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close this bookResource Management for Upland Areas in Southeast Asia - An Information Kit (IIRR, 1995, 207 p.)
close this folder4. Diagnostic methods and tools
View the documentParticipatory appraisal methods
View the documentIntegrated land-use planning in upland areas
View the documentFarm househoId profile
View the documentGender analysis
View the documentCollecting information on crops
View the documentBuilding on indigenous knowledge

Participatory appraisal methods

A number of participatory approaches for assessing local conditions, problems and opportunities have been developed. They provide a "basket" of tools and techniques for visualizing, interviewing and group work. The approaches share various features:

· They can be used to collect and analyze information in a participatory way.

· They examine interactions between social, economic and biophysical systems.

· They allow interdisciplinary teams (e.g., of researchers, extensionists and planners) to work in a sensitive manner directly with farmers and local communities in the field. Each team member uses his/her specific expertise to develop lines of inquiry with local people.

· Information is pooled to construct a picture of the area and current resource management issues and to generate ideas on major constraints.

· Learning is from and with rural people and stresses local knowledge, skills and practices. The learning is rapid, progressive and iterative (not a fixed blueprint).

· The information is a selective sampling of a range of conditions and extremes (not solely based on averages).

· Probing and "triangulation" of methods and sources of information ensure reliability and validity.

· Local people can analyze and make decisions on the spot, based on the information they themselves provide.

· These techniques can help mobilize and organize local people around issues they consider important.

Advantages of participatory approaches

Participatory approaches allow close interactions between local people and outsiders.

They can provide insights to complex, multidimensional problems.

They can identify key problems quickly and cheaply.

They can be followed by surveys to provide in-depth analysis and understanding of selected components.

They allow local people to identify problems and empower them in seeking solutions.

Examples of participatory appraisal methods

· Farming systems research
· Agroecosystems analysis
· Diagnosis and design
· Rapid rural appraisal
· Participatory rural appraisal
· Situation-specific assessment.

These approaches are continually evolving as they are used and further tested and adapted in the field.

Basket of participatory assessment tools and techniques for collecting and analyzing information.


· Diagnostic studies
· Planning and design of research and extension projects
· Land-use planning
· Community development
· Agricultural development
· Participatory monitoring and evaluation

Site selection

Since the target area is often large, it is impossible to do assessment in the whole area. It is necessary to select some typical sites that represent local features and conditions. Later, the information collected and findings can be presented to the whole community.

It is necessary to meet the local leaders and the community as a whole. This helps people in the community understand and participate in the program.

Methods and tools

Visualized analyses

Guidelines for conducting three of these methods (transects, matrices and calendars) are given later in this section.

· Participatory mapping and modelling (resource and social maps)
· Transects
· Seasonal calendars
· Changing trends (historical profiles/trend analyses/time lines)
· Matrices, reference ranking
· Participatory diagramming (systems, flows, institutions, decisions, problems)
· Tables or graphs showing basic village data
· Listing of problems, causes, strategies, potentials.


· Semistructured household interviews
· Focus groups
· Key informants.

The team

· 4-8 persons with varied disciplinary backgrounds. (Number depends on the size of the community or village and on the scope of information to be collected.)

· Each member collects one type of data.

· Rotate responsibilities among members.

· Combine and integrate information obtained.

· Stimulate interaction and information exchange.

Socioeconomic indicators

Wealth ranking
Traditional practices and beliefs.

Field sampling

Transect walks
Direct observation.

Group and team dynamics

Rapid report writing
Work sharing (in local activities)
Villager shared presentations.

Writing up results

The report should be written immediately after the fieldwork and be based mainly on the records. The sections may be divided among the team members or may be written jointly through a workshop. The report should be short and clear.


· Difficulty of building the right team dynamics.
· Superficial data collection, generalizing based on a small sample.
· Failure to involve all members of a community.
· Overlooking the invisible.
· Lecturing instead of learning and listening.
· Imposing external ideas and values without realizing it.
· Raising expectations in the community regarding follow-up activities and interventions.

