Participatory Methods

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Participatory Methods
Exclamationdiamond.png Warning

Participatory methods are best learned by observing others use them. Do not assume that simply by reading descriptions of the tools below that you will be able to facilitate them effectively.


Participatory methods help people to think and talk together in order to describe and analyse their situation, decide what to do, plan how to do it and evaluate what has been done. They help those who will benefit from activities to have a key role in all aspects of those activities.


Within this overriding ethos, a huge range of tools has been designed over the last 20 years in development work globally. Below are just a few of the tools that can be adapted for use in survey:

The following tools have been created and field-trialled by the Papua New Guinea survey team


Equipment needed for most PM tool facilitation:

  • Paper – usually scrap paper cut into strips, triangles or rectangles. Lots!
  • Broad tip pens – for writing on the paper
  • String/cord of a couple colors – for Bilingualism Tool and Dialect Mapping Tool
  • Plastic “markers” – from empty plastic containers of different colors – lotion, shampoo, ice cream, and oil containers – All pieces of each color should be the same shape. But each color should be a different shape from other colors: rectangles, circles, squares, triangles. Alternatively use different color cloth, cardboard pieces. Each piece should be between 1 and 2 centimeters in length/height. These are used to label different categories.

Further Reading

The following sources are highly recommended reading for surveyors (bearing in mind our warning at the top of the page):

Methods for Community Transformation: A complete guide for practitioners[1], Somesh Kumar, 2002, ITDG Publishings, 333 pages - Excellent list and description of specific tools. A must for all using participatory methods. The tools described here can be adapted for use in language programs.

Participatory Workshops: a sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas[2], Robert Chambers, 2002, Earthscan, 220 pages - A very good book of general participatory principles. It is more focused on running a workshop but has many ideas useful for anyone using participatory methods.

Visualisation in Participatory Programmes:How to facilitate and visualise participatory group processes.[3], M. A. Salas, H. J. Tillmann, N. McKee, with N. Shahzadi, 2007, Southbound, 204 pages - Has excellent approaches and capsulizes some facilitation skills needed for participatory group process. Views the facilitator as a moderator or mediator between all the participants and the varied views that they represent. It emphasizes the importance of listening well, being a learner, and creatively moving with the participants to help with group process.

Walking with the Poor (and Working with the Poor)[4], Bryant Myers, 1999, Orbis Books, 279 pages - Provides a theolgical foundation for working “with” the spiritually, socially and economically poor (rather than doing things “to” or “for” the poor. Later chapters introduce a few participatory tools including the Appreciative Inquiry Tool.