Lesson 25 Need for People’s Participation in Watershed Management

25.1 Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Method of People’s Participation


A close relationship exists between resources such as land, water, forest and mineral and the community, particularly living in the rural areas of the watershed. Therefore, participation and awareness of the community about the development and management program of the watershed are very important. Two participatory and learning action techniques are adopted for community. These are rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA). These techniques have enabled local people to express, share, emphasize and examine their knowledge. RRA had been in practice till late 1970s and 1980s. Some limitations and flaws have been observed in participation of village community in RRA. This is due to some outsiders who used to enter the village area to obtain data from the village people and thus they finally become the central executing members. In the late 1980s, PRA technique was evolved. In PRA, investigators or members are all villagers. They control the whole project. They are learners, catalysts and facilitators. They do all the works of mapping, diagramming, viewing and analyzing. They identify the priorities and give shape to their information, knowledge, attitudes and aptitudes. Thus, their efforts become a creative approach to information sharing and a challenge to prevailing preconceptions about the rural people. Mukherjee (1993, 1995, and 1997) presented ideas on participatory rural appraisal methodology, PRA analysis through questionnaire survey and PRA on national resources.

Participatory Rural Appraisal and Peoples Participation

Participatory rural appraisal is already defined in the Introduction Section earlier. The people who participate in watershed management are villagers, farmers and common people. They are the participants, beneficiaries and promoters of any development works in the watershed. Their full cooperation and participation is at the root of success of any project. They may participate in different modes. According to Pretty (1988), these participation modes are as follows:

(i).   Passive Participation: It is the indirect participation of people in the event which is going to happen or has already happened.

(ii).  Participation to Supply Information: This is the people’s participation to supply information by answering questions through questionnaire, survey(s) or other methods.

(iii). Participation through Consultation: People participate through consultation and the agencies who hear the people’s views may modify the program as per the views of the people.

(iv). Participation for the Material Incentive: This is the participation of people by providing resources such as labour in return of food, money and other material benefits.

(v).  Functional Participation: People participate by forming groups to meet the pre-determined objectives related to a project.

(vi). Participation through Interaction: People participate with the implementing agency through interaction.

(vii). Participation by Self-Mobilization: People participate by self-initiated mobilizations and corrective actions.

The project implementing agency should keep in mind the community’s participation for the successful completion of the watershed management project(s).

Basic Principles and Fundamentals of PRA

Basic Principles

PRA is a reversal of learning. It is an informal way of learning from the local, physical, technical, social and psychological knowledge of the people. PRA is a way to understand and analyze the peoples’ living conditions, to share the outcomes and to plan for their activities.

PRA is conducted to establish rapport with the people. It also aims to identify and define their problems for prioritization in the village itself. PRA is the technique of immediate analysis and survey of village resources, based on principle of listening and progressive learning. Thus, the main principle is to gather information about the villagers, their willingness to participate and resources of the area through patient listening and interaction.

Fundamentals of Participatory Rural Appraisal

(i)   Sharing: It is the sharing of information, ideas, knowledge and experience between facilitators (i.e., policy makers) and villagers (i.e., stake-holder population).

(ii) Villagers as Performers: The facilitators should initiate a process so that villagers can work as performers, taking up the task of facilitating investigation, analysis, presentation and learning.

(iii) Self-Critical Awareness: Facilitators examine critically and continuously their own behavior.

(iv) Personal Responsibility: Personal responsibility should be taken up by the facilitators for what is done rather than relying on the authority or authorities for the rigid set of rules.

(v)  Maximizing Diversity: By ensuring maximum diversity, the information is enriched. It is essential to notice and investigate the differences, contradictions and anomalies. The objective should be to seek variability rather than objectives.

(vi) Triangulation: It is the process of cross-checking and progressive approximation of truth. Here, investigators assess from findings from different methods, places, times and disciplines.

Assumptions and Basics of Participatory Rural Appraisal

PRA is based on the following assumptions.

(i)    It is assumed that it is quite possible and desirable to involve local community in the development projects of the watershed.

