Development research - Appraisal of existing situation

Development research – Appraisal of existing situation

The first step to development research application is appraisal of existing situation. We present below, a few popular ways or methods used for the appraisal of existing situation that development researchers generally consider handy.

l Needs Assessment
l Stakeholder Analysis
l Social Assessment
l Beneficiary Assessment
l Social Audit
l Participatory Poverty Assessment
l Sustainable Livelihood Analysis
l Analysis of Hunger
l Vulnerability Analysis
l Institutional Analysis
l Participatory Evaluation

Needs Assessment

It is not actually possible to read off from a broad assessment of people’s situation what interventions are needed and possible. There are a number of reasons for this. One is about the nature of need. It may be useful to distinguish felt or expressed need (which people themselves put forward) from normative need (based on standard, which is socially and culturally accepted as necessary for a decent life).

It is important for needs assessment work to take account of these differences in choosing appropriate methods to use. The question to ask is – whose view of needs is important here? In an ideal world, perhaps, the potential beneficiary’s view would be paramount, but in real life it may not be so central to the argument of a case. Participatory research methods will naturally produce an account of needs which depends largely on people’s own perceptions. This will, therefore, be limited by people’s experience, knowledge, and expectations. A conventional survey may not provide us with knowledge of how to go about addressing the identified needs. Questions will only be asked in the area of life that the researchers have identified as important, and may completely miss key issues as perceived by the community. Group processes, where people grapple together with analysing their problems and looking at potential solutions, are likely to generate more helpful responses.

All communities have strengths and resources as well as needs, opportunities and problems. It is important to take these into consideration in the needs assessment processes.

Different organisations have different traditions and expectations in terms of needs assessment requirements. Obviously some systematic assessment of need is important to justify the direction of resources to one purpose rather than another. But, the fact is that we all know that there is plenty of ‘need’ out there – it can be as important to identify opportunities and to assess ideas about ways of meeting needs, as to identify needs themselves. Needs assessment must include work on the organisation’s own strategy, and those of surrounding agencies, as well as on collecting information about the potential beneficiaries of any programme.

Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder analysis is part of any programme planning. Stakeholders are people, groups, or institutions with interests in a programme. It is helpful to distinguish between primary stakeholders, who are those directly affected (either positively or negatively), and secondary stakeholders, who are intermediaries in the process / or those not directly affected. The uses of stakeholder analysis in development research are to l identify various groups that have an interest in a project or proposed project l better understand client or beneficiary interest, needs, and capabilities l understand the interests, needs, and capabilities of other groups and identify opportunities and threats to implementation
l assess which groups should be consulted or directly involved in programme planning and implementation.

The process that is followed is essentially one of analysing information about the various stakeholders to assess their likely responses to the project, and, thus, to plan a strategy to win people over or, at least, to reduce their resistance to an innovation. The information you need to base this on could be collected through all the usual methods – interviews, survey data wherever available, institutional appraisals, and observation. Carrying out an analysis like this could at least prove a useful way for a team to share its knowledge of the different groups involved. The analysis can lead into an inclusive planning process. The process followed can be summarised as follows

  • identify and list all stakeholders (divide primary stakeholders into relevant sub-groups; consider the poorest; consider gender issues)
  • draw out the stakeholders’ interests (what benefits may they gain? What resources may they commit? Do they have other interests which may produce conflict?)
  • assess stakeholders’ power and influence
  • assess which stakeholders are important for the success of the project
  • identify the assumptions which must be made about what role each stakeholder group will play for your project to succeed – and consider the risks if there is a negative response
  • Check your information carefully, if possible drawing on more than one source.

Social Assessment

Social Assessment provides a framework for beneficiaries to have equitable access to development opportunities. It helps in lending a helping hand to the vulnerable and the poor to voice their concerns during project formulation. Technically, social assessment is done in terms of the following five entry points

i) social diversity and gender analysis
ii) institutional rules and behaviour
iii) stakeholders
iv) participation
v) social risk and vulnerability

Of all these, the most important as emphasised by organisations like the World Bank is, institutional rules and behaviour, and participation. Institution’s rules and behaviour analyses the role an institution plays in affecting change and ensuring community participation through techniques presented below.

