Series 6:Participatory Rural Appraisal or Participatory Learning Methods- Recent Experiences From MYRADA & South India


PRA-PALM Series 6

No.2,Service Road,
Domlur Layout,
BANGALORE 560 071.










Page No.

List of Annexures
Abstract 1
About MYRADA 2
1. What’s in a Name 2
2. The PALM Experience 3
2.1. Applications 3
2.2. What’s a PALM Training Like 4
2.3. Layout 5
2.4. Some Tips 5
2.5. Some Methods and Their Applications 6
3. Extensions and Hybrids 7
3.1. New Applications 7
3.2. New Extensions 8
3.3. New Methods 8
3.4. Hybrids 8
4. Lessons 9




Annexure - I Fig. 1. : Time Line
Fig. 2. : Linkage Chart

Annexure - II Fig. 1. : Village Social Map
Fig. 2. : Village Resource Map

Annexure - III Fig. 1. : Watershed 50 years ago
Fig. 2. : Watershed today

Annexure - IV Fig. 1. : Sweeping Transect
Fig. 2. : Historical Transect

Annexure - V Fig. 1. : Seasonality (Soil Moisture)
Fig. 2. : Seasonality (Employment, Credit, Etc.)

Annexure - VI Fig. 1. : Matrix Ranking Livelihoods
Fig. 2. : Matrix Ranking Crop Varieties

Annexure - VII Fig. 1. : Trend Diagram
Fig. 2. : Individual Family Profile

Annexure - VIII : Map of India


MYRADA is a Non-Governmental Organisation which has been intensively involved in developing and applying Rural Appraisal Methods in its work mainly in South India. Characterised by its approach which is participatory in nature and implies an on-going presence and engagement in well defined rural areas, MYRADA prefers to term its approach ‘PARTICIPATORY LEARNING METHODS’ (PALM). It thus chooses to avoid using the terms ‘Rapid’ and ‘Appraisal’.

In its work, MYRADA has discovered the abundant and untapped resource -- that of the rural people themselves and the knowledge and the experience that they possess about their own situation. The attempt is, therefore, to build on this resource for sustainable rural development.

In the course of applying rural appraisal methods in the local context, MYRADA has evolved and is still developing a suitable and effective methodology. This consists of village camps organised for those involved in rural developments. During these camps a series of interactions take place between and among the Villagers and Outsiders which lead to an enhanced and shared understanding of complex rural situations.

The methodology is not rigid but is flexible, adaptable and what is more important, constantly and rapidly evolving.

The quality of outputs obtained by using this method justifies its advocation and extensive use. But how this has to be achieved is a question before us.....



MYRADA is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) which has been involved in Rural Development since 1968. It works in approximately 2,000 villages in South India, in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu. MYRADA initially started as an Organisation which resettled refugees from Tibet. Since then its role has expanded and today it has six major programme thrusts.

1. Participative resource development and management projects, (particularly in semi-arid areas). These include wastelands and watershed development programmes.  
2. Resettlement and Rehabilitation of released bonded labour and landless families.  
3. Development of Women and Children in rural areas.  
4. Development of Rural Credit System.  
5. Development of appropriate institutions and management systems in the rural areas.  
6. Training -- evolving training methods which are appropriate to the Indian Context -- particularly in the rural areas.


In India, particularly in South India the last 12 months have been significant in the development of participatory methods to understand and assess rural situations -- and plan for their development. In the course of applying RAPID RURAL APPRAISAL (RRA) Methods in its work, MYRADA came to the conclusion that ‘Rapid’ cannot be ‘participatory’.  

Prominent features of MYRADA’s style of functioning are:

a) Its emphasis on the participation of village people in their own development AND  
b) Its active and on-going presence in a defined rural area not as a ‘patron’ and ‘benefactor’ but as a ‘catalyst’ and ‘partner’ in development.

What was required therefore was a method which did not stop just at ‘Appraisal’ but which went beyond it into a shared analysis and understanding of rural situations. This, in turn should lead to developmental activities that are creative, productive and sustainable over a period of time.  

Thus, it was that PALM evolved -- PARTICIPATORY LEARNING METHODS, and indeed there was plenty to learn about -- from, with and about rural people and their situations. The PALM method complemented and integrated well with MYRADA’s approach and the results of this have been quite substantial. 


