At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Number of participants: 
Participant selection: 
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)

Participatory Appraisal is a broad empowerment approach that seeks to build community knowledge and encourages grassroots action. It uses a lot of visual methods, making it especially useful for participants who find other methods of participation intimidating or complicated.


The term Participatory Appraisal (PA) describes a family of approaches that enable local people to identify their own priorities and make their own decisions about the future. The organising agency facilitates, listens and learns.

PA uses visual and flexible tools to ensure that everyone can join in regardless of background. It can be carried out in a place where people already meet in their everyday lives.

One example of a PA would include mapping where participants draw their local area. They identify key features such as the facilities available, residential areas and the locations of service providers. Since the best applications of PA are long-term, this method can be a good choice for the first meeting as it is not intensive and allows everyone to feel more comfortable. For a list of other activities see the Community Empowerment Collective’s review of PA techniques by Phil Bartle. 

You should use PA when you are willing to let the community take control, when you want to base your actions on local knowledge and when you want to reach out to very diverse members of a community. PA can deliver empowered participants, better relationships between participant groups, reliable and valid mapping of local knowledge and priorities, action and energy, as well as being a good tool to make decisions with.

In the short term PA can be used to map local priorities and understandings of issues. In the mid-term, PA should be an ongoing cycle of research, learning and collective action. The long-term goal of this approach is to empower and enable people to analyse and tackle their problems themselves.

A commonly encountered problem is that as PA uses very accessible tools, it is often used as an information providing exercise that does not follow through to facilitate decision-making within the community.


  • Local community members in large or small groups.
  • Since everyone does not have to meet at the same place or at the same time, it can involve a very large number of people without requiring a large venue.
  • A key principle of PA is to ask 'who is not participating?' and ensure that the process actively includes members of the community that are not normally involved in consultations.



  • PA can be expensive at first as it is very important that people running the process are properly trained in the approaches and its values.
  • If local community members learn the approaches themselves and become more confident, the costs of hiring external help may be reduced.

Approximate time expense


  • PA should be an ongoing process to ensure you are getting the most out of it.


  • PA can be extremely inclusive, flexible, and empowering if run well.
  • The knowledge produced by local community researchers has been proven to be highly reliable, and can help to identify and tackle underlying issues to problems rather than just the symptoms.
  • When local community members have been trained to facilitate a process, this capacity remains within the community for the future.
  • PA is a creative and flexible approach that can complement and draw in other techniques as and when needed throughout the process.
  • PA can draw on participatory arts and drama techniques to reach particular groups, or explore particular issues.


  • Do not underestimate the need for training and experience among those running the process.
  • To be truly effective, a PA exercise will need more time than a one off event, and this might be difficult to fund and organise.
  • It can also be challenging and time consuming to collate material from numerous events.


International Development:

PA was developed in Africa and Asia and is now used across the globe. Unfortunately this has led to a confusing multitude of acronyms used to describe it: e.g. PLA (Participatory Learning and Action), and PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal). We have chosen to use the term Participatory Appraisal because it is common in the UK.

Check out the latest news in the field by visiting the International Institute for Environment and Development: "Keep up to date with the latest participation news from Participatory Learning and Action – a leading informal journal on participatory methods and approaches that strengthen rights, voice and governance and promote social justice. The series is published in English, with some issues translated into other languages, and some issues available in multimedia formats." And also by visiting the International Development Studies section on Participatory Appraisal here


Peanut, at Northumbria University, offer training courses on Participatory methods:

"The course is a two day introduction to our Participatory Community Appraisal. It's a hands-on course delivered in a 'learning by doing' style. The course is informal so that people attending feel more able to participate, get to know each other and work together. During the two days we concentrate on the participatory activities and principles. The course includes…

  • Group working: how to establish ground rules to prevent sabotage, fun ways of splitting groups into smaller groups and a different way of ‘doing introductions’.
  • Energiser activities that are used to challenge assumptions, quickly identify preference, encourage discussion and maintain motivation.
  • Activities to help ask people questions about causes and effects, positive things, negative things, improvements or solutions, and priority.
  • Grouping information into ‘themes’ for analysis and report writing.
  • Activities that help to make monitoring and evaluation more participatory.
  • Methods for reviewing learning.
  • Understanding how ‘normal’ consultation differs from participatory methods.
  • Using activities in a sequence moving from problems to solutions and priority."

In text image by twenty_questions

Header image by from Pexels