Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)


Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) is an assessment and learning approach that places emphasis on empowering local people to assume an active role in analyzing their own living conditions, problems, and potentials in order to seek for a change of their situation. Changes are supposed to be achieved by collective action and the local communities are invited to assume responsibilities for implementing respective activities.

The primary use of the PRA has been for service design, accountability to stakeholders, and advocacy and learning activities. Essentially embodying principles of decentralization and empowerment, PRA is regarded as an exercise which transfers the role of planning and decision-making, traditionally taken by government institutions and development agencies, to the target group or community itself.

Here’s how it works

PRA activities are conducted in workshops lasting from 3-5 days. Planning of the workshop and the facilitation of tools is done in a multidisciplinary team of community ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, which is typically gender balanced.

The PRA toolkit engages along four community experiences:

·  Spatial (understanding the geographic distribution and extent of physical features, assets, resources);

·  Temporal (to understand changes over time, such as livelihoods, expenditure, availability of resources, workload etc.);

·  Relational (mapping hierarchies or relationships between social groups, institutions and individuals in a community);

·  Decision—making support (supporting the community to channel their experiences in the program/service design, and actively engaging in program/service governance and management).  

Various techniques are used including community/participatory mapping, diagramming (resource mapping, Venn diagrams, Chapati Chitran, etc.), focus group discussions, interviews, ecosystem mapping, etc. Oral and visual communication using diagrams, pictures etc. are prioritized to bridge literacy divides.

The members of the PRA team act as facilitators. The local people “own” the results of a PRA Workshop as opposed to external experts. Consequently, an important principle of PRA is to share the results of the analysis between the PRA team and the community members by visualisation, public presentations, and discussions during meetings.

The benefit

Context makes the PRA approach and its application distinct. Evaluations of advocacy and engagement initiatives tend to be retrospective since the initiatives themselves are responsive or reactive to changing contexts, and therefore non-linear in nature.

This method visualizes complexity and power in a tangible, yet politically astute manner – opening the door to dialogue about policy outcomes and facilitating the co-creation of evolving assumptions, approaches, and the eventual contribution story.

The risk

The approach is heavily contingent on highly trained facilitators, coordinators, and institutional champions. As the context gets increasingly complex and multiple initiatives blur into one another – due to political pressures or unequal social hierarchies (caste and gender for instance) – facilitators need to be flexible, culturally conscientious, and reflexive, to consistently address changing contexts while remaining aligned to the overarching strategy and outputs.


An example of PRA being used for stakeholder engagement by Sambodhi Research is in MAMTA, an investment of Policy Advocacy and Communication (PAC), to map the direct, indirect and the potential actors that influence or are influenced by the advocacy efforts. The aim was to explore relational linkages between the advocacy organizations and institutions which affect or are affected by MAMTA’s advocacy efforts. Diagramming was used for this purpose.

A Venn Diagram (or Chapati Chitran) shows the relative importance of various institutions in the village, relationships and linkages among them, weaknesses with respect to decision making processes, development of the village by institutions, duplication of efforts and gap identification between institutions, objectives, and felt needs of farmers, and concentration of power within the village. On the Venn diagram, each institution is represented by a circle. The size of the circle represents the significance, or influence/power of that institution/s.

While some of these relations could be hierarchical and structured, others might be informal or even still-potential relations. Regardless, each of these relations might potential sites of intervention, and hence, mapping them becomes imperative to understand how the advocacy ecosystem functions. Diagramming allowed mapping of these relationships in the PAC-MAMTA project to understand how the social space and how the advocacy ecosystem changes over time. 

Figure 1: Example of Ecosystem Map co-created using PRA approaches with MAMTA


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. Conducting a PRA Training and Modifying PRA Tools to Your Needs. An Example from a Participatory Household Food Security and Nutrition Project in Ethiopia.

Prepared by Sabeena Mathayas from Sambodhi.

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