The Rapid Appraisal Process (RAP)
The RAP can be described as follows
The Rapid Appraisal Process (RAP) has only recently been used for diagnosis of international irrigation projects, although variations of the RAP presented here have been used since 1989 by the Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC) at California Polytechnic State University on dozens of irrigation modernization projects throughout the western U.S.A.
Traditional diagnostic procedures and research tend to examine portions of a project, whether they are the development of water user associations (WUAs) or the fluctuation of flow rates in a single canal lateral. Those research projects typically require the collection of substantial field data over extended periods of time.
The time and budgetary requirements of such standard research procedures are significant - Kloezen and Garcés-Restrepo (1998) state that "three engineers worked full-time for more than a year to collect primary data and make measurements to apply process indicators at the level of selected canals and fields" for just one project. Furthermore, they state that "In addition, the work in Salvatierra was supported by an M.Sc. student...In addition, much time was spent on visiting the selected field and taking several flow measurements per field, per irrigation... Five more months were spent on entering, cleaning, and processing data." Clearly, although time-consuming research can provide valuable information about irrigation, decisions for modernization improvements must be made more quickly and must be comprehensive.
An essential ingredient of the successful application of these RAPs is adequate training of the evaluators. Experience has shown that successful RAP programs require (i) evaluators with prior training in irrigation, (ii) specific training in the RAP techniques, and (iii) follow-up support and critique when the evaluators begin their field work.
A RAP will be unsuccessful if the EXCEL files are merely mailed to local irrigation projects to be filled out. Evaluators must understand the logic behind all the questions, and must learn how to go beyond the obvious when obtaining data. Ideally, if two qualified persons complete a RAP on a single irrigation project, the indicators that are computed by both persons will be very similar.
Typical baseline data for external indicators (such as water balances and irrigation efficiency) are either readily available or they are not. Individual irrigation projects have differences in the ease of access to typical baseline data on the command area, weather, water supply, etc. In some projects the data can be gathered in a day; in others it may take weeks. Usually the delays in data organization are due to simply finding the time to pull the data out of files and organizing it. If the data does not already exist, spending an additional 3 months on the site will not create the data.
A quick and focused examination of irrigation projects can give a reasonably accurate and pragmatic description of the status of the project and the processes and hardware that influence that status. This allows for the identification of the major actions that can be taken quickly to improve water delivery service - especially if the RAP is conducted in cooperation with the local irrigation authorities.
The question of what is "reasonably accurate" in data collection and computations can always be debated. Confidence intervals should be assigned to most water balance data - reflecting the reality that we always have uncertainties in our data and computation techniques. In irrigation matters, one is typically concerned about 5-10% accuracy, not 0.5-1% accuracy ranges (Clemmens and Burt, 1997). The problems one encounters in irrigation projects are typically so gross and obvious (to the properly trained eye) that it is unnecessary to strive for extreme accuracy when one wants to diagnose an irrigation project. Furthermore, (i) projects typically have such unique sets of characteristics that the results from a very detailed study of just a few items on one project may have limited transferability to other projects, and (ii) even with very sophisticated and detailed research, it is difficult to achieve better than about 5-10% accuracy on some key values such as crop evapotranspiration of irrigation water.
For the RAP, one begins with a prior request for information that can be assembled by the irrigation project authorities - information such as cropped areas, flow rates into the project, weather data, budgets, and staffing. Upon arriving at the project, that data is organized and project managers are interviewed regarding missing information and their perceptions of how the project functions. One then travels down and through the canal network, talking to operators and farmers, and observing and recording the methods and hardware that are used for water control. Through this systematic diagnosis of the project, many aspects of engineering and operation become very apparent.
Economic data are major components for some indicators that have been proposed by others. The experiences of the author have shown that a RAP is not suitable for the collection of some economic data. Data such as the overall cost of a project in today's dollars, per capita income, and the size of typical farm management units were not readily available in most projects that are described in FAO Water Report 19.
In summary, if properly executed with qualified personnel, the RAP can quickly provide valuable insight into many aspects of irrigation project design and operations. Furthermore, its structure provides a systematic project review that enables an evaluator to provide pragmatic recommendations for improvement.
Some of the data that is collected during a RAP is also useful in quantifying various Benchmark indicators that have been established by IPTRID. Most of the IPTRID Benchmark indicators fall into the category of "external indicators", whereas RAP indicators include both "external" and "internal" indicators. As discussed in the next sections, "internal" indicators are necessary to understand the processes used within an irrigation project, the level of water delivery service throughout a project, and they also help an evaluator to formulate an action plan that will eventually result in an improvement of external indicators. External indicators and traditional Benchmarking indicators provide little or no guidance as to what must be done to accomplish improvement. Rather, they only indicate that things should be improved.