Archive for September, 2011


A pocket chart consists of rows of paper or cloth pockets, usually four to six horizontally and six to ten vertically.  A set of pictures is attached above the top row of pockets.  These pictures represent areas in which data are needed, such as different people’s participation in decision-making.  Each of these pictures is placed at the head of a vertical column.  If desired, pictures can also be attached down the left-hand side to indicate other variables, such as what kinds of decisions are being made by community members. In order to avoid confusion, the facilitators should use only one variable on a column at a time. (CARE 1998)


The why-why tree allows for a participatory debate on the underlying causes of a specific problem. It also facilitates the prioritization of such causes. It clearly illustrates the relationship between the cause and effect. By going to the roots of an issue, this tool makes it possible to better define objectives and to choose appropriate intervention strategies. (IFRC 2008)


SWOL analysis is a powerful tool for group assessment of the issues of concern, particularly interventions or different potential courses of action.  It is based on a structured brainstorming aimed at eliciting group perceptions of the positive factors (strengths), the negative factors (weaknesses), the possible improvements (opportunities) and the constraints (limitations) related to the issue. (CARE 1998)

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Stakeholder Identification and Analysis gives a comprehensive picture of all persons, groups or institutions that: i) have an interest in the operation’s success or failure; ii) may hinder its smooth implementation; iii) contribute to or are affected by the objectives of the operation, positively or negatively; or iv) can influence the situation. (WFP M&E)

Humanitarian action evolves in a diversity of contexts in terms of vulnerability to crises, social and functional dimensions, and diverging interests and issues at stake. By looking at these different factors, it is possible to identify the different stakeholders in a given environment. The general objective of stakeholder analysis is to ensure that operations take place in the best possible conditions. To this end, the interests, activities and needs of stakeholders need to be identified and taken into account in dialogue with them, so that mutually beneficial arrangements can be reached. (IFRC 2008)

On a practical level, this involves: identifying the affected people and groups in a specific environment; defining who does what, when, how, where and why; identifying individual interests; understanding power relations; defining the need for assistance; understanding operational strengths and opportunities. (IFRC 2008)

Stakeholders can be: individuals; interest groups; local authorities; services.

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A systematic data collection technique used to further explore a topic of interest by allowing informants to group together items according to their own system of categorization. Informants are asked to sort cards on which relevant items are written, drawn or attached. They are then asked to explain the basis on which they sorted the cards. (WV 2000)

Pile sorting is a technique aimed at studying the relations among items within a domain (which have been identified through free listing or some other method).  It is useful for discovering informants’ perceptions of the similarities and differences among items, and to look at intra-cultural variation in how informants define domains. In a pile sort, informants are asked to sort cards with names or symbols of items written on them (or actual items, such as foods or medicines), into piles or groups according to whatever criteria makes sense to them. (CARE 1998)


Proportional Piling allows people to express their perspective of quantity by piling “counters” such as stones or beans that can then be put into percentages. (WFP M&E)

This is useful for estimating quantities and proportions, especially when working with people who are not used to quantifying data. For example, to discover the proportions of a livelihood group’s annual income to come from different sources, the procedure is as follows: (WFP 2009)

  1. Collect 100 dried beans, pebbles or anything similar that are all more or less the same size.
  2. Working with a focus group drawn from a specific livelihood group, ask the informants to divide the beans into piles relative to the income received from each source.
  3. Count the number of beans in each pile; this number is equivalent to the percentage of annual income to come from that source.


Matrix Ranking and Scoring is a way to structure the perceptions and opinions of informants so that individual or group qualities can be ranked in order of importance and the reasons for this ranking is discussed. (WFP M&E)

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Informants are asked to describe a typical day, giving as much detail as possible about the activities that they carry out and the amount of time each takes. (WFP 2009)

Example of Daily Calendar (AED-PCS):


Informants are asked to identify events that take place at particular times of a normal year. These include climatic events such as rains or cold weather, livelihood activities such as planting, harvesting or labour migration, cultural events such as religious festivals, and other events that are significant to the community. These are plotted on a calendar, and unusual events resulting from the current crisis are superimposed on this. (WFP 2009)

Seasonal calendars are able to diagrammatically show some of the main local activities, problems and opportunities throughout the annual cycle.  In the usual presentation, seasonal calendars are actually a series of different diagrams shown on a single sheet.  The emerging patterns of seasonally-related constraints and opportunities can help to identify the months of greatest difficulty and vulnerability, or other significant variances which have an impact on people’s lives.  (CARE 1998)

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Participatory mapping relies on indigenous knowledge and perceptions about the physical and social environment in a community.  Respondents from a community are asked to draw or build maps of their community, using flipcharts and markers or locally available materials (including sticks, stones, grass, wood, leaves, sand, etc.).   Different interest groups (men, women, young, old, poor, wealthy) can work in teams to illustrate their particular viewpoints and interests about the local distribution of demographic, social, economic, or environmental features of their community. (CARE 1998)


This form of participatory mapping starts with collective discussions among groups of community members and then proceeds to drawing maps of their perceptions about the distribution of services (of any specific kind) available to residents inside and outside their specific community.  The participants are usually requested to draw their own map, e.g., on a flip-chart or on the ground, plotting features with symbols that are understood and accepted by all members of the group, regardless of literacy. (CARE 1998)


Historical mapping uses a series of participatory mapping exercises to portray the demographic and natural resources situation of the community at different moments of its history.  Up to three maps can be drawn showing the situation as it existed at a specific time in the past (e.g., five years ago, one generation ago), at the present time, and what is expected after some time in the future (e.g., five years, or one generation). (CARE 1998)


Social Network Mapping shows the economic, social and cultural ties and relationships that people have within a community or that exist between people from different communities. Maps of social networks can indicate ways in which different social groups benefit from these linkages. (WFP M&E)

