Building capacities of citizens, communities and institutions, to enable vibrant, gender-equal societies.
Established in 1982, PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) is a global centre for participatory research and training based in New Delhi. PRIA has field offices in 8 states and linkages with 3000 NGOs to deliver its programmes on the ground.
PRIA’s Founder-President, Rajesh Tandon, is an IIT-IIM alumnus. The organisation has well developed systems and policies, a robust HR division, and meticulous finance and accounts systems. PRIA complies with all statutory requirements in a timely and transparent manner.
– Dr. Rajesh Tandon, PRIA
PRIA’s professional expertise and practical insights in the following areas are utilised by other civil society groups, NGOs, governments, donors, trade unions, private business and academic institutions around the world:
- Participatory development methodologies
- Institutional and human capacity building for social sector
- Women’s leadership and political empowerment
- Citizen monitoring and social accountability of services
- Participatory governance in panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies
- Municipal reforms and participatory planning
- Environmental and occupational health
- Corporate social responsibility initiatives
- Adult education and lifelong learning
- Gender mainstreaming in organisations (including preventing sexual harassment at work)
PRIA’s Call to Commitment
We live in a world of growing inequality today, in the midst of prosperity and wealth. Many countries around the world have chosen to walk the path of free markets and democracy. Yet, the promise of a better life remains elusive, especially for the socially excluded and economically marginalised. If India, and indeed the globe, are truly going to achieve their full potential, we cannot rely on political and economic elites alone. It has never been more critical and relevant for all of us to come together and find solutions for the greater good, actively working to build sustainable, democratic societies for all people.
Democracy for all is realised when every citizen is informed and engaged; when development is inclusive; and resource use and access is equitable. PRIA supports realisation of such possibilities for all Indians, especially the poor, the marginalised, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Amongst these communities, special attention is given to women. In recent years, attention has been paid to increased participation of the youth, to help fulfill the potential of India’s demographic dividend.
Through building knowledge, raising voice and making democracy work, PRIA realises its vision – of a world based on values of equity, justice, freedom, peace and solidarity.
The Context of PRIA’s Work
India is celebrated as an emerging economic powerhouse and the largest democracy in the world. Yet, democracy does not work for all Indians.
- GDP of India has grown 3 times since 2000, but one-third of the population lives in poverty
- India ranks 132 out of 148 countries in Gender Inequality Index, despite numerous laws and policies
- Every village has a school, but only 25 per cent children can read and write after Grade V
- Every village has a childcare centre (anganwadi), but nearly 50 per cent children are malnourished
- Out of 8000+ urban habitations, less than 100 have urban spatial plans
PRIA believes that one of the major challenges in democracy not working for all is the governance deficit. PRIA supports bridging this governance deficit to balance rapid economic growth with inclusive development and sustainable resource use, especially of water, land and forests.Read More
Statistics are only a representation of the governance deficit. Similar to many other formal democracies in the developing world, India too has progressive laws and legislation, and large-scale government funded development programmes. Yet the country continues to underperform in most social and economic indicators. The challenges to achieve balanced socio-economic development are manifold.
It is PRIA’s experience that promoting inclusive development requires enabling poor and marginalised citizens to be aware of their rights and responsibilities. While this is necessary to bring about change, it is in itself not sufficient. Various government agencies responsible for providing basic services of health, water, sanitation and education are disconnected from current reality and do not meet the needs of the people. Their human and institutional capacities also need to be addressed concurrently.
PRIA’s Theory of Change
PRIA’s theory of change simultaneously empowers citizens, in particular the poor and marginalised, and sensitises government agencies. Empowered citizens, through information and mobilisation, become aware of their rights and responsibilities. Government agencies responsible for providing basic services (of health, water, sanitation, education, etc) are sensitised and their human and institutional capacities developed to meet the needs of the people effectively. Networks and coalitions of empowered citizens are facilitated to work together to influence governance at all levels. Increasingly, private agencies are involved in supplying basic services to communities. PRIA has begun engaging with them too to sensitise them to the voice and needs of marginalised communities.Read More
Enabling inclusive municipal governance through local community action: City administrations in India need to cope with rapid urbanisation, including an influx of new migrants. Many of these migrants live in informal settlements, with limited or no access to basic services. In Bihar, in the cities of Patna and Chhapra, and in the cities of Varanasi and Rae Bareily of Uttar Pradesh, PRIA worked with youth living in informal settlements to understand why their communities do not receive adequate municipal services. The youth articulated the reason as ‘our settlements are not on the map’ – essentially, in their experience, they lived in the city but did not exist in official records. With support and training from PRIA, these youth armed with GPS technology mapped their households, thereby showing physical existence of their settlements, and presented this to the municipalities. PRIA initiated a process of dialogue between the youth from informal settlements (mobilising demand-side) and municipal councillors and officials (sensitising supply-side), helping to bridge the disconnect between these two stakeholders. In the final outcome, the municipal authorities, recognising that urban poor communities are also legitimate inhabitants of the city with equal rights to basic services of water and sanitation, began providing these services.
