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Chapter 4: Analysing the information: making sense of the tenure situation

Analysing the information
Writing the report

Analysing the information

Tenure transect
Resource management decision grid

Collecting information in an RA takes patience and persistence. But the real challenge often comes in analysing the information. Analysis is a multi-step process. It requires organizing the information so that it is coherent and makes sense. It requires sifting the information to separate that which is important from that which is less so. And it requires thinking hard in order to figure out why some of the information is so important and what it means for project activities, policy recommendations, etc.

In RA, analysis is an ongoing process. This contrasts with conventional survey methods in which the collection and analysis of information are two distinct phases in the research process. In RA, analysis begins to take place in the field. Many of the techniques of RA are helpful in promoting an analytic dialogue with the community where the work is being done. As villagers do a historical matrix, for example, they are likely to begin thinking about the causes of changes and the interaction among various elements that appear on the matrix. In addition, on a daily basis, the team uses its interaction session to review the information it has gathered and to reflect on what is important and where the gaps or inconsistencies lie. While this level of analysis is important and permits rapid learning as knowledge builds upon itself, it is necessarily cursory due to the shortness of time and the pressure to continue collecting information during the short time available in the field.

In the case of an RRA where the information collected is to be used (at least in part) outside of the village, there is a second period of analysis when the team is preparing the feedback session for the village. This feedback session is essential since it permits information to be verified with the village but it also offers a mechanism for systematically sharing the information that has been collected with the village at large. Even if some villagers have participated as team members, it is important to do a feedback with the whole community, or at a minimum with a group of people which represents a wide variety of interests in the community.

To make the feedback useful to both the team and the village the team should pause about three quarters of the way through the study and take at least half a day to review the information that has been collected. This helps to begin to assemble the information in a coherent way, identify the most important remaining gaps, and think about how to present the results of the study back to the villagers for their review. At this point it is useful to begin organizing the collected information by objective. It helps to take several large sheets of paper and write each objective on the top of a sheet. The whole team should brainstorm together on the most important findings under each objective. Another sheet is used to note down any contradictions or holes in the data that are noticed during the discussion. These can later be verified or completed with the informants. This phase of analysis is still rather superficial because all the information has not yet been collected and time is still too short to do the job completely. Nevertheless, it permits the team to focus its last days activities and to make a coherent presentation to the villagers. It also helps avoid the frustration of coming back to the office and only then finding big gaps in the work which has been done.

In an RRA, the complete analysis of the information will probably take place after the team leaves the village. If villagers have been involved as members of the team, it may be worthwhile to stay in the village and work with them on the analysis. If villagers were not part of the team, it may be useful to find a spot where the team can work comfortably to analyse the information. In any case, it is best to avoid going back to the office where team members will be confronted with innumerable urgencies. It is important that the whole team works together on the analysis because this is where much of the "triangulation" of team perspectives takes place.

In the case of a PRA, the analysis and planning phases of the study are likely to run together. The analysis and discussion of the information gathered in a PRA will be a community-wide process that takes place over several days at the end of the information collection phase. The feedback will then be a time when different members of the community will have the chance to share the information they have been most closely involved in gathering with others who may have had a more peripheral role. This sharing of information launches the process of analysing the information, identifying problems and galvanizing efforts to find solutions.

There are several ways to organize the process of thinking about the information gathered so that it starts to make more sense. The first step is to complete the process started in the preliminary analysis: organizing the information by objective. Then it will be possible to go into greater detail. This can either be done as a team or in smaller sub-groups, with each group working on one objective and then presenting it to the others for their review. The idea of this exercise is to come up with a fairly complete outline of what has been learned, pulling information together from all the different activities in the field.

Tenure transect

Two activities may be useful in organizing the information which has been gathered specifically on tenure and decision-making. The first is to make a "tenure transect" (Figure 9, page 56). Unlike the transect described in Chapter 3 which was used to collect information, the tenure transect" is simply a way to start organizing and thinking about the things learned during the field study. Along the bottom of the transect, all the tenure niches identified in the village territory are written in. These can now be much more specific than just "holding" or "commons" if more specific information has been obtained on areas such as "inner fields," "outer fields," "orchards," "home garden," etc. In the space above each micro-ecological zone, list all the important information obtained regarding how that zone is managed, or what tenure rules seem to apply.

