Work Areas

Reflection-Action Cycle

R-A cycle 1 - Understanding the context

R-A cycle 1 - Understanding the context

In order to gain a deeper political understanding of their context or of a particular issue, exploring their reality and identifying rights violations and the reasons behind them, the members of a Reflection-Action circle can use a variety of participatory tools and processes.

Just as NGO staff carry out an appraisal before starting a new programme, so the members of a community will also need to carry out an in-depth analysis of the context to help them better understand their situation; the rights violations faced by different groups, the different forms of power, the actors who could be allies or enemies, the communications skills and challenges, and the risks faced. These processes will no doubt be linked and it is important that the analysis carried out by community members and that carried out by the NGO inform each other on a continual basis.

We have identified a number of possible areas of analysis that might be used to deepen awareness and understanding in any particular context. You might choose to use all of these or a selection of five or six depending on the situation or issue to be analysed.

A variety of different participatory tools can be used to carry out these different types of analysis including the problem tree, map, chapatti diagram, body map, daily activity chart and timeline. We suggest possible tools for each area of analysis below. However, it is not necessary to use a separate tools to cover each area of analysis. A selection of four or five tools may be enough to cover all areas, as one tool may be used to explore more than one area of analysis (e.g. chapatti diagram for power and actor & institutions analysis).

Possible areas of analysis

  • Rights analysis - identifying people living in poverty and excluded groups and their condition and positions; the key areas of rights violations; the perpetrators and duty bearers; and the state of people’s rights awareness and organisation. Possible tool: social map, problem tree.
  • Power analysis - identifying the economic, social and political resources people have (disaggregated for men and women); and exploring different forms of power (visible, hidden and invisible; public, private and intimate) and how these are manifested. Possible tool: chapatti diagram.
  • Actor & institution analysis - identifying the actors and institutions that are friends/enemies/neutral/not to be trusted, and analysing the reasons for their action or quietness. Possible tool: chapatti diagram.
  • Gender analysis - identifying the division of labour; productive and reproductive roles; unpaid care; economic status; decision-making power; patterns of violence; and harmful practices that violate rights. Possible tool: body map or daily activity chart.
  • Vulnerability analysis - identifying the disasters people are most vulnerable to (for example, floods, conflict, drought, earthquakes, landslides and loss of productive ecosystems and/or natural resources); the groups that are most affected in such situations; their problems; and institutions that can help them. Possible tool: map, seasonal calendar or timeline.
  • Communications analysis - identifying the most powerful media and the skills people living in poverty have to access them; and developing plans to support people to enhance the skills they need to contribute to changing power relations. Possible tool: communications map or daily activity chart.
  • Risk and feasibility analysis - identifying the risk to people, including frontline rights activists; exploring political risks (harassment and arrests); operational risks (funding, closure of the organisation or inability to deliver, for example); socio-economic risks (social marginalisation in the family or community or risk to future employment opportunities, for example); and risk to human lives. Possible tool: risk matrix.
  • Livelihoods analysis - understanding people’s livelihood patterns, challenges and strategies in order to make sense of what they are doing and understand the opportunities for change. Possible tool: agricultural map.

In this video, Suwiaba Jubrin outlines the context analysis process used by ActionAid Nigeria:


Example from practice

In Myanmar, as part of the Village Book process, community members are supported by fellows (youth leaders) to carry out a comprehensive analysis of their situation focusing on the following areas:

To learn more about the Village Book process take a look the Village Book toolbox and at this video by ActionAid Myanmar:


References

Resources

Here you can download some useful resources.

Tools in this toolbox

Access and control matrix

To analyse who has the power to access and control different resources and who is denied this.The Access and Control Matrix enc...

Activity mapping

To explore the different activities that women and men do each day and how these contribute to the local economy.The tool asks ...

Agricultural map

To show the different crops grown and / or livestock kept in a community.Steps in the processThe group may wish to begin the ex...

Balloons and stones

To help identify factors that might help or hinder you in your work or in your progress towards a goal. The stones represent th...

Body map

To explore issues around health and sexuality, women’s rights and violence against women.Steps in the processDraw the outline o...

Chapatti diagram

To explore relationships between things – particularly the relative importance, influence or power of people, organisations or ...

Citizens' budget

To share information about a budget in a clear and simple way. Budgets reports are often very long and written in complicated t...

Cobweb for rights analysis

To help understand the rights situation and of different groups in a community.In the example below the focus is on women's rig...

Community scorecard

To help groups assess services, facilities programmes or projects run by government, NGOs or other organisations, by grading th...

Criteria ranking matrix

To rank different items / issues against a set of criteria.Steps in the processHere we use the example of a criteria ranking of...

Daily activity chart

To help participants to analyse how their time is used each day.The processDraw a daily timetable from sunrise to sunset.Ask pa...

Flow chart

To help make sense of different processes or complex systems - to explore cause, effect and inter-connections.Flow charts can b...

Forcefield analysis

To identify helpers and spoilers – people, organisations or events that might help or hinder your work. For a similar tool, ada...

Forum theatre

To help people explore how they might change their reality and rehearse possible actions. In forum theatre a play or scene, usu...

Gatekeeper tool

To identify people who can help you access duty bearers relevant to your advocacy or campaigning work.The processDraw up a tabl...

Helping relationship spiderweb

To explore the web of people and organisations that can support a person in a difficult situation and to identify what makes a ...

Income and expenditure calendar

To analyse income and expenditure over the year of an individual, household or organisation.Steps in the processIn this example...

Income and expenditure pie chart

To analyse the relative allocation of an individual or organisation's income on different categories of expenditure. It is a pa...

Income and expenditure tree

To analyse income and expenditure of an individual, household or organisation.Steps in the processIn this example we look at ho...

Leaky pot

To explore how governments lose revenue through tax avoidance and corruption. This image of a leaking pot is used to support pa...

Maps

To present local information, problems and opportunities in a clear, visual way. A basic map of a local area can be overlaid wi...

Mobility map

To explore where people go, for what reasons, the frequency of their visits, distances covered, and modes of transport used.Ste...

Natural resources map

To identify the natural resources within a community and to discuss changes in the availability and quality of such resources. ...

Pairwise ranking matrix

To compare a set of issues and find out which is the most important to participants. Known as a pairwise or preference ranking ...

Power line

To help participants explore the unequal distribution of power amongst people.  It can evoke many negative emotions among parti...

Problem tree

To explore cause and effect.A tree can be used to explore cause and effect or problem and solution. The various elements of a t...

Process diagram

To show the different stages involved in a process, including details of who does what and the time or cost involved in the dif...

River

To explore the history of an individual, community or organisation. The characteristics of a river (its changing width, current...

Safety map

To identify safe and unsafe areas in a city or community.This exercise was designed as part of the Safe Cities Urban Book proce...

Seasonal calendar

To help participants to analyse the distribution of agricultural work / crops / illnesses / etc. over the year.Cross referencin...

The tax stones

To introduce the idea of tax systems that help the poor (tax justice), to explore links between paying taxes and having service...

Timelines

To track changes or document the history of a community or organisation.By capturing the chronology of events as perceived an...

Transect walk

A transect walk is a systematic walk along a defined path (transect) across a community to explore conditions by observing, ask...

What would happen if ...?

To explore what happens to individuals and communities when care for people or for the environment is not provided.  Participan...

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