COMBINING DISCIPLINES IN RAPID APPRAISAL:
THE SONDEO APPROACH
Peter E. Hild~ebrandl_/'
Several characteristics are critical to an efficient and functioning multi-
disciplinary effort: first, those concerned must be well trained in their own
field, second, they need a working understanding of and not be afraid to make
contributions in one or more other fields. Team members must not feel the need
to defend themselves and their field from intrusion by others. Working to-
gether, all members of the team should view the final product as a joint effort
in which all have participated and for which all are equally responsible. That
means each of them must be satisfied with the product, given the goals of the
team, and be willing and able to defend it.
Perhaps the most critical characteristic required to achieve success of a
multidisciplinary team is this identification with single product in which all
participate. The product can be complex, and involve a number of facets, burt it
should result from the joint effort of the whole team and not contain strictly
identifiable parts attributable to individual team members. Failures of multi-
disciplinary efforts in agricultural institutions frequently result because
teams are organized as committees that meet occasionally to "coordinate" efforts,
but in which the crop work is left to the agronomists, the survey to the anthro-
pologists and the desks to the economists. In these cases there is not a single
identified product, rather, several products or reports purported to be concerned
about the same problem.
Formerly, Agricultural Economist, The Rockefeller Foundation, assigned as
Coordinador de Socioeconomia Rural, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agrico.1as,
ICTA, Guatemala. Currently, Visiting Professor, Food and Resource Economics
Department, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
Team Efforts in Agricultural Institutes
In the generation of improved agricultural technology for small, tradi-
tional farmers, all multidisciplinary team members must be oriented toward
and identified with "technology" as the "product" of the team (normally just
the agronomists or animal scientists identify with the product). All must be
willing to consider a wide range of variables and constraints and not leave
these worries only to the anthropologists or sociologists. Further, all mem-
bers must be willing to spend some desk time considering alternatives and
their consequences on the clients' goals and not leave this just to the econo-
mists. The agronomists should be capable and willing to critize the economic
or social aspects of the work, and the social scientists, the agronomic as-
pects. In turn, these criticisms should be used to improve the product so that
all can be satisfied with the final result.
In most agricultural institutes agronomists (who usually greatly outnumber
the social scientists) are concerned about too much influence from the socio-
economic group in work at the farm level. This is manifest in resistance by
agronomists to identify too closely with the farmers (even with those on whose
land they conduct trials). It also surfaces with respect to evaluation of
technology. The agronomist is much more comfortable if a final evaluation
follows the farm trial phase of the work where he, himself, makes the eval-
uation. The agronomist, then, decides if a technolgoy is "good". If later,
the farmer evaluates this "good" technology and does not accept it, the
agronomist considers it a problem for the extension service, or of poor in-
frastructure, of low prices, or of lack of initiative on the part of the
farmer himself, but not a problem for the agronomist, who has produced what
he considers to be a "good" product. In this situation, evaluation by the
farmer is equated with influence by socioeconomists, who dare ask the farmer
his opinion and who would tend to take into consideration more variables in-
cluding the present weaknesses in infrastructure, the price level, the farmers'
capabilities, etc., in the development of a technology so that the product of
team's efforts could be used immediately without the need to await development
of other facets of the sector.
The Sondeo: A Team Rapid Survey Approach
The SONDEO is a modified survey technique developed by the Guatemalan
Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology, ICTA, as a response to
budget restrictions, time requirements and the other methodology utilized,
to augment information in a region where agricultural technology generation
and promotion is being initiated.
In order to understand the methodology, it is first necessary to under-
stand how ICTA is organized at the regional level. Each of the regions in
which the Institute functions has a Regional Director who is the representa-
tive of the Director General of the Institute and of the Technical Director.
