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The use and abuse of participatory rural appraisal: reflections from practice

Listed author(s):
  • Andrea Cornwall


  • Garett Pratt


Registered author(s):

    Over the course of the 1990s, donor enthusiasm for participation came to be institutionalized in a variety of ways. One particular methodology—Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA)—came to enjoy phenomenal popularity. New aid modalities may have shifted donor and lender concern away from the grassroots towards “policy dialogue.” But “civil society participation,” “social accountability,” and “empowerment”—some of the issues PRA grapples with—retain a place in the new aid discourse. PRA and its variants also continue to be used by government agencies, non-governmental, and community-based organizations in local-level assessment, planning, monitoring, and evaluation, as well as in national-level poverty assessments. It has sometimes been conflated, by donors and critics alike, with doing participatory development, and has elicited critiques that often go far beyond the bounds of the methodological. Yet these critics have tended to be academics with little experience as practitioners or facilitators. In this article, we draw on an action research project with PRA practitioners. We explore, through their critical reflections, some of the conundrums and contradictions faced by those who were active as PRA practitioners in the early 1990s. We suggest that the story of PRA’s success and of subsequent concerns about abuse and misuse by mainstream development institutions offers broader lessons with continued salience for development. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

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    Article provided by Springer & The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS) in its journal Agriculture and Human Values.

    Volume (Year): 28 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 2 (June)
    Pages: 263-272

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:agrhuv:v:28:y:2011:i:2:p:263-272
    DOI: 10.1007/s10460-010-9262-1
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    1. Cohen, John M. & Uphoff, Norman T., 1980. "Participation's place in rural development: Seeking clarity through specificity," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 213-235, March.
    2. Deepa Narayan & Robert Chambers & Meera K. Shah & Patti Petesch, 2000. "Voices of the Poor : Crying Out for Change," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13848, December.
    3. Thompson, John, 1995. "Participatory approaches in government bureaucracies: Facilitating the process of institutional change," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 23(9), pages 1521-1554, September.
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