A non-governmental organisation (NGO), engaged in several rural development programmes in Gujarat, India, on the lines of participatory management, visited some of the successful, large-scale, participatory development programmes on forestry and irrigation in Thailand, Indonesia and, particularly, the Philippines. During this visit, the NGO found that the very design of the projects in those programmes had provisions for, inter alia, creation of a working group and conduct of an ongoing process documentation research (PDR). Convinced of the need for continuous learning from project implementation and recognising the instrumentality of process documentation in meeting the need, the NGO sponsored a PDR study to be undertaken by the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA).
Having assumed the responsibility for the above study, the author recruited two PDR Assistants who would adequately compensate for the inability of the faculty members to be continuously on the field. The criteria used in the selection of the assistants included observational skills, communication ability, sociability, proficiency in the local language, readiness to put up with the rural environment and probability of staying the entire duration of the study.
The selected candidates were then oriented to the PD job through some reading and discussions, followed by a month-long field training at a locale similar to, but far away from, the study site.
Having decided on the approach, mentioned above, the study team familiarised itself with the history of the two programmes (JFM and JIM) in the district through a study of relevant records and discussions with persons associated with the programmes. Concurrently, the two PDR assistants, selected and trained specially for the study, were introduced to the respective programme personnel and were placed in the field so that they could sufficiently socialise in their work milieu before embarking on the task of process observation and documentation.
Faced with the as-yet nebulous task of having to process document the Joint Forest Management (JFM) project, the author conceptualised the task as follows:
JFM is a developmental intervention and, as such, it comprises the three O's of Objective, Operations and Outcome. The first component (the Objective) is usually well attended to in the form of project proposals and their scrutiny; impact and evaluation studies assess the third O, namely, the Outcome. The middle O is often taken for granted or neglected in most studies. It is, however, known that, given a well-planned project and strategy, the outcome is a function of various activities and how the various activities are carried out. The following questions were, therefore, considered important:
How does JFM in Bharuch work? How does it begin in a village there? What are the various stages of implementation the project goes through? What tasks does each stage entail and how are they carried out? What are the problems and difficulties that crop up at each stage? How are these problems solved and difficulties overcome? What are the problems (if any) that continue to persist? What are the sources of these problems?
Observation of on-site happenings, related to these questions, would (so thought the author) capture the what and how of the middle O in the model and would constitute the contents of the PDR study.
For the conduct of the study, the PDR Assistant was stationed at the study site and was urged to maintain three documents: A diary of daily visits and events, a daily diary of detailed field notes, and a register of weekly summary reports. The author visited the site once in two or three months for three to five days at a time.
On reading the draft of the first interim report, the Head Office pointed out certain gaps in the narration of the role played by the NGO's chief in the starting of JFM in the area. They had no other comments to make. When they received the draft of the second interim report, they remained silent for over a year; they sent me no comments, at all. Instead, they shot off a three-page letter to the field office chief, seeking clarifications on why certain things were being done as described in the draft report. (E.g.: Why women members were so few in the mandals; why the Community Organiser did not turn up for the scheduled village meeting; why the women were asked to wait outside until the men's meeting was over; why the Community Organiser insisted on a common bank account for the men and women of the village, even when the people seem to have demanded separate accounts; why hold village meetings that do not even last 20 minutes; etc.)
The forest department received no copy of the report -- neither draft nor final. In response to their request, however, the author made a brief presentation at the State-level Working Committee on JFM. The forest officers paid keen attention to the presentation, specially to issues related to inter-group conflicts in the JFM villages. At the end, one of the officers asked, "So, what's your conclusion? Is JFM a success or failure?"
The author answered him (them!), "Mine is a process documentation project, not an evaluation study; success or failure is no concern of the study. I am to capture the processes that occur on the field. All those concerned with JFM (the Forest Department, the implementing agency and even the village community) could reflect on the factual processes and learn from insights that might emerge. The learning could be useful for a variety of purposes: e.g., take appropriate steps to monitor and facilitate the future course of the the project; influence the design of new programmes; etc. To the one who does the study, no process is good or bad."
At the lunch break that followed the above presentation, the CF of the Circle where the study was under way, came up to the author and said, "... you must also take up one of our projects; it is really useful to know what happens in the field. I shall ask my DFOs and others to cooperate."
When the DFOs and RFOs were contacted, they agreed to cooperate, but made themselves scarce or became evasive ever since!
2. It is said that process documentation is primarily for purposes of the PIA's self-learning and self-correction. Fair enough! But how does a PIA go about doing it? The NGO in this study did (or tried to do) it, but, in the process, hurt the process study that was still in progress! Where, when and how should the learning from a process documentation study be used? Should it be in the same project? Immediately? When it is used for correctional purposes, what is the likelihood of its being interpreted by the functional field staff as a punishment?
3. What are the various purposes that could be met by process documentation studies? Do the attitudes of the client (for whom PD is done) influence the study and its outcome?
4. Is there an appropriate methodology for process documentation studies as such? Or, does it vary with the purpose a given process documentation study is intended to serve?
5. What are the ethical considerations, connected with process documentation studies?
Having completed a PRA exercise in the village, the NGO took the villagers to their forest land. The plot for the proposed JFM was to be demarcated.
1. With the help of a concatenated (several shorter pieces tied to one another to from one) rope of about ten metres, the group moved along the periphery of the plot, measuring it by the rope and marking the contours by implanting stones at every turn. The stones were then brushed with a dash of slaked lime for easy sighting later on. Quite a bit of discussion (at times, even heated exchange of words) took place among the men during this activity. The discussion and decision on how wide an area must be left out for bullock-cart roads and for purposes of human and livestock movement, was fairly smooth and relatively quick. Discussions regarding the contour line were often more involved and took up time. Following are further details of the event:
When the rope-holding boundary markers approached a particular patch of forest land that had (illegally) been cultivated by one of the villagers, the farmer asked them to have the patch skirted out of JFM; the whole group quickly closed in on the spot and almost every one spoke up in varying pitches and volumes, some in support of the farmer and others opposing his demand. After about twenty minutes or so, the group resumed and continued with the boundary- marking task, after having "granted" about half the portion of the land the farmer had cultivated. None of the outsiders intervened.
2. In a PRA meeting, two tree matrices had been produced (one by the male group and the other by the female group) on the first day of the meeting. The lists were presented the next day to the combined group for evolving one common matrix or preference list. The NGO Organiser explained that if the common list turned out to be too long, they would be asked to discuss the list further to shorten it to a dozen trees or so, for reasons of practicality in raising the required nursery. Here's what took place in Kalijaman:
There were only five species of trees found common in the two lists. When both the groups got together to draw up a single list of desired trees, the women quite readily went along with the men's choices, saying, "Achha, kari nahko" (well, drop it), when the male group suggested dropping of a tree. The result was: of the 11 finally chosen species, four were common, six were exclusively from the men's list and only one (namely, Neem) from the women's list. Tree species such as Khakra, Pipal, Mango, Tanach and Banyan from the women's list were given short shrift in the discussion and the women acquiesced.
Go to other studies.