Improving access to health services through people’s participation: The Government of Rajasthan invited PRIA to help analyse the reasons for the poor acceptance by rural communities of the improved maternal mortality scheme promoted by the government. The scheme had two key aspects: pre- and ante-natal care, and institutional delivery. PRIA began the process of gathering information from the people across 13 districts, and in particular from 70 panchayats. This process gave bottom-up insights into the problem, such as traditional belief and fears preventing use of modern medicine, lack of front line staff in the primary health centres, inadequate facilities for deliveries, lack of information on schemes, and health committees set up in various governance departments working at cross-purposes.
PRIA worked with communities and citizens so that they could demand better health services. Simultaneously, the information gathered from the people was shared with government health agencies (primary health centres, panchayats, and departments delivering the scheme) and health workers (ASHA workers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives). PRIA helped panchayats prepare village level health plans to address the gaps the community had identified. Handholding support was given to get these plans approved by the District Planning Committee. Monitoring of implementation of the participatory health plans was undertaken by the panchayat, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives, ASHA workers and community self-help groups (SHGs), supported by PRIA. This ensured regular registration of pregnant women, adequate medical supplies, improved facilities and motivation for institutional delivery. Detailed process documentation provided by PRIA became the basis for the scaling up of this model by the government across the state.
Ways of Working
Over the past thirty years, PRIA has evolved some effective ways of working towards its mission:
- Valuing the knowledge and contribution of communities and officials responsible for delivery of basic services by nurturing authentic relationships with them.
- Central to PRIA’s work is building local human and institutional capacities.
- Sustainable changes at the local level require support from policy makers at provincial and national levels. Therefore, PRIA builds linkages and advocates with government agencies and policy makers at all levels – local, regional, national and global.
- The knowledge generation role of PRIA is anchored in its participatory research perspective.
PRIA’s interventions are constructed around 4 pillars:
- Information sharing and awareness generation
- Building human and institutional capacities
- Advocacy with officials at multiple levels
- Co-creation and dissemination of knowledge
These pillars of PRIA’s work are built on the bedrock of:
- Participatory research
- Inclusion of the poor and marginalised, in particular of women and more recently youth
- Participatory training methods for capacity building of individuals, communities and institutions
PRIA has pioneered the concept of participatory research in bringing about social change among the marginalised in India.PRIA’s projects always incorporate participatory research; many stages of a project integrate participatory research principles and methodologies in implementation. In PRIA’s way of working, there is a very close link between knowledge, learning and mobilisation. The essential premise of participatory research is recognition and utilisation of people’s knowledge for purposes of transforming the relations of power between marginalised communities and those in positions of power and authority. Given this perspective, PRIA’s knowledge production activities are carried out in ‘engaged’ stances – where learning about the dynamics of a social-political system (be it a community, an organisation, programme or region) is closely linked to bringing about changes in that system to achieve desirable goals (equity, justice, freedom, peace and solidarity). Participatory research methodologies are thus used to both learn about realities and also transform the same towards agreed desirable goals.
The inclusion of the poor and marginalised is vital to the participatory perspective of PRIA. There exists a “culture of silence” in societies, where the powerful exercise authority without engaging with the poor and marginalised. By empowering those who have for centuries not had a voice, PRIA breaks this “culture of silence”.
Over three decades PRIA has built human and institutional capacities of NGOs and community based organisations, citizen leaders, elected representatives and government officials in India and internationally. Strengthening individual and institutional capacities is a continuous and ongoing process, which builds on the needs and knowledge of the individuals and organisations involved. PRIA follows participatory training methodology in all its capacity building programmes. The approach focuses on motivational learning through experience and practice, combined with clarity on generic concepts. This problem-solving approach helps learners translate the concepts into the reality of their lives, and find practical solutions for the problems they face.
