Participatory Action Research (PAR)

PAR or Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) or a couple of even more sophisticated abbreviations tend to highlight more or less the same contents, namely to offer a comprehensive toolbox for the quick scanning of any given situation by integrating the local population to a maximum extent (and that's where the tremendous competitive advantage vis-à-vis so-called scientific methods can be identified).

The slogan of PAR could be coined as: it's better to be wrongly precise instead of being precisely wrong!

The German Institute for Development (DIE) decided way back in 1996 (essentially it was the late Mr Chakraborty) to let her one-year graduates undergo PAR training, which developed into a fashion in the early nineties. Henceforth, during three days in cold January winter a bunch of approximately 20 students learned some PAR techniques and applied them in the neighbourhood of the institute in Berlin-Moabit. For example, we studied the history of a small street in the “Kiez of Moabit” by conducting semi-structured interviews with elderly citizens, analysed the economical development (mainly small retailers) over 50 years with the help of a “walkover” or established time-lines with the interviewed people. There was ample chance to apply all sorts of techniques.

PAR methods provide time-conscious precise results in a short span of time, which allows any technical assistance projects to get quickly “off the blocks”. The menu of PAR-techniques (methods_par.pdf) gives a clear picture of the variety of this approach.

I modified the traditional transect mainly used for agricultural purposes into a tool for economic analysis. In Peshawar / Pakistan I acquainted the staff of a Swiss-supported project with this technique to inquire about the peculiarities of specific target groups (traders and producers residing and working in a particular street where the different relationships were very difficult to grasp).

The application of PAR techniques is really fun for the researchers / practitioners as well as for the concerned members of a given target group, provided the results of the research are fed back to the target group. The latter also gains new insight from these techniques.