2.4 Participatory techniques

The participatory techniques in this handbook are aimed at getting you started, but they are by no means the only methods that you will use; they will compliment the other tools in the EAR toolbox. They are simple techniques, easy to grasp, and they will help you to quickly develop an understanding of the local area, the local people and the issues you are dealing with.

These techniques provide an opportunity to engage with individuals, groups, communities and institutions in a simple and participatory way. Most importantly, these techniques are good at getting local people to participate in identifying their own issues and solutions. The methods are very effective at helping participants to realise their own problems and constraints and are useful in generating consensus opinions quickly where agreed or group action is required.

The simple diagrams and charts produced with participants through these techniques are a clear and simple way to communicate complex issues to others such as managers, local politicians and community leaders.

The techniques included in this handbook are based on:

  • Mapping
  • Grouping
  • Ranking
  • Comparing
  • Sequencing

When you are undertaking your work think of ways to combine more than one technique, and to combine these techniques with other tools to build up a complex picture of what is happening on the ground. Participatory techniques will help you gather information quickly, and they can be used as a guide for developing interview schedules, or short questionnaire surveys. Equally, they can be used to explore issues emerging from interviews and surveys with small groups of people.

Some of these techniques take just a few minutes. Typically, they work well with small groups of up to 8 people, though they can involve just you and one other person.

You could hold a group meeting or meet with people in their homes to do these techniques. Going to places where people generally gather may be a good idea. These techniques can also be taught quickly and participants can then do them at home on their own or with their families and friends and come back to you with a diagram or chart as a way of discussing their lives with you.

Adapt the techniques to the situation you are in and prepare some examples to share. You may feel more comfortable attempting some of the techniques when you have been in the community longer. Or try using some techniques as icebreakers to enable people get to know you. Use these techniques in a flexible way, according to your research needs. Let the participants lead the way, rather than the other way around.

The basic equipment you will need is:

  • Different coloured pens
  • Paper - A4 and flip chart sized
  • Print outs/ templates
  • Stones and objects for counting/ranking that make sense locally
  • Pictures/photographs
  • Camera or video equipment (if available)
  • Note pads

Many of the techniques are visual, using pictures and photos, as a way of generating understandings of complex local issues. They are simple techniques that can make use of objects and symbols so that illiterate people can participate too.

Be sensitive to the local area and customs in using symbols and pictures. Importantly, people may or may not wish to have their names included on written documents and you must respect such wishes. However, it is always useful and important to record broad data such as gender and age (this can be approximate) as this information will aid analysis at a later date. [labelling section ]