Participatory learning techniques

A list of participatory learning techniques that group promotors should use during group formation and development of income-generating enterprises is presented here. The list is intended as a guide only. Be creative when using methods. Try to use drawings rather than words as much as possible. Use pictures, drawings, a flannel board, puppets and so on. Write and draw on poster-size sheets of paper. Special attention should to be paid to women's roles and work.

  • Activity profile
    Ask different people about their daily activities. Where, when and how much money do they spend? Interview and observe or ask them to write notes.

  • Approach members constructively
    Reward members either verbally or through privilege for taking initiative and for actions of any kind. Everyone needs to know their contributions are appreciated. Even if their comments are not practical, a reply can begin with "That's a good point but what about... ", or "That's an interesting point, what do others think?"

  • Assignments (theoretical and practical)
    Ask participants to practise new roles and new skills -- e.g. ask a different person to act as a chairperson or fill in record book. Set assignments to find out the current market prices for something. As an exercise, work out the likely demand for a product -- e.g. chickens -- in a village for one year.

  • Brainstorming
    Ask members to think of any ideas that come to mind. List all the ideas without evaluation or judgement. The quantity, not the quality, is what matters. Ideas can be discussed later for practicality. Sometimes unlikely or seemingly ridiculous ideas lead to a more practical idea which would otherwise not have been considered.

  • Case studies
    Discuss an imaginary or real situation from the village (e.g. a successful group of marketing women) to encourage discussion on marketing strategies. Use the case study to ask questions about an activity the group is working on.

  • Community surveys
    Survey individuals in the community for their knowledge or opinions. Ask a number of people who represent the audience you are thinking about. For example, if you are trying to find out the extent of demand for wooden chairs in the village, ask a number of people -- men, women, village elders, school teachers, etc. If you want to know which people are poor, ask several people about their jobs, houses and standard of living and if they think they are above or below average for the village.

  • Consultation with specialists
    Carry out an interview with a specialist or knowledgeable person on an issue for which you need more information -- e.g. for chicken-raising, contact your local extension agent. For a health issue, contact your local health centre.

  • Critical Incident
    Use problem situations to analyse advantages and disadvantages and possible solutions to a given situation. Pictures or drawings will help. For example: "A group has saved up a lot of money -- enough to build a chicken house and start up a chicken raising activity. Just before they go to buy the materials, the treasurer tells them all the money has been burnt. What should they do?" Hold a discussion on the issue.

  • Describing visual images
    Choose a photograph or drawing with a clear, relevant message. Before displaying the image, ask three volunteers to leave the room. Discuss with the other participants how to describe the picture. Ask person A to return and listen to a description of the image (without seeing it). Let person A tell B and B tell C. Ask C to draw the picture. Discuss. Use this to highlight how messages become distorted when passed from one person to another.

  • Field visits and excursions
    These can be combined with observation and interviewing. Arrange a visit to a place of relevance to the group -- e.g. if they want to start a carpentry activity, arrange a trip to a carpentry business in another village (but far enough away so they would not compete if the activity becomes successful). A visit to another group successfully running an activity your group would like to try can be very useful in building members' confidence.

  • Folk songs
    Ask people to sing local traditional songs and explain them. You will learn a lot about values, practices and local terminology.

  • Good, bad or in-between
    Show participants pictures, each with a scene that could be interpreted as good, bad or in-between, depending on the point of view. Ask participants to sort the scenes into the three categories, and discuss the different alternatives.

  • How to make a meal
    Use a daily activity like cooking to illustrate the importance of sequencing and planning. Write out the sequence of activities that have to be done to cook a meal. Show how they have to be done in a certain order and need to be planned in advance.

  • Information collection
    Ask members to collect information on relevant subjects at the local library, offices, service organizations, etc. This is useful for finding out what is needed or the likely results of an idea before trying it out in practice.

  • Interview
    Ask questions of key informants individually or as a group, near a meeting point such as a tea shop or a village pump. Use semi- structured interviews (i.e. with some guideline questions prepared in advance) or open interviews. Interviewing each other is also a good way to practice interviewing skills.

  • Local histories
    Ask villagers for a detailed account of the past and how things have changed.

  • Making puzzles
    Cut large sheets of paper into two or more puzzle pieces, then mark the "right" side. Give each participant a piece and ask them to combine the pieces with or without talking. Watch what happens and use the results to discuss communication and group cooperation.