Within the region, each area in which work is being carried out is in charge
of a "Sub-regional delegate", a technician who has a minimum amount of admin-
istrative responsibilities. All the technicians, from whatever discipline or
program who work in the area,are responsible to him. Thi s multi -di sci pli nary
team is usually comprised of some or all of the following: plant breeders,
pathologists, socio-economist and approximately 4 general agronomists who are
the Technology Testing Team. This group, backed up by the national Coordina-
tors of Programs (corn, beans, etc) and Support Disciplines (socio-economics,
soil management) are responsible for orienting and conducting the generation
and promotion of technology in the area. The work includes basic plant breed-
ing and/or selection on the (usually small) experiment station in the area,
farm trials, tests by farmers of promising technology, evaluation of accepta-
bility of the technology tested by farmers; and economic production or farm
records maintained by farmers with the help of the technicians. In order to
provide the original orientation to the team, the Sondeo, or reconnaissance
survey is conducted by members of the Technology Testing Team who are going
to work in the area, sometimes personnel from an appropriate Program, and a
team from socioeconomics comprised of one or more of the following: anthro-
pologists, sociologists, economists, agricultural economists and/or engi-
neers. Usually, there are 5 people from Socioeconomics and 5 from the Tech-
nology Testing Team who form a 10 man Sondeo team for an area.
The purpose of the sondeo is to provide the information required to orient
the work of the technology generating team. The cropping or farming systems
are described, the agro-socioeconomic situation of the farmers is determined
and the restrictions they face are defined so that any proposed modifications
of their present technology are appropriate to their conditions.
If ICTA is to work in an area that is not previously defined, such as by
the bounds of a land settlement or irrigation project, one of the objectives
of the Sondeo is to delimit the area. This is done by first selecting the pre-
dominant cropping or farming system used by potential target farmers in the
area and later determining the area in which this system is important. The
reason that a homogeneous traditional or present cropping or farming system
is used is that it is this system that ICTA will be modifying with new or im-
proved technology. Hence, having a well-defined, homogeneous system with which
to work simplifies the procedure of generating and promoting technology. The
premise on which selection of a homogeneous cropping or farming system is based
is that all the farmers who presently use it have made similar adjustments to
a set of restrictions which they all face, and since they made the same adjust-
ments, they must all be facing the same set of alrro-socioe~conomic conditions.
Besides delimiting the area of this homogeneous system, the tasks of the
Sondeo team are to discover what agro-socioeconomic conditions all the farmers
who use the system have in common and then identify which of them are the most
important in determining thie present system, and therefore, would be the most
important to consider in any modifications to be made by the team in the future.
Finally, the end product of the Sondeo is to orient the first year's work in
farm trials and variety selection. It also serves to locate future collabor-
ators for the farm trials and for the farm record projects.
Because the farm trials are conducted under farm conditions, during the
first year they provide an additional learning process into the conditions
that affect the farmers and are invaluable in acquainting the technicians with
the realities of farming in the area. The farm records which are also initiated
the first year, provide quantifiable technical and cost information on the tech-
nology being used by the farmers. At the end of the first year's work, then,
the technicians have not only been farming under the conditions of the farmers
in the area, but they also have the information from the farm record project.
For this reason, it is not necessary to obtain quantifiable information in the
Sondeo, which is not a benchmark study. Quantifiable information for impact
evaluation in the area is available from farm records, which increase in value
The Sondeo Procedure
The primary purpose of the Sondeo, then, is to acquaint the technicians
with the area in which they are going to work. Because quantifiable informa-
tion is not needed, the Sondeo can be conducted rapidly and no lengthy analyses
of data are required following the survey to interpret the findings. No ques-
tionnaires are used so farmers are interviewed in an informal manner which does
not alienate them. At the same time, the use of a multidisciplinary team serves
to provide information from many different points of view simultaneously. De-
pending on the size, complexity and accessibility of the area the Sondeo should
be completed in from 6 to 10 days at a minimum of cost. Areas of from 40 to 150
km2 have been studied in this period of time. The following is a description of
the methodology for a 6-day operation.
The first day is a general reconnaissance of the area by the whole team as
a unit. The team must make a preliminary determination of the most important
cropping or farming system that will serve as the key system, get acquainted in
general terms with the area and begin to search out the limits to the homogen-
cous system. Following each discussion with a farmer, the group meets out of
sight of the farmer to discuss each one's interpretation of the interview. In
this way, the team members begin to get acquainted with how each other thinks.
Interviews with farmers (or other people in the area) should be very general and
wide-ranging because the team is exploring and searching for an unknown number
of unknown elements. (This does not imply, of course, that the interviews lack
orientation). The contribution or point of view of each discipline is critical
throughout the Sondeo because the team does not know before hand what type of
problems or restrictions may be encountered. The more disciplines that are
brought to bear on the situation the greater is the probability of encountering
the factors which are, in fact, the mostFirtical to the farmers of the area.
