Working Paper

From PRA to PLA to Pluralism: Practice and Theory

Published on 15 July 2007

PRA (participatory rural appraisal) and the more inclusive PLA (participatory learning and action) are families of participatory methodologies which have evolved as behaviours and attitudes, methods, and practices of sharing. During the 1990s and 2000s PRA/PLA has spread and been applied in most countries in the world.

Among the multifarious domains of application, some of the more common have been natural resource management and agriculture, programmes for equity, impowerment, rights and security, and community-level planning and action. Related participatory methodologies which have co-evolved and spread widely as movements include farmer participatory research, Integrated Pest Management, Reflect, Stepping Stones and Participatory Geographic Information Systems. Ideologically and epistemologically PRA/PLA seeks and embodies participatory ways to empower local and subordinate people, enabling them to express and enhance their knowledge and take action. It can be understood as having three main components: facilitators’ behaviours, attitudes and mindsets linked with precepts for action; methods which combine visuals, tangibles and groups; and sharing without boundaries.

The interplay of these resonates with theories of chaos, complexity, emergence and deep simplicity, especially self-organising systems on the edge of chaos. Good practice has moved towards an eclectic pluralism in which branding, labels, ownership and ego give way to sharing, borrowing, improvisation, creativity and diversity, all these complemented by mutual and critical reflective learning and personal responsibility.


Image of Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers

Research Associate

Publication details

published by
Chambers, R.
IDS Working Paper, issue 286
1 85864 657 X


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