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 UNIT 4: Session III: Tools & Techniques for Community Resource Assessment


Unit 4, Section III: Tools & Techniques for Community Resource Assessment, introduces the instruments and skills used to mobile community into action through dialogue and engaging learning activities about community resources, issues and problems. It supports the efforts of community facilitators, leaders and resource persons to identify opportunities in order to develop meaningful social and economic projects and programmes for the benefit of the community.

The unit focuses on identifying techniques, tools and skills required to:
1. bring people together and get them to talk:
2. create and maintain dialogue and communication;
3. apply various techniques to gather, process and present information;
4. use various tools and instruments to capture information

On completion of this Unit you should be able:
1. To introduce alternative approaches to assessing community resources/needs.
2. To introduce skills required to gather data and establish community data base.
3. To examine alternative modes, methods of presentation(communication) of information

Participatory Rural Appraisal Hand Book
Prepared Jointly by:
The National Environmental Secretariat, Government of Kenya, and,
The Center for International Development of the Environment of the World's Resources



Select one area of study from those listed below:

1. Organisations: Select one organisation of significance to your community and prepare a profile of its personalities, past acheivemnts and its future plans.

2. Human Resources: Select a group of 15 community members, ages 15 to 25, and conduct a survey in respect to the talents, interests, skills and experiences. Present the result in the form of graphics and charts. What conclusion can you draw about their preparedness for work. or further education? How prepared is your community to offer them gainful occupation?

3. Natural Ecosystems: Choose a natural ecosystem, for example, lake, river or pond, woodland, etc., and document a study of it.

4. Infrastructure: Prepare a simply map of the road, water supply and drainage system of your community and describe the issues and problems associated with the systems.

5. Write short notes (3 pages) on the cultutal heritage of your community.

 UNIT 4: Tools & Techniques for Community Resource Assessment

Emerging approaches encourage communities to undertake development themselves. Instead of replacing natural, human and cultural resources, communities must identify and build on what they have and utilize it through proper resource management. This requires knowledge and understanding of ecosystems, their linkages and carrying capacity, social structures and cultural heritage.

In order to initiate and attain these goals, communities must develop improved processes of dialogue and communication. These require skills of bringing people together, engaging them in meaning discussion of topics that is of interest to them individually and from a community point of view, and establishing a collaborative framework to facilitate cooperation and the building of partnerships. Finally, these talks must lead to decision-making and action.

The quality of this dialogue, the range of options they uncover and the ultimate decision made is determined by the relevance of the data collected, the accuracy of the analysis, the objectivity of the evaluation, the effectiveness of the interpretation and presentation of the information, and the process of consensus building, decision-making and feedback.

Throughout the decision-making process, consideration is given to the potential impact of the various options available on the community, its members and the environment. Any development activity has positive or negative, direct or indirect, immediate or future, impact on the community. Anticipating and quantifying potential impact of the development is an essential part of the process.

Having identified and chosen the projects and programmes from the group of alternatives, to be undertaken for their own development, communities then determine their needs for additional expertise and support. The team chosen will seek to turn the vision into the reality of an operation with the capacity to produce the products or services that are targeted. The team decides on the technology to be applied, the organisational arrangements including staffing and training required and nature and source of funding.

This phase of the community assessment process aims to accomplish several goals:

1. To compile information to aid the decision making process.
2. To facilitate the creation of a culture of collaboration, cooperation and the building of partnerships
3. To establish linkages to access more information, knowledge and expertise
4. To build databases for future use in the development of information and knowledge based products.
5. To establish the basis for more advanced educational development through further accumulation of information, expansion of knowledge and ultimate presentation and distribution after critical thought about alternative interpretation.

Yet, the methods and techniques used to to accomplish these goals are designed to encourage wide participation in the process and engage learners, some with deficits of varying degrees, to take a fresh look at information and education in a positive, non-threatening light.

It is not expected therefore that community members will qualify for exemption from the Part I requirement of the University. Instead, the member will have collected some useful information quickly, analysed it, used it as the basis for some decision. Hopefully, the results create an impetus for further progress toward effective learning and greater intimacy with knowledge.

Data gathering is therefore intended to encourage community members to think systematically about what they have, the issues and challenges and the opportunities. In addition, the exercise bring persons together in active collaboration which in turn promote dialogue, argument and hopefully consensus and decisions. Perhaps the most far reaching result is the ignition of a community dynamic around learning.

The data to be collected surrounds: organisations and their services to the community; people related information regarding their talent, skill, experiences and occupational preferences(interests); natural ecosystems including water systems, flora and fauna, soil types; woodland and plains; infrastructure and technology categories as manmade; and, history, culture and heritage. These hold the key to community opportunity for development and its documentation create a most awesome resource - community information.