It has been established that these restrictions can be agro-climatic, economic
or socio-cultural. Hence, all disciplines make equal contributions to the
The interviewing and general reconnaissance of the first day serve to
guide the work of the second day. Teams are made up of pairs: one agrono-
mist or animal scientist from the technology testing team and one person from
Socioeconomics who work together in the interviews. The 5 teams scatter
throughout the area and meet again either after the first half-day (for small
areas or areas with good access roads) or day (for larger areas or where access
is difficult and requires more time for travel). Each member of each team dis-
cusses what was learned during the interviews and tentative hypotheses are
formed to help explain the situation in the area. Any information concerning
the limits of the area are also discussed to help in its delimitation. The
tentative hypotheses or doubts raised during the discussion serve as guides to
the following interview sessions. During the team discussions, each of the
members learns how interpretations from other points of view can be important
in understanding the problems of the farmers of the region.
Following the discussion, the team pairs are changed to maximize interdis-
ciplinary interaction and minimize interviewer bias and they return to the
field guided by the previous discussion. Once again following the half-day or
day's interviews the group meets to discuss the findings.
The importance of these discussions following a series of interviews can-
not be over-stressed. Together the group begins to understand the relation-
ships encountered in the region, delimit the zone and start to define the type
of research that is going to be necessary to help improve the technology of the
farmers. Other problems such as marketing are also discussed and if solutions
are required, relevant entities can be notified. It is important to understand
the effect that these other limitations will have if not corrected, on the type
of technology to be developed so that they can be taken into account in the gen-
During the second day there should be a notable convergence of opinion
and a corresponding narrowing of interview topics. In this way, more depth
can be acquired in following days on the topics of increasing interest.
This is a repeat of day 2 and always includes a change in the makeup of
the teams after each discussion. At least a minimum of 4 interview-discussion
cycles is necessary to complete this part of the Sondeo. If the area is not too
complex, these cycles should be adequate. Of course, if the area is so large
that a funl day is required for interviewing between each discussion session, then
four full days are required for this part of the Sondeo.
Before the teams return to the field for more interviews on the fourth day,
each member is assigned a portion or section of the report that is to be written.
Then, knowing for the first time for what topic each will be responsible, the
teams, regrouped in the fifth combination, return to the field for more inter-
viewing. For smaller areas, this also is a half day. In the other half day,
and following another discussion session, the group begins to write the report
of the Sondeo. All members should be working at the same location so they can
circulate freely and discuss points with each other. For example, an agronomist
who was assigned the section on maize technology may have been discussing a key
point with an anthropologist and needs to refresh his memory about what a parti-
cular farmer said in a brief discussion with him. In this manner the interaction
among the disciplines continues.
As the technicians are writing the report, they invariably encounter points
for which neither they nor others in the group have answers. The only remedy is
to return to the field on the morning on the fifth day to fill in the gaps
found the day before. A half day can be devoted to this activity together
with finishing the writing of the main body of the report.
In the afternoon of this day, each team member reads his written report to
the group for discussion, editing and approval. The report should be read from
the beginning just as it will be when finished. As a group, the team should
approve and/or modify what is presented.
The report is read once again, and following the reading of each section,
conclusions are drawn and recorded. When this is finished, the conclusions are
read once again for approval and specific recommendations are then made and
recorded both for the team who will be working in the area and for any other
agencies that should be involved in the general development process of the
The product of the sixth day is a single report generated and authored
by the entire multidisciplinary team and should be supported by all of the
members. Furthermore, after participating for all six days with each other,
each member should be able to defend all the points of view discussed, the
conclusions drawn and the recommendations made.
To a certain extent, the report of the Sondeo is of secondary value be-
cause it has been written by the same team that will be working in the area.
Most of the value lies just in the fact that they have written it. By being
forced into a situation where many different points of view had to be taken
into consideration and coalesced, the horizons of all will have been greatly
amplified. Further, the report can serve as orientation for non-participants
such as the Regional Director or Technical Director in discussing merits of
various courses of action. However, it is also obvious that the report will
appear to be one written by 10 different persons in a hurry, which is just
exactly what it is! It is not a benchmark study with quantifiable data that
can be used in the future for project evaluation, rather it is a working docu-
ment to orient the research program, and that served one basic fucntion in
just being written.
