What is an ‘assessment tool’?

This article presents the use of a new assessment tool to assist the design of any development or emergency intervention.

The assessment tool is useful in two ways:
  • It allows you to find out detailed information in a short time – good for emergencies and where there is no resident anthropologist.
  • It is not just one person’s opinion or interpretation of what other people have said, so it identifies accurately what the majority think.

It is called a ‘tool’ because it can be used by a field team, with a small amount of support from a sociologist who helps to get the format of the formal questions correct. It comprises a set of formal questions which depend on the statements made during a general survey. There is always the same structure to find out very precisely about people’s beliefs, values, social influences and behaviour.

This new assessment tool is called the TORA, and in the case study below, it was used to find out the particular beliefs which were stopping people from adopting specific domestic energy strategies within displaced communities in Northern Ghana.

Why people should use the TORA

The new tool describes the links between beliefs, social influences and behaviour. It helps find out the most effective way of introducing an intervention by looking at the social attitudes that may affect why people do things and who can influence them. Participatory surveys are usually used to ask the questions: What – Where – When – How – and Who? For example, consider wood collection:
  • where is it collected?
  • when do people collect?
  • how often they collect?
  • who has to collect it?

This new tool adds a process to reveal why things are done.

  • Why do people collect wood in the way they do?
The TORA tool gives a value to the strength of opinions, attitudes or beliefs within a community. In addition, the assets which people have because of their role in a community (ie their social capital – who they know and how much they are influenced by others and how much they influence others) has tended to be neglected in many development strategies. The tool helps identify the key people for each community activity. The TORA tries to answer the question ‘Why does this community act the way they do?’.

For example, in an open survey – someone might say that they think that ‘a persons life is connected to the life of any tree he or she plants’. Within a group discussion, everyone might appear to agree with this statement. But if the person who made the comment is very influential,
it is hard to know whether everyone else is being polite because he is an elder, or whether that belief is really at the root of their behaviour. Is it a belief that is so strong that it affects the behaviour of the majority of the population, and is the eldership really influencial on that issue?

How does this help with development planning?

This is best illustrated from the project itself. The project was undertaken in an area of Ghana with an environment which is very sensitive to change. There are many households internally displaced, due to ethnic conflict in 1994. Although the area has seen a number of initiatives in improved stoves and woodlot planting, encouraged by Government and Non-Government agencies, these have had limited success.

To make the tool work well, the way people live must be carefully understood to ensure that activities undertaken are appropriate. A non-focused enquiry into a community’s behaviour will not produce the desired results in a short period of time. Seven different activities were identified as key to domestic energy and three were analysed closely, as they were seen to be critical to fuel wood management. The three were:
  • Firewood collection
  • Improved stove adoption
  • Wood lot planting
The TORA survey took into account differences within the population, i.e. different language groups, geography and those who have, or have not, been forcibly displaced due to war or civil unrest.

Insights to help planning?

An important finding of the TORA was that, under the right circumstances, displaced people were actually more likely than local people to adopt sustainable fuelwood practices. Decisions on whether to adopt improved methods are influenced by what is seen to be acceptable by the
community, rather than by people working out benefits for themselves. Also displaced people are less willing to adopt new practices in the kitchen, but as a community, they are willing to try new external interventions, such as woodlot planting (Figure 1).
Figure 1: There was a positive response to woodlot planting

There were no real concerns about planting woodlots as everyone responded positively to this matter. There were no major belief barriers to overcome, just practical barriers which were addressed through community discussions, organisation and co-operation.

The improved stoves being promoted have a number of technical difficulties. Cooking practices in Northern Ghana are characterised by large pots that must be stirred aggressively during the cooking process. This often breaks the proposed improved stoves. Also much of the extension work had been targetted at women (understandably). However the TORA revealed that few if any women would change their way of cooking without asking both their husband and their mother in law. Agencies are working on new solutions and will try to ensure that the men are also kept informed about new cooking options.

Box 1: Using a flip chart in group discussions A flipchart , with a sequence of pictures, is one way which helps group discussion in the villages. In this one (Figure 2), the man, Kofi, who was middle-aged in previous pictures, is now imaging himself as an old man and wondering if there will be very few trees. (He is consideringwhether God will allow this level of destruction.) His wife, Ama, has asked him what can they do now to stop this happening? The animator or extension agent asks the community ‘What do you think Kofi’s answer might be?’. Expected answers might be; plant trees, prune trees, use it more carefully, talk to the chief and ask him.

Figure 2: An elderly Kofi thinking about access to fuel

The most important key barrier

However, there was still no widespread response to improving the environment. In particular, foraging for fuelwood was an issue that had not been addressed by agencies. This offered the best potential for a change in people’s activities that was quick, easy and cost effective.

