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Preference ranking: a cautionary tale from Papua New Guinea

Feedback is a forum for discussion in PLA Notes. It features articles which raise common concerns or challenges in fieldwork or training, together with a response from another practitioner of participatory approaches. Letters and articles are welcomed for this section, as are your comments on any of the issues raised by Feedback.

Preference ranking is commonly used in participatory research to understand local people's preferences and priorities. These can include characteristics, aspects of a new farming method or more general development needs. Ordered lists are an important result of preference ranking, which can be used to guide researchers’ future investigations or plan policies.

However, some problematical aspects of ranking and their interpretation have already been raised in PLA Notes (See Fielding, Riley & Oyejola, PLA Notes 33, October 1998). This article raised the importance of having a sufficient number of respondents in the study before differences in the ranked order of a list of items can be reliably identified. In the current article we discuss some ways in which ranking techniques can be misleading and limiting, and suggest some solutions. One method used to obtain a priority ranking of a list of items is to ask respondents to put each item in rank order; the numbers associated with the ranks are then added across all respondents and the totals are used to obtain an overall ranking from the group.

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