Tools

Transect walk

Transect walk

A transect walk is a systematic walk along a defined path (transect) across a community to explore conditions by observing, asking, listening, looking and producing a transect diagram.

A transect walk is often conducted during the initial phase of a project. It is carried out by a combination of community members and relevant resource people. The information collected during the walk is used to draw a diagram or map based on which discussions are held amongst the participants.

Steps in the process

  1. Identify your research group. Ideally, the group should include representatives from the key stakeholder groups in the community and resource people. They should be willing to walk some distance and share their observations.
  2. Discuss the purpose of the walk with the participants.
  3. Plot a path through the community from one end to the other on a map. The path should ideally cover the full variation in the area. Ideally, as a true cross-section, it should be a straight line, but it may be easier to follow a path for at least some of the way. 
  4. Decide with the participants what parameters should be used for recording observations. Local definitions of these parameters should be explored. It is best to limit the parameters to five or six at maximum to avoid confusion.
  5. In general, the easiest and most stimulating part of transect walks is the walk itself and the discussions that arise during it, with the local people as experts.
  6. Agree on a number of specific observation points along the transect walk at which everyone stops to record all parameters. Depending on the focus of the research, these might include the type of crop/tree/scrub/bush, the type of soil, the gradient of slopes/altitude, the type of animals, erosion status, human settlement, provision of public services, paths, water sources, pests and predators, common diseases, opportunities for change.
  7. After the walk, the information collected is used to draw a diagram or map based on which discussions are held amongst the participants and other community members. If there are several different groups, ask each group to present its diagram to the others for their reactions and comments. Are there serious disagreements? If so, note these and if a consensus is or is not reached.
  8. Depending on the focus of discussions, If there is time, the group might wish to draw a series of diagrams to illustrate changes over time.
  9. Make sure you keep a clear record of the route you took and of your analysis. For monitoring and evaluation purposes, it's important that the route of the transect walk can be easily found again and again, possibly after substantial periods of time.

The transect walk can spark off some interesting observations and discussions. The scale of the transect (it may cover several kilometres or just a few hundred metres) in particular may offer a different dimension to discussions.

Issues such as soil erosion can be picked up particularly well in a transect (as tree cover, water sources and land use etc are all represented in relation to gradients/slopes) and actions to reduce soil erosion may emerge from the discussion. Another possible action would be to take soil samples en route and send them for analysis (if this service is available) to determine soil quality (and the most suitable crops/ fertiliser etc). 

Advantages

  • Helps to identify major problems and possibilities perceived by different groups in relation to features or areas along the transect;
  • Provides an understanding about local technology and practices;
  • Can support site selection (e.g. for a public toilet, a composting unit, new health centre, etc.);
  • Helps to triangulate data collected through other tools.

Disadvantages

  • The tool only takes into account the currently “observable” situation and features, serving as an entry point for more in-depth analysis
  • It can be difficult to bring together all the relevant actors for the transect walk

Literacy

A transect will normally involve a considerable amount of reading and writing, often generating not just words but short phrases. The participants can be encouraged to try to write directly on the large sheet of paper, with each participant filling in a different box. Further activities will depend on the focus of the transect walk and discussions. For example, if the focus is on agricultural conditions in the community, further reading and writing work might pick up from the theme of soil quality and focus on understanding descriptions of soil (pH content etc) received from a soil analysis unit (if one is available). Work might also relate to reading instructions on fertilisers or pesticides. This might also lead into numeracy work. Other numeracy work could relate to measurements of soil erosion (such as examples based on a certain percentage of someone’s land being lost to gullies – what income does this represent if the field yields XX?).

Resources

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