PRIA’s capacity building work offers programmes on:
- community-based participatory research
- Participatory Training Methodologies (PTM): pedagogical approaches, methods, tools and techniques of PTM
- participatory programme design
- participatory planning
- participatory monitoring and evaluation
- process documentation
- organisation development
- strategic planning
- coaching and mentoring
- personality development
- gender audit
- coalition and alliance building
- study tours/exposure visits
- distance education courses
PRIA stands firmly on the side of the excluded and marginalised in all its interventions. Programmes pay special attention to the inclusion and leadership of women from communities, and within institutions. Current efforts focus on building capacities of youth, especially young girls and boys, to take on leadership roles within their communities and become drivers of the change they want to see.Read More
PRIA has supported the empowerment of women since its inception. In earlier phases, participation of marginalised rural women was promoted through literacy projects and learning savings and credit skills for livelihood improvement. Building on the constitutional mandate of reservation for women in local governance institutions, PRIA’s leadership trainings for elected women representatives focuses on:
- providing information on laws and rules
- mentoring, guidance and handholding
- establishing social networks for support
Growing incidences of sexual harassment, and worse (such as rape), against young women and girls is the ugly under-belly to India’s economic accomplishments. A plethora of laws, recently amended to address the increasing physical insecurities that women face, and severe judgements pronounced by the courts have not been able to curb such incidents. India needs to build a new society, and it is the youth who can spearhead this change. Learning leadership skills prepares youth to become change agents and become active in leading the fight to eliminate violence against women in India. In recent years, PRIA has supported leadership of young women and men to work together to bring about changes in attitudes of their families and in the responsiveness of government to help eliminate violence against women.
As more women enter the workforce, they are confronted with sexual harassment at the workplace and an organisational culture that is unresponsive to the needs of women. PRIA supports strengthening leadership and competencies of young women to act as agents of change in their own lives. PRIA also works to build equitable workplaces, thereby making it more conducive for women to enter the workforce. Gender audits conducted by PRIA aim to mainstream gender sensitive policies in organisations. Its programmes on prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace build capacities of all levels of staff in private and governmental organisations.
Areas of Work
PRIA’s theory of change – of demand by citizens and supply of citizens’ needs by government and private agencies – is applied in all areas of socio-economic development, such as maternal health, literacy, skills and non-formal education, conservation of and access to water, hygiene practices and sanitation in households, housing for the urban poor, preventing violence against women, etc.
PRIA’s work at the grass-roots currently focuses on:
- Innovative solutions for universal access to water and sanitation
- Addressing violence against women in educational institutions, health centres and public spaces
- Building local human and institutional capacities in hitherto neglected locations
Successful innovative solutions applied locally are scaled-up provincially and nationally. Practical knowledge generated from such innovations is shared on global platforms through coalitions and consortiums. PRIA also learns from the practices and innovations of others. The essence of such mutual sharing and learning is based on the principles of South-South cooperation.
Field programmes of PRIA focus on building capacities and skills of youth (young boys and girls). The successful piloting Kadam Badhate Chalo, a youth-led campaign to prevent violence against women in rural Haryana, is being scaled up to other cities. Youth from urban poor communities are learning new technologies, like GPS and mobile-based surveys, to provide community feedback to municipalities on water and sanitation services. PRIA is supporting the decentralised planning efforts of the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments by building capacities of district and panchayat officials.
Distance education is being strengthened as the vehicle to advance the knowledge dissemination and capacity building roles of PRIA. PRIA’s education courses are integrated into its different thrust areas and programmes to support professional capacity building of practitioners. Field exposure, use of IT and social media, and other blended approaches to learning are critical elements of capacity building and knowledge dissemination. Established in 2005, PRIA International Academy offers educational programmes of human and social development. The Academy currently offers 27 short-term and long-term courses. The programmes are designed for development professionals and those interested in contributing to human and social development. The educational courses offered are a perfect blend of cutting-edge theory, practical and field based insights from PRIA’s years of practitioner experience, and global academic perspectives. Outreach of courses is improved through translations into local languages (within India and other developing countries). In less than a decade, PRIA International Academy has over 2000 alumni from nearly 35 countries.
Building capacities of young professionals on participatory methodologies is an area that PRIA is paying greater attention to. It has been 40 years since the concept of participatory research was first articulated. While PRIA’s efforts in practising and refining the methodology of participatory research has promoted greater acceptance in institutions and academe, opportunities for training the next generation of practitioners, scholars and champions of participatory research in developing countries have not been keeping pace. PRIA has re-committed itself to building linkages with academic and practitioner organisations for such training efforts. Academic and research partnerships for teaching participatory research and community engagement of higher educational institutions is a focus area, particularly through the work of the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education.
The role of private business and philanthropists in socio-economic development of countries like India has grown. PRIA has begun engaging with these new constituents to strengthen their involvement in and support of citizen participation and accountable governance.
Partnerships and Multi-sectoral Linkages
In all of PRIA’s interventions to reduce the governance deficit and make democracy work for all, partners play a critical role in generating locally viable sustainable impacts. PRIA builds authentic relationships with citizens and their communities, civil society organisations, panchayats and municipalities, government, policy makers, think tanks, donors, philanthropists, corporates, media, students and higher educational institutions. Linkages are established at all levels – local, national, regional and global. By convening multi-stakeholder dialogues at all such levels, PRIA advances the voices and concerns of society to government agencies. Read more
Citizens and their communities are key partners in PRIA’s work. They identify and articulate issues of concern; they mobilise themselves into group to address the issue; they interface and engage with authorities in bringing about change through accountable and responsive governance. Their insights, experiences and local knowledge are critical in developing pilot programmes, scaling up interventions, generating research and reinforcing advocacy efforts.