PALM took off much faster than we expected. Since we adopted it a year ago, a little over 40 PALM exercises have been conducted. These have been on a variety of topics and situations. The PALM programme thrust has been on rapid training and exposure, building up of training teams, developing new methods and applications, constantly reviewing and refining the methodology, analysing and documenting experiences and initiating participative developmental programmes based on the outcomes/ outputs of PALM exercises. 

2.1. Applications:

Tentatively at first, and more confidently as we began to understand the methodology better, we worked out ways in which PALM could be applied to a variety of situations. Some of these are:

  • -Participatory planning of natural resource development and management projects. These include programmes for the development of wastelands and watersheds, tank and lift irrigation and afforestation programmes.

  • Participatory planning of integrated rural development programmes, in which the different sectors such as agriculture, sericulture, animal husbandry, education, health, etc., are integrated into a single programme.

  •   Tracking and identification of beneficiaries for appropriate programmes. These include child sponsorship programmes and programmes for health care, poverty alleviation, etc.

  •   Studying the coping strategies/mechanisms of the rural poor -- crisis management, credit needs and sources, and credit management.

  •   Studying other aspects of rural life -- customs and traditions, trends, confl cts and their resolution, health and nutrition, education, etc. 

  •  Participatory impact monitoring and assessment of developmental programmes. Eg. Impact of a road, an agricultural research station, a health programme etc.

2.2. What’s a PALM training exercise like?

Some Features

A typical PALM exercise has about 25-30 persons participating. The participants are drawn from various organisations -- NGOs, Research and Training Institutions, the Government, etc.

A village is selected as a location for the exercise. This village is usually one where there is already an established on-going presence by an outside agency and where developmental programmes are taking place or are being proposed. This stipulation is made out of respect for the Villagers whose curiosities and expectations are raised by such exercises, and to leave the village without a concrete response to expressed needs would not be appropriate.  

The participants stay in the village. This helps in several ways. Apart from simplifying logistics, it gives the ‘outsiders’ a feel for what the village is really like. There is also a greater opportunity for villagers and outsiders to access each other and interact -- especially in the evenings after the days’s work is done. A strong rapport is developed and the degree of sharing extends over many aspects of village life which are more intimate to the villagers than only their work. Village camping thus has a definite impact on participation.  

Participation is also enhanced by introducing the Outsiders to a ‘code of conduct’. There are several Do’s and Don’ts but the most important ones are :  

- Choosing a time suitable to the villagers.
- Following necessary cultural protocol as required by the situation.
- Taking care not to raise the villagers expectations -- particularly if those expectations cannot be responded to.
- Initiating a few ‘equalising’ exercises -- simple everyday tasks, (basket weaving, transplanting rice, house construction etc.), with the villagers as the teachers. The Outsiders who are usually ‘qualified’ and ‘experts’ find that these ‘simple’ village tasks are not so simple after all. The Villagers on their part begin to feel less inferior and begin to see that their skills have a value and status in the eyes of the ‘educated’ Outsiders. This gives them greater confidence and increases their willingness to participate in the exercises and tell us more about themselves and their situation.  
Exercising discipline in the mode of interaction is another item aimed at stimulating participation. To be avoided are the superior modes -- lecturing instead of listening and learning and so on.

2.3. Layout:

The layout of a typical PALM programme is generally as follows :

(Day I)

- History of the village 
- Village Layout 
- Village Infrastructure, etc.

(Day III)


- Seasonality
- Identifying resources
- Wealth ranking
- Class and caste stratification, conflict, etc.
- Causes and effects etc.

(Day II)


- Study of resources
- Livelihoods
- Trends 
- Preferences etc.

(Day IV)


- Identifying opportunities
- Listing priorities and best
- Identifying roles and
- (defining participants of the
various partners including the people)

(Day V)


- Operational Plan
- Documentation, etc.

NOTE : These are only a few items. There could be several more. Neither is this a fixed format. Variations are not only possible, but they are recommended. Refer annexures for descriptions and illustrations of a few methods and outputs. Each PALM exercise is available in the form of a documented report. (For further information see end of report).

