Part 1 Introduction: outline; definition of qualitative enquiry. Part 2 The need for qualitative enquiry: institutional context; spheres of activity; key tasks, planning, implementation, evaluation; some neglected variables - at the agency level, at the community level; criteria for effective information supply. Part 3 The nature of qualitative enquiry: a rapid literature review, social science research, rapid rural appraisal (RRA), evaluation of social development projects, policy analysis, parallel developments in quantitative enquiry; some unifying principles - methodological pluralism, triangulation, professionalism; sources of information - documents, field visits, key informants, group meetings, participant observation, team studies, action research; conclusions: some key concepts - intelligence rather than applied research, indicators rather than co-efficients, key informants rather than respondents. Part 4 The application of qualitative enquiry: agricultural research and technology development, the transfer of technology model, farming systems research, farmer participatory research; other spheres of activity - the project cycle, planning investments in infrastructure, public sector services, rural marketing, savings and credit programme, disaster responses, sensitive topics, turbulent conditions; opportunities and constraints - methodological and weaknesses and research, ignorance and training, bureaucracy and institutional reform. Part 5 The future of qualitative enquiry: contemporary trends; future directions - real-time surveys, specialised PRA/RRA, disaster response, bureaucratisation of PVO-NGO activities; conclusion.