Participatory Statistics is a set of methods that enable local people to generate statistics for local level planning, learning and reflection, but which can also be aggregated at wider levels and feed into national level policy processes. Participatory Statistics have been used in the design, monitoring and evaluation, and impact assessment of policies, programmes and projects in a number of developing countries.

Proponents claim Participatory Statistics are a win-win approach that both produces rigorous and generalisable conclusions in a cost-efficient manner, while also empowering local people in a sphere of research that has traditionally been highly extractive and externally controlled.

Participatory Research is often seen as valuable for exploring qualitative changes in relationships and processes, and providing a rich picture of how local context affects issues under investigation. It has been seen as limited however, in its ability to produce data that is representative or can be compared across context.

Participatory Statistics seeks to get past these perceived limits and be the best of both worlds, producing data that combines local validity and representativeness. Participatory group-based and visual methods are used for data collection, analysis, and reflection and are adapted to improve standardisation and comparability across sites. These are combined with the use of statistical principles in the selection of sites and informants to ensure that findings can be aggregated and compared across settings.

A diverse set of tools can be used to generate and quantify quantitative data for whole communities through key informants in an efficient way. Tools include score-cards to assess services; wealth-rankings to analyse poverty; proportional piling to estimate food and income; and a range of others.

A panel discussion introducing participatory statistics hosted at the Overseas Development Institute in 2013

Caption: Introduction to participatory statistics (24 minutes). Jeremy Holland introduces participatory statistics in a panel discussion. He describes the development of the methods over the last two decades, discusses some practical examples and explains some of the trade-offs involved in making use of the methods. Credit: Overseas Development Institute.

Caption: Robert Chambers adds to the introduction in the same panel discussion (20 minutes) including an explanation of the rigour of group visual-synergy methods, and a range of practical examples of the methods used. The second half of the video explores resistance to adopting these promising new methods more widely. Credit: Overseas Development Institute

More Information

Book: Who Counts? The Power of Participatory Statistics 

Edited by Jeremy Holland, 2013 Practical Action Publishing, Rugby, UK

A comprehensive introduction to participatory statistics and their use in international development practice. The book provides a range of detailed case examples of how participatory statistics have been used in monitoring, evaluation and learning, participatory impact assessment, and to influence policy in a wide range of countries. It includes four chapters exploring examples of using participatory statistics for evaluation and three chapters looking at impact assessment.

Visit the resource dedicated to this book for more details of its contents and the illustrations it uses.

Book Chapter: Who Counts? Participation and Numbers (14 pages)

Chambers, 2008, Chapter in Revolutions in Development Inquiry, London: Earthscan, p15 - 129

Accessible summary of key developments in participatory statistics detailing the range of methods used, the methodological challenges and trade-offs and signposting a range of practical examples and case studies. Includes accounts of using participatory numbers to conduct large scale surveys in a range of countries including at a national level in Malawi, Uganda. This Chapter is a shortened, adapted version of the IDS working paper highlighted below.

Paper: Who Counts? The quiet revolution of participation and numbers (45 pages)

Robert Chambers, 2007, IDS Working Paper 296, IDS: Brighton

This paper provides an introduction and rationale for this growing body of work, with a description of key methods used, and a range of practical examples. A version of this paper appears as the Chapter highlighted above in Revolutions in Development Inquiry

More resources on Participatory Statistics can be found in the Mesh Participatory Statistics resources category.To see how this resource fits in with the rest of Mesh's evaluation resources, and to learn how to navigate them, visit the Mesh evaluation page

This resource was developed by Robin Vincent as part of supporting the Wellcome Trust linked community of practice on evaluation of public and community engagement and was originally hosted on the eMOPs website.

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