Several techniques are utilized to collect each type of information. These include maps and charts, transects, sketches and drawing for spatial information, timeliness, trends and seasonal calendars for time related data; household interviews (written or recorded) and institutional studies for people-related information; and, detailed sector specific studies for technical data. Each activity encourage participation: in collection, analysis, evaluation, presentation and discussion. The finding are presented in as attractive a form as possible to stimulate these activities.

The number of tools available for use range from ranking exercises through computer application software which have become friendly and appropriate for use when available. Common tools are classification tables, ranking exercises, decision trees, production flows, histograms, graphs and charts, drawing, sketches and paintings, photographs, and video. In addition, time series, historical transect, historical seasonal calendars, are interesting tools to vividly present results.

Measurement, weights, counts and observations are applied to demographic data capture needs. Collection of data on average height, weight and other human features can help determine the status of local health and nutrition. Other data is about gender, age, households, education and economics.

It is best for community members to work in groups so that a mix of expertise is available to each team. It is also possible for one team to counter check the other. The combination of teams can change at convenient points in time. At the end of each session teams should meet to formally present findings, assess their position, discuss inconsistencies, review problems and identify information gaps.

Spatial Data:
Maps, transect and sketches of plots and farms present very visual images at a glance, provides a sense of location, differential relationships, and encourage community members to look, see and view, community assets spatial perspective, establish community problems in terms of fact and the production of graphic evidence to support arguments and claims. Additional information is obtained through observation by noting conditions and objects, processes at work(positive or negative), application, uses and relationships.

A maps shows where resources, activities, opportunities, and challenges are located and the dimension and scope of issues to be investigated. It is perhaps the best physical definition of community boundaries and characteristics.

Topographic data (elevation, slope, drainage etc.) are basic when drawing a map. The map also locates natural ecosystems including: schools, churches, factories and businesses; water systems, flora and fauna, soil types; woodland and plains; roads, drainage, sewage, electricity and telephone signals; and, historical sites.

A series of thematic maps serves to highlight different features in accordance with their usefulness, the possible potential opportunities they present, or the possible problems they create or have the potential to create.

The transect is a cross-section through the community to capture the greatest diversity of ecosystems, land use, woodland and so on. It further organizes and defines the spatial data gathered through direct observation and summarizes the local conditions, opportunities and challenges.

A large and highly variable community may require more than one transect. In any event, the overriding objective is to cover all major ecological and production zones and assure representation of maximum topographical, resource, and socio-economic variation in the community. Transects may be identified from north to south, high to low, or any other direction considered to achieve its objectives.

The transect adds detail on specific characteristics (slope, drainage, vegetation, water, soils, or other resources) to further refine understanding of the area and the interactions between the physical environment and the human activities. The transect contains more detailed and specific information than the sketch map, such as data on cropping patterns, trees, and other vegetation, and average farm size.

Ecosystem Layouts: Natural & Human

Community development projects and programmes center around specific micro areas of township, homes, schools, church, play fields, health centers, community centers, business zones, riversides, lakesides, ponds, coastal areas, farms and so on. The ecosystem layout shows how components within the system are arranged and/or managed within the system. The layout reveals the nature of natural vegetation, features or source of water, manmade interventions, economic modification, and special historical or geographic features.

For example:

1. A small sample of farms layouts reveals farm sizes, crops cultivated, planting patterns and strategies, and the relationship between crops, livestock, water systems, roadways and family dwelling. The farm layout should include cropping patterns, crop diversity, soil conservation practices, tree crops, plant nursery, position buildings, storage and grazing. If in the sample chosen the owner has more than one plots, both should be considered.

2. A series of home layouts reveals the custom, style, size and features of housing, gardens, fencing etc. These are used to draw conclusions about living standards.

3. A specific layout of a pond, lake or portion of a river, provides further definition of physical features, flora and fauna, soils and rock type, and the surround areas.

4. A layout of a historical site lays the foundation for further study, and might include: overall layout, layout of specific buildings, or other systems.

5. A layout of a coastal area supports arguments for tourism opportunities, fishing, or site for clean-up and maintenance in the interest of the overall ecosystems.

Items selected for this type of detailed study should related to other specific studies such as: transect line, interviews, photographs, personalities, and organisations. If possible all studies for a particular site should be undertaken simultaneously.

Time-related Data:

Time-related data provides information about connections over time. There are three principal time related data sources: time lines, trends, and seasonal calendars.