NGO partners are key in implementation and scale-up, monitoring of schemes and developing a body of knowledge with information from all over the world. PRIA invests in and builds capacities of NGO partners to undertake varied government programmes. A strong network of 3000 NGO partners in every part of the country has been developed, which aids implementation of programmes in the field by PRIA. Similar strong partnerships exist in other developing countries.
Government as a partner helps in information sharing and dissemination. Working with the government benefits beneficiaries with improved project management and better targeting of government schemes. Promoting the adoption of innovative pilot programmes by government helps in scaling up. Advocating with government at all levels initiates policy change and changes in programme implementation and monitoring.
Associations with academia focus on community-based research and policy advocacy to support social responsibility of higher education institutions. PRIA works to promote the teaching and learning of participatory research among students and the next generation of development professionals. PRIA has supported initiatives internationally to establish mutual knowledge engagements between grass-roots and institutions of post-secondary education through community-university partnerships.
PRIA has formed and maintained international (global and regional) relationships to build an engaged community of practitioners and to advocate at trans-national levels. In fact, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) grew out of engagement in the International Participatory Research Network. PRIA was the node for the Asian Regional Network of Participatory Research. PRIA has remained active internationally as an important actor in participatory research, lifelong learning and adult education through its association with and leadership of Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) and International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). Global civil society coalitions and platforms for knowledge sharing and collective identity have been facilitated. Dr Rajesh Tandon has been the Founder-Chair of the International Forum on Capacity Building (IFCB), CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the largest transnational network of civil society organisations, and FIM-Forum for Democratic Governance. PRIA was an active member in the Citizenship, Participation and Accountability Development Research Consortium organised by the IDS (Institute for Development Studies). This network brought together researchers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the UK to study citizenship in more than 20 countries over a ten-year span.
To know more about the trajectory of PRIA’s work, click here
Impacts and Successes
PRIA facilitates the agency of communities to get together to research and build partnerships in order to address a problem. By linking knowledge and learning – in terms of conscientisation, awareness raising, collectivisation – with mobilisation, the impact of PRIA’s work is both emotional and functional.
PRIA’s successes are varied and deep.
- Reaching out to 1 million youth across 100 districts through Youth In Democracy programme
- 5000 women and youth being trained to participate in city sanitation planning
- 500 citizens’ and youth groups have been formed
- 125,000 elected representatives have been trained
- 50,000 citizen leaders have been created
- Ensuring Safety and Security of 100,000 girls
- Safe and sustainable supply of drinking water in 500 Gram Panchayats in tribal areas of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh
- Access to sanitation services for 200 urban poor informal settlements in 10 cities
- Maternal health services utilisation and institutional births increased by 30% in 250 Gram Panchayats in backward areas of Rajasthan
In 2014-15, the campaign to eliminate violence against women in public spaces reached out to 92,000 community members, building capacities of 8,500 youth and developing 35 citizen youth leaders. In 2013-14, PRIA’s reached out to over 6,000 poor and marginalised, impacting over 85,000 people indirectly across 65 gram panchayats in 10 states and 195 slums in 20 cities.
Currently, as a member of the committee set up by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, PRIA is associated with framing guidelines for community participation in the “Affordable Housing for All 2022” initiative of the government.
PRIA is a founder steering committee member of Asian Democracy Research Network, anchored in Seoul, Korea.
PRIA is a founding board member of Forum of India Development Cooperation (FIDC), created to bring Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India and Indian civil society organisations and academia on a common platform to explore common interests.Read More
- Dr Rajesh Tandon, PRIA's Founder-President, has been awarded the Nehru Literacy Award, by the Indian Adult Education Association in 2016
- PRIA has served on more than 50 expert committees at state and national level. [LIST OF MEMBERSHIPS ON COMMITTEES]
- PRIA International Academy has over 2000 alumni from 35 countries. The academy has linkages with Canadian universities for course development, course teaching and internships.
- The maternal mortality project in Rajasthan reduced maternal mortality by 20 per cent and increased institutional births by 30 per cent.
- In 2013-14, in Chhattisgarh, Rs 4.5 crore funding was accessed and used effectively by 5 panchayats to ensure potable water for tribal communities based on participatory water security plans prepared by the gram panchayats through PRIA’s capacity building efforts.
- Dr Rajesh Tandon, PRIA's Founder-President, has been inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education (IACE) Hall of Fame at the University of Oklahoma’s Centre for Continuing Education, Oklahoma, USA in April 2011.
- Dr Rajesh Tandon was honored with the Prestigious Award in Social Justice (for his distinguished work on gender issues) by the Government of India in March 2007.