The next step is to think about how people view tenure in each zone. Are individual's rights very clearly defined or are they quite lax? Can one easily get access to resources in that zone or are the rules very restrictive? Are boundaries clearly marked and highly contested or are they more fluid? In some areas, it will have been found that the rules concerning access to and use of resources are carefully defined and enforced; rights are clearly established and highly protected. This can be identified as an area where tenure rules are "highly articulated." In other areas, it may be that the rules seem much more flexible; rights may exist but be latent. This would be an area in which tenure rules are much less highly articulated.

For the "tenure transect" a rough bar graph is drawn to represent the assessment of whether tenure rules are highly articulated or less articulated for each zone. This graph is purely to help think about and organize information; it should be adapted in whatever way will be most useful to analysing the particular area being studied. Its purpose is to provoke the team into thinking about information that may explain the relationships that appear on the bar graph. What appears to cause rules to be more precise, or rights more contested in some areas than in others? What does this imply for resource management and any new activities that might be introduced into the area?

Figure 9: Tenure transect

SOURCE: Inspired by work reported in the paper "Institutions and Natural Resource Management in The Gambia: A Case Study of the Foni Jarrol District"

Resource management decision grid

A second activity may help to sort out the information which has been gathered on decision-making and rules systems. A grid (Figure 10, page 58) can be used to map out what decisions/rules are made by whom concerning natural resource management. Across the top of the grid, headings are made for the different resources in the community. Then, down the side, rows indicate the various levels of decision-making. These start at the level of the individual and move down to the family, the village, the government or whatever levels are relevant to the area studied. In each square, the kinds of decisions or rules that are made at each level are filled in for each resource. For example, if women decide which tree species they will cut and take certain measures to ensure that trees regenerate after they have been pruned for wood, these are noted in the box for individual decisions concerning the management of trees. The village as a whole may regulate which species can be cut. The government may impose further controls through the forest code. These rules and practices should be noted at the appropriate level of the grid.

This grid will help to see where the loci of decision-making are for various resources and to sort out what kinds of decisions are made informally perhaps by individuals, and which ones are regulated more formally by rules made within or outside the community. While the grid itself may not show` the difference, it should provoke thought about de jure and de facto management practices that exist in the area. Are there contradictions between the rules that are made at different levels? If so, which does the community follow? If a project is trying to influence resource use, this grid will help to think through where it might try to have an impact: by persuading individuals to change their practices? by working through the head of the family who has the most influence over a given activity? by persuading the chief of the village or village council to promulgate a certain regulation? by encouraging the government to enact national legislation?

Figure 10: Resource management decision grid

SOURCE: Inspired by analytic diagram in "Fields, Fallow, and Flexibility: Natural Resource Management in Nadam Mor Fademba, Senegal

With the pieces of the puzzle clearly laid out, it is now time to fit them into a coherent picture and, most importantly, to step back and look at the picture to see what it really means. "The Community, tenure and natural resource analytic schema" below offers one suggestion for how a picture of the information collected might be assembled. It may also help the team to distinguish between the descriptive parts of its work and the analytic questions that will illuminate what is really important. In the schema, the rectangular boxes are the descriptive elements that will be needed to do the analysis. The arrows between the rectangles represent the analysis that is needed in order for the team to think about policy or development interventions that are most relevant to the situation being studied.

The schema proposes three large descriptive categories and poses key questions needed to analyse the relationship between them. The descriptive box at the far left looks at the community that has been studied and its characteristics. This includes such issues 8 as the nature of the livelihood and production systems: are the people principally farmers? herders? Do they engage in many diverse economic activities or are they focused on only a few? What are the constraints to production? It also looks at the social structure of the community. Is it relatively egalitarian or hierarchical? What are the rights and roles of women and men in the community? Since no community exists in isolation, this box also helps to think about the political, geographical and economic context in which the village operates. Is it remote from markets or well integrated? Is it more or less politically influential? These are just a few examples of the kinds of issues to think about in the first rectangle; their importance will be explored in a moment.