  • Making something together
    Provide materials and objects and ask participants to make something. Watch and use the results to discuss communication and cooperation.

  • Memory game
    Show 20 objects found locally. Ask the participants to remem- ber them. Put them in a bag one by one. Then ask one volunteer to name them and write them down on a list. Ask the other participants as a group to write them down as well. Compare the lists and discuss the advantages of cooperation.

  • Participation game
    Give five sticks to each participant. Start a discussion. Every- body who speaks has to give away one of her/his sticks. No one may speak without sticks. Discuss subjects such as dominance, shyness and importance of participation.

  • Participatory discussion
    Used in combination with other methods. Gather the members in small or large groups and discuss a topic of interest. Provoke reactions by using open questions: "What do you see here? Why do you think it happens? When this happens in your situation, what problem does it cause? What can we do about it?" Ask questions that need definite answers: "When was the last time ... and what did you do then? What did you do yesterday? How many ...? What happens in your family ...?"

  • Pictures, posters or story cards
    Present a story about a relevant topic using pictures, and discuss the content and results. Use together with case studies or critical incidents.

  • Practical demonstration
    Show exactly how something should be done -- e.g. filling in a record book. Then ask the members concerned to do the same thing. If you do not have the skill in question, ask an expert to demonstrate -- e.g. for fertilizer application, you could ask an extension worker.

  • Preference ranking
    Ask villagers to rank items according to the villagers' criteria (e.g. for six seed varieties -- which is best to worst for harvesting, fodder, food, storage, etc.).

  • Presentation by a resource person
    Ask a specialist to give a presentation in a workshop -- for instance a market women or trader explaining about purchase and sale.

  • Presentation of a progress report
    Ask a participant to give a personal report about the group's progress. Discuss the presentation among the group. If one member is very critical, you can always ask them to do better!

  • Presentation of experiences
    Ask one participant to describe personal experiences related to daily life or work -- e.g. a woman telling what she does from morning until evening, or a man telling how he runs his market stall.

  • Problem-solving
    Make a table with four columns. List main problems of partici- pants in the first column, possible solutions in the second column, what prevents them from solving the problem in the third column, and what will help them solve the problem in the fourth column. Discuss.

  • Puppet shows
    Use puppets to express opposing ideas (e.g. chatting and quarrelling about "women's work"). Puppets are particularly good for discussing controversial issues as they are not "real" and so can be allowed to say what they like without causing offence.

  • Skits or plays
    Ask participants to do a short skit or role-play on the subject being discussed (e.g. participants act out the election of a committee or selling their goods at market). This can also do a mime (a play without words).

  • Socio-economic dimensions
    A wealth/well-being ranking or sorting exercise -- make cards or slips of paper, each with one household name written on it. Ask villagers or participants to sort the cards into piles according to "wealth". You can combine this method with social mapping.

  • Song composing
    Ask members to make up and sing a song about something the participants have learnt (e.g. how to increase group cooperation).

  • Spoken messages (also known as "Chinese whispers")
    Think of a message that suits the situation (e.g. "tomorrow we will start interviewing market women about how they sell their chickens"). Give the message to one member and tell him/her to pass the message around from one person to another by whispering. Ask the last person to repeat what she/he has heard. Discuss how and why the message changed, how misunderstanding can be avoided, and what can be learnt from this game.

  • Systematic walk
    Take a systematic walk through the village and surroundings, observing the village structure and processes. Ask how and why people do what they do. Listen more than talk.

  • Testing and experimenting
    Carry out practical trials or experiments (e.g. test different seed varieties to see which work best).

  • Time line
    Ask the members to draw a line and mark on it major events in the community, with the approximate dates. Discuss changes that have occurred.

  • Two-circle exercise
    Draw two circles -- one circle represents the community, the other the group in the community. List the problems in the community and list the problems that affect the group especially in the group circle. Discuss how the problems are connected, possible solutions to the problems and how solving group problems will affect the community.

  • Venn diagrams
    Ask people to draw a circle to represent themselves and other circles to represent groups and institutions with which they have relations. The distance to their circle indicates the strength of the relation, the size of the circle their importance to the people. Circles can overlap.

FAO (1994), The group promoter's resource book. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization, pp. 101-107.

Hari Srinivas -
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