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Tool 9: Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews

Tool description

Semi-structured interviews are conducted with a fairly open framework which allow for focused, conversational, two-way communication. They can be used both to give and receive information.

Unlike the questionnaire framework, where detailed questions are formulating ahead of time, semi structured interviewing starts with more general questions or topics. Relevant topics (such as cookstoves) are initially identified and the possible relationship between these topics and the issues such as availability, expense, effectiveness become the basis for more specific questions which do not need to be prepared in advance.

Not all questions are designed and phrased ahead of time. The majority of questions are created during the interview, allowing both the interviewer and the person being interviewed the flexibility to probe for details or discuss issues.

Semi-structured interviewing is guided only in the sense that some form of interview guide, such as the matrix described below is prepared beforehand, and provides a framework for the interview.

Tool description

Purpose of the tool

• Obtain specific quantitative and qualitative information from a sample of the population
• Obtain general information relevant to specific issues, (ie: to probe for what is not known)
• Gain a range of insights on specific issues

Major benefits

Less intrusive to those being interviewed as the semi-structured interview encourages two-way communication. Those being interviewed can ask questions of the interviewer. In this way it can also function as an extension tool.

Confirms what is already known but also provides the opportunity for learning. Often the information obtained from semi-structured interviews will provide not just answers, but the reasons for the answers.

When individuals are interviewed they may more easily discuss sensitive issues.

Help field staff become acquainted with community members. Outsiders may be better at interviewing because they are perceived as more objective.

Using both individual and group interviews can optimize the strengths of both.

Using the tool

1. Design (facilitator and/or interview team) an interview framework such as the matrix example. Include topics or questions for discussion.

2. Establish the sample size and method of sampling.

3. Interviewers can conduct a number of practice interviews with each other and/or with a few community members, to become familiar with the questions, and get feedback on their two-way communication skills.

4. Record only brief notes during the interview. Immediately following the interview elaborate upon the notes.

5. Analyze the information at the end of each day of interviewing. This can be done with the interview team or group.

6. Discuss the overall results of the analysis with community members so that they can challenge the perceptions of the interview team. This can make the process even more participatory.

Precautions in Using the tool

A lot of extra information may surface during interviews. Team meetings can help identify similarities in responses.

Assure that, in a personal interview, the person being interviewed understands and trusts that the responses will be confidential.

It may take some practice for the interviewer to find the balance between open-ended and focused interviewing.

In a semi-structured group interview people may interrupt one another or "help one another out," or not take turns. They may get off the topic completely.

Interviewers need some skills. The most common problem with interviewers is asking leading questions. Other problems are: failure to listen closely; repeating questions that have already been asked; failure to probe when necessary; failure to judge the answers; and asking vague or insensitive questions.

Tool 10: Ranking, rating and sorting

Ranking, rating and sorting

Tool description

The Ranking, Rating and Sorting tools are simple and inexpensive ways to obtain information about: why people make certain choices, (or have certain opinions) how many people in the community make certain choices, (opinions) and the choices they make. For example, this tool can be used to gain information on the reasons why farmers choose to plant some tree varieties rather than others; or why forestry staff decide to promote a certain species in preference of others. The results and reasons for the choicest opinions are recorded and compared.

This tool provides insight to individual or group decision-making and identifies the criteria that people use to select certain items or activities. When used with different groups and compared, it can pin-point the differences in perception between groups such as those with land and landless. or insiders and outsiders.

Purpose of the tool

• Identify needs and priorities
• Monitor changes in preference
• Gather qualitative and quantitative information
• Compare preferences and priorities between groups (ie: land holders/landless; foresters/ local people)
• Facilitate discussion and analysis

Major benefits

These are flexible tools, which can be used in a variety of situations. They are fun to use.

With Ranking and Sorting, handling the cards or objects encourages people to become more committed and involved in the process.

Ranking provides information on both the choices and the reason for the choices. Sorting provides a community perspective on a topic. Rating is an effective way to quantify "opinions."

Using the tool

1. Decide which tool, Ranking, Rating or Sorting will be most effective at collecting the kind of information needed.

2. Design the exercise and collect the materials required: picture cards, forms, baskets, etc. Examples of Ranking, Rating and Sorting are described below:

3. Whether you use the ranking, rating or sorting tool, select a sample that will be representative of the community or the group from whom information is required. See the beginning of chapter eight for information on sample size and method.

