related participatory methodologies, which have co-evolved and spread widely as movements, include farmer participatory research, integrated pest management, Reflect, Stepping Stones and Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PGIS) (Chapter 7). Ideologically and epistemologically, PRA/PLA seeks and embodies participatory ways to empower local and subordinate people, enabling them to express and enhance their knowledge and take action. It can be understood as having three main components that feed into and reinforce current creative diversity: first, facilitators’ behaviours, attitudes and mindsets linked with precepts for action; second, methods which combine visuals, tangibles and groups, and understandings of group-visual synergy and the democracy of the ground; and third, sharing without boundaries. These raise questions around power, roles, realities and whose reality counts? As different methodologies, approaches and methods have multiplied and merged, it has become less clear what PRA/PLA is or should mean. The future lies not in branding and boundaries but in eclectic pluralism, a theme taken up in Chapter 9.