Key Terms Explained

This section contains definitions of some of the jargon – technical terms and uncommon phrases – that we have used elsewhere on the Participatory Methods site. But we have also added definitions of some of the tools, techniques and language you might encounter as you are reading through resources you have found on our database.

We will add entries to this section as the need arises, so if there is anything you would like to see included here, please let us know.


The term actors, used in the context of development and politics, is not about TV personalities or film stars. It is used to describe the range of different people who play a part in a particular development or political scenario. It might include donors, activists, NGO workers, participatory practitioners, researchers, community members, government officials and facilitators. These actors all work within complex webs of power and relationships which enable and constrain them. Being an effective practitioner of PMs means reflecting critically on these intricacies, and on ourselves as actors.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI)

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a tool for organizational change. It focuses on what an organisation, group or community does well, rather than what it has problems with. An AI process asks what makes an organisation effective, productive and healthy, and seeks to appreciate and build on these strengths and assets. This in turn helps people to understand and value these positive aspects and to enrich their knowledge, curiosity and energy, allowing them to shape a better future.

Attitude and behaviour change

During the 1980s, when Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) was evolving rapidly and its use was becoming more widespread, many practitioners began to emphasise the paramount importance of attitude and behaviour change. This aspect of the approach became known as ‘the ABC of PRA.’ It refers for the need for more powerful people in a participatory process – whether they are external facilitators, government officials or local leaders – to change the way that they act in order to allow or create space for the less powerful to speak, and to ensure that they are respected and their opinions taken seriously.

Buzz Group

Buzz groups are a technique most commonly used in workshops. Participants break into pairs or small groups and have a short, intense discussion on a defined question.


Making calendars is a useful method for exploring and recording information relating to particular time periods, whether year, season, month or week. They are particularly useful for understanding cyclic patterns of change and have been used to great effect to work with agricultural communities to understand the inter-related seasonal patterns of food insecurity, rainfall and labour.

Card Writing and Sorting

This versatile technique is often used as part of a participatory sequence. Participants note key points on cards, either in response to a presentation or a particular question, which are then collected and laid out on the ground. The whole group then engages in collective analysis by sorting the cards into different categories. This is a useful method for enabling participation, as many people feel happier writing than talking in front of a large group.

Citizen Engagement

Citizen engagement is a form of interaction between citizens and their governments. It can happen at any stage of the development or implementation of government policy and the delivery of public services, or be triggered by events in local areas. It can lead to a range of outcomes, including more effective services and more responsive and accountable states.

Citizen Report Cards

Citizen report cards are a way for public service users to report on service quality, adequacy and efficiency. They generate quantitative data which is used by civil society organisations to advocate for government accountability through media coverage and campaigning.

Citizens Jury

A citizens jury is a process that brings together a small group of volunteer citizens for several days to discuss, analyse and try to answer a controversial policy question. During the time that the jury sits, its members are presented with evidence on the question, and engage in debate with policy-makers and experts. They ask questions, have collective discussions, and finally reach a decision. The method is most often used as an approach to public consultation, and is a means of connecting citizens directly to research and policy processes.

Civil Society

Civil society is a public space between the state, the market and the household, in which ordinary people can debate and take action. Civil society organisations (CSOs) include, amongst others, community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), labour unions, charities, faith-based organizations, professional associations and foundations.

Community Action Plan

Community action plans are a commonly-used tool in development projects. At their most basic, they identify a goal and a list of actions which will enable the community to reach that goal. They are often one of the outputs of a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercise.

Community Score Cards

Community score cards are qualitative monitoring tools used for community-level monitoring and evaluation of services and projects, and to catalyse face-to-face meetings between service providers and community members.

Community-led Total Sanitation

Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is a participatory method for mobilising communities to eliminate open defecation. It is about much more than just providing toilets, instead focusing on the behavioural change needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements in sanitation. Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation and take their own action to become open defecation free areas.

Context-Specific and Adaptive Approaches

Nuanced, tailored and adaptive approaches are essential to achieving the SDGs. National and sub-national contexts shift and vary, and societies comprise diverse individuals and households with different needs, capacities and priorities. Experience has shown that a single, static approach at scale over long periods does not always work: they do not reach everyone and often struggle to achieve sustainability.

As well as being nuanced, tailored and adaptive, programmes must also be area-wide, aiming to reach everyone across entire administrative areas. Area-wide approaches will require local (and national) governments to take the lead, display political leadership and match commitments with the necessary human and financial resources. More learning and thinking is needed to understand how to operationalise systems strengthening to enable this commitment.

To enable programmes to be designed to reach and meet the needs of everyone across entire areas, a thorough understanding of the context(s) is essential. Based on context analyses, appropriate implementation approaches and partners can be selected: it is likely that multiple approaches and partners will be required in any one area, and that these will need to be adapted and combined in different ways.

This evidence-based approach will also help identify communities and individuals at risk of being left behind. We have much to learn about how best to do this and programmes must remain flexible so that they can be adapted based on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) as well as changing contexts.

Building strong MEL systems and rapid action learning (RAL) processes into programmes will support this process, helping to identify what works and what does not throughout every stage of the programme, and enabling adaptation and course correction. Investing in staff and institutional capacity to pivot, adapt and work with multiple approaches and partners is also key.

Crowd Wise

Crowd Wise is a process designed by the New Economics Foundation for situations where a black and white choice just isn’t possible: where it is important to harness the knowledge and imagination of everybody, not just the usual suspects; where a decision is needed that reflects the views of a whole community.  It aims to let everyone contribute their ideas, and helps find the consensus about what should be done. Already tried with everyone from Football League clubs, to an arts festival, to a national charity, Crowd Wise strives to enable all sorts of people make decisions which are fair, sensible and have the broadest possible support.