The Handbook is divided into six modules. Three of the modules reflect basic questions that apply to any situation: what are the problems people face and must explore, who are the stakeholders or actors affected by a situation or with the capacity to intervene, and what options or alternatives for action do people need to consider and assess? Practitioners can combine these tools with all-purpose tools for fact-finding and listening. All-purpose tools apply to any topic where you need to gather, organize, analyse and communicate information on peoples' knowledge and views of reality. They also help you select the best forum and participation strategies to meet your needs.
Another module of tools is for understanding systems in a complex world. This includes Domain Analysis, our social adaptation of Personal Construct Psychology developed by George Kelly. Domain Analysis shows how stakeholders view a domain or topic area; it allows participants to create and organize elements, and their characteristics, within the domain. The method uncovers ways people make sense of reality in context and helps create opportunities for problem solving and learning. Systems Dynamics is our adaptation of input-output reasoning used in economics. It helps identify entry points into a system, based on an assessment of how elements interact to create specific behaviours and situations.
The first module is about the full tapestry, not the threads. Its focus is on creating systems that learn and developing skills to mix, balance, and integrate tools, dialogue, and careful reasoning. Since the basic questions on problems, actors and options depend on and interact with each other, there can be no fixed point of entry into a diagnostic process for all situations. The skillful means described in this module help you select the point of entry that best suits your context. They show you how to sequence and adapt the tools in a way that is meaningful and deals with complexity. This addresses a tendency within PAR to focus on quick-and-easy techniques, and to ignore thinking about what tool to use, when, and why.