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The areas in which development practitioners usually have most experience of working in a participatory way are at the stages of needs assessment, and to a lesser extent, project design. It is comparatively easy to use participatory methods for the purpose of needs assessment since the exercise is usually of a short and fixed duration, yields obvious benefits in being able to persuade donors that the needs the project is addressing are indeed the priorities of the intended beneficiary populations concerned, and does not necessarily commit the emergent project to continuing to work in a participatory manner. In short, the benefits are clear, whilst overall control over project activities – and the needs assessment process itself – need not be diminished. (CARE 1999)

Participatory appraisal is the term used to describe a process and a set of techniques for the collection and analysis of qualitative data. If a rapid appraisal is a discrete study, participatory appraisal is an extended process that can last for months or years as communities develop their own skills needed to address issues, analyse options, and carry out activities. The emphasis is often not so much on the information as it is on the process, and on seeking ways to involve the community in planning and decision-making. The key feature of participatory tools is their emphasis on participatory decision-making – enabling beneficiaries and stakeholders to analyse their own situation, rather than have it analysed by outsiders. (IFRC 2002)

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This post serves as a comprehensive bibliography of the sources I have complied and referenced from the ten targeted organizations in this study. It is not designed to be an exhaustive list of all sources available at each organization – I have included links to each of them for further exploration.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Guidelines & Toolkits

IFRC. Handbook for Monitoring & Evaluation, 1st Edition. International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. October 2002. Accessible here.

IFRC. Guidelines for Assessment in Emergencies. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. May 2008. Accessible here.

IFRC. Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment Toolbox. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. October 1996. Accessible here.

IFRC. How to conduct a food security assessment: A step-by-step guide for National Societies in Africa. 2nd Edition. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. 2006. Accessible here.

Reports & Evaluations

IFRC. Alexander, Jessica. Emergency Shelter Cluster Review: Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Geneva, Switzerland. April 2009. Accessible here.

For additional resources, please visit the IFRC website’s Publications and Evaluations sections. 

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Direct Observation

“Direct observation is distinguished from participant observation in a number of ways. First, a direct observer doesn’t typically try to become a participant in the context. However, the direct observer does strive to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to bias the observations. Second, direct observation suggests a more detached perspective. The researcher is watching rather than taking part. Consequently, technology can be a useful part of direct observation. For instance, one can videotape the phenomenon or observe from behind one-way mirrors. Third, direct observation tends to be more focused than participant observation. The researcher is observing certain sampled situations or people rather than trying to become immersed in the entire context. Finally, direct observation tends not to take as long as participant observation. For instance, one might observe child-mother interactions under specific circumstances in a laboratory setting from behind a one-way mirror, looking especially for the nonverbal cues being used.”

Source: Trochim, W. M. K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. (online resource) Qualitative Methods: Direct Observation.

Participant Observation

“One of the most common methods for qualitative data collection, participant observation is also one of the most demanding. It requires that the researcher become a participant in the culture or context being observed. The literature on participant observation discusses how to enter the context, the role of the researcher as a participant, the collection and storage of field notes, and the analysis of field data. Participant observation often requires months or years of intensive work because the researcher needs to become accepted as a natural part of the culture in order to assure that the observations are of the natural phenomenon.”

Source: Trochim, W. M. K. Research Methods Knowledge Base. (online resource) Qualitative Methods: Participant Observation.

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Focus groups are semi-structured discussions with a small group of persons (usually 6-12 people) sharing a common feature (e.g., women of reproductive age, shareholders in an irrigation system, users of a certain service, etc.).  A small list of open-ended topics, posed as questions or participatory tasks, is used to focus the discussion. (CARE 1998)

Focus groups have been increasingly used in participatory evaluations and research to identify and describe insider perceptions, attitudes, and felt needs on a defined topic.  Focus group methods are also used with PRA tools to discuss and record the results.  (CARE 1998)

Strengths of Focus Groups: (CARE 1998)

  • Group interaction enriches the quality and quantity of information provided
  • Focus group discussions are quite good at disclosing the range and nature of problems, as well as eliciting preliminary ideas about solutions.

Weaknesses of Focus Groups: (CARE 1998)

  • Practice and experience in qualitative evaluation and research procedures are needed, especially thorough note-taking and sensitive facilitation.
  • Large amounts of information are easily obtained, necessitating skills in extracting and summarizing for the analysis


Information in this section has been excerpted entirely from: CARE & Barton, Tom (1998). Program Impact Evaluation Process, Module 2: M&E Toolbox. CARE Uganda. Accessible here.

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Perspectives on Qualitative Research & Methods

The questions humanitarian organizations are trying to answer with their research will lead them to either quantitative or qualitative methods, or a combination of the two. The utility and efficacy of quantitative versus qualitative data-gathering is one that elicits much debate. Below are some perspectives on qualitative methods, the appropriate use of them, and their validity in research.


Depth Versus Breadth

“Think of the relationship between quantitative and qualitative methods as a seesaw. As if attached by a fulcrum, the form part of a single dynamic system, but at any given moment they produce two different, indeed sometimes incommensurable forms and knowledge: Quantitative methods produce breadth but sacrifice depth; qualitative methods produce depth, revealing a complexity that quantitative methods might miss, but they sacrifice breadth. Of course, this perfunctory description is something of a caricature; the best quantitative studies also build on at least some level of depth, and the best qualitative methods also offer at least some level of breadth. But at their most extreme, the two approaches have very different goals.” (pg. 51)

Source: Gottlieb, Alma. “Ethnography: Theory and Methods.” in Perecman, E. & Curran, S., eds. A Handbook for Social Science Reserch: Essays and Bibliographic Sources on Research Design and Methods. SAGE Publications. London, UK. 2006.

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