Working Paper

Who Counts? The Quiet Revolution of Participation and Numbers

Published on 24 December 2007

Participatory approaches and methods can generate quantitative as well as qualitative data. Mainly since the early 1990s, a quiet tide of innovation has developed a rich range of participatory ways, many of them visual and tangible, by which local people themselves produce numbers.The approaches and methods have variously entailed counting, mapping, measuring, estimating, valuing and scoring, and scaling, together with comparing and combinations of these, and have had many applications.

The methodological pioneers in going to scale in the 1990s rarely recognised the significance of what they had been doing. The pioneers of the 2000s have shown ingenuity, skill, patience and courage, sometimes in the face of opposition driven by conventional reflexes.

Participatory numbers have been taken to scale most notably through participatory surveys with visuals and tangibles, through aggregation from focus groups and through wealth and wellbeing ranking. There have been breakthroughs in producing national statistics, and also on subjects and with insights inaccessible through questionnaires.


Robert Chambers

Research Associate

Publication details

published by
Chambers, R.
IDS Working Paper, issue 296
978 1 85864 672 3


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