4. Design forms to record responses. A team of at least two persons is required, one to facilitate and one to record responses. They should have a basic working knowledge and experience of the Rating, Ranking or Sorting tool they are using.

5. Explain the tool to the individual or the group. Keep the choices straightforward and make sure that people understand what is required of them.

6. Summarize results using a format that is easily understood. The Tally Sheet described in chapter six might be useful.

7. Present the results to the community or group.


One idea is to make picture cards which people can rank from first choice to last choice. Generally it is not recommended that more than 6 items be ranked at any one time.

One set of picture cards might represent 6 local tree species. The cards are given to respondents to rank. Either each time a choice is made, or after ranking of each "set," respondents are asked why they made the choice they did.

Ranking tools

When doing paired comparisons (the person must choose between two items) begin with the two most similar items, for example, cards with two varieties of Acacia. A good question could be "If you could have only one of these trees, which would you choose?" The next question could be "Could you tell me why you have made that choice?"

Continue through the entire set of comparisons, allowing time for participants to place the cards with their choices in assigned place.


An example of a sorting tool was found in a community which needed information on the economics of households. A list was made of all 100 households, and each household was assigned a number (the exercise works best with fewer than 150 households). The name of each household and the number from the master list was written on a separate card. Selected community members (a cross section shows interesting results, and exercise may be done in separate groups) were asked to sort the cards into three baskets (if the sorter is not literate, the name on the card is read, and then handed to them to place in the basket of their choice).

Each sorter places the card for each family in one of three baskets, which had been categorized by insiders.

Basket One: families who have enough to eat, send their children to school, and are able to help relatives from time to time.
Basket Two: families who seem to make ends meet, have the basics to eat but live very simply. These families neither take assistance from others nor are they able to give it.
Basket Three: families who are very poor, they do not have adequate food or clothing, and frequently need assistance from others.

The cards are shuffled between sorters so that each starts with a random pile of cards. The sorters should not distribute or discuss the ranks of individual families so as not to cause hard feelings within the community.

The "scores" were added up and divided by the number of sorters. As shown below, the 5 sorters in this example had the following "results".

Sorting tool


Rating is a useful way to measure attitudes toward opinions, and perceptions of change. However, it requires a certain sophistication on the part of the respondent to understand the system of marking responses. Rating works best with literate people, and those more accustomed to structured answers.

To design a Rating exercise, a list of statements is produced. These statements touch on the aspects of the activities (or topic, species, technologies) being rated. The number of statements should be no more than 25.

A five category scale is devised to indicate how much the respondent agrees or disagrees with the statement.

Strongly Agree Agree No opinion Disagree Strongly Disagree

Code the responses 1 through 5. Give high scores to those opinions that will require changes.

Be careful in your coding that you keep the scales the same for each answer ("agree" on the left, "disagree" on the right) but your coding may vary according to the question.

Pre-test the form to ensure that the statements are clear. Disregard statements that are too extreme or ambiguous.

Total the points for each statement and divide the number of responses for the item. For example, 40 people responded to the statement shown below, the average "score" for the statement was 4.1 Which indicated that most people Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement. For all those items which rate over 3.5 Do further investigation to see what the problems are and how they can be resolved.

Rating tool

Precautions in using the tool

The testing of the tool is important, as the physical objects (cards with drawings or writing) must be clearly understood by those who are to make the choices. Carefully test the tool and eliminate any unclear methods and choices.

Recording of the responses, if reasons for choices are required, may be difficult, especially in a group exercise. A tape recorder may help record responses.

The choices that are made are very specific to communities or individuals, so for the information to be reliable a relevant sample of the population must be chosen. As the results are subjective, findings may not be applicable to other areas.

Tool 11: Community environmental assessment

Community environmental assessment

Tool description

Community Environmental Assessment is used to gather information in order to analyze the environmental effects of planned and/or completed activities. The tool provides a framework in which insiders can make observations and judge the value of the change. The value is determined by giving a number value to each environmental factor. In this way an environmental score is established. It is not this score that is useful, but the way the number values show the importance of one factor compared to another. The values can also indicate which factors should be closely watched.

