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.


Energizers are activities used in workshops and group situations to help participants be more alert and active; they can also be an important way of people getting to know and understand one another. There are many different energizers of varying length, complexity, exertion and ingenuity. They need to be enjoyable and feel safe, so should always be used in a way that is sensitive to factors such as culture, gender, physical ability and group dynamics. They can be particularly useful at the start of the day, when people are still getting to know one another, and after lunch, when sleepiness can set in.


This word, a combination of facilitate and manipulate, means to facilitate in a manipulative manner. It highlights the power of facilitators to potentially dominate participatory processes by setting agendas, steering discussions, framing analysis and summarising conclusions.

Feminist Pedagogy

Feminist pedagogy is a set of principles and practices of teaching and education which is grounded in feminist theory. This means that teaching strategies, approaches to content, classroom practices, and teacher-student relationships are all grounded in the assumption that the widespread social subordination of women is not acceptable, and that girls and women have equal rights, particularly to education.

Feminist Standpoint Theory

Feminist standpoint theory argues that all knowledge is socially constructed. It suggests that we need to identify the social dynamics which contribute to the subordination of girls and women, and that we have to see things from their standpoint in order to fully value their knowledge.

Focus Group Discussion

Focus group discussions (FGDs) are part of most experiences of participatory research and action, and perhaps the most commonly used method in the participatory toolkit. The label FGD embraces a range of different procedures, but the common denominator is that a group of different types of participants is formed, and the group members are given the opportunity to enter into conversation with each other in a safe setting. In participatory research, a FGD is usually convened, mediated and recorded by a team of at least two people, including a facilitator and a note-taker.


Immersions are a form of learning undertaken by aid organisations. They involve development professionals living with a host family in a poor community for a short period, helping with daily tasks and sharing in family life. The visitors gain a very real experience of the cultures and conditions of the people on whose behalf they are working. Immersions, which have become more widespread in the past 15 years, can have profound effects on how development professionals understand and carry out their work, as described by Robert Chambers in an Oxfam blog. The Reality Check Approach (RCA) website has a great deal of useful material about immersions and the reality check approach, and includes an introductory video by Dee Jupp.

Linkage Diagram

There are many forms of linkage diagram, including flow charts, Venn diagrams, problem trees and mind maps. What they all have in common is that they allow participants – individually or collectively – to make a visual representation of the relationships between different components of the subject being discussed. The participatory process of creating and discussing the diagrams leads to collective analysis.

Mapping and Modelling

Many PMs involve local people analysing their situation using pictures, diagrams and symbols rather than just words. Mapping and modelling are common tools and take many forms including social, resource, mobility, environmental and vulnerability maps. Maps and models can be large or small, simple or intricate, two or three dimensional, and can be created using paper and pens, sand, earth, sticks, stones, leaves and a variety of other materials. They can be a very powerful form of expression, especially for non-literate people, and can reveal a great deal about peoples’ lives and how they see the world around them.

Matrix Scoring

Matrix scoring is a visual method of analysis in which items are compared according to a number of criteria. The items are usually listed across the top of a matrix or grid and the criteria down the side. The resulting boxes are then scored, each item according to each criterion, often using beans, stones or other counters.

Most Significant Change

The purpose of this method, most often used in monitoring and evaluation, is to identify cases of significant changes – either positive or negative – relating to the key objectives of the intervention. It is particularly useful for tracking stories of change that are related to issues that are not easily quantifiable, such as ‘capacity strengthening’ or ‘gender equity’.


Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are usually non-profit, non-sectarian organisations which are not linked to any form of government. They are usually task-orientated and have a broad range of social, environmental, justice or development objectives. Two variations are international NGOs (INGOs) and big international NGO (BINGOs).

Outcome Mapping

Outcome mapping is a methodology for planning, monitoring and evaluating development initiatives that aim to bring about social change. It can help a project team or programme to be clear about the actors it targets, the changes it expects to see and the strategies it employs. Results are measured in terms of changes in behaviour, actions or relationships.

Participant Observation

Participant observation was a research method first used by anthropologists and ethnographers, and relied on researchers both observing and participating in the social life of the group of people they were learning about. These basic principles were reflected in the earliest versions of Participatory Rural Appraisal, when staying in communities and working alongside community members was seen as part of the reversal of normal development practice that was needed in order to ensure the participation of ordinary people.

Participatory Action Research

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an approach to enquiry which has been used since the 1940s. It involves researchers and participants working together to understand a problematic situation and change it for the better. There are many definitions of the approach, which share some common elements. PAR focuses on social change that promotes democracy and challenges inequality; is context-specific, often targeted on the needs of a particular group; is an iterative cycle of research, action and reflection; and often seeks to ‘liberate’ participants to have a greater awareness of their situation in order to take action. PAR uses a range of different methods, both qualitative and quantitative.

Participatory Audits

Many governments have an official agency that audits their departments and programmes, often called a supreme audit institution. In several countries in recent years, these institutions have included alliances of civil society organisations in participatory audits with the aim of promoting transparency in their own work.