Proportional Piling is a participatory method that helps to visualise relative proportions. It is useful for working with people who are not used to quantifying data. The method aims to collect information, generate discussion and facilitate consensus and decision making.
Proportional Piling is a simple technique for visualising quantities. It is often used to visually identify the relative shares or importance of different comparable WASH-related issues (e.g. hygiene behaviours, household expenditures, or health problems in the community). It can help to prioritise community challenges and potential solutions. It can be an assessment tool or a decision-making support tool. Proportional Piling is also a valuable facilitation tool as it can quickly generate fruitful discussions about the relative size of the piles and help small groups reach a consensus. The resources needed for a Proportional Piling exercise include a fixed number (usually around 100) of locally available materials such as small stones, dried beans, seeds or pieces of paper or anything of a similar size. Circles or pictures, which represent the topics of concern, can be drawn on the ground or paper. Participants are then asked to divide and pile up the stones or beans according to the proportional importance of the topics under discussion. Each pile is then counted and used for further analysis and discussion. It can be useful to repeat Proportional Piling exercises to compare the issue in the current situation with the pre-crisis situation.
Proportional Piling can be used in all response phases, in a variety of contexts and with different target groups. It needs a skilled facilitator and can be done with local materials. Because of the small number of readily-available materials needed, it can be applied easily and quickly. Proportional Piling is not usually a stand-alone tool but is used in conjunction with other participatory assessment tools such as Focus Group Discussions T.14, Three-Pile-Sorting T.51 or Pocket Chart Voting T.31.
Be transparent about the purpose and aim of the Proportional Piling exercise
Have a good facilitator to stimulate discussion and obtain accurate information
Ensure that all people from the interest group are involved and integrated into the piling process
Do not use Proportional Piling repeatedly for all the topics in question: it takes time and people may lose interest
Do not generalise the data and apply it to the wider population by using percentages [A.8]
Proportional Piling was used with nomadic pastoralists in Kenya during interviews with sample households to investigate the relative contribution of the families’ various economic activities to the household food supply. The exercise provided indicative values – based on the families’ own perceptions – and served as a basis for further discussion. The exercise was carried out twice, for the wet and dry seasons enabling seasonal differences to be assessed and discussed
IFRC (2005): Guidelines for Emergency Assessment
IFRC (2006): How to Conduct a Food Security Assessment. A Step-by-Step Guide for National Societies in Africa
Adebo, S. (2000): Training Manual on Participatory Rural Appraisal
Watson, C. (1994): Proportional Piling in Turkana: A Case Study, RRA Notes, Vol. 20. Pages 131-132. IIED