PA to leave no one behind



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 From beneficiary assessment to participatory assessment: leave no one beh​ind!​

Participatory assessment (PA) aspires to assess an intervention and its results from the perspective of its ‘beneficiaries’ or primary stakeholders. As an alternative to external reviews, the PA approach puts the people targeted by an intervention at the centre, focusing on their active and meaningful contribution to the analysis – and ultimately to the intervention. It can be applied at different stages of the project cycle management.

If designed accordingly, the participatory assessment methodology helps translate the motto ‘leave no one behind’ into operational work. The PA helps primary stakeholders – e.g. communities, groups and individuals left behind – to overcome obstacles in making their voices heard. It is a tool for integrating excluded people’s views into planning and designing more effective, inclusive and sustainable interventions. The PA has great learning potential for stakeholders as well as project management.

Participatory assessment was formerly called beneficiary assessment (BA) and is used in a variety of forms by donors and NGOs, including the SDC. ‘Beneficiaries’ is a somewhat out-dated term alluding to a rather paternalistic view of development assistance. This is not in line with the current rights-based thinking on development, focusing on empowerment and active participation. We thus prefer the new term ‘participatory assessment’ as it reflects the active role that target groups are expected to play in assessment. How do they perceive the intervention at stake, its results, approaches and methodologies? How useful are the results in their real life? What support would they really need to overcome obstacles, achieve results, not be left behind? How could our interventions improve? 

See how beneficiary assessments contributed effectively to SDC's work​​

Practical cases from the SDC’s experience show that the participatory assessment methodology works and provides interesting inside viewpoints. Compared to other assessment methodologies, useful results depend even more on the careful scoping and definition of objectives from the beginning, continuous reflection on the process design, and clarity about the roles of different actors, taking into account the context at stake. It is particularly demanding in terms of resources, and the cost-benefit ratio has not always been satisfactory, often due to limited investment in the initial phase and the setting-up of the process. 

​There is no ‘one size fits all’. At the same time, we do not need perfection in every step. We can approach the PA pragmatically, although with due reflection on the key elements of the methodology. 

​​Learn more: ​practical examples and testimonials of Participatory Assessment​​

​South​ern Africa
The BA Process: Bulisani Ncube, SDC Regional Programme Manager, Southern Africa​
Southern Africa

​BA Results Informing Future Action: Bulisani Ncube, SDC Regional Programme Manager, Southern Africa

​Ethiopia 2013: Beneficiary Assessment of the ‘Rehabilitation and Improvement Water Resources in Borana’ Project

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​Beneficiary Assessment of the ‘Water Resources Management Programme (WARM-P)’

More video interviews at: ​

Download Report​


​​Learn more: ​examples of contributions of Participatory Assessments to SDC's work​

 Latin America​
Latin America: BA contributes to increased relevance, strengthened relationships & empowerment 

In Latin America, where political contexts encourage a high level of civil society participation, BAs appear to have enhanced the relevance of development programmes. By seeking farmers’ perspectives on the technical, economic, social and ecological soundness of an agricultural programme (PASOLAC) BA was able to identify the 5–8 preferred and most effective soil conservation techniques. It also allowed farmers to challenge the government extension services and make them more responsive. The farmers actively challenged assumptions that such approaches are sufficient, arguing they need access to more formal research-driven agricultural innovation that addresses real farmers’ needs. 

The PASOLAC BA also had unintended outcomes likely to enhance the impact of the programme.​
1) Farmer assessors’ questions about soil conservation techniques provided a relatively cheap and simple approach to estimating the adoption rate of different techniques, which are usually estimated with more expensive survey instruments. At their own initiative, they also broadly shared agricultural knowledge and innovations, including some research findings, with communities they visited. This allowed sharing of useful knowledge, with the potential to enhance impact. 
2) Having been empowered by their roles as citizen observers, farmers surprised project staff by asking staff to organise workshops where they could present proposals for the next phase of the programme. The SDC was transparent in explaining that although these individual inputs were important for influencing the programme, it could not respond to proposals on an individual basis.
3) As a result of the BA, relationships and trust between farmers and partners were strengthened. 

Madagascar BA: increased responsiveness and empowerment 

The Madagascar BA findings influenced planning for the next programme phase and decisions to institutionalise more participatory M&E approaches. It also influenced changes in the language programme staff used when talking about ‘beneficiary’ assessors. At the beginning they were referred to as ‘the peasants’, who staff viewed as lacking the capacity to undertake research. By the end of the BA, when the assessors had presented findings to government officials, the staff described them as ‘citizen observers’ (COs). 

Moreover, whereas at the beginning of the BA citizen observers relied on the local facilitator to translate for the general facilitators, once they gained confidence, those who spoke rudimentary French began intervening, telling the local facilitator, ‘you didn’t translate properly!’ One general facilitator commented on this indication of empowerment: “I think what we witnessed was the COs gradually realising that they too could argue and confront the facilitator’s interpretations and take matters into their own hands.”


Laos BA: a turning point for the SDC

A BA in Laos proved an important learning and turning point for SDC. It enabled SDC staff to get beyond the perspectives of partner intermediaries, in this case the Laos National Extension Service, which was focused on technical approaches to enhancing agricultural productivity that tend to benefit the wealthy. By engaging poor farmers in a BA it was possible to discern the effects of extension work and identify weaknesses in the impact hypothesis. People from different wealth groups valued extension services for chicken, pigs and rice differently.

The findings that revealed that programme effects are mediated by power relations. This lesson has since become central in the SDC's policy discussions with the partner. The BA findings helped enable the steering committee to advocate a pro-poor agenda in dialogue with the national extension service, and raised awareness of the benefits of extension service providers listening to poor farmers' voices. They have successfully advocated for a broader range of proposed services and differentiated service provision: 1) for farmers with access to market, and 2) for poorer subsistence farmers without access. 


In November 2022, this new guide on this page was launched by SDC together with the experts Jo Howard (IDS) and Erika Schläppi (Ximpulse) in a webinar. If you have missed the webinar, you can access the slides here. In addition, you may read the input by Jo Howard on the importance of participatory methods for Leaving No One Behind here ​and find questions put forward during the webinar answered here​. 



 About​ this page
This webpage is intended to  make SDC staff and partners aware of the potential of participatory assessment (PA), explain its main characteristics, the process step by step, and the do’s and don’ts for the organisers and facilitator. It provides different levels of information, from general considerations about the usefulness of this method to operational guidance for designing and conducting PAs that are fit for purpose. 
You will find a list of abbreviations here.


BA = Beneficiary assessment
PA = Participatory assessment 
ToA = Theory of a​ction 

To get started with your participatory assessment, contact us:
Stephanie Guha, stephanie.guha(at)   
Ursula König, uk(at)