Purpose of the tool

• Provide systematic and consistent value judgements which can be compared over time
• Predict, as far as possible, the various positive and negative impact the proposed activities might have. When these are understood, trade-offs, which are favourable as possible to the people involved, can be made.
• Identify where environmental problems may occur

Major benefit

Community Environmental Assessments create an awareness of the potentially negative and positive environmental impact of activities.

Provides "warning flags" for environmental factors which are potentially negative.

Using the tool

1. In a meeting with concerned community members, discuss the purpose of this tool and how to use it. Determine a definition for "the environment," such as: "the environment of a community is defined by the health, social, economic, broadly cultural and physical aspects of that community."

2. Introduce the value assignments in a chart form, so that they are easily seen. Value assignments may be made in the following way:

Very positive, clear and decisive positive impact +2
Some, but limited positive impact +1
No effect, not applicable, no impact 0
Some definite, but limited negative impact -1
Very specific or extensive negative impact -2

3. Introduce the Community Environmental Assessment Worksheet, a sample of which is shown below. Descriptions of the categories are also given.

4. Two separate operations are required: OBSERVATIONS (results from measurements or judgements 1-4); and CALCULATIONS (5-12)

5. Test the materials with a small group first so that the problems are worked out and facilitators become familiar with the tool.

6. Go through the exercise, for each category, asking the basic question "How will the proposed activity affect" The "answers" are the value assignments, as given above.

7. This tool can be used periodically throughout the project, to monitor changes in environmental factors.


1a WATER                    
1b WATER (SURFACE)                    
2a VEGETATION (COMPOSITION)                    
2b VEGETATION (DENSITY)                    
4a FISHERIES/ WILDLIFE                    
4b PARKS/RESERVE                    
5a HEALTH                    
5b HEALTH                    
6a SOCIOECONOMIC (FOOD SECURITY)                    
6b SOCIOECONOMIC (INCOME EQUITY)                    
6d SOCIOECONOMIC (WAY OF LIFE)                    
7a POLITICAL (RULES, LAWS)                    

Some of the categories that can be discussed are:

Surface Water: Runoff, peaks and yields. Will/Does the project activity affect runoff. Will/Does it affect the peaks (flood discharges)? Will/Does it affect the amount of water flow?
Groundwater: Its quality, recharge rates. Does/Will/Has the project alter(ed) its chemical composition?
Vegetation: Will/Has natural vegetation be/been reduced (bad) or increased (good)? How will /has natural regeneration be /been affected? Will/Has there be /been additional or fewer demands on trees, bushes, glasses, etc?
Soils: Will/Do the project increase or drain soil fertility? Where land surfaces will be /are affected by the project, does /has the best land use produce favourable or unfavourable results? Will/Has erosion be /been more or less likely?
Other: Basic questions dealing with favourable or unfavourable changes in wildlife, fisheries, natural features.
Food: Will/Do people have more food? Dry season foods? A more complete diet?
Disease: Will/Has the project create /created more standing water? Will/Has the project increase /increased fast flowing water?
Other: Basic questions dealing with toxic chemicals, exposure to animal borne diseases, etc.
Agriculture Productivity: Will/Have per capita food production (staples or cash crops) yields be /been affected?
Volume of Goods Services: Will/Has the project provide /provided more or fewer goods (food, firewood, water, etc.)?
Common Resources: Water, pasture, trees, etc. Will/Has the project eliminate/ eliminated community use of any of these resources? Will/Has it restrict /restricted access to these resources?
Project Equity: How will /have benefits been distributed? Who will /has profited from these activities. How "fairly" will /have the benefits be /been shared?

Precautions in using the tool

This tool will not provide exact, mathematically precise measurements, but will provide systematic and consistent judgements which can be compared over time.

Leave room for new categories and questions that might come up during the exercise.

This is a somewhat complicated tool, so be sure it is well understood before using it.

• Provide information about correct site/species selections.
• Adjust stocking rates based on local survival expectations.

Tool 12: Survival surveys

Survival surveys

Tool description

Seedling survival surveys count and record live and dead trees after they have been planted. Some factors that have a bearing on survival are: species, site, configurations, spacing, weather, planting methods, protection, and management. Height, circumference and general condition can be recorded for live trees. Possible reasons for mortality can be recorded for dead trees.