Participatory assessment methods are not an end in themselves, but a process that must be judiciously used in combination with other tools, including secondary data, select surveys and other more in-depth investigations into key problems and constraints.



A transect is a cross-section of major land-use zones. It compares the main features, resources, uses and problems of the different zones.


A transect shows the different land-use or ecological zones. It provides a detailed picture of a community. It shows how the natural resource potential is managed and used, as well as problems and opportunities related to each zone.


Flipcharts and colored markers, notebooks and pens, a community map.


· Find key informants (both men and women) who are knowledgeable and willing to assist.

· Identify the transect route (on the map).

· Walk along the transect route.

· Discuss with key informants the different factors to be drawn on the transect (crops, land use, trees, soil, water, etc.), problems and opportunities.

· Identify the main natural and agricultural zones.

· Draw the transect.

· Cross-check the transect with the key informants.


A transect walk is an excellent tool to get information on details of land use, natural resources, soil types, yields, problems, constraints, advantages and possible solutions. It encourages villagers to participate in the assessment process.

Example of a transect



A matrix lists certain items (such as tree species or crop types), in the rows and characteristics of each item (such as yield, uses and drought resistance) in the columns. The body of the matrix shows the level or rank of the characteristic for each item. Local people choose the items to list and the measures to be used.


Matrices can be used for many purposes. Examples:

· Crop and tree species: uses, characteristics, farmers, preferences.
· Prioritization of possible development interventions.


Local materials (sticks, stones, seeds, leaves). Chalk or stick to draw matrix frame. Papers and pens to record the results.


· Identify interested and knowledgeable individuals (both men and women).

· Find a large, clear area to draw matrix.

· Ask participants to define items (e.g., list of tree species).

· Draw a series of rows (the number of rows depends on the number of species to be evaluated). Write the name of each species to the left of each row. Put a leaf or fruit from that species here.

· Ask participants to identify criteria to use.

· Draw a series of columns (the number of columns depends on the number of criteria used). Write criteria at the top of each column.

· Ask participants to decide categories for each criterion (e.g., highest yield, high, medium, low, lowest).

· Participants put sticks or stones in the body of the matrix. The number of sticks or stones depends on the level of the category: for instance, 1 stone means "lowest yield,,, 5 stones means "highest yield.”


Helps farmers and program managers make decisions in conducting the program. Questions that can be answered:

· What species are desirable or important?
· What are priority activities to solve identified problems?
· What resources can be utilized?

In the field



A calendar identifies items or activities that vary from month to month, for instance: livelihood tasks (crop production, harvesting, etc.), rainfall, cultural events, prices, off-farm income and food availability.

Calendars can categorize responsibilities for livelihood tasks by gender, age and intensity of activity.


Developing a calendar can generate information on seasonal variations in social, biophysical and economic conditions, show the relationships between them and identify opportunities for change.


Poster board or a large roll of brown paper, markers.


· Identify interested and knowledgeable local people (men and women). This exercise can be done with either focus groups or key informants.

· Draw a matrix with 12 columns and as many rows as you need (you can add rows as you go on). Write the names of the months at the top of each column.

· Define some items (e.g., types of tasks, etc.) to discuss. Write these to the left of each row. Ask participants to define additional items (e.g., additional tasks).

· Ask participants to trace on the calendar when certain activities occur.

· Make sure that the level of each activity (e.g., sporadic, continuous, intense) is reflected.

· Make sure that the activities and responsibilities of each household member (men, women, children) are represented.


· Assists project planners and managers to anticipate the best timing for work in the community.

· Helps analyze various local indicators and the relationships among them.

· Information can show responsibilities of individuals (men, women, children) and groups and how these change over the year.

· Calendars may vary according to socioeconomic status of the participants.

Seasonal calendar for the Pabalays on Siquijor Island, Philippines