Social assessment, as a process, starts by analysing the institution’s rules and behaviour. It helps in appraising the institutional capacity of the project implementing agency. Social analysis focuses on institutional rules and behaviours, both formal and informal, which is likely to affect the project’s development objectives. It analyses groups characteristics, relationships (intra group and inter group) with institutions and the community.

Beneficiary Assessment

Beneficiary assessment is defined as a qualitative research tool that is used for improving the impact of development operations by analysing the views of the intended beneficiaries regarding an ongoing reform/process. This process starts as a consultation with project beneficiaries and other stakeholders to help them in designing development activities, and to list down any potential constraints and in obtaining feedback on reactions to intervention during the implementation process.

Beneficiary assessment, like social assessment provides the target population with the opportunity to voice their opinions, needs and concerns regarding the development process. Thus, it is also a process of

(i) listening to the issues and concerns of the poor and disadvantaged beneficiaries, and (ii) obtaining feedback on project interventions. Beneficiary assessment is a qualitative method of investigation that relies primarily on the following three data collection techniques

i) In-depth Interviews
ii) Structured and Unstructured Focus Group Discussion
iii) Direct Observation and Participant Observation Beneficiary Assessment is usually carried out with individual beneficiaries or with groups with a smaller sample size.

Social Audit

Social Audits are concerned with the social consequences of a particular action. Social audit process enables you to assess and demonstrate the social benefits of a given programme or project. This is also a kind of social reach and effectiveness analysis of a given programme / intervention.

Initially, it was considered informal and so it had no structures. But, later on, some sort of commonality has been established across various audits. As part of good governance, and as elements of transparency and accountability, social audit these days come with specific structures also which are generic and can be customised to suite the context. The social
audit element of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) can be one of the best examples to put it across.

In 1981, an organisation known as TSO (Third System Organisation) developed the concept of social audit. TSO has also developed some toolkits for social audit across programmes. Social audit is based on three key elements: social targets, internal view, and external view as a process of auditing, though social audit in its various forms and adaptations are used in developing countries.

The social audit process is defined as the way in which a social audit is planned and carried out. It encompasses various steps related to preparation for managing the social audit, that is, setting the criteria and target, monitoring progress, and finally evaluating the flow of benefits. At the end of each of the elements, audit teams use internal verifiable indicators to monitor the project’s activities and actions. Social audit teams use social target sheets as a series of planning tools to set targets, which ultimately helps in promoting good practice. These social targets together provide the planned and actual framework for measurement.

Baseline Studies

Baseline studies should take place before a programme starts. It is aimed at understanding the nature and extent of a problem so as to have a well informed planning. Baseline would also be very helpful to compare the changes that have taken place from the conditions with which things started at square one. A baseline study aims at providing a reference point against which changes can be measured so that the impact of the programme or of external factors can be measured.

The collection of data pertaining to an existing situation, a systematic look at what is at present being done to address the problem, and some minor field work to get basic information about how the issue is experienced in the community, should be undertaken. For large scale programmes, which are seen as demonstration projects, a more rigorous study will be needed.

Points that need to be considered include: which key factors should be the planned intervention impact? What can be used as observable, quantifiable indicators? Evidence of effectiveness is important, therefore, baseline research is very important as well.

Community Consultation

These are deliberative processes, meaning that the people involved discuss and deliberate over an issue, and reach a decision. This is, obviously, different from individual-focused research methods such as questionnaires as it involves group discussion. But, it is also very different from a focus group, for example, where people are asked to draw on their specific experience and put forward their views, but are specifically briefed that they need not reach agreement with the other members in the group. This might look almost like a public hearing taking place in several places of a region.

Participatory Poverty Assessment

In 1999, the World Bank undertook a global research study called ‘Consultations with the Poor’. The purpose of the study was to enable a wide range of poor people in diverse countries and conditions to share their views in such a way that they can inform and contribute to the concept and content of the World Development Report, 2000-01. It was also expected to provide a micro level perspective of the poor people’s own experience of poverty and responses to it, illuminating the nature of risk and vulnerability. The following were the four main themes for the analysis of the study

  •  exploring wellbeing
  • priorities of the poor
  • institutional analysis
  • gender relations.

