Community Planning: Methods
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Community profiling involves building up a picture of the nature, needs and resources of a community with the active participation of that community. It is a useful first stage in any community planning process to establish a context which is widely agreed.

A range of methods are used to enable the community to develop an understanding of itself.

The methods combine group working and group interaction techniques with data collection and presentation techniques.

The focus is on methods which are visual in order to generate interest and make the process accessible to the illiterate and those unused to verbal communication.

The results are in the public realm. Reports include as many of the words, writings and pictures of local people as possible.

top: Fiji, 1995, Jules Pretty
Taking stock

Taking stock
Government officials analysing information gained from the community analysing itself using a variety of profiling methods.

Problem tree

Problem tree
Simple graphic used to analyse complex issues.

  • Good facilitation is particularly important to avoid manipulated or simply poor results. A strategy is often needed to prevent domination by the more powerful or aggressive. Facilitators should listen and learn at all times. Even when relaxing, insights into local dynamics can be gained.

  • Closer attention and differing sessions may be needed to obtain the views of women and any under-represented groups.

  • Informal observation is a powerful source of information on local dynamics..
  • Cost effective compared with conventional analysis by outside consultants. Main cost: facilitators' fees.
Community profiling methods checklist
  • Activity chart
    Plotting people's activities each day, or each week. Useful for understanding divisions of labour, roles and responsibilities in a community.
  • Building survey
    Recording the state of repair of buildings.
  • External relationship profiling
    Examining the roles and impact of external organisations.
  • Gender workshop
    Separate sessions for women (or sometimes men) to analyse their situation, needs and priorities.
  • Historical profile
    Identifying and listing key events, beliefs and trends in a community's past and their importance for the present.
  • Household livelihood analysis
    Comparing sources of income and support with expenditure patterns and looking at coping strategies for times of hardship.
  • Informal walk
    Walking in a group without a definite route, stopping to chat and discuss issues as they arise. (see Reconnaissance trip)
  • Mapping
    Making maps showing various characteristics, eg resources. (see Mapping)
  • Organisation review
    Review of existing groups and organisations to assess their roles, membership, plans and potential.
  • Personal history
    Recording detailed oral accounts of individuals¹ lives, perhaps asking them to emphasise specific issues.
  • Problem tree
    Analysing the inter-relationships among community issues and problems using a graphic based on a tree. (see Glossary, and illustration)
  • Role play
    Adopting the role of others and acting out scenarios. (see Gaming)
  • Seasonal calendar
    Exploring changes taking place throughout the year, eg in work patterns, production. (see Diagrams)
  • Semi structured interview
    Conversational open discussion using a checklist of questions as a flexible guide instead of a formal questionnaire. Different types include; individual, group, focus group, and key informant. (see Glossary)
  • Simulation
    Acting out a real event or activity in order to understand its effect. (see Simulation)
  • Skills survey
    Assessing skills and talent in a community. (see Glossary, and Checklists in the Toolbox)
  • Transect walk
    Systematic walk through an area to observe and record key features, for instance land use zones. (see also Reconnaissance trip)
  • Well-being or wealth ranking
    Assessing levels of well-being of different households using pile sorting. (see Glossary)
  • .........................
    "The benefit of using this method is the diverse number of people who can work together and still achieve an outcome which involves everyone."
Pat Jefferson, Carlisle City Council
Tidelines newsletter, Solway Firth Partnership, 1997.
Thanks: Roger Bellers, Nick Hall

Last updated on: 9 August 2008