Planners developing basic social services, especially in communities suffering the consequences of conflict, have to respond to a wide range of needs but lack the information necessary for effective planning. This paper is an account of an Oxfam research project in Angola which had a dual aim: to find out more about how rural communities use health services, and to involve communities in the research. It describes the preparation and implementation of the project, and evaluates the limits as well as the advantages of participatory research methods. It paints a detailed picture of rural Angolans’ knowledge and beliefs about health care, skilfully unravelling the complex mesh of traditional institutions, social organisation, family income, and family hierarchies
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