Time Lines:
These include information about significant events in the community's past. Every community has a heritage of experience and environmental knowledge that influences present attitudes and behaviours. Are line is a list of key events in the history of the community that helps identify past trends, events, problems and achievements.

The time line helps members better understand what local, national and international events the community considered important in its history; how it has dealt with natural resource issues, how it dealt with natural disasters, what part it played historical and cultural events and how it approached education, social, economic and development programmes in the past.

The people themselves are the source of this information which is gathered through discussions with small group of community members, with emphasis on senior citizens. These discussions stimulate exchanges about achievements, issues and challenges faced as far back as the oldest local residents can remember or were told by their parents and grandparents.

The time line should go back as far as residents can recall and record details on influential events that relate to natural, historical, social, economic and cultural events. This is the chance for inter-generation: 1) exchange about previous trends and traditional community responses, 2) learning experiences about possible solutions to current problems and spotting opportunities for development, and, 3) transfer of cultural practices from one generation to the next.

Trend Lines:
The residents' perception of significant changes in the community over time is even more important than the events themselves that citizens thought were important. Changes in resource availability, methods of distribution and use; changes in rainfall, productivity, special programmes, e.g. forestation, floods, hurricanes, and their effects, changes in governments or people's representatives, changes in leadership through death or otherwise, are highlighted as a fundamental part of inputs to the development plan.

The trend analysis will accomplish the following:

1. learn from the community how it views change over time in the various sectors;

2. integrate key changes into deepening community profile, which may simplify problem identification;

3. Further define the range of opportunities for the community to consider.

Study of trends focuses community attention on the positive, seeing advantages in the opportunity to resolve of issues and challenges and tell the story. Data and information collection, bring to the fore, topics that highlight the themes that citizens consider most important. The direction of the trend is important especially if the change cannot be quantified, or, is statistically inaccurate, because it nonetheless reveal how community members view and feel about their changing situation.

This process of dialogue, of discussing trends, possibible resource use, issues and possible solutions, stimulates a new ferment that energises communities into higher levels of participation, understanding and ultimately action. Difference in how different individuals and various community groups perceive conditions are important. Politics creates certain biases; types of land held by individuals influences how they view agricultural possibilities; previous experiences affect outlook; and, class differences, stage in the life cycle, state of personal affluence and perceived level of prosperity affect motivation for further success. Insight into the social, economic and cultural class differences within the community is instructive is designing approaches to development and change.

The story of the last 100 years should adequately define the historical context at one level. Beyond that becomes a question of history possibly the subject of more scientific research. The contents and nature will varies from community to community. A core set of trends includes: education and training, agricultural production, utilities - water, light, telephone, land availability and housing, cultural discovery and influences, security, crime and violence, health care, population and population change, rainfall and climatic trends, disasters, occupation and employment, new industries and commerce, productivity and efficiency, and technologies.

Seasonal Calendar
The third time-related technique is the seasonal calendar. It is particularly useful in production planning, especially in agriculture for agrarian communities but for other areas as well. It is a detailed and comprehensive task that precedes production planning itself. The seasonal calendar attempts to establish regular cycles or patterns of activities and occurrences within a community over 12 to 18 months.

The calendar attempts to present large quantities of diverse information in a common time frame. It compares community activities, month by month, across sectoral boundaries. It identifies cycles of activity that occur within the life of a community on a regular basis and helps determine whether there are common periods of excessive natural occurrences in weather and environmental conditions, social events, or economic fluctuations or issues and opportunities throughout an entire year.

The yearly cycles are important in determining, for example, labour availability, timing of product activities, potential absorption of new activities, times of disease and pests, season for rainfall or drought, food glut or shortage, tourist season or not, and variation in cash flow.

The seasonal calendar is unique to each community. The team will identify the priority areas focusing on items that are affect by seasonal variability within the year and which present special problems therefore require special attention. The calendar tracks environmental and natural activities; production activities and events including: temperature, rainfall and water availability; cash, food and commercial crops; livestock demand and production; labour supply, crop and animal diseases. The calendar highlights peaks and troughs of supply, problems and opportunities.

Social Data
The discussions on social information gathering is divided into two areas: 1) interviews of households to determine the similarities and variations between families, and, 2) study of various institutions and their importance to the community.

The purpose of the household interviews is to collect socio-economic information from a cross section of or where necessary the total population of a community. Interviews provide the opportunity for the team to visit and talk with community members, who are not among the leadership and other identified personalities, or, who never attend meetings and other events.

Topics to be addressed includes: state of accommodation; the nature of the household and its composition; number of children at stage of education, health and behavioral development; economic base; parental strength and guidance; social and cultural involvement; attitude to environmental matters; special interests and talent of each; observation and perception on household and community issues, problems and opportunities; interest in and relationship to community - knowledge of its organisation, plans, activities.