Purpose of the tool

• Provide information about correct site/species selections
• Adjust stocking rates based on local survival expectations
• Determine reasons for seedling mortality

Major benefits

Serves as an "early warning indicator" for both technical and social problems.

The stocking rates can be adjusted to maintain optimal stocking targets.

Indicates community interest (protection, management, watering) in trees.

Using the tool

1. Determine (through discussions with insiders) WHY a survival survey may be useful to them, HOW they may benefit from the information, and WHICH information they need.

2. Design the survival survey considering the specific information needs identified by insiders. There may be many considerations: different configurations (woodlots, alleycropping, boundary planting, compound planting, random field planting, etc.), variation in species, possible reasons for mortality (weather, animal browse, etc.), different sites (dry/wet, fertile/infertile, etc.).

3. In the design, decide HOW the survey will be conducted. There are a number of options:

(a) When distributing seedlings, give each individual a card listing the number of each different species of seedling taken. Ask that the card be returned, with survival recorded, when receiving seedlings the following season. Check the validity of the information by conducting physical spot checks on some of the cards.

(b) Survival information can be a part of Tool 15, Farmer's Own Records. If this is the case, a representative sample of these records can be used to establish overall survival rates.

(c) If micro farm planning is done, a representative sample of the farms can be taken, and a survival survey can be done on a few farms.

(d) If there is no record of seedling distribution, an "as is" inventory can be made, and a survival survey designed from this information.

(e) For small communities, maps which record the households with seedlings, seedling species and seedling survival can be created and compared over time.

(f) Demonstration plots (fenced areas with planted seedlings) can provide "benchmarks" of seedling performance when seedlings are given optimum protection.

4. When determining the size of the sample for the survey, a rule of thumb sample size is:

Total Sample Sample Size %
100 15 15%
200 20 10%
500 50 10%
1000 50 5%

5. When determining how to establish a sample there are a number of options. Some of these options are: a representative sample, a random sample, a stratified sample, or a blend of these. Sampling methods are discussed at the beginning of chapter Eight.

6. Once the sample has been decided upon, it must be determined whether it makes sense to have a permanent (go back to the same trees every year) or a temporary sample (count only the trees planted in the last season).

There has been a great deal of difficulty with permanent samples because with many fast growing species it is very difficult to tell the age of a seedling. Tagged trees lose their tags.

If sample accuracy is of concern, basic statistics may be required. Get help before beginning the survey if a high level of confidence in the data is required or/and if unsure about the process of statistical analysis.

7. It is important to decide WHEN to sample for survival. There are four discrete periods when trees can be checked. Define the period in which the survival surveys have taken place and keep the period consistent over time.

(a) Initial check is done soon after planting, mainly to evaluate planting quality and handling practices. It is especially useful to make estimates for re-planting, "gapping" or "beating up". The initial check is NOT a survival survey and should not be used to estimate future survival.

(b) A Survival survey can be done at end of limiting factor which can be factors such as drought, rain, pests, animal browse and/or frost. The sampling at this period can give good information on how things are going, whether there are problems such as species, site selection, protection. This information can be used to focus extension efforts on the areas where there are problems.

(c) A survival survey can be done at the "free to grow" stage, which is when the critical limits to growth have passed. This survey will provide information which estimates final tree establishment. Critical limits to growth will depend on local factors, such as height away from browse or height above competing vegetation.

(d) A survival survey can be done after spacing operations when optimal stocking is assumed.

Precautions in using the tool

Some sampling methods will give a "pretty good" estimate of survival, but may not be statistically valid. What is important is that the survey provide useful, and fairly reliable information.

Survival surveys are done once the LIMITING FACTOR has passed. This can be after the dry period, after herder's have passed through, or after seasonal problems such as wind and water. A check on seedlings before this (an initial check) will not give reliable survival figures, although a check at this time might be useful information for replanting.

Survival surveys are most useful as a management tool, not as indicators of "success" of activities.

Be consistent and systematic in conducting survival surveys as this will give useful information over time. Stick to the pre-selected sample and sampling methods so that bias is limited and results reliable.

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