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Re-tooling in applied social investigation for development planning: some methodological issues.

Cernea MM
In: RAP: Rapid Assessment Procedures. Qualitative methodologies for planning and evaluation of health related programmes, edited by Nevin S. Scrimshaw and Gary R. Gleason. Boston, Massachusetts, International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries, 1992. 11-23.

Rapid assessment procedures (RAP) grew explosively in the 1980s in the social investigation of development work, with four main trends to be distinguished: 1) fast repertoire enrichment with new and imaginative procedures; 2) application of RAP in new sectors through content-adaptation and cross-fertilization (rapid rural appraisal by Chambers); 3) geographic broadening in both elaboration and application of RAP (from Sussex, England, to Thailand, Kenya, and India); and 4) the growing shift from technique to substance. There has been compelling demonstration of RAP's potential for changing and improving the planning of development. RAP can increase the planners' ability to put people first in the development projects. Furthermore, a decade of RAP work has launched some social sciences on a path of methodological retooling. Some major development agencies (the World Bank, USAID, ODA) have started to use RAP. The World Bank has been striving to promote the use of sociological/anthropological investigation methods for generating social information needed in projects. The RAP field work of a medical anthropologist who had received a 2-year contract from USAID to conduct research in Swaziland within a water-borne disease project illustrates the value of RAP. He questioned the lengthy sample survey and carried out an informal study of the health beliefs and behavior among traditional healers and rural health motivators. Within 6 months he collected sociocultural information and specific health-related data which led to significant improvement in the public health network via cooperation between traditional and modern health practitioners. The epistemological risks of RAPs result from the limitations intrinsic to the procedures themselves: accuracy, representativeness, cultural appropriateness, and subjectivity. The extrinsic risks are an improper contextual place or weight within the research strategy. These limitations can be overcome by professional training of RAP practitioners. Nevertheless, RAPs are not a universal cure for gaps in social information, and long-term social research is still essential.

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