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Chapter 2: Preparing a study of tenure issues

Setting objectives for the study
Choosing the site for the study
Selecting the team to do the study
Reviewing secondary materials
Making logistical arrangements

There are several important preparations that must be done before the field work begins in any RA. The preparation time for the study may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the complexity of the study and how much the researcher already knows about the area.

Among the first questions to ask are "why is this study being done and what is expected from it?" This will help decide what kind of RA to do. While there are no rigid categories, RAs are often grouped in four classes.

• An exploratory RA is done when there is not much information about an area and a general overview of the situation is needed. This kind of RA often helps to identify issues that are important and warrant more detailed study.

• A topical RA looks at a particular subject and tries to get more in-depth information. It is more focused than an exploratory RA and often results in specific recommendations for actions needed to solve a problem.

• An RA for monitoring and evaluation is carried out when actions have already been undertaken. The study is done to see whether they have been effective and to suggest improvements in the programme or activity.

• The final class of RA leads to a process of participatory planning. The product from this kind of not just information or recommendation, but a detailed plan of action that is devised with the population at the site where the study takes place.

Information about tenure and natural resource management may be gathered in any of these studies, so it is important to consider carefully what the actual information needs are. Are they limited to a rather superficial look at tenure issues as part of a broader study on how people ensure their livelihoods? In this case, the RA will be broad and exploratory. Is there a need to gather lots of information on tenure questions, looking at broader issues only superficially to get a context for the study? In this case, the RA will be topical. The kinds of questions asked and the amount of time spent on different issues will be quite different depending on the type of information required. It is important that the members of the team and the organization for which the study is being carried out all agree on what needs to be learned before field work is begun. This will help to minimize disputes in the field and criticisms when results are presented upon return to the office.

Setting objectives for the study

Once a decision has been taken regarding the kind of study required, the specific objectives of the work must be considered. The objectives define what information is desired and will be used to guide activities in the field. If objectives are clearly defined, they help orient the research and make it more likely that useful results will be obtained in the end. It may help to think of research as a kind of puzzle. Each time a piece of information is collected, another piece of the puzzle is obtained. The objectives are like the frame or the border of the puzzle. It is necessary to collect information that will fit inside the borders which have been established by the objectives.

There are two dangers in setting objectives that can be illustrated by the puzzle example. The first danger is setting objectives that are too broad for the time available to do the study. In this case the frame is a large one. Even if a lot of information is collected, it is likely to be scattered, with one piece here and another there. At the end of the study, there will be so many blank areas remaining that it will be hard to make any sense of the picture and to see the significance of the information collected. At the other extreme is the danger of setting objectives that are too narrow. In this case the frame is very small and it is easy to get enough information to fill in the whole frame. The picture may be too small to make much sense, though, and the most interesting information may fall outside the frame around the study. (Example: the study covers everything there is to know about tree tenure, but the more locally relevant and conflictual subject is how pastures are managed.)

Setting good objectives is often one of the most difficult parts of an RA. In an RRA, the whole team should participate and sometimes other members of the organization doing the study should be invited to assist in order to ensure that everyone is in agreement. Plenty of time must be allowed for discussion because this is where the team members' different perspectives need to be represented. For a PRA, the local community should be actively involved in setting the objectives for the field study. In this case, objective setting may be the first step in the field work.

In setting objectives, a common ground must be found so that the team will work comfortably together in the field. It is dangerous to set objectives that are either too broad or too narrow; a middle course should be found that meets information needs and is compatible with the time available for the study. Typically, it is useful to define a theme for the study and three or four principal objectives. Several sub-objectives can be noted to help guide the study but very specific questions should be avoided, since they more appropriately belong on the daily checklist of issues to be examined in detail (see Chapter 3).

