Rapid rural appraisal techniques are being adapted by an increasing number of technical specialists and project staff to meet the needs of programs in natural resource management: forestry and community forestry, watershed development, irrigation and command area development, and rangeland development. There has been a proliferation of approaches (and manuals providing guidance in) applying RRA techniques to project design, assessment of local conditions, planning of activities at site level in coordination with local people (what FAO terms local negotiations), and evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of interventions.
Individuals wishing to make use of this methodology find it difficult to choose among different approaches, to make decisions regarding the time and resources, including human expertise, required to undertake a survey or planning exercise, or to identify and resolve the potential pitfalls in gathering reliable and relevant information. With the proliferation of methods has come an increase in the number of new terms -- jargon -- which makes it difficult for the neophyte to understand what are the common elements of different approaches and to evaluate the trade-offs involved in choosing among them.
This paper seeks to fill this gap. It is not a final word on the use of RRA approaches, but it is a state-of-the-art review and a guide to the promising approaches being developed. It serves several types of users:
1) people working in natural resource management who wish to know about promising approaches;
2) donor agency staff responsible for designing projects in natural resource management, who need to know what the method can do for their project and who needs to budget for training and staff development to undertake survey and planning exercises;
3) people using RRA techniques who need to know where the potential pitfalls lie in the use of these techniques and how other people have resolved them; and
4) host country staff, who lack the RRA documentation to develop a comparative understanding of what different approaches have in common.