Interviews should not exceed one hour and are based on an informal approach and use of some predeveloped questionnaire. The interviewer must be a respected member of the community who must share the vision of development and the hope of benefits to be derived in order to attain a better quality of life for all.

Where sampling is used, a random method should be used where possible and the structure of the sample should include households in poor, middle income and upper income brackets; household of two, one and no parents. household with one, two and three apartments; households that double as places of work. About 30 samples should be chosen.

Interviews should be conducted with adults, preferably the head of each household. This is a delicate procedure.

Participant-observation research methodology and data collection technique focuses on:

a) the use of appropriate research attitudes and data gathering techniques - identifying common biases and ways to counteract them; adopting multiple approaches; learning how to listen and learn; and showing respect for the scientific discipline and the contribution of other team members.

b) the selection of interviewees, establishing rapport with community members, and conducting open interviews and field observations.

Suggestion of approaches and ideas are introduced below:

1. A sample is selected from a list of community members. The most current voters or census list may be use. Failing this a list of households is prepared by community leaders. The list is sequenced in alphabetical order and every Nth household selected to arrive at no more than 30 households.

2. The interviewers visit the household and conduct the interview on site. Should the designated head of household not be at home at the time of visit, the interviewers will return of substitute a similar household at their discretion.

3. Using the questionnaire as guidance, the interviewers proceed in an open and informal style, encouraging the respondent to elaborate on points of interest and relevance.

Some suggestions are:

a. Be sure to identify yourself and the purpose of the interview;

b. Assure the respondent of absolute confidentiality. Names are not recorded and information is not past on to any other party;

c. Establish rapport, follow the local protocol, make people comfortable;

d. Use clarifying questions to focus the interview: e.g. Can you tell me more about that?

e. Give encouragement to positive feedback during the interview;

f. Be patient and listen carefully;

g. Don't rely entirely on questionnaire - allow new questions and directions to emerge.

h. Don't ask challenging, threatening, or, personal questions or bias the responses; and

i. Avoid questions that have a yes or no answer.

4. Information can be gathered through critical observation: presence of mode of transportation, television and music system, refrigerator and freezer, type of building, roof, windows, floor, door, security, fencing and so on.

5. If it is clear that a respondent does not care to answer certain questions then the interviewer should move on, leading the answer blank, but noting the circumstances or observation of the respondent. If the respondent does not wish to participate at all, the thank him, move on and substitute another household.


With reference to the guidelines provided in the Language and Communication Study Guide, design a Sample Interview of Household Form.

Institutions Assessment:

There are many important actors and institutions in every community. They consists of government agencies, schools, colleges, churches, youth and other clubs, women's groups, sports organisations, cooperatives and businesses. Knowing the role played by each, the level of their achievements, the respect and confidence the have from the community and their overall importance and contribution to development is critical to their integration into sustainable development activities.

The purpose of their assessment therefore is to:

1. learn about the activities of the various groups and organisations within the community, what they do and how they function;

2. who has been their leaders, and who are their leaders now;

3. what has been their success story, and what are their plans;

4. understand how the community view these organisations and how they rank them in according to their contribution to community development;

5. assess the relationships among these institutions by creating a diagram of institutional importance and interaction.

This exercise provides an increased understanding of the role of various organisations, the perceptions people have about them and their role in community development. Having gathered the information the community of leaders and members meet to discuss their roles, external linkages, possible areas of cooperation, and additional contribution and involvement in development activities.

The role and effectiveness of educational institutions are specially treated extensively in Unit 5 to appraise and review the adequacy of plant, pedagogy and administration.

Technical Data:

When the team assessing the Moneague community resource was only just operational, it realised the tremendous significance of the underground water systems and the complex nature of other geological and geographic features existing below the surface. It therefore immediately sought the assistance of the local Underground Water Authority and the input of the Geological Department of the University of the West Indies, by way of consultation, address to community members, and access to information in the form of documentation related to the area and subject.

The mapping and specification of infrastructure make adopt a similar approach, inviting, power, cable and telecommunication companies, local and central government agencies for layout of infrastructure existing systems and future plans. This is also an opportunity to move in the general direction to influence planning activity for local communities and obtain information ahead of time about what is soon to happen, and what is taking place in adjacent communities.

Information, contacts and input from such sources adds authenticity to the process of dialogue and review, is inspiring and motivating for individual and the group as a whole, through addition of more information, expanding knowledge and understanding and deepening the process of thinking and expression.

UWI-U4S3-Community Resource Assessment: Techniques Tools and Skills