8 The issues suggested here are illustrative only and are not intended to be exhaustive.

Figure 11: The community, tenure and natural resource analytic schema

The descriptive box in the center focuses on the tenure system and rules of resource management. It is the place to describe both the local rules systems and the formal or state rules that exist. As these are described, it will be important to think about how they interact, which system takes precedence under which conditions, etc.

What makes this exercise interesting is not just describing the community and the rules systems. The key is to explore the analytic arrows between the two. It can be hypothesized that rules systems for resource management are developed in response to a community's need to assure its livelihood and the nature and organization of its social structure. Thus the forward arrow is useful to think about the community in order to answer the question: 'how do the characteristics of the community determine the nature of its tenure and resource management system?" For example, a community that engages exclusively in sedentary, rain-fed agriculture and is characterized by a relatively egalitarian social structure is likely to have a rules system that is very different from a community that lives principally from animal raising and whose social structure is dominated by a few very wealthy families. The key is to figure out in any given situation which characteristics of the community are most critical to understanding the rules system it uses and to put particular emphasis on understanding these factors.

The reverse arrow indicates that this is not a one-way relationship. Communities not only make rules, but they are influenced both by their own rules and by rules from the outside. For example, these rules may have an impact on the kinds of livelihood strategies that people can pursue, depending on their access to resources. Rules may reinforce or undermine social patterns. It is useful to try to identify any particularly interesting ways in which the community is affected by the rules it has created or by resource management rules imposed from the outside.

There is a third descriptive box on the far right. This box serves to organize the observations made about the natural resource base. What resources are in ample supply, which ones are in shortage? What resources are used? unused? Which are degrading or improving? Here again, while one needs to be able to describe what is happening, the more interesting step is to explore, analytically, the arrow between the "Rules" box and the "Resource" box. Specifically, with the forward arrow, an attempt should he made to understand what incentives or disincentives the rules create for using the resource base in a way that is sustainable, equitable and efficient.

In some communities, for example, there may be rules that give every body equal access to the resources (highly equitable) but have no provisions for protecting the resources from rampant exploitation (hence questionable sustainability). In other places, there may be strict rules about replanting trees or exploiting them only in ways that are sustainable, hut many people arc excluded from use altogether, raising questions of equitability. Perhaps there are rules excluding almost everybody almost all the time (as in some gazetted forests). These may provide for the sustainability of the resources, but do they make efficient use of them?

As might he expected, the reverse arrow between the 'Resource box and the "Rules" box again poses an important analytic issue. It is clear that rules affect resources, but the nature of resources also has influence on the rules that are made and how they are implemented. When resources arc scarce, different rules often apply from when they are more abundant. Or rules may be enforced differently, depending on the value accorded the resource in question.

While schemata are necessarily simplistic, this one may at least help the RA team begin to explore the connections between information gathered about the community, its tenure system and effects on the natural environment. It will help the team to focus on the information that is most critical to understanding underlying relationships which lead communities to make the rules they do and the effects of rules on sustainable resource use and community well-being. However, for the schema to be useful, it is critical that it not be seen as a static model, but rather as a dynamic process that is constantly evolving and adapting over time. The arrow from the "Resource" box back to the "Community" box is a reminder of this. If the resource base degrades or improves, this will have an impact on the community, its production and livelihood systems, etc. This in turn will often lead to changes in management rules which, in turn, will have an impact on the resource base Each of these issues must be explored with an eye to its evolution over time if the information obtained in the end is to be meaningful.

As the analysis is carried out, it is important to remember that action research tries not only to document a situation and to describe a certain reality, but also to relate the findings to the problems people encounter in their lives and the search for solutions. As the analysis is done, it is essential to stop regularly to ask, "what is the importance of what has been learned?" "What implications do these findings have for the well-being of the people in this community?" "How can this information be used to make things better?" If the study is for a project: "What is now known that can make this project serve the local population better?" If no one on the team naturally plays the role of insisting that the team work on these questions, it may he useful to designate one person officially to provoke such discussions as the analysis continues.

Writing the report

There are as many variations on RA reports as there are studies that have been done. As in the collection of information, there is not a recipe for writing a good RA report. Nevertheless, this manual can at least point out some characteristics of a good report and offer some guidelines that may facilitate the writing.