The exact format and content of a report of a Sondeo will vary according
to the area being studied and the nature of the crops or livestock enterprises
included. The following is a brief description of an outline of a report re-
cently completed in one area of Guatemala where grains and vegetables
were of primary interest (See Chinchilla, 1979).
Purpose: Describes the reason the Sondeo was undertaken and the dates.
Homogeneous technology: Describes the principal characteristics of the
technology regarding the crops of interest found within the limits of the area
and the important differences outside the area that changed the nature of the
cropping system and defined the limits of the area.
Description of the delimited area: Geographical limits, altitude, soils,
and other important features including a map drawn with the boundaries as pre-
cise as possible.
Land: Land tenure and farm size were important restrictions in the crop-
ping system and were described.
Labor: General labor availability and periods of scarcity and the special
tasks performed by women in the homogeneous system were described.
Capital: The capital flow in the traditional system which provides the
funds for investing in both the basic grains and the vegetables was described
and the poor functioning of the small farm credit system was noted.
Corn: The most important components of the corn production system were
Beans: The role beans play in the system and their lack of general impor-
tance was discussed.
Vegetables: The production system and the marketing of vegetables were
Livestock activity: The special importance of livestock and of the
livestock-crop interaction was discussed.
Conclusions: Conclusions for each one of the above sections were drawn
with special emphasis on their meaning to the future work of ICTA.
Recommendations: Those relevant to ICTA and to other organizations in
the public agricultural sector as well as the private sector.
Because one of the principle purposes of the Sondeo is to guide the ef-
forts of the resident technology generating team, some of the important re-
commendations from this Sondeo are elaborated below. These recommendations
obviously guide the type of technology which will be included in the farm
trials and requested from the experiment station in support of farm trials.
Specific treatments to be included and the experimental designs to be used
are generally left to the team members and the national Program and Disci-
pline Coordinators to determine.
1) Maize is the most important subsistence crop in the area. The farmers tend
to think in terms of a fixed minimum quantity required for the family and the
animals. Because of the competition of the vegetables for labor and capital,
low technology is used in the maize and frequently, land is substituted. This
must be considered in the mix of technology generated.
2) Cropping systems must be devised that rotate or intercrop vegetables with
maize, but not at the cost of reducing maize production. It is also necessary
in these systems to realize that most of the capital and labor will be utilized
on the vegetables and not on the maize.
3) In vegetable technology, priority should be given to disease control and
4) Even though beans are an important subsistence crop, given the importance
of vegetables and the shortages of funds for research, it is recommended that
little emphasis be given to beans in this area at the present time.
5) Because of problems with the small farm credit program, it is recommended
that technology to be generated not be based on the hope of such a program in
the short run.
The disciplinary speciality of each member of the Sondeo Team is not cri-
tical so long as there are several disciplines represented, and, if the Sondeo
is in agriculture, a significant number of them are agriculturalists. At
least some of these should also be from among those who will be working in the
area in the future. The discipline of the Coordinator of the Sondeo is probably
not critical, either, if he is a person with a broad capability, an understand-
ing of agriculture (if it is an agricultural Sondeo) and experience in surveying
and survey technique. However, the Coordinator must have a high degree of multi-
disciplinary tolerance and be able to interact with all the other disciplines
represented on the team.
The Coordinator, in a sense, is an orchestra director who must assure that
everyone contributes to the tune, but that in the final product, all are in har-
mony. He must control the group and maintain discipline. He arbitrates differ-
ences, creates enthusiasm, extracts hypotheses and thoughts from each particul-
pant, and ultimately will be the one who coalesces the product into the final
form. It is, perhaps not indispensable that he has prior experience in a Sondeo,
but it would certainly improve his efficiency if he had.
1. Chinchilla, Maria E. 1,979. Condiciones agro-socioeconomicas de una
zona maicera-horticola de Guatemala. Trabajo presentado en la XXV
Reunion Anual del PCCM~lCA, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 19-23 de Marzo.
2. Hildebrand, Peter E. 1978. Motivating small farmers to accept change.
Prepared for presentation at the conference on: Integrated crop
and animal production to optimize resource utilization on small
farms in developing countries. The Rockefeller Foundation Confer-
ence Center, Bellagio, Italy. October 18-23, 1978. ICTA, Guatemala.
3. .1979. Summary of the sondeo methodology used by
ICTA. ICTA, Guatemala.