(ii)   It is also assumed that active participation of the local people can be increased with time in the ongoing works.

(iii)  It is assumed that learning from the local people is possible.

(iv)  It is assumed that informal approaches and discussions with local people are more effective as the projects progress.

(v)   In the execution of the project, multidisciplinary teams are more effective in completing the works in time smoothly.

(vi)  The issues that may be involved in the developmental works should be investigated from different perspectives with the help of different approaches.

(vii) The circumstances and systems can be explored instead of adhering to statistical findings.

The PRA need to include the following basic approaches:

(i)   Due respect for behavior, attitudes, aptitude and knowledge of the village people should be given.

(ii)  Facilitators should have full confidence on the ability of the community to do things.

(iii) There exists a lot of scope for learning from the community.

(iv) Facilitation to the community should be recommended to encourage them to do all the investigations, planning and analysis.

(v)  The community should be empowered to own the outcome as an incentive.

(vi) Information and field experience are to be collected and shared by both the facilitators and the community.

Thus, in the basic approaches of PRA, more emphasis is given to the establishment of a cordial relationship between the community and the facilitators. It is also attempted to let the community feel more empowered during the whole process. Local people should be involved as active agents.

25.2 Effective Linkage between People and Policy Makers in Watershed Management

To ensure an effective linkage between the people and policy makers in watershed management, the tips listed below should be followed by the PRA practitioners. At the same time, the myths of PRA listed below need to be properly understood.

Tips for PRA Practitioners

  1. For the successful completion of the watershed projects, project implementation agency (PIA) and the community should act as a unified team to handle all areas.

  2. A checklist should be made every day before going to the field. This may help in encompassing techniques and progress of the work.

  3. The facilitators should keep time for the use of PRA processes and techniques in the field.

  4. Participatory rural appraisal techniques should be applied to different parts of the watershed. This may facilitate cross-checking and triangulation. This will further help in rapport building among different sections of society.

  5. It is better to explain the objective(s) and methodology in detail to the group before starting the PRA techniques.

  6. Participatory rural appraisal is a continuous process. Hence, its techniques should be in the first 4 years of the watershed development.

  7. There are various participatory rural appraisal techniques and tools. A judicious selection of the technique and tool for a particular project helps to produce better results of the work.

  8. PIA members and community should be accommodative and innovative in handling the available, suitable and adoptable techniques and tools.

  9. The team building culture in the community is to be promoted. Identification of self-help groups (SHGs) and user groups (UGs) should be an automatic outcome.

  10. Approach to a project should be flexible so as to suit the needs and demands of the community.

  11. The community should control the techniques and tools so that they can modify, rectify, evolve and include relevant aspects of their own.

  12. The community members may be allowed to start the work in the morning hours at their convenience.

  13. Community should not feel left out or ignored. Regular consultation and facilitation should be made with them.

  14. It is advisable to select a permanent and spacious place in the village for discussion / meeting between villagers and PIA members.

Myths of PRA Techniques

Participatory rural appraisal is a simple process, yet the facilitators should be aware of the myths of the following PRA techniques.

(i)     “It is quick” means all stakeholders need to devote time on each technique.

(ii)    It is easy when skills of communication, facilitation, conflict and negotiation is imparted.

(iii)   “Anyone can do it” when one gives insight into various organizational management methods.

(iv)   It is a fancy if one is aware of the complicated and unnecessary innovations and makes procedure, process and outcomes very simple.

(v)    It has no theoretical basis. Participatory rural appraisal is based on action and research approach.

(vi)   It is just an old wine in a new bottle. PRA techniques are flexible and hence their innovations and modifications may be promoted.

(vii)  The training is necessary. But complex training to the members of PIA and the community should be avoided.

(viii) People involved are neutral. People involved should be free from the influences of political and social biases.

(ix)   It is useful only for the need assessment. PRA is used for all-round need assessment of the watershed.

(x)    It is universal. To respect heterogeneity, it is preferable to use and apply PRA techniques in different groups.