The textbox on the next page gives an example of objectives for an RA that falls somewhere between an exploratory and a topical study. These objectives are presented as an illustration only: the objectives of any specific exercise may end up looking quite different from the ones suggested here. When doing a PRA in order to devise a community resource plan, it is a good idea to focus on identifying problems in resource use or management. Once the community has identified its resources, problems, and constraints, its last objective might then be to "devise a plan (based on the information gathered) for improving the use of community resources, clearly identifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved."

Choosing the site for the study

There is no set pattern for carrying out an RA. Every field study is a little bit different because the questions to be answered and the conditions encountered vary. A "basic" RA as well as two of the many possible variations are discussed below.

The first example might be called the "basic" RA. This is the case where the team does a single field study in a single village. Typically, the team has three to six members and the field study might last from four days to a week. While this is the simplest kind of RA, it is probably not the most effective since there is no follow-up. These kinds of participatory techniques lend themselves to building longer-term relations with the local communities in question.

Sample Objectives for a Tenure Study

RESEARCH THEME: An exploratory/topical RA on tenure and natural resource management in the village of X.


Identify the territory (ies) of the village of X and, by micro-ecological zone/tenure niche, the principal natural resources found there.


Identify the users of natural resources and their utilization with particular attention to the following social categories:

• Gender
• Age groups
• Socio-economic status, e.g. caste and class
• Residents and outsiders
• Livelihood /herder, cultivator)


Identify the institutions and rules governing the management of natural resources

• Local rules and regulations
• State rules and regulations
• Community institutions
• External institutions


Identify the key tenure and natural resource management issues in the territory of X.

• Cause of conflict or situation
• Results
• Consequences and future perspectives

One variation is to do a series of RAs in one village over time. Research might be carried out with the village on three or more different occasions. This might be done to get information at different times of year, or at different points in the project cycle. The same village might host exploratory, topical and monitoring RAs, for example. The objectives for each RA would be different, depending on what kind of information was needed at the time of each study.

A PRA that tries to draw up a resource plan might be done either during one discrete time period (perhaps taking two weeks or more) or might be done sequentially over several weeks or months. If outsiders are involved, they may make several sojourns in the village. The first sojourn could serve to participate in planning the study and setting objectives for the work, a second to participate in the community's activities to collect information and a third to come up with a plan in light of the problems and potentialities identified. Then, over a period of several years, follow-up studies might take place to evaluate actions that have been undertaken and to plan new activities.

In a second variation, the objectives of the study stay the same but RAs are carried out on different sites. Perhaps several villages in different areas of the country or different micro-ecological zones might be selected in order to get a sense of the diversity or similarity of conditions. If outsiders are conducting the research, the same team might conduct all the studies or the team might split into sub-groups to explore the situation in different areas.

The decision of how many sites to include in the RA will depend on (a) the purpose of the study, (b) the size and nature (relatively more heterogeneous or more homogeneous) of the territory to be covered, and (c) the means available. If the purpose of the RA is to gather information to inform a project or policy decisions, information will probably need to be gathered from several sites. The more variation in the area being studied, the more sites will probably need to be selected in order to understand the range of situations. However, if the purpose of the study is to gather information that can be used locally to create an action plan, then each study is independent of any others and the number of villages is not a concern.

The next step in site selection is to think about the criteria to be used in choosing the sites. Here it is important to decide whether what is required is a site or sites that can be considered representative, or, on the other hand, a site or sites with some special characteristics. For example, if the purpose of the study is to inform the activities of a project that is working in a certain area, it may be useful to sample one or several villages that are fairly representative in terms of resource management. In this case villages that are very different from the average would be avoided (for example because they are particularly large or are comprised of an uncommon ethnic group).

If there are some important differences in the area, it might be necessary to make a stratified sample. This means that the major factors that might cause villages to manage their resources differently are identified in advance. For example, such factors might include ethnic group or proximity to markets. Thus, one village is chosen to represent the situation of one ethnic group and one that of another ethnic group. Or one to represent villages with good marketing opportunities and another to represent villages without. As much as possible, the villages selected must be representative of their class.