2.4. Some Tips:

Apart from the actual topical exercises, early morning review sessions followed by briefing sessions for the day’s work are held. Evenings are reserved for group presentations. These are the times when most of the villagers are free after the day’s work is done. Presenting this information in the large evening forum has the advantage that it is up for everyone’s scrutiny and is subject to correction. Thus there is a reasonable chance that at the end of the day we have an end product that is accurate and reliable, having been refined several times over from the initial discussions in the sub-groups, to the final presentation. Such gatherings are usually lively with the village folk correcting one another and arriving at a consensus on various issues, events, practices and other information. Thus an important principle of PRA/PALM is met -- that of ‘TRIANGULATION’ of information.  

There are many other aspects and elements that go into the making of a PALM programme. For obvious reasons all these cannot be described here -- many have to be experienced. There are also standard group processes and techniques, which have not been described in detail but are very much part of the methodology which MYRADA follows in its PALM Programmes. Some of these are ice breakers, outsider to villager ratios, group sharing evolution of topical agenda, interviewing techniques, role plays, ‘buzz’ sessions, ‘dummy’ exercises and so on. 

2.5. Some methods and their applications:

1. Time Line


Time and events, history, evolution of a village, agricultural practices, health care practices, etc. (Done by constructing a chronology of events that have taken place in consultation with the people.) (Annexure 1, Fig.1)

2. Participatory

a) Social Mapping Village layout, infrastructure, population chronic health cases, handicapped, malnourished children, family planning cases, vaccinations, widows, destitutes, etc. (Annexure-2, Fig.1)

b) Primary Resources Mapping & Modelling

Land, water and tree resources, land use, land and soil types, cropping patterns, land and water management, productivity, watersheds, degraded land, treatment plans, etc. (Done by the villagers themselves with paper and pen when it is to be mapping on paper or coloured chalk or coloured powders (Rangoli) when it has to be mapping on the ground) (Annexure 2, Fig.2.)

3. Transects

a) Straight Line 
b) Nullah 
c) Sweeping

Perambulatory/observatory walks to study natural resources, topography, indigenous technology, soils and vegetation, farming practices, problems and opportunities which are cross tallied with the resources mapping and modelling.


(Done by walking through the area, with a group of villagers -- either following a particular  course, cross country or covering the area in a combing or sweeping motion.) (Annexure - 4, Fig.1.)

d) Historical 

Pictorial/graphic representations of the area at different points in time, to give evolutionary trends in land use, vegetation, erosion, population, etc. (Done by interviewing older people and asking them to recap the landscape of a given area at different points of time. (Annexure - 4 Fig.2) 

4. Seasonality Diagramming

For obtaining seasonal patterns of rainfall, employment, income and expenditure, debt, credit, food and nutrition, disease, fodder, milk production, marketing, etc. (Done with the use of stones, sticks and different coloured seeds to represent months, quantities or rainfall, number of days of employment, income, etc.) (Annexure - 5, Fig. 1 & 2.)

5. Ranking

a) Pair Wise 
b) Matrix
c) Preference
d) Scoring

For ranking items such as : crops, varieties, types and breeds of livestock, trees, fodders, supplementary income generating activities etc. (Done by asking farmers to list different items etc.; species of trees and vegetables and different criteria for evaluating them. Each class or category is then given a rank or score by the villagers. This is done by means of quantification with pebbles or seeds). (Annexure - 6, Fig. 1 & 2.)

e) Wealth 

Establishing economic order of members of a community. (Done by interviewing a suitable villager(s), who then classified different members into separate groups identified as distinct economic classes in the village.)

6. Diagrams

a) Venn (Chappati’s)
b) Linkage/Relationship
c) General

Used as a means of identifying and establishing relationships between a village and its environment in order of their relative importance. Also for mapping processes, causes, effects, linkages. (Annexure - 7 Fig.2.) Pie diagrams, flow diagrams, trend diagrams, graphs, etc., for depiction data about various topics. (Annexure - 7, Fig.1.)


Constant and extensive used of PALM in our work in a variety of situations has helped bring about progress in PALM methodology.

3.1. New Applications:

Like applying the time line exercise to areas other than just the history of the village. For eg: It is used to record the evolution of health and agricultural practices, education, etc. One interesting recent application was its rise in the profiling of a poor family. (Annexure - 7, Fig.2.)  

