Global Poverty Research Group

Qualitative measurement in poverty analysis


Current development orthodoxy based on macroeconomic theory stresses the importance of physical and human capital as necessary for growth. There has been growing concern among development practitioners that textbook economic theory and results from formal questionnaires may be misleading as measures of welfare. This has led to an increase in the use of participatory appraisals and related approaches where more qualitative approaches are taken to attempts to measure poverty. In an analysis of Zimbabwean rural households, Trudy Owens has explored the perception of aid, and of its role in reducing poverty, from the perspective of the recipients. The research adopted two techniques described in the literature on participatory rural appraisal. The first, a wealth-ranking exercise to examine villagers’ concepts of poverty and the determinants of growth, and the second, a semi-structured group discussions to explore villagers’ thoughts on the role of aid. It was found that villagers’ perceptions of poverty and the role of aid was consistent with the results of the more quantitative survey-based approach to measurement. The implications are that, at least in this instance, the alternative approaches do not suggest that perceived poverty is similar in incidence and structure to measured poverty. Clearly the advantage of the quantitative approach is that it is possible to make comparisons over time and across countries. 

Recent publications

Owens, T., ‘External support during the transition phase:  Roles for humanitarian aid and development assistance from a village perspective’ World Development, forthcoming 2003.

Reseachers to contact for this project

Trudy Owens