As a practitioner of rural development, the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) approach will be familiar.
This approach aims to involve and incorporate the knowledge and opinions of rural people in the planning and management of development projects and programmes. We facilitate opportunities for the community to discuss a specific topic and, issues, and triangulation of data.
One of the distinguishing features of PRA is ‘individual to group’. It means the group interacts and analyses the information to generate data. Mostly the data relates to their circumstances and knowledge on a particular topic making the data reliable and valid. The data can be verified and triangulated onsite instantly. Furthermore, it takes a longer time to collect the same data if it had been taken individually.
Optimal ignorance is one of the key principles inherent in PRA. This means knowing only what is required for the project/purpose and not knowing information that is not required or irrelevant. This avoids overloading participants with unnecessary information.
SNV in Nepal has been implementing the EnDev III programme since 2020. One of the key deliverables of the project is to increase access to clean energy through pico-hydro schemes in the remote communities of Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces. During the construction of the pico hydro schemes, the programme initially carried out a preliminary assessment of potential pico hydro sites. The sites that passed the criteria set in the preliminary assessment were further assessed technically in terms of water availability and potential for power generation. The criteria set for preliminary assessment is as follows:
- The possibility of national electrical grid extension in the near future
- The commitment of the Local Government to match the fund
- The commitment of the beneficiary community for cash or kind contribution
- Water availability characteristics of the proposed river and water right issue
- Potential end uses from the electricity generated from the Pico Hydro
The technical feasibility leads towards the confirmation of the stakeholder’s commitment. Then after this, a detailed feasibility study of the Pico Hydro Schemes is carried out.
Up till now, the SNV/ EnDev III programme has 16 Pico Hydro schemes for a detailed feasibility study. EnDev III has envisioned beyond electricity from these pico hydro schemes. It has synergistic interaction with water, energy, education, agriculture and health services, and brings considerable benefits to people’s livelihood. For example, rural energy in health services helps to contribute to quality health services. Also, the programme intends to support local business opportunities and promote micro-enterprises such as agro-processing mills and others. In this context, for systemic measurement of the programme’s impact and informed decision-making, the collection of baseline data will determine where a detailed feasibility study should be carried out. The collection of baseline data will give information on beneficiary households as well as socio-economic information of the project area.
The Focus Group Discussion (FGD) is adopted as a tool to collect the baseline data. It is a very popular tool in participatory research/appraisal methods. We adopted this method due to the shorter timeframe and concept of optimal ignorance.
Map of area covered in the base line data collection
A pico hydro social map prepared by the community of Aathbish municipality
Before the field visit, we already had a data collection framework that was developed based on the PRA principle. The field mobiliser facilitated the discussion based on the data collection framework. Our objective was to orient the group and take consent for the data collection. We ‘outsiders’ started to listen and learn rather than interfering in the discussion. As the discussion develops, it generates interesting information which can be triangulated for the data on males and females as well as the stakeholders and general beneficiaries.
We intended to collect the baseline data on the labour migration pattern of the beneficiary HHs. As our field mobiliser forwarded the queries in this regard, the community was confused whether the meaning of labour migration is limited to a third country, or it can be understood as labour to India for example (Usual neighbour country of Nepal) also. Our baseline data collection design collected data for the labour migration to India also. But initially, the community perceived it as measuring the third country only. This misunderstanding was cleared during the discussion and data of HHs that goes for seasonal migration to India was also incorporated otherwise it would have been missed.
It took two days to complete the data collection of 140 households. Otherwise, it would take at least a week for a field mobiliser to complete the task. Although our field mobiliser has prior experience in conduction FGDs, it was his first time collecting household-level data. Our field mobiliser opined 'Collecting the data through FGD, saves time and more importantly it generates quality information'. In his experience, 'data collected from FGD is far more reliable than collecting the data individually. In an individual questionnaire survey, many respondents feel awkward giving their responses. There’s always doubt on the understanding of the survey questionnaire by the respondent. But in FGD, the confusion was mitigated through discussion and mutual sharing'.
A scholar rightly said, 'It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.' The baseline information set by SNV in Nepal/EnDev III will be the benchmark to measure the systematic impact of the programme in the project area.