Benefits of Participatory Rural Appraisal

PRA offers lots of benefits to the community. The poor and weaker section of the community is empowered through PRA techniques. This section of the people can take actions on the need-based proposals. PRA plays an important role in improving the outlook of the community when they are allowed to involve in diverse fields of watershed management. PRA helps both the community and the PIA members in appraisal, identification, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all types of management works. Research priorities and initiation of participatory research are identified through PRA. PRA helps in indicating changes and modifications in the organization, and thus it becomes closer to community’s aspirations. Policy reviews in the watershed programmes and management are possible in PRA.

Different Tools Employed in PRA

There are many tools and techniques employed under PRA. A few of the important tools are discussed here.

Social and Resource Mapping

In this tool, local people are involved in preparing the map of the village areas to show the village resources and different parts of the villages such as their living areas, wastelands, agricultural lands, grazing fields, forests, ponds, wells, fisheries, rivulets, streams or rivers, flood- and erosion-prone areas, schools, village libraries, development clubs, other public institutions, village roads, side drains, railway lines if any near the village and irrigation canal system in the agricultural fields. Village people draw the map to solicit their knowledge and participation. This is done by the villagers, and thus they gain confidence to participate in other development activities. Their map helps to explore and analyze the spatial information, particularly to study the problems and opportunities. The map can give a quick impression about the existing village setup.

Soil and Hydrology Mapping

This map is also prepared by the villagers in addition to the social and resource mapping. In this map, detailed data on soil and hydrology of the village such as types of soil in different areas of the map and hydrological information showing stream, rivulets and drains to carry the runoff produced by rainfall are shown.

Essential Data Collection in a Tabular Form

The village people collect all the essential data and present them in different tabular forms. These data are the most important tools to plan the watershed development project in the community as they give vivid pictures of the status of development. The data collected and presented by the villagers in different tabular forms include the population of the village, distribution of families on caste/class basis, family distribution according to land holdings, total employed persons in the village and categories of employment such as  public/private etc., the number of qualified persons, total population of villagers and the number of cattle, goats, sheeps, etc. A table on the information about the miscellaneous items in the village such as its connectivity with pitched road, electrical lines, banks, telephone lines, mobile telephone towers, water supply lines, cable TV connections, and cooperative milk collection centres is also presented.

Ranking Matrix

Ranking matrix of preference is performed by villagers to know about their attitude, valuation, etc. to a particular item of daily livelihood. For example, rabi crop wheat is placed in the first rank in terms of its use as food, taste, market value, etc., and so wheat occupies the matrix ranking of 1. Similarly, if mustard is placed in the second highest position, it will be shown in the matrix as ranking of 2. This ranking matrix analysis is normally presented in a tabular form.

Historical Time Line

This is another tool to collect the information on community or village about their stages and trends of development with a historical time line. In other words, it is the information about the sequence of changes in the village with respect to social, economical, educational, agricultural and other aspects of living standards. It reveals the trends of periodical development. The older people are witness of this development by virtue of their age. These sections of elderly people may be contacted to know about the past history of the village, indicating systematically the period when those changes took place. The time line for agriculture has indicated occurrence of floods, droughts, adaptation of new crop varieties, use of fertilizers and years of major crop production and crop failure. Similarly, timeline will indicate the year of irrigation facilities, years of major water harvesting tanks and ponds, years of major soil erosion in the rivers and hills, land degradation by landslides, water logging, etc.

Transect or Group Walk

The group walk is a process of participatory rural appraisal that involves travelling across the village from one corner to other along with villagers for verification of items supplied for the social and resource mapping. This travel or walk has a lot of purposes such as to have a clear concept on the farm practices, tree plantation, forest cover, wasteland, water table, ponds, water holding capacity of the soil, slope of land, common lands and land use, grassland, grazing fields, recreational grounds, available water resources and other resources. Thus, full picture of the village with existing facilities could be gathered and accordingly this tool paves the way for future planning.