Another prominent application has been the use of participatory village mapping to see patterns of caste, asset ownership, family size and to identify households with handicapped persons, persons having chronic ailments, family planning cases etc. (Annexure - 2, Fig.1.)

In one recent exercise while the village was being mapped by women, a discussion on malnutrition was initiated and the symptoms described. After this the women began to point out and mark on the map, the houses which had children suffering from malnutrition.

3.2. New Extensions:

Such as the evolution of participatory mapping on the ground to participatory modelling on the ground. From this point the method was extended further by making models of what a particular area such as a watershed looked like 50 years ago, what it would like 20 years hence, and so on. (Annexure - 3, Fig.1. & 2.) Treatment plans for land development have also been shown on the maps or models.

3.3. New Methods:

For instance in the use of transects for planning development of village lands a new method used was the ‘Sweeping transect’. Here groups of farmers and Outsiders comb different blocks of the area to bring out information about indigenous technology, problems and opportunities. Using this method, site specific plans can be made - even on a plot by plot basis. (Annexure - 4, Fig.1.)

3.4. Hybrids:

It has been possible to evolve new methods by combining 2 or methods. For instance, participatory village mapping has led to participatory wealth ranking. This was further developed to include participatory resource mapping, with land ownership, land use, soil types and productivity of each plot of land indicated. Later attempts were made to correlate wealth to productivity. The innovations and learning continue. Lately, we have been experimenting with different ways in which the PALM exercise can be conducted. For eg. in several cases we have had the farmers themselves draw the village and resource map and indicate possible interventions. This was done without any Outsiders being present, while the exercise was going on. The results have been extremely encouraging. Similarly, we now have farmers conducting their own exercise, interviewing one another and so on. And we continue to learn. We are learning to ‘embrace’ error and to listen instead of lecturing -- not very easy tasks. We are learning how to handle ‘dominant’ participants -- including some from the village who have vested interests. Sequencing our questions during interactions, sequencing of topics during a PALM exercise and sequencing to follow up activities -- whether to do with the village programme or to do with the development and institutionalisation of PALM -- all these and many more are areas where we are engaged in a continuous process of learning.


There have been several lessons. Enough has been said elsewhere about the qualitative differences between the information generated in the PRA/PALM method and the conventional survey method. The latter are unfamiliar to the people and therefore non participative. What do we do with the villagers who have ideas and perceptions far different from our own, which are also expressed differently and do not fall into any of our existing formats?

We have found, as others have, that the villagers are capable of collecting far more accurate information than outsiders. They can also correct it, order and analyse it and start a process of development if given the opportunity to do so. Alongside this realisation, there is also the growing realisation that people in the rural areas are extremely skillful managers forced to live as they are under extremely marginal and vulnerable conditions. Their decision making has got to be precise. Hence, their perceptions about their situations are absolutely critical inputs in any planning.

There is a need to understand and appreciate traditional management systems, livelihood systems indigenous technologies and the ways and reasons for how people feel, see, think and act in rural areas. PALM offers a way in which both Outsiders and Villagers try to discover the situation through a process of joint observation and interaction and shared analysis. The focus is on relationships rather than on any single event, aspect or activity.

We have found that PALM is a method much enjoyed by both Villagers and Outsiders alike. It not only enhances participation it also enhances the generation of both information and ideas. And we find that the village has begun to ‘grow’ on us.  

Villagers are increasingly emerging as resource persons in our PALM exercises. This includes small and marginal farmers, landless, tribals, women and even children. The latter have often participated actively and have demonstrated their expertise in terms of identifying different types of grasses and trees particularly fruit trees). They also help identify school dropouts, handicapped children, etc.  

The PRA/PALM field is a new unexplored and seemingly open ended frontier. Several possibilities exist -- in methodology development, applications and generation of information -- particularly local knowledge. But there is a danger -- that of lack of quality control and the consequent propagation of wrong methods.

There is an urgent need to rapidly increase the use of good PRA methods and introduce this approach in mainstream organisations and institutions.  

And finally, there is a need to train more and more people in PRA/PALM. But whereare the trainers and how do we go about achieving this?