This requires a checklist of issues and the methods of development research (or participatory research) employed in the study. The checklist along with a research plan should include: themes, data requirements, and methods.

The researcher must constantly bear in mind if the method employed would produce the data he or she is looking for, under each theme.

Sustainable Livelihood Analysis

The Department for International Development UK has developed a framework known as the sustainable livelihood framework, which presents a comprehensive analysis of the main factors that affect people’s livelihoods, and typical relationship between these. The framework can be meaningfully used to assess the contribution of the existing activities for livelihood sustainability and to plan new development activities for sustainable livelihood.

The core issues presented in the framework are l livelihood assets, which include human capital, social capital, physical capital, natural capital and financial capital, having a strong influence on the livelihood of the people l structures and processes which represent organisations, institutions, policies and legislation that shape livelihood l livelihood strategies which denote the range and combination of activities and choices that people make in order to achieve their livelihood goals l vulnerability context which speaks about shocks (drought, flood, storm, civil conflicts and epidemics), trends, seasonal shifts in prices, employment opportunities, food availability which affect peoples’ livelihoods l livelihood outcomes which are the achievement or outputs of livelihood strategies.

The framework is quite comprehensive and provides a vivid picture of appraising various issues. The framework does suggest various participatory research methods and other conventional methods that are to be judiciously used to appraise and analyse various issues connected with sustainable livelihood.

Analysis of Hunger

Hunger is the starkest form of human deprivation. It is the inability to secure food needed to support a healthy life. More pervasive in impact are malnutrition and undernourishment. Although acute hunger or famine receives more attention, it should be remembered that the great majority of hunger deaths comes not from starvation but from nutrition related
sickness and diseases.

Availability of food is a necessary condition to end hunger. But it is not a sufficient condition to ensure security of food for all. Nutrition security requires physical and economic access to a balanced diet and a conducive environment for its effective biological utilization. Freedom from hunger is the first step in the alteration of poverty and is a prerequisite for active participation of the people in the economic activity.

Hunger depletes strength and reduces the immune competence of the people and makes them vulnerable to infectious diseases, aggravating further the problems of hunger. Non food factors play an important role in determining both access and effective biological utilization. This is why food security involves attention to sustainable livelihoods, safe drinking water, environmental sanitation, primary health care and basic education. Any analysis on hunger should take care of all these factors. Development research methods, along with conventional methods of research can be meaningfully employed to assess hunger and hunger related issues.

The themes generally included are

  • identification of hunger prone families
  • targeting the poor
  • livelihood sources and opportunities of the needy families
  • local factors responsible for well-being and ill-being
  • the cyclical and seasonal nature of hunger
  • availability of facilities and services

Vulnerability Analysis

Vulnerability is defined as an exposure to risks, which the people are not able to cope up with. In other words, the people especially the poor, the marginalised, the deprived, and the powerless, do not have the wherewithal to effectively face risks to which they are exposed. Vulnerability analysis assumes importance in the context of sustainable livelihood analysis and poverty assessment. Rapid assessment of vulnerability can be attempted using participatory research methods. The focus of research pertaining to vulnerability can have the following standpoints

l identification of vulnerable groups
l focusing
l identification of causes
l trends in vulnerability
l institutional analysis (including governmental and non-governmental)
l resource analysis (including common and private property resources)
l gender analysis
l future vision.

Institutional Analysis

Institutional analysis studies how institutions behave and function according to both empirical rules and theoretical rules. Participatory research methods can be effectively used to assess the functioning of any formal or informal grassroot level organisation. There was a study undertaken by the Rural Extension Wing of the Gandhigram Rural University in Tamil Nadu using participatory research methods. The idea was to find out the causes for the dormancy of a milk producers’ cooperative society and to ascertain the
feasibility of reviving the society. After reviewing the secondary sources of data, a battery of participatory research methods was used to analyse the various issues related to the dormancy of the society. The issues that were analysed include

l milk production and productivity
l historical profile of the dairy cooperative society
l change in the production and marketing of milk
l season-wise problems and prospects
l persons behind the rise and fall of the society
l circumstances that led to the closure
l the consequences of closure
l revival possibilities of the society
l decision on the sources of marketing
l community/milk producers options / and decisions on the options.