The TORA identified that all communities have a strongly held belief that they will always have areas from which to collect firewood. Communities are generally aware of extension messages about the destruction of biomass resources, which they hear on the radio, from extension workers, and from posters. However, they more strongly believe that God will not allow them to go without firewood. (Note, These statements are not specific to particular religions, the communities are Islamic, Christian and Animist.) They believe that there will always be wood for their children. There is an overriding perception that there will not be a problem with future access to firewood. These beliefs are at the core of people’s attitude towards the issue of fuelwood and the environment. The TORA demonstrated that a linkage exists between these key
beliefs and activities which damage the environment.

However, feedback from most of those working in the field is that people are willing to discuss the inconsistencies in what they believe. They know that ‘ God does let bad things happen, their lives are full of sorrow’. So they face the disparity and answer it consciously in the light of their world experience. They are then prepared to consider ways to modify their behaviour to take it into account, not through outside influences, but through their own understanding.

The TORA also shows that the channel used for each message is as critical as the message itself. Since most decisions are made as
a group, joint consultation should be carried out, educating should be done mostly in groups, and involvement of key members is key to gaining
approval. So having identified these key barriers, educational messages can be more targeted. Most of the agencies working in Northern Ghana have come together to target these beliefs. A workshop was held to discuss the findings of the TORA and many of the recommendations rang true with field workers. Together, workers created flipcharts (as shown in Box 1), dramas (as shown in Box 2), radio messages and discussions that tackled the themes of future access to fuelwood. Over 20 different agencies have incorporated the findings of the TORA into their work and in August 2001 an impact evaluation will take place.

Box 2: Drama – future access to fuelwood suppliesOne of the ways extension agents work with their clients is to present a drama, to introduce the subject in a humorous way. The names were changed to be suitable to the different areas in N Ghana. This drama has been performed in villages and schools. Note how it picks up on the theme of future access.Kofi and Ama.Kofi: Is food nearly ready. I have a hard day in the field and I am hungry.Ama: Food will be late. I only started a short while ago.Kofi: What! What have you been doing. Have you been sick?Ama: No. We needed more wood and it took me a long time. It took me all day.Kofi: All day! How much wood did you get. Enough for a month?Ama: No. Enough for three days.Kofi: Three days! Ah, Ama. You are getting old and slow. I remember when we were first married you could get a month of wood in half a day, and now you are telling me you took all day for three days wood. Poor old Ama.Ama: I am not that old! I still move fast. But we have to go a long way for the wood now. When we were married the wood was here, near the village, but now it is way over there.Kofi: Wood cannot move. God did not make the trees with legs. Are you saying they are running away from us.Ama: Of course not. But the trees that were near the village are gone, dead.Kofi: But I see trees. Look, there is one, there is another.Ama: Yes but you know as well as I do that those are for fruit. Look, if I took wood from that Shea Butter tree the chief would tell us all off. Show me one that is near that I can take wood from.Kofi: There is one.Ama: Yes but that is one! I must collect a bundle to cook your dinner, I cannot do that from one!Kofi: Huh. I still think it is old age that makes you slow. Trees do not move.Ama: Look, when you were a child, what was this village like.Kofi: Ahhh. We had fun as children. There were bushes over there that we used to hide in. If our Father was going to beat us we would run to those bushes. But now there is Alhassans hut and beyond that there is Alhaj’s. Hmm, now that I think about it, there were more trees when I was young. And when we got married. And now they are over there.Ama: Yes, And we are walking further and further every year to get the wood. And it takes more time. By the time our daughter is our age she will have to go two days to get the wood.Kofi: No – her husband will not let her go that far. It is too dangerous.Ama: Then the men will have to collect the wood.Kofi: Hah. That day will never come. God will never let the trees disappear.Ama: But I have heard the radio say that all trees are part of Gods creation, and that we should care for the trees.Kofi: Yes. And you, Ama are the one cutting the trees, so you should be the one caring for them.Ama: But, I am cutting them to cook your dinner.Kofi: Hah – that is no excuse. If you do not take care you will soon be cutting the sacred groves. You must take more care cutting.Ama: But how can I get wood and yet take care of the trees? That is impossible isn’t it?Kofi: I am not sure. We will ask the chief or the extension agent.Ama + Kofi: How can we look after the trees and get wood for our fire at the same time?

Lessons learned

Alhough the TORA has been used in many areas of business before in the North, this is one of the first times the tool has been used for development purposes in the developing world. Given that demonstrating TORA as a rapid assessment tool was the purpose of the project, we can now say that with the correct approach to the process it yields the required outcomes. The tool is particularly useful where development interventions are being undertaken. In these cases it can help identify where barriers lie, and target the intervention more effectively. It explains why people are doing the things they do, and identifies how one can create educational messages to address the core barriers so that people can think about and discuss the core issues.
Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Thursday August 12, 2010 13:39:38 GMT.
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