In other cases, it may be important to do the study in a village that is special in some way. For example, certain villages may have devised particular mechanisms for managing their communal lands and it would be useful to know more about them. In this case, a village is selected for study because it is different.

It will depend on the situation whether it makes sense to choose villages that are representative or those that are particular in some way. What is important in either case is that (1) careful thought go into deciding why a certain choice is made and (2) the criteria for selection are made explicit. Once the criteria have been established, help can be solicited from people who know the area well (development workers who have spent a long time in the zone, extension agents, government officials, etc.) to help in selecting the village(s0 that will meet the criteria decided upon.

Selecting the team to do the study

RRA teams that bring outsiders into a village are usually composed of three to six people. Where villagers join the team as active members, a somewhat larger team may be necessary to permit greater participation. For the purpose of "triangulating" and reducing the bias that comes from a single perspective, it is preferable to have no fewer than three people. The principal reason for limiting the number of people on the team is that large teams can at times be difficult to manage.

In selecting the team, it is important to ensure a diversity of perspectives and experience. There should be both men and women on the team. At a minimum, it is useful to have at least one social scientist as well as people with technical expertise relevant to the subject being studied. For tenure studies, useful social science fields include economics, sociology, anthropology and geography. Among the technical fields that are particularly useful are agronomy, forestry and animal husbandry and pastoralism. In cases where villagers join the team, it is equally important to include a variety of perspectives. The importance of having diverse representation should be discussed when the methodology is initially introduced to the village so that their selection of people to join the team reflects the diversity of the community as much as possible.

Since the team will have to work intensively together, it is important that the members are personally compatible and that all are committed to the same objectives. It is also important that outsiders be willing to work in a participatory fashion and in a genuinely collaborative effort with the local population. It is vital to screen out people whose arrogance or inability to value local participation and perspectives would make their presence counterproductive. If possible, it is advantageous to get someone with experience in RA to serve as team leader.

Reviewing secondary materials

An important step in the preparation for the field study is to gather and review relevant secondary materials. This will help the team to fix its objectives and also to focus its questions. Secondary material relevant to a tenure study can come from many sources. If team members are unfamiliar with the area, it will be necessary to spend some time looking at whatever general information is available on the social structure and livelihood or farming systems found in the area where the research will take place. This kind of information can be found in studies that have been done for other projects, from academic research and from government reports. It is useful to get copies of any national laws or local edicts that relate to resource management. If there have been local court cases concerning tenure and resource conflicts, these may also prove interesting. Maps of the area as well as any aerial photographs should be obtained where available.

One cannot assume, of course, that all secondary information is necessarily good information. It should always be read with a critical eye. As the team reviews the literature, it is useful to keep a list of areas where all the reports seem to agree about resource management practices. Other areas where there seem to be differences of opinion should also be identified. On a third sheet, questions that arise while going through the reports can be noted. Are there important areas that have little information written about them? Noting all of these will help prepare the questions to ask and identify the issues to probe more deeply when in the field.

Making logistical arrangements

The last area to be discussed in preparing a field study is logistics. This topic will not be considered in great depth here, though it is of considerable importance to the success of the study. If a preliminary site selection is done by outsiders, an initial visit to the village is needed to explain the purpose and methodology of the research and to find out whether the village is interested in participating. If the village agrees to host the study, discussion can then begin concerning such logistical arrangements as the lodging and feeding of the team. As a rule of thumb, outsiders should try to integrate as fully as possible into the life of the village but without imposing an undue burden on their hosts. This might mean asking someone to prepare local foods for the team but contributing foodstuffs sufficient to amply cover the needs of the team and people who may join it for its meals. Experience suggests that teams should stay overnight in the village where the study takes place whenever possible. This both helps to create an ambiance conducive to participatory research and facilitates an effective use of time in the field. In some places, local authorities expect to be informed of the programme when outsiders conduct studies or activities in the area under their authority.

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