Whereas the analysis should include all the team members, the report can be done by a smaller group. It can be designated to one person, divided up among a few people, or divided among all the members of the team. This will depend on whether people enjoy writing and want to participate, who has time, and logistical considerations. If several people participate in the writing, one person should be designated as principal author, or editor. This person is responsible for making sure that all the sections fit together and that nothing has been left out or duplicated in the parts various people have written. Everyone on the team should have an opportunity to review the completed draft report and should offer corrections or additions as needed. This is another aspect of triangulation and the authors should not take such corrections as criticism of their work.

An RA report should attempt to capture the richness of information that was collected in the study. But, it should not be just a massive compilation of every piece of information obtained in the field. This is why a period of careful analysis is necessary before starting to write. One step of the analysis is the "sifting" in which the information that is really relevant to this particular study is separated from that which is of little consequence As the report is written, another sifting is done, putting more emphasis and detail in parts which can be considered to be really important.

There are many ways to organize an RA report. The outline suggested in the following text box is just one suggestion. This may he adapted or the order changed depending on the results of the study. But what is important is that the report follows a logical flow of information and is organized according to themes. What it should not be is a summary of field activities or a simple compilation of the diagrams done in the field.

In the first section (Introduction/Context) a brief explanation is given of why the study was done and for whom. If the study is part of a project a brief explanation is given regarding what the project is trying to do and where this study comes in the cycle of project activities. This is followed by the methodology section which is a very important part of the report. If readers are to believe the information presented, they have to know how it was obtained. It is helpful to first explain briefly what RA is. Then information is supplied on who was on the team (including their disciplines or special perspectives) and the role of any members of the community who joined the team. The rationale is given for choosing the site for the study. Was it chosen to be representative or as a special case? In the next paragraph, an overview should be given of the activities conducted in the field. (In an appendix to the report, it is useful to put a detailed schedule of what activities were done.) All of this information is important so that the reader can judge whether care was taken to triangulate the team members tools and informants. In the last paragraph of the methodology section, a list is given of any difficulties encountered in the field. If there were some biases which the team was not able to overcome (meeting women, for example), then this should be stated frankly. Readers will he more likely to take what is being said seriously if they see that an effort was made to control the quality of the work and the authors arc aware of its limitations.

Sample Outline of an RA Report



Why the study was done


Objectives of the study
The team
The choice of site (s)
Activities carried out
Limits of the studies and problems encountered


Introduction to the village

Social structure

Objective 1

Chapter 3. OBJECTIVE 2

Chapter 4. OBJECTIVE 3

Chapter 5. OBJECTIVE 4


In the next chapters of the report each objective is taken in turn. If the outline is already organized by objective, it will be quite easy to write these chapters. As an introduction to the first objective. an overview is given of the village or area where the work was done. It is helpful to provide brief information on such subjects as: the location of the village, its ethnic composition any information available on its history, the local economy and livelihood strategies.

An effort should be made to convey the information in the report in as clear and interesting a fashion as possible. It is like telling a story about the village where the study was done. If difficulties are encountered in writing a section clearly, sometimes it helps to discuss it orally with a colleague or friend. Once the story has been told clearly to someone else, it is often easier to write down. The diagrams and tools used in the research should be used as supporting evidence for the argument being made. Where they arc relevant, they should be inserted into the report as illustrations of what its being discussed. Whenever a diagram is put into the report something should he written that connects the diagram to what is being explained. The whole diagram need not be explained in great detail. Instead the one or two things that are the most important should be pointed out to the readers.

The last chapter should try to draw the conclusions of the study together and make practical suggestions for what should be done with the information. If the final objective is a kind of summary or synthesis objective. then it may be decided to combine the last objective and the conclusions into one chapter.

If an analytic schema such as the one in Figure 11 has been used to tie together all the different parts of the study, this integrated analysis will probably best be saved for the concluding chapter. This is the sauce that com- all the ingredients laid out in earlier sections. In writing a coherent report, it is important to be sure that all the ingredients needed for the sauce have been put forth and adequately explained in the descriptive chapters. Conversely, it is important to avoid spending a lot of time presenting and discussing ingredients that will not be used in the sauce. If this is done well, the concluding chapter can focus on analytic issues and the recommendations that follow from the analysis, rather than getting bogged down in description.

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