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.

Reality Check Approach (RCA)

The RCA is a qualitative research approach that has become highly significant in recent years.  It seeks to improve the understanding and connection between pro-poor development professionals and the people that they aim to serve.  It offers governments, donors, development programmes and others an opportunity to live for a period of time with poor and marginalised people, to take part in their daily lives and engage in informal conversations and interactions. The emphasis is on minimal disruption to those lives, the building of trust and openness, and a shift in power dynamics.  A powerful research tool, it gives those who spend much of their lives in offices the chance for a more genuine understanding of the realities of others. These rich experiences of other people’s lives and what matters to them can then be used to better inform policy and influence decisions. A great deal more information is available on the RCA website.


Reflect is an approach to facilitated group learning and action developed by ActionAid to support adult literacy. Groups of adult learners, are convened to learn literacy, develop maps, calendars and matrices analysing different aspects of their own lives. These become the basis for a process of learning new words, gaining awareness of what causes underlying problems, and identifying action points and taking them forward.

Reflective Practice

Reflective practice describes the activity of self-aware reflection and action which is often integral to the effective use of PMs. More than simply looking back at an activity we were involved in, a reflective approach to practice will also involve us in seeking to understand how our own perceptions, assumptions, beliefs and values have influenced that activity. This in turn leads to defining and carrying out further actions which help us question our own realities and appreciate that our relationships shape our sense of self and understanding of the world.

Sector-specific Budget Monitoring

Closely related to participatory budgets, sector-specific budget monitoring is a tool used to check that a government’s policy commitments in a particular sector match its expenditure. Most commonly used to track expenditure on gender, they have also been used to examine spending on children.

Semi-structured Interview

A semi-structured interview is a research method widely used in the social sciences, which forms the basis of many kinds of participatory research. Unlike a structured interview or questionnaire survey, a semi-structured interview is open, allowing new ideas to be brought up during the interview as a result of what the interviewee says. The interviewer starts out with a basic  framework of themes to be explored, rather than a precise and fixed list of questions.

Social Audits

Social audits were originally developed in the private sector as a way of evaluating the social and environmental impacts of a company’s activities. They have been adopted by civil society organisations as a way of assessing government performance on meeting its social, environmental and community goals, and finding ways it can be improved. Successful social audits rest on the participation of diverse stakeholders.

Social Constructivism

Social constructivist theory asserts that the world is socially constructed and that ‘reality’ is always perceived through a ‘social’ lens. An example of this is gender. Understandings of masculinity and femininity vary between societies, and there is no single, ‘true’ meaning of the terms.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones is a training and facilitation approach for raising awareness and action in relation to gender, sexual health and rights, and HIV/AIDS, and for developing communication and relationship skills using a wide range of participatory tools and methods.

Time Line

Making a timeline involves listing events in sequence, often with approximate dates, reflecting the shared history of a group or community. It may include trends over time as well as events. It helps groups understand their history and give context to their current situation, and to build rapport and learn from each other.

Transect Walks

Stepping Stones is a training and facilitation approach for raising awareness and action in relation to gender, sexual health and rights, and HIV/AIDS, and for developing communication and relationship skills using a wide range of participatory tools and methods.


The phrase ‘triggering’ comes from experience with Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS). Triggering is the name given to the process of facilitating participatory exercises for collective analysis of open defecation by community members which results in their decision to stop the practice.

Venn Diagram

A Venn diagram is a tool commonly used in participatory rural appraisal (PRA) in which objects of different sizes, shapes or colours are arranged to show the relative importance and relationships of individuals, institutions and organisations. Circular pieces of paper or stones are often used. The name of this method varies around the world, Venn being replaced by chapatti in South Asia, tortilla in Latin America and dumpling in the Caribbean.

Web 2.0 Tools

Web 2.0 tools allow Internet users to interact and collaborate with each other in creating content, rather than simply passively viewing website pages. Many of these tools – social networking sites, blogs, wikis, mashups and video sharing sites – are commonly used by practitioners of participatory communications as a way of including diverse voices.

Well-being or Wealth Ranking

The purpose of this method is to include members of a community firstly in developing a set of local indicators for well-being or wealth, and then in ranking households according to those indicators. This leads to a relative ranking of socio-economic conditions in a community, which can be helpful either in targeting an intervention towards those who are less well off, or in understanding what kinds of household have access to services or other resources.