Seasonal Analysis

Seasonal analysis is a tool to provide insight into rainfall pattern, average rainfall, extent of cultivated kharif and rabi crops, income of farmers in each season, seasonal functions in the village, seed sowing and harvesting periods, seasonal human and animal disease, etc. All these items and the time required to complete are indicated by the villagers in a simple table.

Venn Diagram

A typical Venn diagram is shown in Fig. 25.1. It gives an approximate idea about some existing infrastructure of the village and their relevance to the village community. The size and distance of the circle from the centre indicates the importance of facilities to the village. The item in the biggest circle indicates the highest need. Thus, the Venn diagram is another tool to learn the existing infrastructure and their need for the community.

Fig. 11.1

Fig. 25.1. A typical Venn diagram used in participatory rural appraisal (PRA). (Source: Das and Saikia, 2013)

Indigenous Technical Knowledge

Indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) available in rural areas is one of the main tools in PRA exercise. Villagers are the storehouse of ITK. These people are the rich sources of traditional wisdom/practices/skills, beliefs and local resources. The villagers can express their proverbs idioms, drama, dance, local history, etc. through traditional wisdom. ITK tool helps them to express their views. ITK can also be gathered for sharing the views with the community.

Women’s Participation

Women’s participation in the development of watershed management is considered as one of the major tools. Women in the villages take part in various activities such as agricultural production in the field, collection of fuel wood, fetching drinking water, preservation of seeds, milk processing, sharing the knowledge on traditional foods/medicines, besides their exclusive role in housekeeping. Women’s committees may be formed in the village to contribute in a systematic way to the PRA activities.

Participation of NGO

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be actively involved in the developmental works of watershed. NGOs can create awareness of watershed development education in the rural masses. They can also arrange field training for the villagers. They can evaluate and monitor the project activities. NGQs can act as facilitators towards watershed management efforts.


A close relationship exists between resources and the community living in the rural areas of the watershed. Therefore, participation of the community in the development and management of the watershed is very important. The two techniques viz., rapid rural appraisal (RRA) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA), help the local people to express, share, emphasize and examine their knowledge. The RRA has become almost obsolete owing to some of its major drawbacks. In late 1980s, participatory rural appraisal technique was evolved. In the PRA, villagers monitor the whole project. The participants in PRA are villagers, farmers and common people. They are the beneficiaries and promoters of any developmental works in the watershed. The principle of PRA is based on listening and progressive learning. So it is the technique of immediate analysis and survey of village resources. For the successful completion of the watershed project, a project implementation agency (PIA) is formed. This PIA and the community should act as a unified team to handle all areas. Both PRA and PIA can offer lots of benefits to different sections of the community. Various tools and techniques have been brought under PRA. Some of the important tools are social and resource mapping, soil and hydrology mapping, essential data collection in the tabular form, ranking matrix, historical timeline, seasonal analysis, transect or group walk, Venn diagram to show an approximate idea about the existing infrastructures, indigenous technical knowledge (ITK), women’s participation in watershed project and participation of NGOs.

Keywords: Rapid rural appraisal, Participatory rural appraisal, Self help groups, Indigenous technical knowledge, Non-govermental organizations.


  • Das, M. M. and Saikia, M. D. (2013). Watershed Management, PHI Learning, pp. 29-36.

  • Mukherjee, N. (1993). Participatory Rural Appraisal Methodology and Applications, Concept Publishing.

  • Mukherjee, N. (1995). Participatory Rural Appraisal Questionnaire Survey, Concept Publishing.

  • Mukherjee, N. (1997). Participatory Rural Appraisal of Natural Resources, Concept Publishing.

  • Pretty, J. N. (1988). Simple and Innovative Tools for Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), International Institute for Economic Development.

Suggested Reading

Saha, A. K. (1999). Participatory Rural Appraisal: approaches and techniques, Sustainable development through integrated water resources planning and development, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) Quality Improvement Programme (QIP) Short Term Course Notes, Civil Engineering Department, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, India.

Last modified: Friday, 7 February 2014, 9:20 AM